The Opening of the National Museum of the American Indian
Events occur on many levels. I was present at one of the earliest planning sessions for the National Museum of the American Indian. Then, it was an idea, a series of ideas. That we were meeting together and breathing was a miracle itself in this land of genocidal intentions and means. We helped birth the vision, or was the vision there already to be fulfilled? I wonder how that works. Could be a little of both, that is, the yearning of a spirit to be born as an architectural being, and the need of peoples to have a place of representation on that terrible, sacred land called the Mall, the body of the Capitol Building.
Last Tuesday morning we were there to cap off that dream with acknowledgment, dancing, singing with hundreds of tribal groups and organizations. We’d been preparing for this. The Mvskoke contingent was made up of several groups, from the Principal Chief and other tribal officials, to the veterans, elderly, students in their crisp newly made outfits, many in wheelchairs, various societies including various members of my ceremonial grounds. There was a plan for a processional order, which appeared to be very loosely adhered to—I stayed with those associated with our ceremonial grounds, next to my cousin who is current head of the California Muscogee Creek Association.
It was a beautiful, blue-sky morning. Exhilarating to be altogether on those historical grounds, exhilarating to be alive in that particular moment together. For me to be there at that moment had everything to do with Monahwee surviving seven shot wounds at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend after near massacre by Andrew Jackson and his troops, by the efforts of his parents before him, his children, his wife and all who followed, and too, my mother’s Cherokee family who were forced to flee their homes for the west. There we were, shimmering with the gleam of blessings.
We all moved slowly in our groups up the Mall together. It was hot and often the procession stopped but the feeling didn’t stop. It grew. Each group sang or chanted. In the front of our group the Christians sang hymns in the Mvskoke language. In the back, we sang and danced the original Mvskoke songs. That’s how it is but it wasn’t always that way. For years since the Christians had pronounced us the children of devils our Mvskoke traditional ways were vilified, even by many of our own people who turned to the Bible ways. Some of that still goes on today by those who believe they are the official voice and way of the divine. Some were there, but many in that group had come to see that we have to embrace each other just as the Sun and Moon who were occupying the same equinox sky that day I will always remember the inspired singing and dancing as we moved together. I still see joy, and the color red (which is the color of renewed blood, of vitality). And I will always remember the conversations I shared with tribal members as we all met up and talked with new and old relatives. We laid aside any enmities for awhile, to walk together. And I finally got to meet Floy Pepper, Jim Pepper’s mother. She sure drives a mean wheelchair.
(The opening occurred on September 22nd, 2004 in Washington, D.C.