Why I Don't Live in Oklahoma

I just bought The New Mexican newspaper. Included in the first section was a map of the U.S., each county and area of the each state was red or blue, depending on which presidential candidate carried the vote. Every state in the country had blue and red of varying amounts. Only Oklahoma was all red for McCain.

That's why I don't live in Oklahoma.

Doesn't mean I don't miss my people, or the earth there, or selected memories. I fled the hyper-Christian-cult and white only atmosphere as a teenager. Even our own native people support these attitudes. Colonization runs deep. I imagine many of them voted for McCain because he was white, and Obama is black (and white). It was a sad day when word got to me that someone in the Muscogee Nation declared in a meeting that the tribe was a Christian Nation. We're a Mvskoke Nation, which means, a nation rooted in our own tribal culture(s), which includes Muscogee-Christian, as well as the ceremonial grounds people, and all the various cultures that make up the tribe.

Rigid structures cut and separate. They eventually fall from the weight of the fear that sets them into place. This goes for cultures, religions, thoughts, political boundaries....

I have to find a way to forgive the relatives who sent hate mail during the campaign, including an email that made me very very sad, about burning others' holy books and doing terrible things to those who love those books. I must continue to love, yet hold in my knowing that they belong to a church that tells them that everyone else is going to hell, including their gay and non-white relatives. And I must remember that the original teachings of Christ were about love and acceptance, and not the making of rigid communities. And remember that are open and loving Christian communities.

Though I negotiate this territory every time I go to Oklahoma I always find a reason to stay: stompdancing around the fire all night in time with the stars, hearing the Mvskoke language, laughing with friends and relatives, talking and hugs from my mother, the smell of sunrise in the summer.

So who knows....one of these days I might buy a little place near Okmulgee...I'd stay there for a month or two during green corn season, dance every weekend, visit my friends in their welcoming churches and sing with them, go fishing....

Joy Harjo November 5th, 2008


Susan said...

Thanks Joshua, could not have said it better. Lots of us left Oklahoma, for many of the same reasons and most of us probably spend way too much time trying to figure it out, this love- hate relationship we have with the place. I spent a long time in the hate phase but now realize how much the place and the relationship make us the people we are. I don't know if it is an odd interpretation of Christianity or an extremely strong military influence. For the first time everyone is looking up to an Afro- American man not the other way around and I would love that to be the case for an Indian,someday

Robert W Gilcrease said...

Amen, says this old squirrel up here at the Permafrost Ranch That dream would be mine, if I was able, just to go home for a bit. Be a snow bird but return to the Great Land. I guess all us x-patriots have similar feelings that way.

Lynn said...

Check out Prof. Mark Newman's election maps, http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/2008/
He's created one with "shades of purple in between [red and blue] to indicate percentages of votes" in counties. I found this map to be more informative than red/blue ... and more heartening.

Tee Harbor Jackson McNeil said...

Preachy stuff makes me queasy, which is why I'm a bit hesitant to say the following. Stand back suckers...This seems a certainty, but since I'm not a christian, you tell me (I was a good Presbyterian boy who earned a leather white bible in my youth though). My guess is that there are going to be millions of religious zealots, especially christians who will have a lot of explaining to do regarding their lack of humility when they meet their god. Don't you think? It's pretty clear that a lot of them live on the political far right and they never really learned the definition of humility, let alone living a life of humility. Greed seems to drive their opinions, lifestyle and especially who they vote for.

They seem to have forgotten that they are a nation of immigrants who came here to escape extreme poverty, persecution and oppression and only to epitomize it here. Its not fair to jam all christians into this ugly box, but it sure seems to have a lot of them in it. What's that all about anyway? I can't figure it out. Can any of you christians explain this to me? I have an open mind about it. Maybe Obama can explain it, and maybe even start fixing their sorry reputation, since he's a christian too.

I say we find the mother theresa's of this world (after all, there are extraordinary christians too) and put them in charge. Make the pope and all of our american evangelists live in squalor with the oppressed instead of exquisite riches. Mother theresa where are you when we need you? I'm not cynical, and do realize that there are good people in the world, but all this poisonous dogma from the right in the name of christianity is really disgusting. Not to be too naive, but I guess this has been a part of human identity for as long as we've had religions.

