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Chickasaw Nation venerates artists and other cultural advocates during cultural evening and awards ceremony

Release Date: 10.01.2021
By: Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

  • Chickasaw Nation Silver Feather Award recipient Gene Underwood

Silver Feather recipient designated and SEASAM winners announced

ADA, Okla. – Artists, elders, creators and craftspeople were among the culture-bearers honored during the virtual Chickasaw Nation Arts and Culture Award ceremony conducted Sept. 30, and currently available to view online at

Highlights of the evening included the naming of this year’s Silver Feather Award recipient as well as the announcement of the 2021 youth and adult Southeastern Art Show and Market (SEASAM) winners. The Chickasaw Press and White Dog Press unveiled a variety of new books, some breaking new ground in the areas of genre and format, each with a video showcase.

In addition to the awards ceremony, the Chickasaw Cultural Evening offered a chance to learn about and join in on the living culture of the Chickasaws, with demonstrations of stomp dancing, weaponry such as the blowgun and how to cook traditional dishes such as grape dumplings.

Wilson Seawright, archivist at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, served as virtual guide and master of ceremonies.

“Chickasaw Cultural Evening is a wonderful time, as we celebrate our Chickasaw art, food, dance and so much more. This year, we continue to celebrate our heritage together while remaining safely apart,” Seawright said.

Seawright introduced Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, who spoke about the importance of culture.

“Each year, the cultural evening presents an opportunity for us to honor and celebrate our unique cultural identity. This evening, we celebrate by emphasizing various aspects of our culture,” Governor Anoatubby said. “We have much to celebrate tonight. From the beginning of our tribe as a distinct and sovereign nation until today, we have diligently preserved and passed down our culture to younger generations. So, let’s celebrate our culture. Let’s celebrate being Chickasaw. Chikasha poya, we are Chickasaw, a united people with a strong cultural identity. Yakoke and thank you for joining us for this cultural evening celebration.”

Silver Feather - Gene Underwood

Gene Underwood – Chickasaw elder, Chickasaw Hall of Fame member and previous tribal legislator having served three terms – received the prestigious Silver Feather Award.

Created in 1999, the Silver Feather Award honors Chickasaws who have committed their lives to the preservation and revitalization of Chickasaw culture, language and life tradition.

“The Silver Feather Award is a distinguished honor given to Chickasaws who commit themselves to ensuring our culture thrives for generations to come. Former tribal legislator and culture-bearer Gene Underwood embodies such a commitment,” Governor Anoatubby said. “Gene has kept Chickasaw traditions alive by sharing his vast cultural knowledge with those around him.”

Chickasaw Nation History and Culture Division Executive Officer Lori Hamilton presented the award and spoke about the award’s symbolic meaning.

“The Silver Feather Award itself is a physical representation of two important resources to Chickasaw people: history and culture,” Hamilton said. “The first symbol is the feather. Feathers are one of the most honored gifts a First American can receive. Culturally significant feathers for Chickasaw people include eagle, hawk, turkey and swan, to name a few. The second and final symbol of this award is the silver. Silver is significant because of its endurance and captivating shine that caught the eye of our Chickasaw ancestors more than 500 years ago and became a much-sought-after trade item.”

Just like these culturally important resources, Hamilton said each Silver Feather Award recipient is a Chickasaw treasure who is held in the highest regard by the Chickasaw Nation.

Gene Underwood’s granddaughter, Taloa Underwood, received the award on his behalf. She shared his story and memories, which she holds close and from which she draws insight.

“My grandfather, or Papa as I like to call him, was born in 1934 to parents Joe and Mary Underwood. As I share important aspects of his life, I’d also like to share the stories that have inspired me and continue to inspire me throughout my life,” she said.

She spoke of one particular evening, sitting in the carport with her grandfather, sharing her troubles from school, when Gene Underwood inspired her to appreciate educational opportunities.

“He laughed and told me that he understood but also how grateful I should be to be able to attend school and get an education,” Taloa Underwood said.

Gene Underwood told his granddaughter that his own father had offered to let him drop out if he wanted.

“At the time, they were too poor to afford school shoes, clothing or supplies,” Taloa Underwood explained. “But, that didn’t stop my papa. He attended and graduated from Russett High School in 1956. From there, he went on to attend Haskell (Indian Nations University) in Lawrence, Kansas.”

