Wonderful Women Wednesday: Clydia Nahwooksy

Each week, the Archives features a woman who has been a groundbreaker at the Smithsonian, past or present, in a series titled Wonderful Women Wednesday.

As the coordinator of American Indian programs for the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife from 1970 to 1973, Clydia Nahwooksy (Cherokee) invited Native peoples to present their own stories on the National Mall. She served as an advisor to the next coordinator, Lucille Dawson (Narragansett), through the 12-week-long Bicentennial Festival in 1976.

Prior to Nahwooksy's arrival, the Institution’s white curators represented Native Americans at the festivals through static displays of objects. Under the new model established by Nahwooksy, Native leaders and national American Indian organizations brought live discussions, demonstrations, and performances to Smithsonian visitors.

To recruit participants for the festival, Nahwooksy leaned on her circles in Washington, D.C., where she worked for the Indian Health Service and collaborated with leaders in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and in Oklahoma and Kansas, where she conducted fieldwork. By working with and listening to the many diverse Native communities, she cultivated better, though still fragile, relationships between Native leaders and the Smithsonian. 

Nahwooksy stands behind a man on the National Mall. A small tent is behind her.

Following her time with the Smithsonian, Nahwooksy entered the seminary, returned to Oklahoma, and became a pastor and member of the Board of National Ministries and the American Baptist Churches USA General Board.  

Nahwooksy graduated from Bacone College in Oklahoma and the Department of the Interior’s Management Training Program.  

To learn more about Nahwooksy’s work and participation of Native peoples at the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife in the 1970s, read William S. Walker’s “We Don’t Live Like That Anymore’: Native Peoples at the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife, 1970––1976.

Related Resources

Related Collections

  • History of Smithsonian Folklife Oral History Interviews, 2005-2009, Record Unit 9619, Smithsonian Institution Archives  

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