By Roseanne McKee
Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise
A warrior from the Comanche Nation is traveling all across Oklahoma to keep Native American culture alive and well in modern times.
Dr. Jay Craig of Bristow spoke to the Bartlesville Rotary Club Monday about the importance of the state’s Native heritage and traditions. During the meeting at the Bartlesville Community Center, Craig wore traditional Comanche regalia and began with a prayer in the Comanche language.
“Natives are some of the most spiritual people in the world. We pray to Creator for everything. Most prayers are in the form of songs,” Craig said after the prayer. “We ask Creator to give strength to a warrior in battle.”
During such prayers and songs, the drum is used and is struck in a manner that resembles a heart beat or waves, he said.
Speaking about his clothing, Craig said, “I made everything you see here except the shirt.”
The moccasins were made from deer leather, the breast plate was made from bison bone and he wore an Otter skin down his back decorated with military service pieces he had earned. Craig wore a roach headpiece, carried a painted bison jawbone, which he uses as dance stick when he straight dances, and an Eagle feather fan.
“We don’t wear costumes. … We wear regalia to celebrate who we are. This straight dance outfit is the equivalent of our tuxedo. Normally, I’d wear bells on my ankles,” Craig said. Although Comanche people don’t use music in their dances, they utilize the drum and some have bells or turtle shells to add to the sound of the drum, Craig explained.
The bison bone on his breastplate is just one part of the animal used. “We used the buffalo for everything — rugs, cloths, blankets, teepees,” he said.
His belt, which has strands that reach below the knee, was made using finger weaving that took five months for the women who made it to construct, Craig said.
He wore a real scalping knife at his waist, which he had an audience member remove from its leather sheath.
Eagle feathers are an important part of their regalia.
“Traditionally, we believe the Creator used the eagle to bring man to earth. They’re great hunters and they fly the highest. If you drop an eagle feather, only a warrior or an elder can pick it up and then you say a prayer to Creator asking for forgiveness for dropping it,” Craig said.
Originally from Washington state, Oregon and northern Idaho, the Comanche tribe broke off from the Shoshone people and migrated east following a dispute about who had killed a bear, Craig said. After their departure, the Comanche began to tame and ride horses.
“One of the things that made us such warriors of the plains was our mastery of horses. We fought on horseback, which gave us an advantage,” he said. A Comanche warrior might have as many as 300 horses and Comanche chiefs would have up to 1,500, he said.
“We’re nomads who followed the buffalo herd. In Utah the Ute had a word they called us meaning ‘for those who make war on us,’” he said. This word began to be used to refer to the tribe. Later the Spanish and then those in the Oklahoma territory changed the pronunciation until it became what it is today — Comanche. Their real name is Numinu, Craig said.
Craig described the tribe as patriarchal. The women sit around the outside of the drum circle behind the men in the inner circle, he said. “Men did just four things, made weapons, hunted, fought and made babies. Women did everything else — cleaned the game, skinned it and kept the camp.”
The Comanche refer their top leader as the chairman. They no longer use the term chief as a way of showing honor to the last great Comanche Chief, Quanaw Parker, Craig said.
Craig taught the Comanche words for yes, no and thank you — ha, ke and gura, respectively, to Bartlesville School Superintendent Chuck McCauley and the rest of the Rotarians.
There are different dialects of the Comanche language, which is only spoken by about 450 Comanches and the Shoshone people. Every year the Comanche and the Shoshone meet to speak the language, he said.
Today, the Comanche tribe has become a sovereign nation with its own constitution headquartered in Lawton with approximately 14,000 members, Craig said.
Because one-quarter blood quantum is required for membership, their numbers will continue to dwindle — something Craig said he is working to change. Other tribes, such as the Cherokee, don’t use blood quantum to determine membership, he said.