Kiowa Elders

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Patrick Tsotigh - 2-2

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Elders

A collaboration by Blas Perciado and David Joshua Jennings

The photographs of Kiowa elders presented here are not merely photographs, they are portraits of time.

There is the time that runs through the individuals’ lives – some pictured here have lived for nearly a century, and their eyes are a testament to the things they’ve witnessed. Then there is the historic time manifest through them. The stories of these elders began with the original population of the continent, with their lives in Oklahoma shaped directly downriver from that history.

The original vision of this project, according to Kiowa elder Blas Preciado, the project’s main organizer, is historical preservation, or “to preserve for future generations the way we looked”.

The Kiowa of today are different from the Kiowa of the past, culturally as well as genetically. Intermarriage with non-Kiowa is common, meaning there are ever fewer children of full Kiowa descent. Mirroring the struggles of traditional societies around the world, the preservation of Kiowa traditions and culture in a modern, globalized America is a ceaseless endeavor.

Thus each portrait is endowed with both individual and collective history. They speak not only of the past, but to the future. One might see the personal story in a portrait, the long life, the struggles. Others might look for heirlooms of Kiowa history in the features.

As a student of Oklahoma history, this ongoing project has been deeply rewarding, as every elder, inevitably, is full of stories. During the interviews we conducted before each portrait session, their pasts, and the history of Oklahoma, opened up before us. Many had lived their entire lives in the small towns and communities of southwest Oklahoma, others had been around the country, or around the world, before returning to those communities. Some spoke of wagon travels, others of boarding schools. Some spoke of wars in foreign countries. They recounted the mistakes they had made, and the wisdom that had resulted from it, which they sought to pass on to younger generations.

This idea of a statewide portrait project focusing on Oklahoma’s Native American elders began as a collaboration between photographer David Fitzgerald and Shoshana Wasserman in 2002. The goal of the project was to offer portrait photography training to a number of individuals, with the goal of photographing American Indian elders throughout the state. The project did not proceed after 2003, as the group did not secure funding. One of those recruited to participate in the project as a photographer was Kiowa elder Blas Preciado.

I met Mr. Preciado in 2015 when I visited Anadarko to photograph the Kiowa Blackleggings Warrior Society Ceremony, of which Preciado is a main organizer. During our conversation, Preciado mentioned the project, and several months later we decided to revive the Kiowa portion. These portraits are the result of that collaboration. They were diligently and tirelessly collected over dozens of sessions, in makeshift studios set up in churches, meeting halls, homes and museums around southwest Oklahoma.

The project is ongoing, with exhibitions planned upon completion.

Please Note: The audio files positioned below each portrait include interviews of the elder pictured, prior to the portrait session.

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Vanessa Jennings-2

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Dorothy Whitehorse Delaune-2

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Dorothy Whitehorse Delaune 3-2

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Parker Emhoolah - 2-2

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Nancy Ahboah Lonelodge - 2-2

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Lonnie Emhoolah - 1-2

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Velma Domebo Eisenberger - 2-2

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Lansing Ludwig 3-2

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Helen Rowena Toppaum-Eagleheart - 1-2

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Goldie J Kaulaity-2

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Betty Washburn (Sankadota) - 1-2

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Donald J. Topfi - 2-2

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Bernadine Rhoades - 4-2

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Deanna Yellowhair 2-2

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Gail Sankadota 2-2

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Earl Yeahquo - 1-2

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Everett Rhoades - 1-2

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Ernest H. Toppah - 3-2

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Herschel Sahmaunt - 1-2

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Wanda Mae Kodaseet-2

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