Caddo from Fort Cobb, Oklahoma
Join us as we travel the distant and fascinating lands of Indian Country. This download was originally aired nationally as a public radio program titled Oyate Ta Olowan--The Songs of the People during the 90s. Each Oyate download includes the 30 minute program plus the full length songs featured during the program.
See the longer description below to hear a short clip of this show and to read for a full account of our journey to meet John.
Oyate Ta Olowan was produced by Milt and Jamie Lee with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. The series was aired nationally by Public Radio International.
John Kionut sits in a wheelchair in what was once his father’s home outside of Fort Cobb, Oklahoma. The wheelchair is a result of an injury he received in WWII. Although the injury restricts his movement, it certainly doesn’t stop him. John was born in 1924 and is in his seventies. He is an active, intelligent member of his Caddo community.In his home, sitting on the head of a large drum, is a picture of his father who is reported to have lived into his 120th year.
During the recording session John sings with his wife, Martha, who is a university student and photographer. Together they are very involved in the Native American Church and hold services on their land.
John Kionut is the last Caddo alive to speak all four dialects of the original Caddo language. He also speaks 14 other languages fluently, although he says he is beginning to lose some of them because there is no one left to talk to.
As early as 1947, John fought the US government for rights to health care. He has many times since stood publicly in Washington, DC, to preserve and protect the religious and other rights of Native Americans. When the Spanish first met the Caddo people as early as the mid 1500’s, they found a highly civilized and organized nation of people that were friendly and lived well. They farmed the lands and lived in permanent cities. These cities included cone-shaped dwellings that were thatched with grass over poles. The houses sometimes stood as high as 40 feet.
The homes surrounded large mounds that were temple mounds. Their society, like many others, was matrilineal, with the lineage traced through the mothers. Originally, the Caddo people occupied parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas along the Red River. The creation stories and oral traditions report that the first Caddo man and woman rose from the ground near the Red River. The man carried a pipe and the woman had seeds of corn. The name Caddo comes from the term Kado-hadacho that means “real chiefs.”
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Listen to a short sample of John Kionut below.