OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma – “You don’t look native enough,” said customers to Jake Keyes when they learn that he is the owner of Skydance Brewing Co., the first Native American owned brewery in City, according to its website.
Keyes said, an oppressing issue that Natives must tackle from time to time is the perception of others, particularly non-Natives.
Native American owned business could seem like a foreign term for some, leading people to believe they could experience something ceremonial or spiritual, according to Keyes.
“I don’t know what some of them expect,” Keyes said. “Then they ask who’s the owner, then they point at me and they seem kind of surprised. I think they’d see somebody with a darker complexion maybe sitting on horse with a tomahawk and a headdress on.”
Keyes said that he usually doesn’t find these comments or remarks coming from other Native Americans, but non-Natives are the ones who seem to have something to say about his appearance.
“When a lot of people look at me, they don’t see Native American or what they think a Native American should look like,” Keyes said.
With fair skin, green eyes and even reddish hair, Keyes may not fit the stereotypical Indian.
The picture painted into the head of most comes from the stories of Native Americans that are told by the non-native people which Keyes claims are inevitably wrong.
Keyes said the non-native people making these comments might think it is in defense of Native Americans, but in reality it’s their “weird twisted idea” of what Natives looks like.
“I think it’s more important than ever, that we start telling our own story.”
Keyes’ personal story telling includes entrepreneurship, branding, and business.
“The best part about any brand or business is the story and if we don’t tell our own story then somebody else will,” Keyes said. “And they’re going to get it wrong.”
The younger generation is more open to sharing then the elders because of the trauma and hardship they experienced during times where being Indian was basically illegal, Keyes said.
“Those days are over now,” Keyes said. “We don’t have to hide it.”
On the flip side, with over 200 years of U.S. government policy to assimilate and eradicate Native Americans into the non-native, white, Christian culture; Keyes said the result is less and less people look Native American.
According to Keyes, his own family dynamic of having a full blood native mother and a white father could be used as an example to describe the result of colonization.
“We don’t all look like what you see in a movie,” Keyes said.
In a Facebook post addressing the issue Keyes said, “When you look at me, just know that this is what colonization looks like. When you look at me and wonder how a Native could look like me, you should think about “Indian Removal Act.” You should think about “assimilation….”’
Despite the efforts to destroy tribal nations, Native Americans are thriving in today’s world, according to Keyes.
“We are here now,” Keyes said. “We aren’t just some terrible story of what happened to some people.”
“We are thriving, we open businesses like this and were successful at businesses.”
Tribes have come quite a long way by running large cash operations like casinos, by being the largest employers in small towns over the state, and now with McGirt have great government influence, Keyes said.
Keyes said the one thing that they have been able to share at Skydance about Native culture, is that Natives are the ultimate gatherers, storytellers, and love community.
“We always have a reason to have a meal together,” Keyes said jokingly.
He said that the taproom of his brewery is a great symbol of that.
Keyes is registered with the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma and family with the Osage Nation and Otoe–Missouria Tribe, was recently named one of Native Business Magazine’s “Top 50 Native Entrepreneurs.” His fiancé Bobbie is an enrolled Muscogee (Creek) citizen; she helps him with brewing and running the business.
Skydance produces five brews including the favorite Fancy Dance, along with a few seasonal beers, such as Sovereign Nation, inspired by the United States’ recognition of tribes as sovereign nations. Keyes serves his late fathers’ oatmeal stout on tap. The beer is distributed to gas stations and small bars in the Oklahoma City area.
In early October, Skydance made its new home to brew at 1 NE 7th St. Suite A, Oklahoma City, OK 73104. For further questions, call 405-768-2154.
Skydance can be found on Instagram @skydancebrewing.