It makes me a bit uncomfortable to talk about religion, because a person's spiritual beliefs are between them and their god. On the other hand, when their beliefs oppress other people, we need to say something. Silence is not an option when we need to defend ourselves against further oppression from the hyper christian cult on the far political right.

Anyway, your entry about why you don't live in Oklahoma has a powerful resonance for other indigenous people of this country. I can say the same about my own deep red state of Alaska. I can make fun of our alaskan christians with impunity because the christians stole my namesake's land and never repaid him for it. It's my job. The people who represent the far right are creepier than hell, and have larger numbers than other people in alaska.

The irony is that I'm still in a red state. Sometimes I feel like Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now when he wakes up in a hotel at the start of the film:

Music in background by the Doors:
This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes...again
Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need...of some...stranger's hand
In a...desperate land
Lost in a Roman...wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah

Hotel room in Boise, Voice Over from Professor McNeil:

"Boise, shit. I'm still only in Boise. Every time I think I'm going to wake up back in the jungle. When I was home after my first tour, it was worse. I'd wake up and there'd be nothing...
I hardly said a word to my wife until I said yes to a divorce.
When I was here I wanted to be there. When I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle of Boise. I've been here a week now. Waiting for a mission, getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room I get weaker. And every minute the holy roller squats in the bush he gets stronger.
Each time I look around the walls move in a little tighter.

Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. "

Ha ha! I'm in the middle of all this crap and this is kind of what it feels like sometime. I find if I can't laugh about it, it'll probably make me a bit nuts. I do take it to heart and make art about it though.

In the meantime, I need a ticket to Hawaii. Or I'll really be waking up like Captain Willard.

Tee Harbor Jackson McNeil

Joy said...

Thanks Lynn.
And Tee Harbor Jackson McNeil for your wise rap.
I could use a ticket to Hawaii too. Not headed back until December....in SFO on my way to Sweden.
Beautiful sunrise.

Larry McNeil said...

Our family does what you do... we travel a lot. It's good to interact with people in other parts of the world and country. I like the link from Lynn that shows that people in specific red or blue states transcend the stereotypical demographics. Lots of people in red Idaho voted for Obama, which is very, very cool.

TH Jackson McNeil

Anonymous said...

Ms. Harjo,
I was pleasantly suprised to see a fellow ITEPP graduate and Muscogee (Creek) citizen who has a blog.
Now, I would like to address your blog topic from another perspective, and I am assuming that your blog is open to public comment.
I am a Creek and a Christian. Someone on your blog has said Oklahomans didn't vote for Obama because of his race.I wonder if that view isn't based on racial bias in reverse- or even a lack of understanding the nature of Christianity?
Oklahoma has been called the belt buckle of the Bible belt. Many Christians see such issues as abortion as deal breakers. Why would a Christian vote for someone who believes abortion is ok when the scripture very clearly tells us that God "knew us in our mothers womb"?
My very close associates and friends include Black Americans and gay Indian men. My neighbors include lesbian couples,Hispanics, and Rednecks. Race or lifestyle, it isn't in me to treat them any differently than anyone else.
So many liberals and Democrats have voiced their revulsion to the Republican party because Republicans don't agree with the liberal views of Democrats. This is somewhat amazing to me because the judgement of "so called" liberals is so very harsh. Is it not understandable that people would have differing political views?
The Republican Platform since the 1980s has supported the right to life for unborn children. If, as a Creek citizen and Indian person, I agree with my tribe and with many other tribes, that our children are our most valuable resource, why would I want to have a president who believes it's ok to euthanize those children who are born alive even during the abortion procedure? I have yet to hear anyone explain that.
It cannot be denied that Obama was voted by his political colleages in the Senate the most liberal senator. It cannot be denied that he voted against the "Born alive" legislation. He has publicly admitted it.
Since the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, several of my loved ones have been denied the right to life based on the legal availabilty of abortion. You know as well as I that if any of our family needs a place to live or someone to take care of our children, we will not deny them. Why would we deny those who haven't even had the opportunity to breath on their own?
For this reason primarily, and for many other political reasons secondarily, I could not vote for Obama.I have never voted for a Democrat and I will never. Obama is a nice man but his social and fiscal values do not represent mine. While McCain was not my first choice, he turned out to be my only choice.
As far as Obama being a Christian, I find it odd that in an interview with Cathy Falsani in the March 4, 2004 Chicago-Sun Times he indicates a world view that is contrary to the Gospel. The scriptural message being, there is only one way to salvation and that is through Jesus Christ. Obama subscribes to the humanistic view that there are many ways to salvation.
It's true many Christians support a polarized view of what America should look like. However, isn't that what the critics of Christianity do? Calling names, ridiculing opposing viewpoints, these characteristics make the "victims" just as guilty as the "perpetrators."
I live in Oklahoma because my people made a place of tradition here in 1832, and in my older years, I had a choice to come home. I live in Oklahoma because I was raised in California where the laws there forced me to be surrounded by and involved with some situations that do not agree with my world view. I feel more free to live my lifestyle here than in California.
While I would never call any of your supporters names, I cannot agree with some viewpoints. And that's ok. I hope, that others will grant me the same respect and liberty.

