Gathering Traditions

Barbeau Exhibit Dedication

By Lloyd Divine

Two weeks ago I was waiting on confirmation of two large shipping crates leaving Canada. They passing through customs and entering the United States was hopefully the last challenge of this exhibit. As I waited I paused and thought about the reality of what was happening. A lot of hard work had gone into this exhibit over the last two years – well, actually fifty-six years. Realized my two years working on this exhibit was rather insignificant, I promptly emailed Chief Friend and Second Chief Hildebrand asking if we could dedicate “The Gathering of Traditions” to some very special ladies. They quickly agreed. From this moment foreword, this exhibit will be dedicated to Artie Nesvold, Hazel Wallace, Gertrude Free and Juanita McQuistion.

In 1912 after his second trip to Oklahoma, Dr. Barbeau packed-up the last of our artifacts, stories and songs and went back to his life in Canada never to return. For the Wyandotte people that remained, some of our darkest and most challenging days lie ahead. By 1927 all the elders Dr. Barbeau interviewed had died, only Allen Johnson remained. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl hit our people hard in the 1930s with many being scattered from coast to coast. After the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936 and the ensuing census of 1937 only 783 citizens were found. WWII quickly followed in the 1940s. Then throughout most of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma operated under the status as being Federally terminated. These were indeed challenging decades.

If not for Artie Nesvold stepping forward in the mid 1950s, I do not want to think of where we could be today. Artie met the challenge when her people were challenged. She stood in the face of danger year after year and did not blink. She fought the stone giant and won. Artie was very instrumental in the granting of our reinstatement in 1978. In 1993 when she died it felt as though we not only buried her, but an incredible amount of our cultural knowledge. What we didn’t realize then is when we buried her she became our inspiration to seek for ourselves who we are as Wyandotte. Today, her name is still mentioned in many conversations within the Culture Committee as we reflect upon what Artie might have done.

When Hazel Wallace died in 2008 she was a great loss for both the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma and the Wyandotte Nation. She was a beautiful, peaceful woman with life giving roots that anchored the Seneca-Cayuga to the free-flowing stream of traditional knowledge. She humbly and generously served the smallest ‘candles’ to the largest ‘needles’ that chose to associate themselves upon the great Tree of Peace. She was the Faith Keeper and so much more.

Hazel faithfully attended the Wyandotte Nation Culture Days from its inception in 2004. When she came she would quietly sit and watch with a smile. I have no doubts that she saw a lot of mistakes, but she never said a critical thing or harshly judged. She watched as though we were her grandchildren learning to walk. She knew through our stumbles, tumbles and fumbles we would reconnect to traditional ways stronger, with more confidence and with lasting ownership. She was a wonderful grandmother with roots deep enough and strong enough for both our nations. Her presence alone gave us the assurance that everything would be ok.

Gertrude Free, or if I may just call her Gert, died in 2009. I never had the privilege of meeting Gert, but with her name constantly being mentioned in Oklahoma, it felt as though I had met her. We were always hearing of the things Gert was doing in Anderdon and it challenged us to stay at pace with her here in Oklahoma.

Gert was famously known for fearlessly contacting the Canadian Museum of Civilization and asking, “what do you have of ours?” She found the CMC to be an uncompromising guardian of some of the most unique, exquisite and priceless cultural material ever collected and preserved for posterity – ours. Again and again she would return and remind the CMC that she was a Wyandot and she knew they were caretakers of some of our most sacred cultural items. She also reminded the CMC that we, as they, considered the collection a treasure and would protect it at all cost. The CMC eventually conceded, releasing a small but consistent amount of material each year. Through her persistency she deliberately softened the CMC, and we reap the benefits of her efforts today. Through Gert we received our first good look inside the CMC and obtained an exhaustive assessment of all they safeguard.

The Wyandotte are alive and well much to the efforts of Juanita McQuistion and her tireless, faithful and non-ending care of her people. Juanita was a valiant stone giant fighter alongside Artie during our unfortunate, yet awakening days of termination. She has continually cultivated the ground and mended the fences keeping young and older Wyandotte hearts soft and well protected. She has unapologetically defended against ruthless tricksters and predators with intent to steal or kill our future.

If you ever need anything – a comforting hug, meaningful advice, compassionate help, uplifting encouragement or answers to a historical question, Juanita is your best source. If you ask a historical question, my advice to you is pull up a chair and cancel your appointments for the next few days. Juanita is going to tell you more than you ever hoped to know. After fifty plus years of service she is a treasure basket of knowledge. She sparkles on both the historical and governmental facets of our culture. She loves her people and her selfless, lifelong service to the Wyandotte Nation is undeniable proof. Juanita has not stopped for one minute addressing our basic and most essential needs. I don’t think she could if she tried.

Who will step forward and become our next Artie, Hazel, Gert or Juanita? Thousands upon ten-thousands of citizens – past, present and future – are counting on you to not blink in the face of the stone giant just as these ladies have courageously done.


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