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American Indian Arts in Kansas

Randy MillerRandy Miller learned the art of storytelling from his grandparents while growing up on the Seminole reservation in Oklahoma. Miller’s mother helped to instill pride in his cultural heritage to share with others.

“My mother reminded me ‘Don’t lose your language,’” Miller recalled. “’Because your language has a value, a different meaning, a deeper understanding.’”

At Haskell Indian Nations University, Miller studied art and learned to tell traditional stories through painting. His murals at the Kickapoo Nation School in Powhattan help to connect students with their past.

Miller’s mother understood the importance of cultural connections. Many American Indian families struggled to maintain these customs during the times of forced migration, the mission school experience, and separation from tribal members.

Betty Nixon learned buckskin and beadwork from her grandmother. A member of the Kiowa tribe, Nixon began developing her skill as a child. She continues the family tradition making moccasins, leggings, and dresses, as did her grandmother.

“She was a great artist,” Nixon recalled. “She made her own headdress and tanned her own hides.”

For more than 300 years, the Collins family made drums for the Ponca tribe.

At the age of six, Henry Collins took his first drum-making lesson from his father in Oklahoma, following in the footsteps of his ancestors.

“The drum, according to Ponca tribal legend, is a person, a Holy Spirit, and it must be made and taken care of accordingly,” Collins said. “When you bring one of these drums out, everybody feels the excitement that something is going to happen. When they see a drum, they are just drawn to it.”

Peggy Standing Deer learned the art of beading from her grandfather when she was 19. A member of the eastern band of Cherokee, Standing Deer worked for Barnum and Bailey Circus, beading costumes for the performers. There she learned techniques that she could later apply to her work.

Standing Deer creates intricate, unique bead patterns. “Most of the people in my family wanted roses,” Standing Deer said. “Whatever particular rose I did for my grandpa, my sister, or a cousin, it was just for that person and I can’t reproduce it for anybody else.”

Creating and sharing the pieces fills Standing Deer with satisfaction. “The closer I get to finishing, the more excited my spirit gets,” Standing Deer said. “When I finish it and give it to the person and they see it, it really makes me feel good.”

Kevin Throssell’s grandfather taught him how to make traditional wire baskets from baling wire. The basket style was designed to hold cactus buds. In the arid climate of Arizona, baling wire won’t rust. For humid Kansas climates, Throssell learned to add a decorative finish to prevent rusting.

“I am trying to go beyond the utilitarian style,” Throssell said. “I try to do just about every other shape to make an art form besides something you use.”

Yvonne Schuckahosee Negonsott learned to dance when she was very young. Negonsott grew up among the Kickapoo of her father’s heritage. She also learned traditional skills, such as beadwork, quillwork, and quilting, from her mother’s side of the family – the Sac and Fox and Winnebago.

“My mother would say, ‘I’m not always going to be here so you better sit down here and I’ll show you how to do this,’” Negonsott said. “I didn’t want to, but I did, and I’m glad I did now.”

Exhibits at Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site in Fairway help visitors learn more about the journey of these immigrant people to Kansas. Here they learned to adapt traditional Woodlands cultures to the plains environment. Through their own voices, these descendants explain how they are passing on cultural traditions to future generations.

Entry: American Indian Arts in Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2010

Date Modified: December 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.