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Tribe’s first ‘Healing’ symposium a ‘step in right direction’

HOLLYWOOD — About 100 people from 16 states took part in the Tribe’s first ever symposium focused on Native trauma and healing.

The Oct. 15 to Oct. 17 event – “Healing the Circle in our Tribal Communities” – took place at the Native Learning Center in Hollywood.

Cheyenne Kippenberger, in her Miss Indian World regalia, takes part in the Smudge Ceremony on the final day of the symposium. Wilson Wewa, former councilman of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, led the ceremony. (Photo Damon Scott)

Cheyenne Kippenberger was the chairwoman of the event, along with co-chair Tomasina Chupco-Gilliam.

The three-day symposium also included the Tribe’s second-annual “Domestic Violence Awareness Walk,” and a “Healing Circle/Smudge Ceremony,” both on the Hollywood Reservation.

Kippenberger, the former Miss Florida Seminole who is now Miss Indian World, set the tone in her opening remarks on the first day.

She said that all Native American traumas stem from colonization, and that the goal of the symposium was to initiate a healing process.

Tomasina Chupco-Gilliam (left) and Cheyenne Kippenberger were the main organizers of the symposium. (Photo Damon Scott)

Kippenberger and Chupco-Gilliam brought together not only the attendees, but also a lineup of experts from Indian Country who have dealt with a number of trauma-related issues in their personal and professional lives.

No subject was off limits, whether it was about domestic violence, elder abuse, missing and murdered Indigenous women, legal systems and protections, tools for healing or women’s empowerment.

Throughout the symposium, one thing was clear: trauma and healing subjects are often complex and don’t come with simple solutions.

Attendees and panelists also agreed that more has to be done about each issue.

Small pieces of wood given to each participant are placed in a bucket by Wilson Wewa during the Smudge Ceremony. (Photo Damon Scott)

On day two there was also extensive discussion about what role Native men play in it all. At the “Hidden Voice” session, a panel of Native men talked about toxic masculinity and how fathers need to teach their sons how to be in healthy relationships from a young age.

The concept of toxic masculinity is typically used in psychology and media to refer to certain cultural norms of masculinity that are associated with harm to society, men, their families and friends.

Panelist Quenton Cypress of the Big Cypress Reservation relayed a story about how he was able to help his younger sister who was struggling to know whether to go to college or stay home.

Cypress is also looking at organizing a young men’s group in Big Cypress to talk about many of the issues raised during the symposium.

Cypress said he explained to her that she needed to know it was OK for her to take care of herself and her needs and pursue an education, even though she was struggling with the thought that the decision was a selfish one.

From left, Patina Park (Cheyenne River Sioux), Tina Swithin, Deb Gilg and Brandi Liberty (Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska) sit on an opening day panel of “Breaking the Silence on Domestic Violence” (Photo Damon Scott)

Collaborative effort

Kippenberger said she was grateful to everyone that contributed to make the symposium a reality – it’s an event she’s thought about organizing for many months.

She particularly thanked Natalie Gomes, the advocacy director in the Tribe’s Advocacy & Guardianship department, and the staff at the Native Learning Center.

“Thank you for guiding, motivating, listening and inspiring my sister and I to take our conversations and put it into action,” Kippenberger said about Gomes. “To the team at [the Native Learning Center]: without your help and organization, this event wouldn’t have been possible,” she said.

Kippenberger added that she never imagined that the inaugural year of the symposium would see so many attendees from so many Indian Country communities.

A group from the symposium and the Hollywood Reservation community meet near the ball park prior to the Domestic Violence Awareness Walk. (Photo Damon Scott)

“We will absolutely be hosting this symposium again and plan to add even more to the experience,” she said.

Chupco-Gilliam said the attendees seemed to be very receptive to the stories and topics at the symposium.

“I found that the balance of heartfelt stories along with knowing the laws that protect Native women, and women in general, was certainly needed,” Chupco-Gilliam said the attendees seemed to be very receptive to the stories and topics at the symposium.

“I found that the balance of heartfelt stories along with knowing the laws that protect Native women, and women in general, was certainly needed,” Chupco-Gilliam said.

“The men’s panel brought a perspective that was needed and it was great to hear their take. It’s a step in the right direction, sharing stories begins the healing process,” she said.

A panel for “The Hidden Voice: The Native Male Perspective” includes Stephen Tooshkenig (Council of Three Fires), Cortney Yarholar (Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma), Quenton Cypress (Seminole Tribe of Florida) and Lewis Gopher Jr. (Seminole Tribe of Florida). (Photo Damon Scott)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at