Chiefs, Clans & Kin Exhibit

A century before the Irish came to America during the Great Famine, Celtic immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales settled in towns among the sovereign Indigenous Nations of the Southeast.

While Southeastern tribes fought for survival, sovereignty, and culture continuance in their homelands, a surprising story of kinship and identity emerged among the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole, and Muscogee Nations through intermarriage with Celtic immigrants.

Intermarriage into tribal clans forever bound Indigenous Nations and Celts, giving rise to many of mixed heritage as culture bearers, cultural brokers, treaty makers, and in some instances, tribal leaders.

The Chiefs, Clans & Kin exhibition features 34 distinguished Native artists of Southeastern and Celtic heritage, exploring issues of singular and blended identities, cultural norms and anomalies, and shared histories of subjugation and colonization at home and across the Atlantic. Nearly 70 artworks respond to both cultural distinction and melding of Indigenous and Celtic paradigms and to the deep connections of family and culture held by these artists.
– Laura Marshall Clark (Muscogee Creek), Guest Curator


Early historical records of Southeast tribes describe organized societies led and protected by tribal chiefs. The political structure varied from tribe to tribe over time, but each chief held a specific role as a leader in their community.

Chiefdoms are also found throughout history in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and include clan chiefs who led during the period of Celtic kings.

Today tribal leaders of the Muskogean language speaking group like the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee, and Seminole Nations, and also the Cherokee Nation, have centralized governments with leaders that hold titles of chief, principal chief, or governor. They, along with the support of many associates, serve their people across their respective tribal governments.


Historically, southeastern tribal clan systems were often matrilineal, meaning they had a social infrastructure of family lineage through the mother’s bloodline. For the Choctaw people, iksas (clans) connected every aspect of daily life and set social guidelines from who to marry, to what roles a family had in the community. Unfortunately, the iksa system was lost after the removal period. Other southeastern tribes have retained their clan structure through modern day.

Irish and Scottish clans were mostly determined by a father’s of chief’s lineage, but sometimes they included political and social ties, interconnections of friendships, or those who needed protection. Clan names originated in, and are still held today, in family surnames.


Kinships among tribal nations represented in this exhibition stretch back thousands of years. Shared cultural practices, mutual trade and hunting alliances, and familial and clan ties-all contributed to a unique cultural landscape in our homelands.

When Celtic immigrants settled among Southeast tribes in the 18th century, tribal members intermarried with the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh. In time, a new generation of mixed-heritage descendants arose to find their own path within a duality of kinships and identities. From these families have come trusted leaders, culture bearers, scholars, artists, and Indigenous influencers in many sectors of our world today.

Artists of the Five Civilized Tribes included in the exhibit:

  • Karen Berry (Cherokee Nation)
  • Martha Berry (Cherokee Nation)
  • Patricia Ridge Bradley (Choctaw)
  • J. Dylan Cavin (Choctaw)
  • Laura Marshall Clark (Muscogee Creek)
  • Tom Farris (Otoe Missouria/Cherokee Nation)
  • Jimmie C. Fife (Mvskoke)
  • Phyllis Fife (Mvskoke)
  • Raven Halfmoon (Caddo/Choctaw)
  • Billy Hensley (Chickasaw/Choctaw)
  • Lokosh (Joshua D. Hinson) (Chickasaw/Choctaw/Muskogee Creek/Cherokee Nation)
  • Brenda Kingery (Chickasaw/Choctaw)
  • Linda Kelley Kukuk (Choctaw)
  • Gwen Coleman Lester (Choctaw)
  • Bobby C. Martin (Muscogee Creek)
  • Edna Massey (Cherokee Nation)
  • Dustin Illetewahke Mater (Chickasaw/Choctaw)
  • Daniel McCoy (Muscogee Creek)
  • America Meredith (Cherokee Nation)
  • Shelley Patrick (Mvskoke)
  • Scott Roberts (Muscogee Creek)
  • Shelby Rowe (Chickasaw)
  • Jane Semple Umsted (Choctaw)
  • Sarah Sense (Choctaw)
  • Tanni’ (Tyra Shackleford) (Chickasaw)
  • Cady Shaw (Choctaw)
  • Erin Shaw (Chickasaw/Choctaw)
  • Maya Stewart (Chickasaw/Creek/Choctaw)
  • Dana Tiger (Muscogee Creek/Seminole/Cherokee Nation)
  • Tony Tiger (Sac and Fox/Muscogee/Seminole)
  • Margaret Roach Wheeler (Chickasaw/Choctaw)
  • Sandy Fife Wilson (Mvskoke)
  • Daniel Worcester (Chickasaw)
  • J. Daniel Worcester (Chickasaw)