Chickasaw Cultural Center Executive Officer Valorie Walters accepts Dr. Yoshitaka Iwasaki’s doctoral dissertation to be available to researchers at the cultural center’s Holisso Center.
Published February 23, 2016
SULPHUR, OKLAHOMA – Japanese scholar Dr. Yoshitaka Iwasaki formally presented his doctoral dissertation to the Chickasaw Nation Feb. 16. A delegation of Chickasaw Nation historians and culturalists accepted the manuscript representing years of study of Chickasaw history.
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said it is gratifying to know that Dr. Iwasaki had such a great interest in learning more about the history of the Chickasaw people.
“We hope the time and effort Dr. Iwasaki invested in learning more about the Chickasaw Nation will help develop a stronger bond between our people,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “We believe the more we learn about one another, the more we will realize the values and beliefs we share are much more important than any differences we may have.”
Dr. Yoshitaka Iwasaki listens to Chickasaw Cultural Center visitor services assistant Steve Nail explain the importance of each leader of the Chickasaw Nation. Dr. Iwasaki, who began studying Chickasaws and the Five Civilized Tribes in the early 1990s, formally presented his doctoral dissertation to CCC officials Feb. 16.
The work – comprised of research, interviews, study and independent investigation into the Chickasaw Nation – will be housed at the Chickasaw Cultural Center’s Holisso Center. Once translated into English, Dr. Iwasaki’s longtime effort will serve as another valuable resource for those interested in Chickasaw history.
He began the journey to earn a doctorate in Native American studies from Osaka University in the early 1990s, choosing to dedicate his efforts on Chickasaws.
His dissertation traces tribal history from approximately 1600, through removal to Indian Territory up to the period immediately before the Civil War. He has become somewhat of an expert on the Chickasaw Nation, augmenting his studies with other American Indian tribes, particularly the Five Civilized Tribes, removed systemically from ancestral homelands in the Southeast to Indian Territory beginning in 1831.
SWAYED BY THE MOVIES
Fascination with American Indians is common in Japan, Dr. Iwasaki said. His own interest was a direct result of his father’s love of John Wayne movies. Together, they would watch them. It was not long before the young Iwasaki became curious why American Indians were depicted in such a negative light.
Even at that tender age, the movies didn’t make sense to him because the cowboy was always portrayed as the hero for killing Native Americans, their fellow human beings.
“It didn’t make sense, because, for me, it seemed Native Americans were the same human being as white cowboys. But usually in western movies, the white guy is always the hero,” said Dr. Iwasaki.
“I thought the appearance of Native American people was so cool; with their war paint and war bonnets. So, you can call me a wannabe (Indian), kind of a Japanese wannabe,” said he with a wide grin and a chuckle.
SHARING THE HERITAGE
Many people in Japan are very interested in Native American history and culture, but their knowledge is limited.
“I had open classes to citizens of Hiroshima City, he said. “There are some people who are very interested in Native cultures and histories, but there are few Japanese who know about Five Civilized Tribes, or they know only about Cherokees,” said Dr. Iwasaki.
“Cherokees are very well-known. But they don’t know at all about other civilized tribes. So, I will teach them not only the Cherokee, but about the other four.
“(There are) many misunderstandings about Native Americans even now in Japan. So I think one of my missions in Japan, as a Native American scholar, is to teach them the real status of Native American people. You have both cultures. You exist as U.S. citizens, but you still keep, or try to keep, Native American heritage (alive). So I really admire you.”
A CHICKASAW WELCOME
Dr. Iwasaki arrived at the Chickasaw Cultural Center on a sunny, but blustery, winter’s day. Quick-witted, he remarked it was far better than being in Montana and South Dakota where the weather was snowy and icy with temperatures that dipped below zero. He was visiting Plains Indian tribes there before embarking to Sulphur.
Steve Nail, a visitor services assistant, gave Dr. Iwasaki a grand tour of the Chickasha Poya Exhibit Hall where they lingered over many displays to discuss how the Chickasaw Nation survived against long odds. Together they ventured to a wall of drawings and photographs of Chickasaw leaders and Nail began his narrative of how strong leadership through the ages led Chickasaws in the right direction.
Their discussions were far-reaching; leadership, dugout canoes, hunting parties, war, weapons and removal.
Dr. Iwasaki remarked about the openness of Chickasaw people to accept non-Native Americans into the tribe and, in the case of the Colberts, even welcoming mixed-blood leadership during turbulent times. It is a theme central to the dissertation, he said.
Chickasaw Cultural Center Executive Officer Valorie Walters accepted the completed dissertation and thanked Dr. Iwasaki on his academic achievements aimed specifically at the Chickasaws.
“It is an honor to be here and to present you with this document,” he said as a handful of cultural center leaders and historians attended. “It was my pleasure to write and document the achievements of my Chickasaw people.”