May 02, 2012

"Queen Chief Warhorse"

Along with Elizabeth Warren, another questionable is in the news. Two Native bloggers comment on "Queen Chief Warhorse," a woman who spoke at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Second Annual America Healing Conference.

“Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchefuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe”

By Debbie ReeseI 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?
(Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 4/25/12.)

Don’t Know Much About Indians (but i let non-indians speak for them anyways) [Point]

By Gyasi Ross[T]wo champions of racial equity, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Racialicious reporting from the Racial Equity conference, do not show the same respect for the Native ethnic discourse. They’re not alone—nobody else does either. It’s typical.

See, a woman that looked phenotypically black spoke on behalf of Native people at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Second Annual America Healing Conference. No big deal—there are plenty of Native people who are mixed with black, white and every other ethnicity. Still, she claimed to be a member of a Tribe that is not federally recognized, nor is there much of a historical record of such a Tribe’s existence.

Still, despite her lack of Native credentials, the W.K Kellogg Foundation and Racialicious treated her speech as if she was a worthy speaker for Native people. Now, when a phenotypically black woman claims to come from a Tribe that hardly anybody (including other Natives) even seems to know about, purports to speak for Native people, it should raise some initial questions in people’s minds about her legitimacy as a spokesperson. It should raise some questions just like it would raise questions if she were phenotypically white or phenotypically Asian and spoke as a representative of Native people. Although “looks” aren’t the only criteria to be able to speak for Native people, someone that looks distinctively like a member of another ethnic group should still raise some reasonable questions.

Native people do, after all, have criteria. We are not an all-inclusive club that only requires a few feathers and/or a cool sounding “Indian Name” for membership.

Some of those questions might look like this: “Is she a member of a federally recognized Indian Tribe?” Being a member of a federally recognized Indian Tribe is definitely not the only criteria for authenticity, but it holds a certain level of presumptive validity. In this case, the answer is a resounding “no,” and in fact, the Tribe she purports barely anyone has ever heard of before. Importantly, that question might lead to another reasonable question such as, “If he or she is not a member of a federally recognized Indian Tribe, do other Native people recognize that purported Native person as a leader or spokesperson (or even a Native)?”
Evidence for the Tchefuncta Nation

For once I think the critics are being a little harsh on an alleged Native. A fair amount of info is available on "Warhorse" and her tribe.

White House pays Tchefuncta Nation visit in its 'White House'

By Sharon EdwardsThe piney woods of St. Tammany Parish was the setting for a recent White House Constituency Roundtable. Director Gail Adams of the Department of Interior’s Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs convened the meeting Thursday at the Tchefuncta Nation headquarters in Bonfouca, a historic American Indian village near Slidell.

Chahta Chief Elwin “Warhorse” Gillum of the Tchefuncta Nation presented a 25-page packet, which covers the economic development programs of the nation whose members, according to the 2010 census, are in 30 states. Gillum welcomed Adams to what she called “my nation’s White House.” She said she felt proud to be able to tell her elders that “today, the White House came to the woods.”

Chahta Indians coming out of exile

By Ronni ArmsteadQueen Chief Warhorse (Ms. Elwin Green Gillum) organized a Pow Wow at 61357 Dixie Ranch Road, Slidell, Louisiana 70460; Historical Bonfouca, West Florida. The Pow Wow was preceded by a procession taking place at 10am on Northshore Blvd in Slidell. In her invitation Warhorse says: 'We will be coming out of 201 years of exile as prisoners of war and would like to extend this invitation to you, come and share this historical event and celebration. Coming out of exile is the beginning of another level that will give me the ability to fight further to save my NATION, our BURIALS, our HISTORY, our CULTURE and our LAND from being given to other tribes.' By other tribes, Queen Chief Warhorse may be referring to the white settlers and their children who have since laid claim to St. Tammany Parish. In her efforts to gain visibility and cultivate a larger network of friends and supporters, Queen Chief Warhorse has announced 'the selection of my Ambassador of the Tchefuncta Nation, Cousin and chief aide Cyril Neville.'

