MIAMI, Okla. — A monument of 10 steel feathers rising from a circular concrete base — the newest symbol of Native American unity and culture — was unveiled Monday as a tribute to 10 tribes that call Northeast Oklahoma home.

The monument dedicated as part of the first Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration on the campus of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College sits in front of Kah-Ne-You-Ah Hall. The feathers honor the nine federally recognized tribes of Ottawa County and the Cherokee Nation, and each tribal government played a role in creating the sculpture.

Mark Rasor, interim president of NEO, said the monument, in addition to marking the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, helps the campus community in several ways.

“It is important we never forget the historical injustices visited on the indigenous peoples so that those memories serve as a testimony to us of the perseverance and resilience of Native nations and the continued integrity and vitality of their cultures and governments,” Rasor said, reading from an official proclamation.

The monument was developed as Hannah Berryman, a mentor with the college's American Indian Center for Excellence, and Ryan Orcutt, with the NEO Foundation, looked for a way to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which a growing number of entities are recognizing on the second Monday of October rather than Columbus Day.

Last spring, Berryman and Orcutt began working with Corey Winesburg, a welding tech instructor at the Afton campus of Northeast Tech. The pair knew they wanted to incorporate a feather into the design as a way to honor its cultural significance and to recognize its presence on the pin that NEO students in the AICE program receive at graduation.

The feathers on the monument represent the nine members of the Inter Tribal Council: the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, the Miami Nation; the Modoc Nation, the Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma, the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, the Quapaw Nation, the Seneca-Cayuga Nation, the Shawnee Tribe, and the Wyandotte Nation, as well as the Cherokee Nation.

Rasor said more than 20% of the NEO campus comes from a native background. NEO is also one of the top 10 two-year colleges in the nation to graduate the most Native American students.

In Indigenous Peoples' Day celebration, NEO unveils new monument honoring local tribes

Mark Rasor, interim president of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, reads a proclamation during the unveiling ceremony for the Centennial Tribal Monument on the campus Monday. Globe | Roger Nomer

“The rising feathers pointing skyward represent the potential of the tribes,” Rasor said.

Chief Ethel Cook of the Ottawa Tribe, who chairs the Inter Tribal Council, read from a resolution signed by chiefs from each of the nine members recognizing the significance of the monument.

“My heart is bursting with pride,” Cook said after the ceremony. “This is so wonderful; I wish some of the previous leaders could see this. It’s a proud moment. It looks at what we’ve done, where we’ve come from and looks at where we are going.”

What it represents

Berryman brought her sons, 12-year-old Bristol and 10-year-old Jack, to watch the unveiling. She hoped they would see the monument as a representation of what she does each day — strengthening tribal relationships and the educational experiences of indigenous students.

She said it was important to mark the first Indigenous Peoples’ Day with the ceremony, saying it shows the contributions made by indigenous peoples were more important than those of Christopher Columbus.

“It’s very important because as you can see, we are still here,” Berryman said, comparing the event as a way to mark the first day of a new future.

In Indigenous Peoples' Day celebration, NEO unveils new monument honoring local tribes

Ravyn Whitebird, president of the Native American Student Association and Miss Indian NEO, listens during the unveiling ceremony for the Centennial Tribal Monument on Monday at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College. Globe | Roger Nomer

Winesburg and his students at Northeast Tech began developing the monument in April. Much of it took shape in the past month and a half, with his students spending more than 100 hours taking the monument from concept to fruition.

Each feather was created cutting stainless steel using a CNC plasma table. Winesburg said students used more than 7,000 inches of welding to create the multidimensional feathers.

“It means a lot to me to build this and put our inspiration into it,” said Winesburg, who is both Shawnee and Quapaw. “Several of my students said they can’t wait to one day show their children what they worked on as a class project.”

Dalton Cash, a graduate of Grove High School, was one of the students working on the project. He said it was inspiring and fun to work on the feathers as they learned how to shape metal and do various welds.

“To see it up now makes it even better,” Cash said. “It was nice to be able to do this and get this experience.”

Termination discussion

In Indigenous Peoples' Day celebration, NEO unveils new monument honoring local tribes

Leaders representing Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College and 10 area tribes and nations pose for a photo Monday with the new Centennial Tribal Monument on the campus. Globe | Roger Nomer

After the monument’s dedication, the college conducted a panel discussion about the federal action taken in 1959 that stripped the Ottawa, Wyandotte and Peoria tribes of their tribal citizenship. Featured panelists were Cook, Chief Billy Friend of the Wyandotte Nation and Chief Craig Harper of the Peoria Tribe.

The move, which took place in August 1959, was designed to force natives to become mainstream and to assimilate into American culture, said moderator David Dry, of the University of North Carolina.

Terminating rights meant legally the tribes no longer existed, and its members could not receive benefits from the Indian Health System or the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Approximately 12,000 Native Americans were part of this action, with at least 2,000 coming from three tribes in Ottawa County.

In the early 1970s, tribal leaders including members of the Inter Tribal Council went to Congress to seek restoration of the rights. Federal recognition was not returned to the tribes until May 15, 1978.

Each chief discussed how the terminations affected tribal elders at the time. Ultimately, Cook said, the time of termination, although difficult, made the tribes stronger and more determined to function as a tribe.

There are 573 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., of which 38 are located in Oklahoma and nine have jurisdictional lands in Ottawa County. Of those federally recognized tribes, 238 are self-governing tribes, Friend said. The remainder are governed directly by the BIA.

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