Karen was raised in Oklahoma. Her mother was a member of the Bird Clan of the Muskogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma and her father was in the Skidi Band of the Oklahoma Pawnee Nation. “You can only be a member of one tribe. Since both nations are matriarchal, I chose my mother’s tribe and enrolled there.” Oklahoma has country boundaries instead of reservations. “I lived across the line of the Creek boundary and in Cherokee territory. My mom couldn’t get any type of assistance from either nation. She was a single mom, working in the factory and raising four children. It was tough.”
Karen attended public school in Tulsa, but in her senior year, she experienced a strong desire to go to an Indian school. “My mom was taken away from her family and sent to boarding school. The boarding school that she had attended was called Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. Since that time, it had changed into an accredited junior college. “She was happy to see me further my education, but wasn’t happy that I had decided to attend that school.” The school had an enrollment of about 1500 students and you had to be Indian to attend. “There was a lot of family history at the school. It was where my parents met, my uncle attended school there and my grandfather learned his brick masonry trade at the school. Many Indians share a family history with Haskell.” Today there’s a controversy over whether the US practiced “permissive genocide” when they took children away from their parents to attend boarding school. Karen states, “It’s like telling the Indian that they were saving the man. Indians were not allowed to talk their native language or practice their native rituals and ceremonies. Muskogee was my mom’s first language, but at boarding school she was punished for speaking it, so she lost it. We’ve lost a lot of our culture because of this. We were native to the land and indigenous to the country and everything that belonged to us was lost…land, language and culture. It was done to acculturate the Indian.”
Karen states that she doesn’t have a career. Her main interest throughout her life has been to work on behalf of the Indian people and to try to make a difference. “Being on this executive level in Colorado, I’m at a place where I can help make those differences happen by educating the people I’m surrounded by in matters of Indian and tribal issues.” During her career, she has worked for tribal government, and the US government. She has also worked on behalf of Indian non-profit organizations and held a position for the Cherry Creek School District in the multi-cultural education area. “If I’m not involved in an Indian specific job, then I’m working in a multicultural setting where I can be that native voice. That’s what my life is about…to educate, share my knowledge and help people learn more about my people.”
What do you think is the major concern for Indians today? Indians need people to recognize that they are a sovereign nation. Each tribal nation is a sovereign entity. They are nations within a nation and they should be treated with respect. The United States should treat the Indians just as they do other countries like Mexico and Canada. Indians are wards of the United States and congress decides what’s good for them or bad for them. Our trustee is the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is a federal agency within the United States. Kind of a conflict of interest, wouldn’t you say? We have our own forms of government, elected officials, tribal presidents, principal chiefs and elected councils. We also have an executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
Do you have a favorite childhood story? What is it? I always liked listening to my grandfather telling his tall tales. Like if you were eating strawberries, he would tell you he grew them.
What’s important in your life? My two grandchildren, Sage and Cedar
What’s in your future? To continue to work on the behalf of the Indian people and finish that law degree.
Do you want to move upward and what would be your next step? probably to be at a more national level. I’d probably need to expand my horizons by going to another state or focus more on national opportunities.
What are your volunteer activities? I have limited volunteer activities right now because my job is not an 8to 5 job. I like to attend pow wows. I get involved with getting our people registered to vote. I serve on the Denver Indian Family Resource Board as Secretary, on the national level; I’m Vice President of Governor’s Interstate Indian Council. I have previously served on the boards for the Rocky Mountain Indian Chamber of Commerce. Pikes Peak Mental Health, Inroads, Inc., and Assets for Colorado Youth.
Which social event is your favorite? Denver March, an Indian Powwow, It’s huge.
Favorite restaurant? Any place with food, especially good steak.
Who is the most interesting celebrity you have ever met? Wes Studie. He’s a Cherokee actor who played Geronimo in the movie and was in Dancing with Wolves.
If your life were a movie, whom would you want to play your part? Bette Midler. Her personality shines. It’s the beauty inside her that makes her sparkle.
Do you have any pets? No
When you move, what will your home tell its next owner about you? How much I love my home. How warm it is, how it’s my castle. That it’s filled with warmth and love.
What word describes you best? Humble
How would you like others to describe you? Trustworthy
What was your first job? Worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs relocation program. People that are Indian will identify with that.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Being so critical of myself
What trait do you most deplore in others? Lying
What is your greatest indulgence? I value my time alone
What type of clothes do you like? Anything that fits. I love clothes shopping.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Turn on the snooze alarm
What’s the last thing you do before bed? Watch the news
Favorite comfort food? White cake. I love weddings because there’s white cake. Don’t want the frosting…just the cake.
Tell me something about yourself that people would be surprised to know about you. My life is pretty much an open book. I think the perception out in the world is that I can’t take off the makeup or the nice clothes and that I’m this lady-like figure, but I do like to go camping and grub around without makeup . I’m really kind of an outdoor girl. I used to bait my own hooks and go fishing. I’m a great pool player.
What is the best gift you have ever given? I gave my daughter a wonderful 15th birthday party.
What is the best gift you’ve received? My engagement ring.
What or who is the greatest love in your life? My late husband, Tony
What is your current state of mind? Optimistic
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Being on the job eight years. It’s very political and I’ve managed to remain through quite a few administrations.
What is your most treasured possession? All the ruby and diamond jewelry my husband would buy me for special occasions, especially the ruby and diamond ring.
What is the quality you most like in a man? Openness, honesty,
What is the quality you most like in a woman? Intellect, ability to think ahead
What is the best advice you have ever received? My mom gave me a lot of advice, all of which I use today
Do you have a motto? “What goes around comes around.” I believe in the Golden Rule.
<If you could come back in another lifetime, what/who would you like to be? And why? I wish I could have lived 100 years ago, skinning buffalo, cooking on an open fire, sweeping dirt floors.
What are your hobbies? Other interests? I like to sew
Who is your mentor? My mother
What would you most like to be remembered for? For being a good grandmother
If you could go anywhere and do anything, what would it be? I’d like to go to Portugal and explore. My husband was second generation Portuguese and I’d like to see his ancestry.
What do you like about the town you live in? I love being able to see the mountains every morning on my way to work.