Interview with the late Cherokee Deputy Chief Hastings Shade [classic article]

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I talked to Hastings Shade, the 58-year old Deputy Chief of the Cherokee Nation by telephone to his headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Shade is a direct descendant of Sequoia, the inventor of the Cherokee Alphabet. He presides, along with the Chief, over 105,000 people spread out over 14 Oklahoma counties designated as part of the “Cherokee Nation.” There are over 212,000 Cherokees worldwide. Of these, only 2 percent are estimated to be “full-blood.” While I was on hold, I listened to the strains of a chorus singing “Amazing Grace” in Cherokee.

Shade became involved in tribal politics by a round-about path. “I’ve done everything…everything that was legal!” He has supported himself and his family with traditional crafts, logging, building homes, and hunting/selling pelts. But his main love is teaching. “It doesn’t hurt that I am a descendant of Sequoia. I’ve been teaching the language more than 30 years. I started when I realized we were losing the language. My wife and I will continue to teach after my term is over. It was a hard choice, to leave teaching. I can reach more people and open more doors though, as a Deputy Chief.”

Shade’s philosophy is that “paid work and volunteer work is not divided. I get paid for my work sometimes, and that’s fine. If not, that’s also fine. Take teaching. I’ll go to a school and if they’ve got it in their budget to pay me, OK, or else I tell them, ‘We won’t worry about it now.'”. His tribal position pays less than $50,000. “And,” he says, “You can’t accept anything. Maybe dinner. Yes, I’ll accept a good meal. That’s differenet from 100 years ago. There’s a reason for that: You accept gifts and you open yourself to obligations. And believe me,” he laughs, “They’ll remind you.”

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When asked about how he feels about the Native (a Shoshone-Bannock) on the new $1 dollar gold coin, Shade says pointedly, “I remember when there was a saying, ‘The only Indian you can love is on a nickel.’ I don’t like it. I don’t like the Atlanta Braves or the Washington Redskins, either. Call us who we are, not what you think we are.”

He points out that the Cherokees have not yet been approached about hosting extreme sports, but that they do run bingo games and casinos. “We borrowed the money from the banks. We also have 10 percent of our $155 million budget that is discretionary. This money is mostly Federal, from the motor fuel tax. We borrowed money so that we wouldn’t have to bring in outsiders, unlike some other tribes.”

Shade’s artistic talents led to an award from former-Chief Wilma Mankiller. He addressed the change in Native art from ‘home use’ to international market. “I do ‘crafts’, which used to be tools: the bow, the stickball, blow gun. We don’t need them for survival anymore. But I can make a bow and sell it for $600. You couldn’t give them away before. We want to expand that. We have buyers from Germany, France and England, but no diret marketing. We do have a Web site. We want to create a Mexican-type open marketplace, or like they have in Gallup, New Mexico. We don’t use the tourist dollar enough. Our products, unlike many other tribes’, are 100 percent Native created, Native materials.”

The Cherokee Nation just received a grant for energy-efficient homes and as Shade acknowledges,”We will take care of Mother Earth. We won’t clear-cut or doze.”

Shade has instituted Youth-Elder camps, which have proved very popular with the aging Baby Boomers. “We have many non-Native people come, 300-400. We can handle triple that number and do it year-round, too. Now, the camps last for the weekend. There are crafts, traditional cooking, story-telling. We mingle, enjoy, visit. You can come just to talk. We don’t do enough talking between the generations.”

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