Ms. Elwin Gillum is a Black Indian who is working with historians to document the history of the Chahta Indians--cousins to the Choctaw. Ms. Gillum has unearthed documents from the days of the Louisiana purchase detailing the history of her people well before statehood. She is the direct descendent of the last Queen of the Tchefuncta Nation, who ruled over the nation when, as a part of the Florida Territory, they lived under treaty with Spain. Like the Seminole, who harbored Black people seeking to escape enslavement, Chahta bloodlines are now thoroughly intermixed. Because of generations of racial and ethnic admixture, the process of applying for federal recognition remains an uphill battle.

Chahta tribe's work for 2010 census is rewarded

By Sharon EdwardsThe Chahta tribe of American Indians in St. Tammany Parish have won an award for their efforts in the 2010 census. But members are not resting on their laurels. They are already making plans for the 2020 count.

The Chahta tribe received recognition from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census, for its support in ‘raising awareness of and inspiring participation in the 2010 census.’
Sure, the "Queen Chief Warhorse" and stereotypical Plains headdress are ridiculous. I'm guessing Gillum has a big ego and is largely responsible for the tribe's existence.

Her people seem to wear equally ridiculous Mardi Gras-style costumes at events. These costumes don't come from any pre-contact Indian culture. People invented them because they didn't have any traditional clothing of their own.

On the other hand, the BIA visit and Census recognition are evidence that the government takes the tribe seriously. Either the tribe is manipulating the feds or the feds are aware of the tribe's history and consider it legit.

Critics of Ross's column

The commenters on Ross's column identified some problems with it:Willow

When did "wigger" become an acceptable term to use? You set up an argument, and then nullify it. Why mention this woman's phenotypical looks at all if it doesn't matter in the assessment of her authenticity? You try to downplay that her blackness should make us "suspicious," but that's exactly what you mean. Why not just say it? I think maybe you should examine some of your own internalization of dominating ideas of race and heritage before you write article accusing others of a lack of respect. Seriously, you lost me at WIGGER.


A very disappointing article/argument from an author whose work I usually enjoy reading because he challenges the safety blankets that we Native people often retreat to. The presumptuous (assuming the organizers did not consider issues of authenticity) and passive-agressive (throwing into the mix phenotype and federal status and then taking it back) tone of this article was jarring. I personally feel that we as Native people need to sincerely acknowledge that none of us as a singular person or a tribe/nation is an arbiter of authenticity. We often criticize non-Natives for essentializing us, but we too often do it to ourselves to our own detriment. We have a multitude of perspectives, phenotypes, political statuses, histories, and "traditions" We say that Native identity is not a club, but we often treat it as such, like there is a some sort of universal litmus test that will completely affirm or deny membership. Perhaps Chief Warhorse's message, which the author does not elucidate, resonated with some Native and non-Native people.

kia ahatia

I really disagree with the reasons you oppose her, without wanting to defend her because I have never heard of her before and I don't know anything about her.. but first, regarding federal recognition, you say yourself that the state appoints comprador leaders to serve their own agenda, it is true and they also define Indigenous nations to suit themselves too, why is federal recognition of leaders a problem if federal recognition of nations isn't?
On the other hand:Sarah

I've been watching videos of interviews with Queen Chief Warhorse. She comes across dismissive of actual federally recognized tribes. She regularly says she's done a lot of historical and genealogical research but unfortunately the specifics are not shared.

Her story has changed over time, back in 2002 she said her heritage was Cherokee from an ancestor named Andrew Green who came to Louisana from Georgie.

I think it would be fine for her to form a heritage interest group, to research, and encourage pride in heritage. But calling her group a Tribe (one that rightfully should be in nation to nation negotiations with the USA) is really problematic.
Overall I'd say the Tchefuncta Nation is borderline--in a gray area between Indians and wannabes. It has some continuity with the past, but it's also "borrowing" things to fill in the gaps.

I wouldn't invite "Queen Chief Warhorse" to be the sole or primary Indian for an event. But she could be one among many speakers, giving the perspective of black Indians and other multiracial people. Unlike Reese and Ross, I wouldn't automatically dismiss her as a non-Native.

For more on black Indians, see Indian Blood = Black Myth? and Is Chris Brown Native?


Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:

"Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchufuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe" Elwin Green Gillum

Anonymous said...

"Her people seem to wear equally ridiculous Mardi Gras-style costumes at events"

If people knew the reasoning behind this it would not seem so ridiculous, but again sometimes one just needs to hear it from the horses mouth!

Rob said...

I know the reasons behind the Mardi Gras costumes and I still think they're ridiculous. Not to mention stereotypical.