Interview with George Branham Whitewolf
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Whitewolf: George Branham Whitewolf
Wood: Ok, can you talk a bit about the tradition that you’re involved in?
Whitewolf: Well, I make all kinds of Indian things—I do bone carvings, but my main thing that has evolved over the years is making outfits for people that dance, Indian people that dance. From that it evolved into making dresses with fashion style, coats—wolf coats, fur coats, all kinds of things like that. So I not only do Indian traditional style, I do modern Indian style, I also do modern work for modern people.
Wood: What are the steps involved in what you do?
Whitewolf: If it’s a hand-tanned piece, then I have to get the deer hides, I have to dress them out and tan them, you leave them white or else smoke them over a fire. And then, they’re tanned with animal brains. A long time ago, the Creator gave us a gift, and that gift, he showed us that all animals have enough brains in their own head to tan their own hides: be it a squirrel, a deer, a buffalo, what have you. You put the brains in there, and you rub it in real good—and it’s a whole process. And when it comes out, it comes out a piece of leather that’s as soft as a piece of silk. It’s very, very, very soft.
Wood: And what else do you do when you make the outfit?
Whitewolf: The outfit, you have to measure the person that you’re gonna make it for, then you have to cut it out according to their size—I don’t have any patterns for nothin’. It’s all in my head. I can measure anybody and make them anything they want from the measurements that I take. And then you cut it out, and everything that I do is either hand sewn or hand laced—there’s no machines in my work.
Wood: How did you begin to do that kind of work, how did you get involved in this?
Whitewolf: It kind of evolved, and what it was, from [when] I was about five years old, I’ve been making stuff. My grandma made baskets and my grandpa made furniture, but when he made furniture, he went out in the woods, and he cut it, and he brought it back and made it out of the wood. He didn’t go to a lumber mill and buy wood, or go to a lumber mill and saw wood. He carved the actual wood out of locust, and he made furniture. And I grew up with that, seeing that kind of stuff done, and I got into it, and I started doing it, and uh (laughs) I started doing it, and so I evolved into, from stringing beads on a string and that type of stuff, into making knife cases, into making bows and arrows, and today I can make anything. I just can, but it’s nothing that I’ve done, really, it’s God give me these talents, and I can just do it.
Wood: Where have you demonstrated your work?
Whitewolf: [I’ve demonstrated my work at] every major powwow in this land really, from Red Earth [Oklahoma], Hunter Mountain in New York, Schemitzun in Connecticut, Shinnecock on Long Island, and then a lot of Indian art shows. I also have stuff, I had stuff, in the Museum of the American Indian a long time ago, in a gift shop in New York, and then I used to have stuff in the Washington Museum in Connecticut, the Sioux Museum in South Dakota—now whether that stuff’s there or not now, I don’t know. So I’ve displayed stuff everywhere.
Wood: Ok, here’s a question: How do you feel like, is this a tradition that’s going to continue into future generations and how will it be passed on?
Whitewolf: Well one of the main things that I’ve done with my life, is I’ve always, I’ve never stopped teaching other people how to do what I do. I’m not afraid of competition, and I don’t think as Indian people we’re competitive people in that sense. I take the people in the Monacan Tribe now, and I have classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We went to England recently, and the girls that went, all the clothes they wore they made themselves—I taught them how, I taught them how to make the clothes, how to put them together, but they did the work. And so I’m handing it down that way. I don’t have anything written down, and I don’t have anything that you can see a film of, because I don’t wanna do it that way—I want to do it orally, so that when I hand this down to the kids, and the adults, they can in turn hand it down the way they learned it, which was hands-on, hands on hands.
Wood: Are you feeling confident that people are interested enough and kids are enthused about what you’re doing, that it’s gonna keep going?
Whitewolf: In today’s world I am because kids are interested in being Indians. When I was a kid, nobody wanted to be an Indian—you were stuck being an Indian. But today, the kids really want to be Indian—they like the showmanship of it, they like the togetherness of it. I also do sweats—I do ceremonies all the time to teach kids that, in Indian, God is a very big part of everyday life, and I teach them that, and I think this thing that we’re doing here is gonna go on for a long, long time.