“Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchufuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe”

by Guest Contributor Deb Reese, originally published at American Indians In Children’s Literature

I registered for the Healing for Democracy conference yesterday, found a place to sit, and pulled out the conference program. Among the speakers for the Welcome was “Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchefuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe.”

“Queen” gave me pause right away and its use cast doubt on the rest of the information provided. “Tchefuncta” and “Chahta” are not nations or tribes I have heard of before, but there are over 500 federally recognized tribal nations and I don’t pretend to know about all–or even most–of them. Still, “Queen” made me uneasy.

That unease was confirmed when “Queen Chief Warhorse” took the stage and began delivering her remarks. She was wearing a necklace that was supposed to suggest Pueblo Indian or Navajo turquoise and silver. To most, it probably looked like the real thing. To me, it screamed imitation. I wondered where she got it.

Right away, she had most of the audience eating out of her hand. Working with the theme of “healing,” her opening remarks began with calling out the limits of a black/white paradigm. That was fine, but then–for me–her train went off a cliff.

She started using “we” in ways that demonstrate she doesn’t know much about tribal nations and our reservations. One statement after another was problematic. It was a “poor Indians” narrative, living on our “prison camp” and “the projects” reservations.

Her remarks were, in short, a mess for lot of reasons.

Her use of “we” was wrong. Using “we” as a keynote speaker to an audience who, I hazard to say, is fairly lacking in knowledge of American Indians, only added to the already-too-big body of misinformation about American Indians.

I did a quick bit of research and found photos of her in a Plains style headdress. Why was she wearing that?! When I have more time, I’ll do some research on her and the “Tchunfuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe.” Will I learn that the “Chahta Tribe” or the “Tchunfuncta Nation” are Plains people?

For now, I’ll say this:

Healing requires accurate information, not sensational remarks that generate a righteous anger and create or affirm a body of misinformation.

  • Tabithawhitefoot

    I was also an attendee at America Healing in New Orleans last week and the sensational responses and outright racist remarks are disturbing. I am a proud member of the Yakama Nation. A tribe perhaps not universally identified by the general public. I was born Yakama, and knew when I was able to speak, my heritage, connection, and  land. It was never really up for discovery or discussion, it was. I would no more want to change and become Romanian, Greek, or Tongan. Not because I do not respect and admire those cultures, but because I know, since my birth what I am.
    Many people growing up in Indian Country have that same  idea, we are, who we are. We carry the legacy of oppression, whether it be termination, reservations, relocation… we also have an inner strength and heritage that people risked incarceration and persecution to retain, our language, religion, culture and lifeways. These are the realities of 20th century genocide against Native people. It has torn asunder the fabric of culture, and cohesion, BUT we do know who we are, and often recognize one another. We rejoice in our shared experience and survival, and generally we want to “get to know” other native people. With the same welcome we always displayed, to our detriment in the 18th and 19th centuries.
    That is some of my difficulty with Queen Chief Warhorse, she never sought me or my colleagues out to welcome us to her territory in the way I was taught to on the Columbia River. In many places I have traveled to throughout the US it has been common for the same questions to arise following a welcoming. Inquiries of your land, your peoples, your understandings, or where you are coming from and what some of the shared issues of joy and adversity may be. It is a common discussion in both the city native centers, and reservation agencies. So, for my way of understanding, that was “unexpected” of a leader of a tribe/region. The second issue had to do with misinformation about sovereignty and self-determination. I no longer expect the general population to understand the nuances of these policies, but they are unique and special to us. They are the agreements the US made and are our responsibility to enforce adherence. It makes our relationship, as a “minority” unique in the American Experience. But the wealth of resources that made the US sore to World Power status, were traded with the native nations. That is a powerful debt, and people who have worked on our reservations and communities, regardless of ethnicity have witnessed the destruction and poverty that continues.
    I know I cannot expect every member of each native nation to embrace what I have said, but I recognize our basic graciousness and tolerance has many people of mixed heritage as tribal members. Our territories were safe places for all non-whites in the era’s when being “other” was painful, or worse unacceptable and a danger for  staying alive.
    I encourage everyone to recall, what your parents and grandparents held as their pride, the simple and sometimes private harbingers of deep culture, and investigate those, genuinely. Being Native is more than blood quantum, it is the experience, the connection and the soul. All human culture has such unique and beautiful intricacy, why would anyone adopt another culture and “pass” when they have such fruit in their own family trees.

