Tammy Greer, a member of Southeastern Louisiana’s United Houma Nation, was born in New Orleans. Her parents parted before she was born, and her mother, due to lack of education and resources, felt unable to care for Tammy and her older brother. They were adopted by a traveling minister and his wife, but Tammy was back in touch with her mother and other relatives among the Houma during high school. One of her teachers noticed that she was an Indian and wanted to help her to be in touch with Indian culture outside of her immediate family. That teacher sent her to Indian camp several times, where most of the kids were Houma. They learned how to bead, make baskets, and explore other sorts of expressive culture that families cultivate together in much the same traditional atmosphere. A teacher at the camp who had been to powwows her whole life took Tammy on the powwow trail in Louisiana, Texas, and Florida. She continued to learn beadwork from several folks, first beading a pair of moccasins, then making a dance dress and learning how to fringe shawls.
At those powwows she visited during her teens, there would be dancing during the day, lots of crafts done, and plenty of visiting. Then when the regular powwow dancing flagged around ten, the older generation would head for bed, and the young folks would “49” for hours more (that’s social dancing). After a 4-year hitch in the army, which included two years in army intelligence in Europe, she was back home, and back on the powwow trail, now accompanied by nieces and nephews. She attended the University of New Orleans and received a doctorate in psychology from Tulane. She married, looked for work nearby, and soon was teaching at The University of Southern Mississippi. Following her divorce, she returned to beading and other crafts, and now that her kids are old enough to not require constant attention, can spend more time in these endeavors. After powwows started at USM, she was recruited to help, and soon was advisor of the Golden Eagles Intertribal Society and head of the annual powwow. She points out that this powwow serves an important function in nurturing and publicizing an Indian presence in an area formerly populated only by Indians. As a natural outgrowth of this activity and of USM’s location (central in terms of Indian populations of the Deep South), she initiated and leads USM’s new Center for American Indian Research and Studies. These days, many weekends find her and her kids at powwows in the region, dancing, visiting, and recruiting students for USM.
Although she still has the first regalia she made and danced in, much of her beadwork and other crafts have departed as gifts or in trade for the artwork of others. She finds beading relaxing, a form of meditation that has a physical product. Often, as she beads, her children will sort beads for her—crafts will continue in the family. Her beading designs first followed geometric patterns, but then diverged into pictorial and autobiographical paths. For instance, a cross represents her confirmation in the Catholic church, a snake symbolizes transformation, and so on. The boldest color contrasts, seen on a large talking stick (a traditional adjunct to a civil discussion—only the one then holding the stick will speak), represent the arrival of the kids, easily the most dramatic event in her life!