The Sovereignty Symposium Posters

Each year since 1987, a well known Native artist is featured on the Sovereignty Symposium poster. Artists have included Ben Harjo, Kelly Haney, Jeri Redcorn, and Mike Larsen. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma is one of several sponsors for the Symposium, which is recognized as the premier conference on Indian Law, drawing prominent speakers from across the nation.

Peacekeepers served as the theme for 2008 and Larsen was asked to paint noted Kiowa dancer Dixon Palmer in his Kiowa Black Leggings regalia as the featured subject of the poster. The Kiowa Black Leggings have served as Color Guard for the Sovereignty Symposium every year since its inception. Palmer would also be named as Honored One at the Sovereignty Symposium the same year. At the time, Palmer was in poor health and unable to sit for a portrait. Fortunately, Larsen had previously completed a series of large murals for the Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain that included Palmer. Larsen relied on photos, sketches and memories of creating that previous work to complete the Peacekeeper image of Palmer. “We got to be very good friends,” Larsen said of Palmer. “He laughed a lot.”

Though his sunset painting of the Oklahoma prairie was selected by the U.S. Postal Service as Oklahoma’s Centennial Stamp, Larsen’s passion shines most vibrantly when painting people. Larsen recently completed a monumental series of forty-eight portraits of Chickasaw elders that can be seen at the Chickasaw Cultural Center near Sulphur, Oklahoma and were also published in two volumes: They Know Who They Are: Chickasaw Elders and Proud to be Chickasaw (Elders of the Chickasaw Nation). More of Larsen’s work appears on pages 76 and 140.

Palmer, who was born in a tipi on his grandmother’s allotment just west of Anadarko, served as a member of the Kiowa TON-KON-GAH Black Leggings Warrior Society for 52 years. For more information on the Black Leggings Warrior Society, see Virginia Stroud’s painting on page 79. Palmer served with the 45th Infantry Division in World War II, logging 511 days in combat. He earned two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars during his military service. While stationed in Massachusetts, he formed a dance group, introducing East Coast residents to the thrill of Kiowa dances. This included a performance for a record-breaking crowd of 90,000 at a racetrack.

Palmer participated in his first professional dance performance at the age of 12 and competed in every National War Dance Championship contest presented during the American Indian Exposition in Anadarko, Oklahoma. In 1937, at age 17, he won the national title, then repeated his success and won it again in 1945. Palmer continued dancing throughout his life and placed among the top six finalists during his fifties.

Palmer also gained world renown for his skill in making magnificent feathered war bonnets, including the ones worn by the Black Leggings Warrior Society. Based on Kiowa tradition, eagle feathers in the bonnet represented brave deeds. He also made bonnets using turkey feathers for celebrities, including Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn. In 1973, Palmer was commissioned to create his own version of the famous Kiowa Tipi of Battle Pictures for the Southern Plains Indian Museum. The exhibition received national acclaim and led to numerous private tipi commissions.

Over the years, Palmer appeared on numerous national television shows, had parts in several motion pictures and took part in a Japanese documentary focusing on Native Americans. Palmer died March 3, 2011, at the age of 90.