In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, this podcast features Amanda Sterwerf, a manager in DHG's Asheville office and part of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and her uncle, Bo Taylor, who is a Director at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Amanda and Bo talk about the history of the Cherokee Indians, Native American heritage and awareness around different cultures.
AGH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG Podcast Series. I’m Alice Grey Harrison, your host, and I love this venue because we get to hear from our people about the things that matter the most to them, flexibility, careers, and of course, our people. Today I'm especially excited because we are celebrating Native American Heritage Month and as part of our inclusion and diversity efforts, we are recognizing Native Americans within our firm. Amanda Sterwerf is a manager in our Asheville office in the assurance practice, and she is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. So I have Amanda with us today, but additionally, I have Bo Taylor, who is the Director of The Museum of the Cherokee Indian. He is here with us as well and he is Amanda's uncle. Welcome, Bo and Amanda.
BT: Hello to you, Alice Grey.
AGH: So Amanda, when you started telling me that your uncle Bo was the Director of the museum, I thought, "Oh, he must be her father's brother or her mother's brother." I didn't realize that in the Indian tribes, uncles mean something different. Can you explain that?
AS: Sure. So Bo is not actually blood related to me directly. He's not my mother or my father's brother, but he's actually my dad's father — my uncle Allan — he is his adopted brother in the Cherokee Nation. So he is my adopted uncle.
AGH: So I think of it, in my world, as being like a godparent maybe. Something like that, right?
AS: Yeah, I think you could definitely say that. I would say with me learning what I've learned about the Cherokee, I think Bo has definitely played an instrumental part in my life from what I know of my culture. So, absolutely.
AGH: Yeah. Well, Bo, I'm going to ask you a few questions.
BT: Do you mind if I add a little bit on?
AGH: That would be great.
BT: When Allan and I accepted each other as brothers, it does mean something. In our culture, clan gives you all rights and privileges to be a part of the group of the tribe. This is an old way of doing things, and we belong to the long hair class, and when I accepted Allan, I accepted him as my brother. So I call him "brother", I acknowledge him as brother, and sometimes I say, "Brother from another mother." But it's a lifelong thing, and I accept him with all that he brings. So, all his family, I accept them as part of my family as well. So I would say it's probably more than a godparent.
BT: Because it's like membership has it's privileges, and once he's a member, he's with me. He's always with me and so I just want that to be known.
AGH: That is really cool, and really special as well. So I understand that one of the things that you're very passionate about is the Cherokee language. Can you talk a little bit about — I didn't realize that there were distinct languages with the tribes. Can you share with us your passion for insuring that it continues?
BT: [Spoken Cherokee]. I am not speaking Spanish. I am not speaking German. I am speaking Cherokee, and what I was doing, I was letting you know who I am, I was letting you know where I'm from, I was introducing myself and I did that in the Cherokee language. Our language is an old language. It's very complex. The tribal languages, you know, there are 550 different tribes in North America. We all do speak the same language; we have a lot of different language groups, but we are very diverse. It's like if you go into Europe, you're going to find a lot of different languages and language groups. It's kind of the same line, and because we were so diverse and geography we have the Southwest, who live in the desert, and we have the plains. That's what most people know, on the TV, cowboys and Indians. But the Cherokees are a woodland people, and we've been around for — we can document ourselves at least 13,000 years. Our language is very important to us. My daughters are — they both went to immersion school, [Nugadua] Academy, where they learned languages their whole life. They started when they were babies, and they learned language the whole day. So they are fluent and I'm just so proud of them that they are keeping our language and culture alive. Because, in our language, when you speak Cherokee you think differently, you see the world differently. It's really cool.
AGH: That is super cool. I think this is so fascinating. So, what is something that you want others to know and understand about Native Americans, or specifically the Cherokee Indians?
BT: Well, one thing I want them to know is that even though if you saw me walking around in WalMart, you'd probably say, "Oh, there's a Mexican." Because most people think of Natives being around unless we're all done up and we're all wearing feathers and warpaint, the whole thing. But I've got a degree, I've traveled the world, and I do wear feathers. I'm going to an event this weekend in Raleigh, and I will be dressed in traditional dress, and I will have paint on and I will be wearing feathers and you look at me and you'll say, "Oh, there's an Indian." The thing about Indians, I'm a human being. I do speak English, I do speak some Spanish, I do speak Cherokee. Everywhere I go I learn languages and my degree is in anthropology, so when I studied, it's the study of people. And what I want people to understand is, Cherokees, we are different and that we have a different culture. But we are the same in a lot of ways. I could actually be a Christian and then share the same faith, the same God, even though we do have different ways of doing things. So that's one thing I want people to understand is that, you know, when the day is over, we care about our families.
