A Teacher Gone
Dean Hayes Cheek was born April 18, 1936 in Mangum, Oklahoma, the son of George Cheek and Vida Faye Hayes Cheek. He was a Native American Artist and a U.S. Marine veteran of the Korean War. Mr. Cheek passed this life on January 6, 2010 in Gore, Oklahoma after having attained the age of 73 years, 8 months and 19 days.
12:06am: Sometimes I wonder if my late-night web crawling is the best idea – never know what you’ll find out. On the other hand… perhaps it is the most fitting moment, as it is the very same hour of the night that I spent so many evenings in deep conversation with Dean, learning about my heritage in the darkness of rural Eastern Oklahoma. It was at a place known locally as Wahelyi – Eagle Place, which is next to a spring-fed creek outside of Tahlequah, OK, where Dean lived in a tiny (very tiny) travel trailer in a clearing off the small road. (I really mean tiny… I’ve never seen anything like it. It had to be like 8 feet, seriously.) I was introduced to him by a friend that I went to Pow Wows with that decided it was time I learned what my own nation’s tribal dance was about. This spot wasn’t far from the Stomp Grounds we then called home, but unless you really knew where you were going for certain, I promise you those dirt roads were not for the faint of heart. I went there many times but I would still get lost without some direction and being very careful. I still call that time in my life the very best. It was a time of freedom from convention, and soaking up truths about what I have always known from the inside about who I am. It was discovery, and renewal, and it was peace.
Dean would sit with his eyes mostly closed, and almost no one ever really saw them. When he did decide to open them up and look at you, they were a stunning and intense shade of blue that pierced to make whatever point he was voicing. He was most traditional, wary, and respectful of both the fragility of some individuals and the sinister ways of others. He guarded the things he was entrusted with, and he also knew that he had a purpose – as he used to tell me… he didn’t WANT it but he couldn’t get away from it. That’s how our “way” is. That might sound a little cryptic to anyone outside the Woodland, or any Native culture, but I can’t be more specific. Suffice it to say that he was one of only two very amazing, insightful, and empowered healers that I knew during that time. Sadly, they are both gone from this earth now. I lost the first one in 1996. It had always been my intention to return to Oklahoma and spend more time with both of them, but circumstances went another way for me. It does not diminish the gift of having known them both. They are a part of what shaped the woman that I am today. I am grateful for their tremendous presence and generosity in those years. They will be remembered forever with great respect.
Dean was a carver, among other things. I am saddened that I was never able to get a knife blank to him as intended, because he made beautiful deer antler handle hunting knives. His work was exquisite and I always wanted one. He also carved “Red Shirts” – the old Cherokees with traditional facepaint and clothing on them… about 2 feet tall if I remember correctly. They were much sought after, and he was kind enough to adjust his fees for what he knew people could or could not afford. I had to laugh one time when he told me he wouldn’t charge the same amount to a local elder on a fixed income as he would some rich city folk in a nice car. He was right. In my estimation, he had a very good heart. He put himself into those carvings like nothing I’ve ever seen. He was a man of more spirit than body in so many ways.
Many of my memories are not to be shared. They were inexplicable at times, and some very personal, and most would not even be understood or appreciated by anyone that had not been there. What I can say of this man is that he lived a life that was tremendously full and yet as simplistic as anyone I’ve ever met in my 43 years. He also trusted me, after getting to know me, which for him was no small feat as he lived outside of town on purpose and usually did not feel at ease around the female of the species. I cherish that he gave me that rare inside to part of his life, and am also privileged to say that I met and spent a little time with his daughter who is close to my age. She was an interesting and intense young woman, without a doubt her father’s girl.
Dean had little in this world materially, which is a stark contrast to the way most of us live. To my knowledge he never had a phone from long before till long after I met him. He was impossible to contact at times, and in the latter years that proved 100% the case as he moved away from Wahelyi where his neighbor ‘Velt had a phone down the road. I would hear from friends I still call and catch up with that he was “still around”, and it always seemed hopeful to me that I would speak with again one day. It’s not to be. I know that now. Between the ages of my own mother and father, he’s crossed over to rest.
Old Man Cheek, you are missed, you are cherished, and I will never forget your blue eyes or your sneak-up humor either one. Wa-do, o-gi-na-li. Wa-do.
Posted on June 19, 2011, in General Blather and tagged Aniyvwiya, Cherokee, Cherokee Artist, Dean Cheek, Native American, Native Artist, Oklahoma, Tahlequah, Tsalagi, Wolf Clan. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.