Five tribes in Oklahoma have women as leaders 8-07

WYANDOTTE, Okla. (AP) - Before becoming the Eastern Shawnee chief,
Glenna Wallace served for years as the tribe's secretary, eventually
replacing her brother who was chief.

Now in public meetings, Wallace is often asked how she should be
addressed, although she answers her phone with a lilting, “This is
Chief Glenna.”

“People want to know, 'What do we call you?'”  she said. “Like
chief is a man's word.”

In a state with 37 federally recognized tribes, five - or nearly 14
percent - are led by women.

The Sac & Fox Nation has Chief Kay Rhoads; the Eastern Shawnee
recently picked Wallace as chief; Bernadette Huber is ending a
two-year term as Iowa Tribe chairwoman; LaRue Parker is the Caddo
tribal chairwoman; and the Absentee Shawnee recently inaugurated
Jennifer Onzahwah as governor.

Most tribes are patriarchal in philosophy, Rhoads said. She tells a
story about electing officers to a new tribal coalition, the United
Indian Nations of Oklahoma. The positions of president and vice
president were filled with men.

“I just knew they were going to make me the secretary,” Rhoads
said, laughing. “Men leaders have a tendency to stereotype in that

Female tribal leaders in Oklahoma are not a novelty. Among the first
in Oklahoma, Wilma Mankiller served as Cherokee principal chief from
1987 to 1995.

Since then, female tribal leaders who have followed Mankiller have
had to fight for recognition, Caddo Chairwoman Parker said. Parker's
tribe has its headquarters near Binger.

“Even today, I've seen two or three men leaders on the other side of
the state who have been given a lot of attention, more so than
women,” she said. “But it seems we're still not at that point where
people recognize that women have a lot to offer.”

Parker credits women leaders for having sensitivity to traditions and
less on money. At age 72, she is in her eighth year as tribal

“If you can't hold onto your cultural identity as a tribe, then who
are you?” Parker said. “Men are more concerned with the bottom line
and creating jobs. That's important, but there's a balance.”

Bernadette Huber is near the end of a two-year term for the Iowa
Tribe. She will be replaced by another chairwoman. Huber said while
in office, she gained the reputation as someone “who followed the

“A lot of people are still sexist in regard to female leaders. I've
been in groups of tribal leaders where people would assume I was some
chief's secretary,” she said. “But that's what we face. Many men in
tribes think women should stay out of leadership.”

Many of the old attitudes toward female leadership have deep roots.
Missionary ideals were sowed among tribes that women are subservient
to men in terms of position and authority, Huber said.

“But in most tribal societies, women were highly regarded,” she said.

In her first months as the Eastern Shawnee chief, Wallace recalls a
lesson in tribal-leader etiquette. She attended a symposium where the
women leaders were dressed in traditional clothes or carried dance
shawls in the official entry march and men wore suits. The difference
struck her immediately, because she had neither.

“I didn't know I was supposed to bring a shawl, but now I do,”
Wallace said. “There's few women in this position to talk to and ask
these things.”


Information from: Tulsa World,