The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole Indians of the Southeast are known as the Five Civilized Tribes. They were so named by the early white settlers of America because they rapidly adapted to white man’s ways. They were associated with the Trail of Tears and today live in the state of Oklahoma.
Back in my broadcasting days, I was assigned program director for a radio station in Northeast Oklahoma. Our facilities were just outside of the Miami city limits with the call letter’s of KGLC, which stood for George L. Colman, the radio station's founder. George had been long gone from this world by the time I arrived on the scene and my job was to give the radio listeners a fresh new format for their ears. One of those new innovations that I instigated was a new logo and motto for the call letters KGLC. I decided on “broadcasting from the Great Land of the Cherokee.” After all, the letter’s fit, and we were booming out country music up and down the Will Rogers Turnpike and across the famed “Cherokee Strip.”
However, little did I know that I was stepping on the toes of the Ottawa Tribe with that motto! Our tower and studios were located on the Ottawa Nation and they demanded an apology. I was, in fact, summoned to appear before the council of the “Five Civilized Tribes” at Wyandotte, Okla., to explain myself. Here I was, this young city boy from Missouri who had been transplanted down into Oklahoma Indian country, who knew very little about the Native American culture and temperament – except what I had learned from the Saturday afternoon “Cowboy and Indian” movies at the old Plaza Theater on the Independence Square.
Believe me when I say that I was a little nervous sitting there among all of those different tribal representatives that evening waiting for my turn to get up and speak. Visions of losing my scalp danced in my head or maybe even a worse torture that might be awaiting my fate.
When I was finally recognized and arrived at the podium with my eloquently prepared speech, all I could see was all of those “stern faced” Indians glaring back at me. Many of them had their arms folded across their mighty chest, but I was pleased that I at least had their undivided attention. Being the professional speaker that I was, my eyes glazed over and I spaced out on them as I delivered the best apology of my broadcasting career.
Much to my surprise, upon the completion of my delivery, while I was still standing there, the emcee then introduced Claude O’Dell, the representative of the Cherokee Nation.
He strolled up to the podium and cleared his throat. With a smile he said, “Hey, we love this man down in Tahlequah.” Tahlequah is the Cherokee Tribal Headquarters, which is located a few miles south of where we were meeting that evening. O’Dell went on to name me an “Honorary Cherokee,” and awarded me a certificate signed by Chief Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation. Then, the Ottawa representative stood up and asked to be recognized. “We love you too Stillwell, all we ask is that you program a little more gospel music into your format.”
And at that remark, the entire room broke into applause and laughter and many of them came up to shake my hand and ask for autographs. In fact, I was swept into the world of the Native Americans for about the next five years working within many of their projects and programs.
One of the many things that I learned from that page of my life is that we are all pretty much the same irregardless.
Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 816-252-9909.