November 2, 2021

Native American Affinity Group Chair John Haney Shares the Role of Art in his Family's Culture

Holland & Knight Native American Heritage Month Spotlight Series

At Holland & Knight, we strive to develop an organization where all individuals, especially those from underrepresented communities, can have and see a path to success. In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, we hosted conversations with employees from across the firm to listen to their stories about their Native American heritage, upbringing and experience. These conversations highlighted the rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories of Native American and Alaska Native people as well as recognized their important contributions. We hope that these stories help educate others about Native American Heritage Month and honor our Native American friends, family and colleagues.

In the debut episode of this series, attorney John Haney, who chairs our Native American Affinity Group, talks about his experience with art in Native American culture. John's father, Enoch Kelly Haney, created "The Guardian" sculpture that sits atop the Oklahoma state capitol building. Standing 22 feet tall, it represents the 39 tribes of Oklahoma and can be viewed from all angles because of its height. He also shares his experience with flute making and playing. John's grandfather, William Woodrow Haney, was a prominent Native American flute maker and flute player as well as a widely respected Seminole storyteller. John himself makes and plays flutes like his grandfather, and he shares both how his grandfather has influenced his work and how music allows him to connect with his ancestors while passing on stories of Native American people.

More Videos in this Series

Episode 1: Native American Affinity Group Chair John Haney Share the Role of Art in his Family's Culture (You are currently viewing Episode 1)

Episode 2: Jessica Laughlin Dispels Common Misconceptions of What it Means to be Native American

Episode 3: Not All Fun and Games: James T. Meggesto Shares How Native American Culture Becomes Caricature

Episode 4: Kayla Gebeck Carroll Discusses the Importance of Representation in Literature

John Haney: I want to talk a little bit about my experience with art, Native American art and its role in Native American culture. My father in 2002 finished a 22-foot sculpture, which is called "The Guardian," and The Guardian sits on top of the Oklahoma City state capitol building. I was just a kid when that went up, but man, is it still impactful today. It's a warrior that is holding a staff and holding a shield. And the meaning behind it is that this guardian represents all 39 tribes of the state of Oklahoma and watches over the people of the state of Oklahoma. The Guardian is so impactful because thousands of people drive by it every single day, whether they're driving by the highway or on roads, because you can see it from all angles. That's how high up it is, and again, it's 22 feet tall. What a sight that is, to see a Native American warrior on the capitol building and that it's going to be there forever.

I want to talk a little bit about my grandpa. His name was William Woodrow Haney. He was an internationally recognized Native American flute maker and flute player. He passed away when I was just a kid in 1995. However, I did spend some time with him when I was younger. There is a painting that my father, Enoch Kelly Haney, created called "Grandfather's Gift." And this painting represents a day in 1992 when I was in my grandfather's woodshop and he was teaching me how to play flutes, and he was also just showing me around his woodshop. And it's one of the few memories that I really remember at that age. And, you know, while the origins of the Native American flute aren't exactly known, what I have always heard and understood is that our flutes were a gift from the Creator to Native American people. And one of the primary uses of the flute is to make the flute player feel good and to make others feel good, also to tell stories. My grandpa was a very, very gifted storyteller of Seminole culture and tradition, and one of the ways in which he told those stories was through playing the flute. And what is interesting is today I also make flutes just like my grandpa did. And while he wasn't there to physically show me how to make the flutes, I still did learn from him through studying his flutes and playing them. So I always considered flute making and flute playing to be his gift to me.

Man holding wooden flute with blue beading

So this is one of the recent flutes that I have made, and what you'll see right here is my name and then the number 13, and that's exactly how my grandpa Woodrow made his flutes. He also had beadwork, so I designed and worked on the beadwork. And then what I really love about this flute is that this is a flute that I made the body, but this is my grandpa's wood piece that he made on one of his flutes. So again, this is a way for me to kind of reconnect with my ancestors. Even though they're no longer walking on the earth, I can still connect with my grandpa in this way. Being able to inform people through our stories about how Native American people, we survived so much, and we've been thriving and we've been evolving, and just to be able to share my grandpa and his life and his flute, that's something that is an honor to me. And it's something that I'm able to pass on through the flutes that I make.

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