There are times in pow wows where there is an occasional break in the action. It can be after dancers finish their contests or a giveaway is completed. It was at moments like this that Hammond Motah, Comanche, would say one of his many lines.
“‘I need security to the speaker stand,” Motah would say. “I’ve got two women fighting over me, and the ugly one’s winning.’”
Hammond Motah, 75, was known throughout the United States and Canada for his bold sense of humor, knowledge of traditional protocol for multiple tribal nations, and a generosity of spirit.
“[Motah] was a very comical, very entertaining and very dear emcee,” said Carla Whiteman, a powwow emcee from Lawton, Okla. “He included everybody. He was very knowledgeable. He would tell you anything. Nobody was immune to his teasing.”
Whiteman, who is Cheyenne, Arapaho and Osage, is one of the few female emcees in southwest Oklahoma. A longtime co-host of the area “Indians for Indians” radio program, she credits Motah for getting her on the pow wow mike for the first time at the annual Comanche Homecoming in Walters, Okla.
“[Motah] always encouraged me about that, and that’s one thing I appreciate about him,” Whiteman said.
While Motah’s sense of humor was one of his key trademarks, it served a function. According to Comanche emcee and Motah protégé Edmond Nevaquaya, he said that Motah kept the spirit of a pow wow moving, even after a particularly serious time.
“Sometimes if people would have giveaways or memorials and someone would get too emotional, people would have a hard time of bringing that pow wow spirit back out,” Nevaquaya said. “As soon as [Motah] recognized that, he would get everybody going. He was always told me when I was emcee, ‘Keep it going. Keep it live. Don’t let that Spirit go down.’”
A rare gift that Motah brought to the arena was his traditional knowledge, along with his fluent use of the Comanche language. Motah was a second-generation emcee, carrying on a tradition from his father, former Comanche tribal chairman Lee Motah. Outside of the contest powwow, Motah was emcee for ceremonial organizations in southwest Oklahoma such as Kiowa Gourd Clan and O-Ho-Mah Lodge. With these organizations, knowledge of family and individual song ownership is highly important.
“He was very knowledgeable about the arena and other tribes’ traditions,” Whiteman said. “[Motah] was able to describe their ways. What might work in Oklahoma would not work in South Dakota. He would really pay attention to that.”
While his sense of humor was widely known, Motah also had his serious side. The opening and closing of a powwow through prayer was something with which he was comfortable, as well as opening showing emotion on the mike. Jonathan Windy Boy, Chippewa-Cree, is a Montana state representative and an active contest dancer, singer and emcee.
He said Motah “took me under his wing” as an emcee, describing Motah’s humor as “medicine.” Yet it is Motah’s many other characteristics that came to mind for Windy Boy such as his “generosity and honesty.”
“What I take from him is that he wasn’t afraid to express emotion,” Windy Boy said. “I have admiration for him for those characteristics.”
Motah was born June 4, 1941 to the late Lee and Rhoda Pauau Motah and grew up in Walters, Okla. His formal studies included the University of Arizona, University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, and becoming an ordained Methodist minister through Cooks Christian Training School. Professionally, he worked as a consultant with many tribes.
Through his connections in the powwow world, Motah had many adopted relations. For this reason, he was a member of many tribal organizations both within and outside of the Comanche people. These organizations include the Walters Service Club; Comanche Native American Church; Comanche Homecoming; Tia-Piah Society of Oklahoma; Esa Rosa Descendants; Kiowa Gourd Clan; O-Ho-Mah Lodge; Kiowa Tia-Piah Society of Carnegie; and the Redbone Blackfeet Society.
Motah is survived by his wife Sherry Motah of Carnegie, Okla.; children Derek Tofpi of Carnegie, Deroin Motah of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Tina Motah of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Gina Motah of Sisseton, S.D.; sisters Ruth Toahty of Elgin, Okla., Carol Kahrahrah and husband Bernard of Geronimo, Okla., Sandra Karty and husband Delbert of Walters, Okla., and Jolene Gutierrez of Spinola, N.M.; brother Gaylon Motah and wife Melanie of Lawton, Okla.; adopted children Steve Quoetone, Cheevers Toppah, Hyde Toppah and Janaye Toppah; and grandchildren Adriel Clements, Kaygan Tofpi, Matthew Tofpi and Jaxson Tsonetokoy.
In addition to his parents, Motah was preceded in death by two brothers, Ammons Wayne Motah and Thomas Blackstar; two sisters, Oneda Twohatchet and Venita Lyles; three aunts, Sally Fawbush, Freda Pauau and Joyce Gooday; and one son, Jay Motah Country.
As to Motah’s legacy, a lot of his generosity and words of encouragement were directed toward future generations—the young dancers and singers—who would carry on the knowledge and humor with which he shared on the microphone.
“He had a lot of good words for children,” Nevaquaya said. “inspiring them to be who they are and be somebody.”