q-bird said...

I left Oklahoma when I was 15, first going to Haskell, then to Kansas City, MO. I spent a only a few months in OK City and Tulsa in the last 50 years. I think the main reason I don't want to live there is the fundamentalist Christian beliefs of most of the people there. Narrow, rigid thinking, including fundamentalist and neo-con capitalism, just feels too oppressive and stifling.

I prefer our indigenous spiritual ways, that revere the sacredness of all life, and believe that we are a part of nature, Mother Earth. Which reveres the feminine powers of women and the Earth. Which believes in a form of Restorative Justice, as opposed for the 'eye for an eye' vindictiveness of Christian Retributive Justice. I prefer to live in balance and harmony with the earth, instead of treating her like a commodity, to be raped and exploited for greed and profit.

You are right in pointing out that colonialism runs deep there. Our indigenous values and culture were beaten out of our parents generation - by their being forced to attend the colonizer's boarding schools. My mother was a victim, spending most of her childhood in Chilocco, and lost the ability to speak Muscogee. Luckily I spent only a few months in Haskell in the '50s. Eventually I lived in New York City and San Francisco, joined the Native movement and finally freed my mind of the ignorance and repressive values (racism, sexism, fundamentalism, etc) I grew up with. Check out Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz book 'Red Dirt - Growing up Okie', for a similar story.
Roberto, DJ of Eagle-Quetzal-Condor, Portland, ME
PS Thanks for talking to me on my show.

Bryce said...

Wow! This is such an interesting blog! I have lived in Oklahoma for over a year now, and I totally know what you mean. I am a Christian, but I do not always agree with the "Christianese" atmosphere that pervades the place. Great comments from everyone.

Also, I thought you might appreciate this. It is a site entirely in the Mvskoke language:

Mvskoke wiki browser

Joy said...

Thanks Bryce. And thanks for the Mvskoke wiki browser!!

Tanabli said...

I am moved by all the comments, such resonance. I was born in OK City and grew up in Muskogee. We are Choctaw/European. I left Oklahoma when I was 19, considered it a great escape, necessary to survival. I finally visited mom and dad five years later, steeling myself against the demons living under rocks and in the bar ditches. Walking through the pasture on our farm I felt root shoots sprouting from the bottoms of my feet, my mare came running giving that little whinny reserved for her babies. My heart melted into the sky as my feet held tight to the earth. It was harder to visit but easier to leave when we sold the farm. Why are those demons;fear/hatred/intolerance/ignorance so prevalent? My best friend says Muskogee is/was cursed by 100 medicine men because the dawes commission rolls were signed there.
In the summer of '04 I was in Muskogee caring for my dying mom. One afternoon a teenage boy helped me out to the car with the groceries. Seeing my New Mexico license plate he said "Wow, where in NM do you live?" "Santa Fe", I said. "Oh" he says "What other neat places have you lived?" The longing in his face was overwhelming and I realized why things change so v e r y s l o w l y in Oklahoma. Her brightest and most creative children get out asap. A couple years later after we buried dad one of my sisters (none of us live in Ok) said "Now I don't ever have to come back to Muskogee." I doubt that we will.

q-bird said...

After months of soul searching I have decided that I will return to Oklahoma after all. One of my sisters is a Christian, but in a good way - generous to a fault, and not into proselytizing. There are others like her. I have talked to another sister and she tells me that people like me are needed there. People who have communication and writing skills, who have progressive politics and a knowledge of how the world works.
So I take this as a challenge and an opportunity. The land is calling me too. I would like to start an organic Community Supported Agriculture movement among the Muscogees and other tribes there.
I will be going back in August of this year. Wish me luck!
Roberto Mendoza