More to Indians than Casinos

Back entrance to Tulsa’s Hard Rock Cherokee casino.

My feelings about casinos and American Indians are much like my feelings about potatoes and Idaho (I grew up in Idaho). With the numbers of truly remarkable, classy, academic, artistic, historic, record-breaking things to know about Idaho, not to mention the jaw-dropping natural wonders, it is sad and frustrating that people only know us for the potatoes. But then… if it weren’t for the potatoes, I think there are people who would forget Idaho exists.

Likewise casinos and Indians.

A few friends saw my trip to Cherokee country in terms of casinos. Before and during the trip, they asked if I went to a casino, or how many casinos, or recommended a casino. I debated whether I should intentionally avoid mentioning casinos in my blog and on facebook, in case I contribute to this skewed perception of Indians. I decided that I can’t change anyone’s perception. I’ll just write my blog for me. That’s how I usually do it.

Inside the casino.
I brought Bone with me, and you can see him as he contemplates his odds here at the slots on the left of the photo.

A fellow blogger at Wandering Through Time and Place introduced me to Bone, the travelling bone, who hitched a ride to Oklahoma with me.

I’ve got some neat stuff to share in the next several posts. The first half of the week was a conference at a hotel in Tulsa. You can get a snapshot of it if you read my previous blog post. The second half of the week was touring Cherokee historical sites, landmarks, museums, memorials, and administrative centers. We also had a class to learn some of the Cherokee language.

The Mt. Hood Cherokees in Portland have a sister community in Stilwell, Oklahoma. Our two groups were paired with each other by the Cherokee Nation in hopes that it would foster relationships and improve shared resources and ideas among regular people. This is to teach us to rely on each other as well as on our government because a critical part of Cherokee tradition is community, shared resources, and gadugi – working together for the common good. A few members of my sister group, Stilwell Public Library Friends were at the conference and they actively sought me out and made it a point to be at my service.

Dennis, me, and Regina
An 80s cover band, sorry I didn’t catch their name.

Even though a casino trip was not a part of the conference, a couple of the locals I spoke with told me that the nearby Hard Rock casino in Tulsa is a beautiful Cherokee facility with Indian arts and artifacts displayed and definitely worth seeing. I mentioned casually to Regina and Dennis from Stilwell that I tried to get a hotel shuttle to see the casino my first day here, but the hotel shuttle was booked. I was not asking for a ride, but they were powerless to resist the urge to help a nice lady stranded at the hotel. Saturday night after the awards ceremony, we headed right over.

A Dave Matthews display
Saxophone chandelier

Agreed: it’s worth a visit, and I used to live in Nevada, so I’d like to believe I can recognize a quality casino. The place is beautifully designed inside and since it’s a Hard Rock facility, there is wonderful music memorabilia on display. We took the time to wander throughout the entire casino and look at every display we could find. There were guitars and performance costumes and records of famous musicians. There were large collections of Elvis and Beatles memorabilia (Beatles shampoo – who knew?) The second floor holds some exceptional and tastefully displayed artifacts and sculpture. It was sort of a punch in the gut to see that the information plates do not advertise the artist’s name, but instead say something like, “Cherokee woven basket,” or “Cherokee Native beadwork.” Imagine going to a museum and reading the information plate and it says, “Oregonian oil painting.” It homogenizes anyone who lives in Oregon, and it diminishes the piece itself, and the artist. Clever artists put their names where the curious could find them. A couple pieces were signed. Dennis discovered that if you stand on tiptoes and look inside a clay bowl, for example, you will find the artist’s business card. Regina and Dennis recognized the style of several pieces, and guessed the artist for me. More than once, Regina sighed with disappointment, “But I want to know who made this.”

Detail from the Dave Matthews guitar. It looks like a friend probably took a sharpie to his guitar one night…
One of the displays is turtle shell rattles that women wear on their legs in a stomp dance. I have been told they’re quite heavy and it takes some strength and stamina to keep time with the dancers all night long.

In the conference room area, the hallways are adorned with some stunning pieces, and in this section, the artists are all properly identified. There is a satisfying variety of mediums, subjects, and styles. My favourite piece was Uktena with Crystal, by Jane Osti. I collect dragons and Uktena is the closest thing to a dragon I can find in Cherokee tradition. Cherokees know that Uktena’s power is in the crystal on it’s head, so that’s what the title refers to. But for a few minutes, Uktena was with another Crystal. I encourage you to do what we did if you find yourself in this casino: wander and soak it up!

