Chickasaw linguist, poet is Dynamic Woman of the Year

Dr. Jenny L. Davis

ADA, Okla. – Dr. Jenny L. Davis – a Chickasaw linguist, poet, researcher and professor – is the 2021 Chickasaw Nation Dynamic Woman of the Year.

Gov. Bill Anoatubby announced Dr. Davis’ recognition during the recent Dynamic Women of the Chickasaw Nation Virtual Conference.

“Today, we are pleased to recognize Dr. Jenny L. Davis as 2021 Dynamic Chickasaw Woman and celebrate her for her leadership and commitment to preserving our culture,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “We recognize Dr. Davis as a dynamic Chickasaw woman, a leader in our community and a lifelong learner with a passion for language revitalization, ethical research and creative poetry.”

The Dynamic Woman of the Year Award recognizes Chickasaw women dedicated to promoting traditions and culture. The Chickasaw Nation is historically matrilineal, and Chickasaw women have maintained important roles throughout Chickasaw history.

“Chickasaw women are vibrant, fearless, motivated, hardworking and, in one word, remarkable,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “We often use the word dynamic which captures all those and many other characteristics to describe Chickasaw women.”

As an official award, the Dynamic Woman of the Year began in 2006. Dr. Davis is the 16th dynamic Chickasaw woman to be honored with the title.

2021 Chickasaw Nation Dynamic Woman of the Year Dr. Jenny L. Davis

“Chokma’shki and Yakoke to Governor Anoatubby and the Chickasaw Nation for this truly humbling award,” Dr. Davis said. “It’s an honor to receive such recognition from the tribe and to be included alongside the incredible Chickasaw women who have received it before me.”

Dr. Davis is an associate professor of anthropology and American Indian studies at the University of Illinois and the director of the American Indian Studies program.

After earning undergraduate degrees from Oklahoma State University, she obtained a master’s degree and doctorate in linguistics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She was a Henry Roe Cloud Fellow in American Indian Studies at Yale University, and a Lyman T. Johnson Postdoctoral Fellow in linguistics at the University of Kentucky.

Her research focuses on contemporary Indigenous language revitalization, Indigenous gender and sexuality, as well as collaborative methods, ethics and repatriation in Indigenous research.

“Over the past 20 years, the Chickasaw Nation has nurtured and supported me in so many ways in my career and in my education,” Dr. Davis said. “And the Department of Language and our Chickasaw speakers and language learners in particular continue to be an incredible inspiration for me.”

She said she had benefited and learned from many amazing women in her life.

“I have always loved how strongly the Chickasaw Nation celebrated our matriarchal culture and the centrality of Chickasaw women past, present and future to our culture, families and governance,” Dr. Davis said.

She voiced appreciation for the love and support her family granted her over the years, including grandparents Billy and Barbara Walker, and Wendell and Hellen Davis; parents Clint Davis and Windy Walker; brother Ben and sister Tiffany; as well as her partner Laura and extended family.

“They have always shown me the importance of hard work, responsibility for yourself and others, and the importance of laughter,” she said.

She drew special attention to her maternal grandfather.

“There are many people who are so important to me that are no longer here, perhaps no one more than my maternal grandfather Billy Walker, who was fiercely proud of being Chickasaw,” she said. “He used to load us up into his pickup to drive us down to show us the family allotment out near Stonewall, where he went to school in Roff and where our family has been buried since arriving in Oklahoma there in Ada.”

Her research has been published in the “Annual Review of Anthropology,” “American Anthropologist,” “Gender & Language,” “Language & Communication,” and the “Review of International American Studies,” among others.

Dr. Davis’ books have received wide recognition, and two noteworthy awards.

Her book “Talking Indian: Identity and Language Revitalization in the Chickasaw Renaissance” received the 2019 Beatrice Medicine Award from the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures. Her co-edited volume “Queer Excursions: Retheorizing Binaries in Language, Gender, and Sexuality” received the 2014 Ruth Benedict Book Prize from the Association for Queer Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association.

Her poetry manuscript, “Trickster Academy,” is forthcoming from the University of Arizona Press Sun Tracks Series. Other creative works by Dr. Davis were most recently published in several media sites and exhibitions in Michigan and Minnesota.

Virtual Conference

Alongside the announcement of this year’s Dynamic Woman, the virtual conference featured the insight of other First American female leaders.

The theme for this year’s Dynamic Women of the Chickasaw Nation Virtual Conference was “Empowerment through Culture,” a concept all presenters and awardees embody.