She recalled how her grandfather relocated to California as part of a federal program meant to assimilate First Americans into mainstream culture, but instead he found his wife, Juanita Underwood, and a whole group of First Americans who fostered a sense of community there.

After moving back to Oklahoma, Gene Underwood served three terms in the Chickasaw legislature. He made it a point to share Chickasaw lifeways and language with his family.

“It was just so important to him, our culture, our identity and our way of life,” Taloa Underwood said. “So, I thank my grandfather for being here today, teaching me and instilling in me the culture of the Chickasaw Nation.”

“Gene is a tremendous example of what it means to be Chickasaw. He is both a servant leader and a lifelong learner of our Chickasaw culture, which he has been so gracious to share with us over the years,” Governor Anoatubby said.

Southeastern Art Show and Market winners

Awards were presented to winners of SEASAM, where artists were able to enter one piece of artwork to be judged in one of 15 categories.

Submitted artworks included paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, jewelry, pottery, textiles, baskets, regalia and more.

Chickasaw Nation Arts and Humanities Division Executive Officer Laura Stewart spoke about the purpose of SEASAM and introduced the lineup of winners.

“The Southeastern Art Show and Market, or SEASAM, provides professional development and networking opportunities for Southeastern and Woodland First American artists,” Stewart explained “SEASAM is committed to fostering cultural identity through contemporary and traditional styles of fine art while offering a marketplace for artists.”

For artists, the annual competition is an opportunity to display and sell their work. Viewers and patrons gain a greater awareness and appreciation for Southeastern First American culture through these pieces of fine art showcased.

“We are very proud of all the artists and their attention to the aesthetic quality of their artwork,” Stewart said.

The top winners in each category were:

Best in Division, Cultural – Monica Jo Raphael, Grand Traverse Band Ottawa and Chippewa
Best in Division, 3D Art – Sandy Fife Wilson, Muscogee
Best in Division, 2D Art – Dan HorseChief, Cherokee

What would normally be awarded as “Best in Show” will this year be a “People’s Choice Award” open for voting as of Friday, Oct. 1, at and announced on the website Monday, Nov. 8. One vote per email address is allowed, and voting closes Friday, Nov. 5.

Chance Brown, Chickasaw, placed first in the painting category. Bryan Waytula, Cherokee, placed first in the drawing category. Jim Trosper, Chickasaw, placed first in the photography category. Mary Ruth Barnes, Chickasaw, placed first in the graphic arts category. Dustin Illetewahke Mater, Chickasaw, placed first in the mixed media category. Gene “IronMan” Smith, Choctaw, placed first in the sculpture category. Toneh Chuleewah, Cherokee, placed first in the jewelry category. Karen Berry, Cherokee, placed first in the textiles category. Desmond Ellsworth, of the Nansemond Indian Nation, placed first in the baskets category. Martha Berry, Cherokee, placed first in the beadwork/quillwork category. Sheena Logan, Seminole, placed first in the traditional dress and regalia category. A. Wayne “Tay Sha” Earles, Caddo, placed first in the weaponry category. Chase Kahwinhut Earles, Caddo, placed first in the pottery category. Lokosh (Joshua D. Hinson), Chickasaw, placed first in the diverse category.

Judges awards were earned by Rena Smith, Chickasaw; Sharon Gregory, Chickasaw; Verna Bates, Cherokee; Courtney Smith, Chickasaw; Tyson Hudson, Chickasaw; Natalie Hilton, Chickasaw; Kelly Langley, Chickasaw; Lance Straughn, Chickasaw; Landry Kelly, Chickasaw; and Brent Deramus, Choctaw.

Among the category winners for youth were Logan Helden, Chickasaw, in painting; Alexander Hilinski, Chickasaw, in beadwork; Olivia Hilton, Chickasaw, in painting; Seth Jones, Chickasaw, in drawing; Carter Kornegay, Chickasaw, in jewelry; Sophie Mater, Chickasaw, in mixed media; and Anita Ashley Mitchell, Cherokee, in drawing.

SEASAM is open to all artists of Southeastern and Woodland tribes. All participating artists’ work is showcased online at

To enjoy all the festivities of the Chickasaw Annual Meeting and Festival, including this year’s awards ceremony, cultural evening and cultural demonstrations, visit