The last two months I have lived in Tulsa, helping out my mother. I left Tulsa when I was a teenager. I fled a difficult home to go to high school at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was then a Bureau of Indian Affairs high school with an emphasis in arts. There was also a two-year postgraduate program. I remember three other Creek students there: Sandy and Phyllis Fife, and Richard Ray Whitman. That school literally saved my life, as it did for many of the students who attended. It affirmed my identity as a native person, as an artist, and it gave me a refuge from an abusive situation at home. I left Oklahoma in a trail of pain.
I have returned frequently to Oklahoma over the years, to keep a connection with my family and my tribe. I kept a close relationship with my father, a Creek man, who lived his last years in Texas near the Gulf waters. We both loved the water. When the abusive stepparent died in the early nineties, only then could I return to my mother’s house. Before then, I saw my mother at work, or elsewhere.
We human beings are faced with all kinds of tests in this world. We don’t always understand them. There are some things that take an eternity to understand. There has never been any doubt as to my mother’s love, and I have to believe that the love of the Creator (who is not invested in any religious affiliation) remains steadfast and center to any path, to any endeavor begun with the intent to bring kindness to the world, though sometimes it may seem otherwise.
I considered the path of our people and the test of our path as I gathered with many others in the tribe for the 26th Annual Council Oak Ceremony on a warm, fall day in Tulsa. We stood together at the place the Locvpokv people from our nation arrived after our forced removal from our Alabama homelands. The Locvpokv people placed ashes from their original fires at the base of an oak tree on the hill where we now stood, many years and generations later, near the Arkansas River. I felt the connection between us like the beautiful and mysterious light from the fire, threading us together. I drank in every word spoken, felt every little breeze, and particle of sun. I listened to the poetry in the speech by our Chief of Staff, Edwin Marshall, the wise threading of history in the words of Ted Isham, our Cultural Preservation Manager, and took to heart the words of the many other speakers.
We may not understand the why of the injustice of the bloodshed, the forced move far away from our beloved lands, but we are in a story that winds through eternity. And we are still standing together.
I needed the people that afternoon. I was fresh with grief from my mother’s passing from this world.
I felt the memory of the people as it lives in our bones. I renewed my promise to carry my part of the story home the best way possible.
This is home. This is what home means.