And the place is a casino, too! What fun it was to walk through the jingling sounds, the machine noises so familiar to me from years ago and spending a lot of time in casinos. The lights are a riot of colours, blinking, strobes and mood-inducing illumination. The carpets are wild! The chrome polished slot machines and golden chandeliers reflected everything back at itself. People laughed, groaned, and whooped! We passed a live band, and each time they launched into a new cover of an 80s hit, the audience gleefully cheered. Gamblers, dancers, and nearby employees were all singing along and grinning.

Conjuration, by Fishinghawk

By this time it was too late to gamble, though we all would have been game for it if it was not so late and/or I did not have to get up at 6am (Regina and Dennis were driving home the next day and could set their own schedule). So after we had seen all that we could see, we left and went back to the hotel.

The next day I was surprised to find that our Cherokee group did go on a planned trip to the Hard Rock casino. Our itinerary just said “lunch,” so that’s how I missed the news. No time to gamble though, which is good, because I had not purchased any gifts yet and needed to save my money. We stopped by for lunch, and so we hit the one thing I had missed the night before: sampling the restaurants. We ate at the buffet and it was excellent! One of the best meals of the entire trip. It is often the case that casino food is out of this world, and I was absolutely satisfied with this meal. More than satisfied. By the time I got to pecan pie with whipped cream and ice cream, I was pushing maximum density.

Then we hit the highway and headed out of Tulsa on our way to Tahlequah.

The name of this piece is Uktena with Crystal, by Jane Osti, Cherokee National Treasure. Bone likes this one.

14 thoughts on “More to Indians than Casinos

  1. A vibrant description of this wonderful adventure you are on, Crystal. I didn’t know about the casinos. The reason we have a Dragon Bed in the garden is because of our granddaughter Flo’s fascination with dragons.

    1. Derrick, there are parts of the U.S. that restrict gambling or ban it outright, because it is supposedly immoral, or promotes corruption. However, many Indian tribes have land of their own. The tribes can operate as separate sovereign governments within the US, and the tribes who do so are not fully restricted by the state government where the tribal land is located. It is often the case that the state cannot prohibit the practice of gambling or the operation of a casino within federally recognized tribal land. Indian communities are often poor, being small and without many resources (not to mention centuries of oppression, but I won’t go there), but casinos are fabulous revenue and employment generators! So… over the years, as more and more casinos began appearing on Indian land (often these are Indian Reservations), the American public began to make a mental connection between Indians and casinos. Casinos are huge, flashy, often a destination location, and they engage in a lot of advertisement, so they are easy to remember.

      Flo and I have dragons in common. My interest is always piqued when you mention the Dragon Bed in your blog. 😉

  2. It sounds like you have had a really full week of all the things that make you happy and challenge your mind. Looking forward to hearing more. I know what you mean about the lack of credit to the artists. It saddens me. The casino in Pinetop, AZ was where we went to eat a good meal out or celebrate an event. I didn’t gamble but loved the brunches. Maybe that’s why I ended up so round. 🙂 It was a mile from our house on the Apache Reservation. Very interesting.

    1. Yes, the week was packed with great stuff. My week back home is still packed, and I haven’t had much of a chance to post, but I’m still trying to write a little bit when I get a moment. Just got a text from Tara who wants a ride home now that finals are over. So I guess I’m driving to Corvallis today instead of blogging. It’ll be good to see the kid again before they head back for a summer session.

      Anyhoo, more Indian stuff to come! And maybe I’ll have time to read someone else’s blog someday too.

      1. Yes, I’m alright. Just recovering from the VISIT with T.S. We had a lot packed into 10 days and I have been needing 2 naps a day to get back some energy. Time for a walk to see if I can generate a little forward movement. 🙂

    1. Ha ha!! I know! I wouldn’t have thought of it either, except I was really in that frame of mind, you know? The whole reason I was in Oklahoma was to learn about Cherokees. Then I was talking with some patrons sitting beside me at the bar in Chili’s, and they were trying to help me think of things to do in Tulsa, and one of them told me there were art pieces at the casino. When Regina and Dennis took me to the casino, it was late, we had been in conferences all day long for two days, and we all had to travel the next day. So we realized it wasn’t going to be practical to try to gamble. It made the most sense just to take in the sights, and it turned out to be a really good idea.

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