Otsigeya (We Women)

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Otsigeya (from left to right) Brandy Leonard, Kathy Growney, Valerie Retallack (Cherokee/Choctaw), Gwen Cochran (Cherokee/Comanche), Barbara Warren (Cherokee), Tonya Elliott (Cherokee), Shirley Rowland (Eastern Cherokee), Nora Thurmond, guest (Ojibwe), Jennifer West Trantham (Cherokee)

As a women’s Drum group, Otsigeya offers fresh, original and inspirational women’s songs in a more traditional style. In service to their community, Otsigeya carries the medicine of the drum and promotes and preserves the Cherokee indigenous language through their music.
~ ABOUT OUR MEMBERS ~

ABOUT US 2 (2)

I’m a retired educator with a 40-year career in public education. My mother and her family were from Oklahoma; I’m of Cherokee descent. Although I ‘m not enrolled in a federally recognized tribe, I hold my heritage in high esteem.

For many years I was actively involved in the local American Indian Education Program, and served as a Teacher adviser and then as an Elder on the parent committee. I was given the “Honored Elder” Award at the 30th Annual California Conference on American Indian Education. I have assisted and taught drumming over the years, and participated in the annual Native Women’s Drum Retreats we hold in Northern California. I’m a member of the Cherokees of Northern Central Valley (CNCV), a satellite community of the Cherokee Nation. In 2011 I was presented with the Feather Award from CNVC for my contribution to our organization.

Although I’m not fluent in Cherokee, I’ve taught classes using the syllabary and basic language skills. I have a passion for the preservation of indigenous languages, and writing songs in Cherokee is my way of promoting my native tongue.

I’ve been involved with drum medicine for over twenty years. From my first encounter with the mother drum in 1976, that heartbeat spoke directly to my soul. I’m a former and founding member of the Feather River Singers, a women’s pow wow drum. Our album, “Daughters of the Earth,” was nominated for a Native American Music Award in 2006. A few years later I needed to make a change in my spiritual path’s direction, and in 2009 I founded the women’s drum group, Otsigeya.

I’m now former drum keeper for Otsigeya, a role which I recently passed to the younger generation. It’s been an honor for me to bring songs to my drum; in turn, our singers carry songs as medicine to share with others. These songs reflect my culture, my commitment to preservation of the Cherokee language, and my support of women’s empowerment.

In April of 2016, my album, Keeper of the Family, made its debut. The journey to make this album a reality began a year and a half earlier. It had been my dream to leave a legacy of some of my many songs in the form of an album. All that was needed came together at the right moment in time; I don’t believe it happened by chance. I’m forever humbled by the support that was given by my drum sisters of Otsigeya and to my friends Nora Thurmond-Straight and Steve Bayard who created the beautiful harmonies and worked with me every step of the way.

For all the many miles I’ve traveled on my journey with the drum, my roadie, my constant companion and biggest supporter has been my hubby, Ray…Fifty years and counting.

BIO PHOTO FOR TONYA

Tonya Elliott-Walker LMFT PhD ABD is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has recently completed her doctoral coursework in Counselor Education and Supervision. She is a mother of four beautiful children and lives in the foothills of Northern California near Lake Tahoe.

Her father’s family is a Southern breed. She was born in Louisiana and moved to California at the age of 3, when her father, a police officer, relocated to California for work. As a child, her father (born in Texas), shared stories of her family’s southern (or rather Western) Cherokee heritage. She grew up feeling drawn to learn more about the Cherokee culture and how it would interface with her Christian upbringing.

Her mother, born in Sacramento, California was of mixed Euro-American/Pawnee Native American descent, although the family has lost much of that connection (other than some tribal papers) due to factors relating to historical trauma. Tonya embarked upon a spiritual journey in her 20’s that led her to participate in many different Native cultures and tribal ceremonies. Throughout this journey, she came to understand the value of reconnecting to traditional culture and finally had a chance to experience true Cherokee culture deep in the heart of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma just a few years ago.

Now in her mid 40’s she has become passionate about empowering Native women and encouraging Native people of all blood quantum to reconnect to traditional Native culture. The spiritually restorative effects of reclaiming oneself through a sense of community identity and relationship to the natural world are priceless. Her calling to the mother drum(while not traditionally Cherokee) helped her to solidify cultural values and recreate a sense of Native community with her drum sisters. The calling that they share is to raise awareness about preserving Cherokee Language and traditions through the medium of drumming and singing songs in Cherokee.

The development of friendships and extended family through community drumming has brought long lasting healing effects to women drummers all over the United States and Canada and to the people with whom the medicine songs are shared. May you be blessed and enriched by these beautiful songs as well!

Gwen

I’m a mother and grandmother and community volunteer. For more than thirty years, I’ve been active in the local American Indian Education Program as a member of the parent committee, volunteer, and instructor. I teach basketry, beading, silver-smithing, drumming, archery and other native crafts including making regalia. Each year, I’m the chairperson for the two annual pow wows sponsored by our local Indian Education Program. Currently, I’m a member of the Cherokees of Northern California-based in Sacramento. I’ve been involved with drum medicine for over twenty years. I’m a former member of the Feather River Singers, a women’s pow wow group, and a founding member of Otsigeya. We’re a service drum; whenever and wherever we are needed, we try to accommodate those needs.