Elizabeth Rule, Ph.D., is a Chickasaw researcher and professor dedicated to First American issues. She spoke of a digital interactive historical map she was developing with a presentation titled “Mapping Chickasaw Country, Community and Culture.”

Dr. Rule is an assistant professor at George Washington University and director of the AT&T Center for Indigenous Politics and Policy in Washington, D.C.

Her “Guide to Chickasaw Country” displays sites of Chickasaw importance focusing on land, community and culture. Dr. Rule intended the map to be a tool available for cultural and heritage preservation, education and tourism. She turned to archival material and oral histories to produce the map, which is available to Chickasaw citizens as well as public community members.

Kai Watkins, the 2021 recipient of the Dynamic Women of the Chickasaw Nation Scholarship, spoke of the importance of education.

She is a Chickasaw sophomore at Southeastern Oklahoma State University studying marketing. She said receiving the scholarship had allowed her to continue her education without worrying about how to pay for college and had inspired her to give back.

“Education is important to Chickasaw people because it helps fuel the success of our nation and community,” Ms. Watkins said. “It is important our people continue our educations so we can one day give back to our nation. I hope my education will benefit the Chickasaw people by being able to give back to the community later as a Chickasaw Nation employee.”

To contribute to Chickasaw Foundation scholarships, call (580) 421-9030 or email ChickasawFoundation@Chickasaw.net.

Eldrena Douma, professional storyteller, author and workshop presenter, offered a lesson titled “Keeping Culture Alive in a Changing World.”

Her stories are inspired by life experiences raised among the Pueblo tribe of Kawaika (Laguna), Tewa and Hopi.

“In a changing world we are exposed to different ideas and ways of living our lives,” Ms. Douma said. “Technology and travel might play into our ways of living life. How, then, can we keep our cultures alive in the face of these changing dynamics? It will not happen by accident. We must take intentional steps or our culture will start to disappear.”

She offered real steps individuals could take to help preserve their own tribal ways of life in the face of changes and challenges to language, family, community, education, health, housing and transportation.

Among the practical steps she recommended were staying connected with relatives and tribal government; being a lifelong learner of tribal history, traditions and culture; speaking the language, eating the cultural cuisine, listening to and telling tribal stories, and visiting elders; as well as working toward bringing awareness and education to the masses.

She recommended turning to tribal core values. Drawing from her own heritage, she recommended keeping in mind the values of love, respect, compassion, faith, understanding, spirituality, balance, peace and empathy.

Looking at the Chickasaw culture and its dynamic women, Ms. Douma noticed values including cultural identity, selflessness, perseverance, trust, respect, honesty, integrity, servant leadership, “can-do” attitude, stewardship, loyalty and teamwork.

“By retaining our culture and values, we have something to offer to our family and the wider range of cultures we now call neighbors,” she said. “We can be proud of ‘the people’ for their choice to endure the hardships. Move forward in the world you live in. Remember the theme for this year’s virtual gathering, ‘empowerment through culture’ – your culture!”

Chickasaw Nation Arts and Humanities executive officer Laura Stewart offered introductions during the conference.

Chickasaw Princess Markita McCarty provided the invocation, signing the Lord’s Prayer. The band “Injunuity” provided music for the virtual conference.

Chickasaw weaver and 2020 Dynamic Woman of the Year Margaret Roach Wheeler served as event emcee.

Previous awardees include Judylee Oliva, Lisa Johnson-Billy, Dr. Tina Marie Cooper, Dr. Teresa M. Shavney, Mildred Blackmon, Steffani Cochran, Ellen Brooker, Dr. Shannon Speed, Dr. Karen Goodnight, Mary Ruth Barnes, Shelby Rowe, Brenda Kingery, Dr. Amanda Cobb-Greetham, Merry Monroe and Margaret Roach Wheeler.

About the award

The Chickasaw Nation Dynamic Woman of the Year Award was established in October 2006 to honor Chickasaw women who have made significant contributions to the Chickasaw Nation and its citizens.

Women age 35 and older with Chickasaw citizenship are eligible. Chickasaw Nation employees and elected officials are not eligible. Visit Chickasaw.net/DynamicWomen to view the virtual conference. Nominations for future Dynamic Chickasaw Women can be submitted by visiting Chickasaw.net/DynamicAward or by contacting creative arts at CreativeArts@Chickasaw.net or (580) 272-5520.