Muscogee Nation News Column March 2009

It’s late afternoon before the column is due. I’ve almost emailed the editor twice to say: “it’s not possible”. I am out on the West Coast rehearsing every night at San Diego State University for my show, Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light. It will open in Los Angeles in March, as part of the Native Voices at the Autry series. There are a few reasons I am telling you this: 1) I am need of a column ASAP, and mostly 2) maybe this will inspire others who think it’s too late to pick up a musical instrument, write a book, learn the language, learn songs, or anything else, because they hit thirty (yes thirty, I’ve heard many a hitting-thirty panic that they were too old….give me a break), forty, fifty, sixty, or….

This show is one of the biggest challenges I ever had. First, I had to write the show. I have rewritten the play countless times. I have written, recorded and performed the music for the play, and kept going, even as I have been turned down many times for one thing or another mostly for being too Indian, or not Indian enough. Go figure. And now, one of the most difficult challenges: I have to memorize the play, and to act. I haven’t acted since I was a high school student at the Institute of American Indian Arts. I was always the shyest student and usually sat at the back of the class and said nothing.

I begged the director. “Please, let me just read the play.” “No way”, he said. “You can do it”. “Well, at least let me tape all the lines to the floor”, I argued. “No”, he said. I even looked up how much it cost to rent a teleprompter. They were too expensive, and huge. Writing on my arms was the most cost effective. But I don’t have enough arm space for the whole play. So, I’m here this afternoon, memorizing my play. And I’m nearing sixty. (“Nearing” means, I’m closer to sixty than to fifty.)

I don’t like to write about myself, in fact, I’m several years late with a book I was contracted to write, because I don’t want to write about myself. I write because I love stories and words, and these columns, because I think they might be useful. Maybe by writing this you might decide to keep going, to take care of your gifts, no matter how old you are, seven or hundred. I’m not special. There are many talented people out there in the nation.

I’m including an excerpt from the show. And if any of you make it out to LA between March 12th and March 29th, I’ll get you in. Just say you’re my relative, or you’re with the band. Let me know. I’d be honored.

Redbird Monahwee (to her father):

I followed you as you unloaded it from the truck. I helped, as you strung the deer up on the tree. I squatted down with you, as the red sun kissed the red earth. You tamped out some tobacco into our hands.
You said, “We pray with tobacco to acknowledge the spirit of the deer. We give thanks, mvto”.
“There is much suffering on this earth.
Even plants suffer. Tobacco agreed to come along as we walk this world. It’s medicine, a gift from the Creator.”
And remember I said, But Daddy, you smoke two packs of Lucky Strikes a day!”
I was such a little plant, drinking in your words.
“And what about whiskey, Dad”, I asked you.
“It's killing me”, you said.
“I'm sorry, Hokte”.
“Pray for me girl.”


Report from the Island

I just got a report from home. Now there are two redbird families in the yard.  Two males with their wives. The guys are chasing each other around the yard. The females are sitting together on the wall, visiting each other. 

Isn't that exactly how it is?!


Sun Going Down in the Pacific

Our earthly star, from the window of my flight between San Francisco and Burbank.

Okay, Okay

Yesterday took a break. Hung out with one of my favorite people: Charlie HIll. We walked over to Amoeba Records after a late lunch at Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles on Gower near Sunset where I used to always run into Mike Tyson, when I hung out in LA a few years back. We stopped at an ATM and this young native woman just happened to be there. Turns out she's Oneida and Seminole. Osceola is her last name, and she's a student at a fashion school nearby. Charlie knew many of her relatives. What are the chances? There are no accidents.



This is from my friend Candyce Childers from Eagle River, Alaska. She's one of my closest correspondents and has this to share about subsistence. Her comments remind me that the system of the "over-culture", or, commodity-culture is torqued by selfishness. It is coming undone.

" I went to a public forum at the university discussing the future of subsistence. It was interesting to hear people's perspective on subsistence as a concept. One panelist (Yupik) commented that subsistence and the myriad ways it is regulated is insensitive and bizarre. He drew a comparison between the land as our Native grocery and the grocery stores in the city. He asked the audience to imagine that in order to get food from the grocery in the city we all had to apply for permission. And imagine that we were told we could only go grocery shopping two weeks out of the year during which you must get everything your family of 6 will need for the next winter. On top of that, you could not use a car, bus or other mechanical transport to go to the grocery but must walk. It was powerful and moving.

Another interesting point that a panelist made was how our ancestors handled individuals who were selfish. Even if a man was a good hunter it wasn't a guarantee that he could remain a community member. The community survived by living communally. Everyone had to share their resources and when an individual failed to do so they would banish or kill him. The reasoning was that he would eventually cause the death of the entire village either literally from starvation or from division. Imagine how disruptive it was to have missionaries and teachers move in with their values of individualism and competition."

Thanks Candyce.