Chief Bearskin Defends The “Chiefs”

In Wyandotte, Oklahoma there is no confusion as to who is Chief of the Wyandotte Nation, and that would be Leaford Bearskin. Now entering his 26th year as Chief, the people of the Wyandotte Nation can look back over his years of service and stand proud knowing that he has represented them with uncompromising pride, loyalty and conviction. When a Chief leads with conviction at times it means that he or she may have to stand against opposition or status quo, to protect the interest of the Nation regardless of the consequences. And too one of the qualities often overlooked in any strong leader is the ability and willingness to extend their authority beyond their constituency, to serve and protect others with common interests, when in defense of overwhelming and unjust attacks. Recently Chief Bearskin did all of this fully knowing that potential criticism awaited his decision, but conviction is greater that criticism, and defending the defenseless is always a noble cause especially when they bear your name.

The 2007-2008 Wyandotte Marching Chiefs

By an invitation from Antoine de Lamothe-Cadillac, a Frenchman who was seeking military allies, the Wyandotte Nation settled in the area around his Fort Detroit in 1701. There were other Nations that responded to his invitation, but the Wyandotte have had a continuous presence within the Detroit, Michigan area for 308 years. There were several treaties penned by the United States to gain the land on which the Wyandotte resided, the final being in 1843 when the Wyandotte were forced west of the Mississippi River from both Michigan and Ohio. But some of the Wyandotte People who lived around Detroit refused to leave, they did not move, and have never left. But if it wasn’t for the fact that a township by the name of Wyandotte, Michigan can be found on the maps of today, it would be hard to know that the Wyandotte People were ever there.

But don’t tell that to the student body of Theodore Roosevelt High School and their Wyandotte Marching Chiefs. They know the history of the Wyandotte Nation within the Detroit area, especially that of Wyandotte, Michigan, and that’s why they proudly wear a chief’s mascot on the back of their uniforms, and a patch on their shoulder stating that they are the chiefs. But some people wanted to say that they doing so was a sign of disrespect toward all Native Americans, and that they calling themselves “chiefs” belittled and demeaned all Chiefs of Native American Tribes. These people too felt that the school should not be allowed to march in the inauguration parade of President-elect Obama wearing any symbols that acknowledged or identified them as having connections to the Wyandotte Nation and their history for which they stood and proudly marched.

Photo of the Wyandotte Marching Chiefs from the early 1990’s.

“It’s an honor to me to be called the Wyandotte Chiefs up there by your organization. We’ve got quite a few people around trying to help us poor Indians, and I think they get in the way, quite frankly… I would be honored to have the Wyandotte Chiefs going down in the [inauguration] parade. I think it would be wonderful.”

“Mr. Gunderson:
I don’t understand your response with regard to protesting the nick name/logo of the Wyandotte Marching Chiefs of Roosevelt High School marching band in the inauguration parade. I am distressed that you failed to contact me prior to dispatching your opposition.
There are only two people who can speak about such matters. I am one of them and the Chief of the Wyandotte Tribe of Quebec, Canada is the other person.
I speak to you personally – Mind your own business!
Leaford Bearskin, Chief
Wyandotte Nation”

With that announcement from Chief Bearskin, Ms. Cole partly reversed her decision and now the Wyandotte Marching Chiefs will indeed proudly wear their chief mascot and name down Pennsylvania Avenue during the inauguration parade of President-elect Obama. The only thing to remain changed because of Mr. Gunderson’s protest is the band’s banner. The old banner which too bore the schools mascot will be replaced by a bigger banner which simply says Wyandotte. The decision of Ms. Cole was applauded by many as being done only by the gracious and overwhelming support given by Chief Bearskin. Many letters of gratitude were sent to Chief Bearskin through the Nations web site, one from Rachel Ter of Apache descent is now shared:

This is for Chief Leaford Bearskin: Dear Sir, I would like to thank you for your response to the Wyandotte Marching Band issue(s). I believe it an honor for those students to display the Indian logo/name. I think too many people forget the great Indian nations and people that were here long before the ‘settlers’ came. I think allowing schools to use an image or name of Indian tribes reminds people of the history of this nation and that the Indians were great warriors and people and for the students to want to be known or represented by these peoples shows that there is pride in the association. To erase history and use racism as justification is wrong. These students use the Wyandotte name with pride and not in malice. To have you give your Nation’s blessing allows that pride to continue and allows the region to remember that the Wyandotte people were here in Michigan and that their history is our history.

Eloquently said Rachel… thank you!

Hey… Mr. Gunderson lets extend our history lesson a little further and bring to your attention another fact about the Wyandotte Nation. Remember back in 1843 when we were kicked out of Michigan and Ohio? Where did we go? We settled in what was Indian Territory at the mouth of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers. There we purchased land from our good friends the Delaware Nation, because there was none given us by the United States Government as promised. The little Indian village established there was initially named Wyandotte City, but when the Kansas and Nebraska Territories were opened for settlement the name of the city was changed to… yes… Kansas City, Kansas. Today across the river in Kansas City, Missouri is a professional football team named the Kansas City Chiefs. We in Wyandotte, Oklahoma are proud to know that they too have knowledge of the history of the area in which they reside and honor all Native Americans with that recognition. Are you now going to solicit them with a twenty-six page letter demanding they change their name too? Didn’t think so! All Native Americans should be proud to be recognized as Chiefs any day over that of Redskins… shouldn’t they? Why don’t you focus your efforts in areas where it is rightly justified and quit picking on schoolchildren. Be a true leader like Chief Leaford Bearskin of the Wyandotte Nation, and defend the defenseless, don’t tear them down especially when they bring recognition and honor, not shame, to the history and knowledge of all Native Americans.

The “Wyandotte Marching Chiefs” from Roosevelt High School perform in the 56th Presidential Inaugural Parade.

The RHS Marching Band, known as the “Wyandotte Marching Chiefs” have been creating a history for themselves for many generations, but this time, on Jan. 20th, the CHIEFS WERE A PART OF HISTORY!

As the first African American president in the history of the United States, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the President of the United States, the CHIEFS were there! One of 70 or so performing groups selected from 1,800 applications, the CHIEFS,  marched proudly as they represented their community, their school, their state, the Wyandot of Anderdon, as well as the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma.

Hours and hours of standing in formation in the cold, as the parade began more two hours late, could not deter the band, as they performed in high spirits along Pennsylvania Ave, and for millions and millions of people across numerous channels cross country and around the world.

Following their performance for President Obama and family the band celebrated as guests at the Michigan Inaugural Dinner Dance held at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

Mark D’Angelo
Instrumental Music Director
Roosevelt High School

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