Shirley Rowland w drum

Shirley Rowland, Dr. AD. ( Addictive Disorders) LAADAC ( License Advanced Alcohol Drug Counselor ) MATC ( Medication Assisted Treatment Counselor) CAP( Certified Anger Professional.

Dr. Rowland is the Substance Abuse Specialist for the MATC program and Addiction Free Pain Management at Elica Health Centers in Sacramento California. She is a consultant/trainer for the Native American Training Institute in Albuquerque New Mexico. She is an author and recognized expert in the Field of Addiction and Pain Management.

Dr. Shirley was on the facility of UC Davis Alcohol and Drug Studies Program and is a consultant for the Breining Institute a College for Addictive Disorders. She has a bachelor in Psychology a Masters and Doctoral in Addictive Disorders. With over 35 years in the field of Substance abuse and Mental Health, Dr. Shirley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her training and therapy.

She is Eastern Cherokee from North Carolina. She is a founding member of Otsigeya. Her connection with the drum began as a young wife to a professional drummer and music has been a part of her family’s life. She became a drum maker after first making drums for her grandchildren and now as a great-grandmother of ten, it’s a skill she continues to this day. Her love is drumming with her drum sisters, and the drum therapy groups she facilitates. As an artist, she works with a variety of mediums, including painting and beadwork.

jennifer-luyenee-west-trantham

I’m a Cherokee Citizen, an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe, the Cherokee Nation. Through my mother’s heritage, I’m a direct descendant of an ancestor who was enrolled on the Dawes Roll. It is through my mother’s guidance that I carry my Cherokee heritage with pride; I am “my mother’s daughter.”

As far as I can remember, I have been involved with the Native American culture. My parents first involved my sister, brother and me with the White Fawn Dancers, and I began dancing at the age of twelve. My father was a singer at a drum, and I remember him, with his drumstick in his hand, watching my mother proudly stand behind him and sing, and my mother watching her children dance with the fierce sense pride. I have been a “Fancy Dancer” from the beginning and to this day dancing at many powwows. When I was fifteen, the White Fawn Dancers were invited to dance and sing in Anchorage, Alaska. During our time in Alaska, we were invited to watch the Native American Games. I also traveled to Washington D.C. representing the White Fawn dancers.

As time went on being Cherokee was not just a word, it was a way of life. My mother taught her children to hold our heads up high and be gracious of our heritage. When I graduated high school Mother began teaching me about the medicine of healing. I learned about the four sacred medicines, Sage, Sweetgrass, Cedar, and Tobacco. We were taught to keep our bodies clean of any drugs or alcohol; this I still practice today. During this time I learned how to bead on a loom. It has always been my favorite Native Craft. I also loved to pick the cedar from my parent’s yard and gift it to my friends and loved ones. This was the time my mother passed on our family history.

Many years ago our parents joined the Cherokees of the Northern Central Valley, a satellite community of the Cherokee Nation. My mother was elected to the CNCV Council and held the positions as Historian and, later, Spokesperson. My mother soon became friends with Barbara Warren (Shining Woman) and became a founding member of Otsigeya (We Woman), a Cherokee women’s singing group. There was never a day that went by that I did not hear my mother sing songs from Otsigeya, and, because of her passion, we learned the songs that she sang. In late spring the Cherokees of the Northern Central Valley would have a picnic. All of the family would sit in the front of the “staging area” where they presented their songs and were their biggest fans. The songs have always been so moving, so breathtaking; it truly brought tears to my eyes to watch my mother play her hand drum and sing. She is what beauty means to me.

In the year of 2012 Mother passed away, and I took it upon myself to make sure that her music legacy continued. After a probationary period, I became a member of Otsigeya.
My path continues as the Co-Spokesperson for the Cherokees of Northern Central Valley. Also being a member of Otsigeya brings me so much joy, and pride knowing this is where I was meant to be all these years growing up. I have never felt a sisterhood as I do with these ladies. Today I continue to sing and to teach my children about the importance of medicine of the drum, and most importantly to be proud of our indigenous history.

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Brandy Leonard, indigenous to the Irish peoples, served eleven years as a military non-commissioned officer, and three of those years as a flight medic. She served as an EMT and Emergency Technician in her civilian job. As a woman of service, her passion was to help others and protect those who could not protect themselves. After suffering a traumatic brain injury in her last tour of duty, Brandy’s life changed dramatically. She believed that her passion for helping others was over, now having to face new challenges in her everyday life.

The invitation to the drum began a completely new journey. Drumming has been the most healing experience for heart and head. The gift received by the medicine of the drum has allowed Brandy to return to her passion of being of service to others; although methods may be different, the intention remains the same.

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I am the newest member of Otsigeya. I was invited to join November 2014 and my life hasn’t been the same since. My time with Selu (the name of our drum) and Otsigeya has been an incredible experience filled with transformation, spiritual growth, healing, excitement, and joy. I have had a strong connection with the drum for a long time and made my first-hand drum in 1995. My journey to Selu has been a difficult one but I believe I had to go thru everything I have to get to where I am today and it’s an amazing place. Wado Galvladiehi. People have been telling me for some time that Unetlanvhi had big plans for me and kept me alive for a reason. I know in my heart of hearts that this is what it was. Osda alenitohv

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