BT: We care about the environment, we care about the world, you know? So that's what's tough. Sometimes we see people kind of lose sight of that.
BT: In this day and age of technology and iPads, we kind of lose our humanity and what it all comes down to, that's all we are.
AGH: So, why is it important that we celebrate Native American Heritage Month as a country?
BT: Well, I believe the world is full of a lot of the yin and yang. Everybody wants everything to be black and white, but I think the world has a lot of grey area. The thing about why I think it's important is that they remember us. One thing I'm not so keen on is that we're subjugated to one month. My culture's living and breathing 24/7, 12 months out of the year.
BT: I am still a Cherokee in February, I'm still a Cherokee celebrating the 4th of July, you know? I think it's kind of, when you want people to remember that you'll do something like an anniversary or a birthday, which is kind of fun and whatever. But the real fact of the matter is, I don't really want to be in a compartment. I don't want to be, "Hey, this is the only time that we acknowledge that we exist." You know? To be honest with you, it's because of Thanksgiving, because of the story of the Pilgrims and the Indians, you know? Then why that's kind of crazy is you go into elementary schools throughout the country and they'll have the pilgrims, but they'll have animals like bears and they'll put feathers on them and make them look like Indians. And I'm not trying to get all political and stuff, but sometimes we were regulated to being a mascot.
BT: To being a, you know, people see me and I'm all — I had this happen to me yesterday. I was doing a story and a lady came up to me and she goes "Ho". She was an older lady, and I'm thinking, "How what? How's the weather?" And I'm like, "Really?" That's sort of kind of crazy. My daughters, I'm so proud of them. We were watching Peter Pan when they were babies, when my oldest was sitting in the car watching Peter Pan and one of the things — you know, Peter Pan has those wild Indians on there, on the cartoon. And she's seen me dressed up and dance, and warpaint and everything. She's grown up with me being that her whole life. She's seen me do all this stuff, and she looked on the screen and she goes, "Daddy, what are they?" Why it's so dramatic to me is she grew up knowing who she was.
BT: That is the caricature of what people think we are, but we're so much more you know? That's why I really want people to understand is, "Hey, it's time to celebrate people all the time, you know?" Now, I'm not saying we need to be in the limelight at all times, but what I'm saying is we should celebrate culture and diversity. One thing people always talk about America being a melting pot and I really don't like that. What a melting pot is you throw everything in and it becomes like a blended soup.
BT: It becomes kind of like a monotone, just it's blurry. But what I want to see is like a stew. You get in a stew a piece of meat, it tastes like beef; it's roast. You take a potato, it tastes like a potato. There's carrots in there, it tastes like carrots. But they all work together and they taste good. It's satisfying, and that's why I'm saying, if you can imagine an America that doesn't have Italian food, Mexican food? It's the diversity that makes things awesome. So that's why I would say, "Hey, let's make things awesome all the time. Let's not put them in compartments and just celebrate them every once in a while."
AGH: That's terrific.
BT: That's all I've got. I'm sorry I went on a rant.
AGH: No, that's terrific and what you're saying is exactly why we at Dixon Hughes Goodman promote inclusion and diversity and try to bring awareness about different cultures such as the Native Americans. So that's a good segue, Amanda for you, what does it mean to you that DHG takes a moment, not every day as you mentioned, but we do every day celebrate inclusion and diversity. What does it mean to you that we're on the call talking about this?
AS: Sure, I think it means a lot to me to be able to work for a firm that embraces not only Native American culture, but it's also recognizing and respecting that we just all come from different place and different walks of life. We're all bringing something different to the table at our job and I just think that learning about it, embracing all these different cultures like you guys are making a point to do the different highlights, is really what I think makes DHG a great place to work. We're all bringing something different to the table, it makes us able to provide, I think, better client service. We relate to people better from what you guys are doing, honestly.
AGH: Well, thank you and a I couldn't agree more. Well, Bo and Amanda, I know that you both have lots to do and we are so grateful that you took a few minutes out of your day to share with us, so thank you both.
BT: Oh, you're welcome.
AS: Thank you.
AGH: And thank you all for listening to Life at DHG, our premier podcast series. If you like what you just heard, we hope you’ll tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out our DHG blog for more great stories about our life beyond numbers. Join us next time for another edition of Life at DHG.