  • TyphoidMary

    Wait, does she say, “Let’s go back in time, to when American Indians look like I look”?  Am I hearing that correctly?  I have been unable to find a transcript.

    Also, here is a keynote address from a 2009 event that introducing her, saying “Ms.
    Elwin Gillum is a Black Indian who is working with historians to
    document the history of the Chahta Indians — cousins to the Choctaw.”  It talks a bit about her bloodline (and thus claim as Queen) as well as some other stuff…  Also, the comments are worth a look; there are some people questioning the conflation of Chahta/Choctaw, which is a distinction I’m still unclear on.http://www.examiner.com/article/chahta-indians-coming-out-of-exile

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cocojams-Jambalayah/100000590546331 Cocojams Jambalayah

      There are several YouTube videos of Queen Chief Warhorse. Here’s a link to one of those videos which indicates that the group of 300 or so families led by Chief Warhorse are Black/Indian descendants of the Choctaw Indians: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkPpHGJcDeE&feature=related

       According to that video, this group remained in Louisiana and were based in Slidell, Louisiana after the Choctaws were forcefuilly removed from the South in the Trail of Tears. Slidell is in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. With regard to the name “Tchufuncta”, through Google, I found that there is a Tchefuncte Middle School in Mandeville, Louisiana (also in St. Tammany Parish where New Orleans, La is located).   Also, thanks to Google, I found this article http://www.insidenorthside.com… “The name “Tchefuncte” is derived from the Choctaw word “Hachofakti,” meaning a type of shrub oak tree that produced a small edible nut called “chinquapin,” which is similar to a chestnut. During the early Indian days, these trees lined the banks of the river. The Tchefuncte Indian culture can be traced to small scattered settlements along the river from as far back as 600B.C.; it continued to flourish there until A.D.200.” The accepted spelling is “Tchefuncte” (pronounced Che-funk’-tuh),..”

       -snip- Whether  or not Queen Chief Warhorse and other members of the Lousiana Chahta tribe, Tchufuncta nation are descendants of 19th century Choctaw (Chahta) peoples, it seems clear to me that that is what they are asserting. And if they are indeed descendants of Choctaw peoples, the years apart from other Choctaw peoples would certainly explain the differences in their customs from the federally recognized Choctaw people, and would also explain that group’s adoption of “pan Indian” customs and African/ European titles such as “Queen” and “Ambassador”.   Also, that Louisiana Chahta group may have been influenced to use the titles of “Queen” because other Black populations such as the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians, the Yoruba village in South Carolina, and the Gullah Geechee nation also in South Carolina use such royalty titles.  Nevertheless, I believe that those titles, and the adopted?  last name “Warhorse” feed into arguments that the Chahta tribe, Tchufuncta nation are a made up group of people, as does what appears to be that leaders’ use of stereotypical Indian attire and presentation. I think that’s unfortunate, and wish that she would learn more about Choctaw [Chacta] traditions. But that lack of knowledge doesn’t mean that Queen Chief Warhorse and her followers don’t have any Choctaw [Chahta] descendants. If they do, in my opinion, they have the right to indicate that they are Choctaws, th0ugh other Choctaws may not accept them as such. 

      • Anonymous

        In one of the videos she says that her people didn’t come here on slave ships. That her people came here long before that, and that at one time, all the Indians looked like her because all of them were from Africa, here on this continent not as slaves, but as entrepreneurs. She says that what we now call American Indians came here AFTER her people did, and that the only pure people of this continent are hers.

  • Hendrixfanwill1

    I’ll go ahead and poke the beehive. The author’s self-description declares her to be “tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico.” Given the bent of this posting, it is almost as if she using federal recognition as the benchmark of American Indian identity; more specifically she declares herself to be authentic through her registration and evaluates others accordingly. For some tribes/nations, that can make some sense, but there are others that are, for historical reasons, less well-served by that logic, particularly tribes from the southeast. While the “Queen Chief” is herself problematic, this critique communicates a strong bias; namely that federally recognized tribes are of greater legitimacy than those that are not.

    As Kendra mentioned, racial mixing has been a highly problematic aspect of the federal recognition process and has generally privileged those who are mixed with white blood over those mixed with black. This is always a challenge for those of us with Indian ancestry who are phenotypically black, even with “acceptable” blood quantum. There’s something disturbingly Nazi-esque about having to qualify as a member of a community in scientific terms and being issues an identification card from the government to verify your racial identity. Asserting a plural identity becomes problematic for those of us who are racialized as black when the terrain of belonging is not kinship, but rather ownership of the identity in question. No other group of people function that way. American Indians did not function that way historically. This is specifically because of genocide and federally funded “benefits.” Who is and is not a “real” Indian revolves around the perceptions of those who have demonstrated themselves to be at odds with the existence of survival of indigenous people in this hemisphere.

    African-Americans, almost by definition, are a mixed population. To understand us historically, is to understand a history of kinship with other groups, be they federally recognized or not, and to understand the racism that weakened those ties over time.

  • Hendrixfanwill1

    I’ll go ahead and poke the beehive. The author’s self-description declares her to be “tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico.” Given the bent of this posting, it is almost as if she using federal recognition as the benchmark of American Indian identity; more specifically she declares herself to be authentic through her registration and evaluates others accordingly. For some tribes/nations, that can make some sense, but there are others that are, for historical reasons, less well-served by that logic, particularly tribes from the southeast. While the “Queen Chief” is herself problematic, this critique communicates a strong bias; namely that federally recognized tribes are of greater legitimacy than those that are not.

    As Kendra mentioned, racial mixing has been a highly problematic aspect of the federal recognition process and has generally privileged those who are mixed with white blood over those mixed with black. This is always a challenge for those of us with Indian ancestry who are phenotypically black, even with “acceptable” blood quantum. There’s something disturbingly Nazi-esque about having to qualify as a member of a community in scientific terms and being issues an identification card from the government to verify your racial identity. Asserting a plural identity becomes problematic for those of us who are racialized as black when the terrain of belonging is not kinship, but rather ownership of the identity in question. No other group of people function that way. American Indians did not function that way historically. This is specifically because of genocide and federally funded “benefits.” Who is and is not a “real” Indian revolves around the perceptions of those who have demonstrated themselves to be at odds with the existence of survival of indigenous people in this hemisphere.

    African-Americans, almost by definition, are a mixed population. To understand us historically, is to understand a history of kinship with other groups, be they federally recognized or not, and to understand the racism that weakened those ties over time.

  • Kendra

    While I *definitely* agree with your final statement (and, yes, her seeming mismatching of tribal attributes is puzzling) , I’m always hesitant when it comes to questioning someone’s identity/lineage.  An (admittedly) quick googling is making the Tchefuncta Nation they sound somewhat akin to the Mashpee tribe in MA– ie, a tribe that’s had trouble gaining federal recognition because they’re too mixed, or have no native language or speakers of said language, or various other reasons. As a mixed woman myself who is more visually obviously one than the other, I don’t like to try and poke holes in someone’s identity before hearing them out.

  • Kendra

    While I *definitely* agree with your final statement (and, yes, her seeming mismatching of tribal attributes is puzzling) , I’m always hesitant when it comes to questioning someone’s identity/lineage.  An (admittedly) quick googling is making the Tchefuncta Nation they sound somewhat akin to the Mashpee tribe in MA– ie, a tribe that’s had trouble gaining federal recognition because they’re too mixed, or have no native language or speakers of said language, or various other reasons. As a mixed woman myself who is more visually obviously one than the other, I don’t like to try and poke holes in someone’s identity before hearing them out.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I’m uncomfortable also – I found this article about a director at the Department of Interior meeting with this tribe, and it mentions that it was the director’s first meeting with a non-federally recognized tribe.  The article describes the tribe by saying “The Tchefuncta Nation is made up of different tribes, bands and clans
      with members concentrated along the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to
      Florida. Members are descendent of those who did not move onto
      reservations in Oklahoma under the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty of 1830
      and who escaped what came to be known as the Trail of Tears. ”

      I am not in any way an expert or insider to discussions of who “qualifies” as Native American/American Indian, but my understanding is that this whole issue of recognition/non-recognition, and the issue of Black Indians (which the first picture makes it look like the Chief could be, but I am no expert here either), is very sensitive and the subject of some deep divisions.

  • Research Geek

    The Chahta tribe is what Choctaw call themselves and they are originally from the southeastern part of the United States.