Muscogee Nation News Column March 2012

Hensci—It’s early spring. Wild onions are beginning to sprout in my yard here in Glenpool, and the birds are all on the hunt for mates. There’s a Robin family that has been here for years. They know my sister Margaret and her family and have noticed that they are no longer living here. They have been checking me out and I have to tell them who I am, where I’ve been, and that I will be the one staying here. Once I tell them with my mind, they fly off, satisfied. They are probably the 30th generation. Basically this yard is their territory. I will have to fit myself in. The same goes for the Redbird family here. They’re also territorial. They sing every morning and help me put my feet on the ground and keep going.

Sam Proctor asked me when I’m having a party. I will and everyone will be invited. (Especially you, Sam.) And there will be music. I’ve always loved the story of my grandfather Monahwee (Menawa) who when visited by a government agent on official business, came out to properly greet him then excused himself by telling the agent that he was partying with his people and wouldn’t be done for a few days. He met with the agent two days later.

Now, that’s a good reminder for many of us. When we’re about to let our last breath go on this earth, will we be regretful about paperwork, emails or Facebook, or missing a sale at Kohl’s? What will we wish we had done? What words are we carrying that need to be said? What could we do to lift the burden of someone?  A good party can be a tonic for everyone. We’re human beings. We light up by sharing stories, songs, laughter, and even crying together when we need to grieve.  And dancing feeds all your systems with energy. Music lifts us up.

My memoir Crazy Brave will be officially out in July so I may have the party between June and July. The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame has offered their facilities. I’ll let you know. Gary White Deer also has a memoir coming out sometime this year and a party between us is also appealing. I got a sneak preview. His memoir, Touched by Thunder is witty, funny and insightful, in a very Mvskoke way (he’s Choctaw with Mvskoke relatives).

When I was down in Mexico in the town of San Miguel de Allende I kept thinking of our people. The way I understand it is that some of the migration paths came up from the south. Others of us came up from the earth, and some arrived in our traditional homelands from the West. I saw Mvskoke-looking people everywhere, though most were officially Mestizo. To claim yourself as “Indio” is as demeaning as it was in our parent’s generations. In fact, when I tried to get a person of the tribal people indigenous to the area there to open my performance, I was told by a conference official “there are indigenous people, but they aren’t really active here anymore”. I knew that wasn’t true because I’d seen them all through town. Someone else confirmed later that yes, there are indigenous people there with living cultures.

A beautiful young Huichol woman attended the conference where I performed and spoke. Her culture was alive in her. She, like many others, was embracing her cultural language and knowledge, despite the prevailing colonial attitude toward the “Indio”. She was concerned, as were many, about the plan for a Canadian oil company to construct a huge pipeline through Mexico. Some things don’t change, like the attitude of destroyers that it’s alright to run a pipeline through a country, break up the land, destroy peoples and cultures, and suck out of excessive amounts of oil, gas, coal or uranium that were never meant to be pulled out of the earth in such quantities.

Before I forget, there was a fiesta there, a party in honor of the speakers, who also included Margaret Atwood and Elena Poniatowska. There were Spanish and Indian dancers, mariachi bands, folk dancing, lots of good food, and fireworks. I celebrated with everyone.

And I celebrate spring as I write this. Those wild onion dinners are coming up—time for a good party!


MNN COLUMN February 2012

I have been up here in Vancouver, BC hosted by the First Nations House of Learning here at the University of British Columbia. This program of indigenous studies is quite a cultural model for other indigenous studies programs, and could even be a model for a cultural and arts center for our tribe. The longhouse is a traditional gathering place for nations in this area and reflects the architecture of the Northwest Coast. Sty-Wet-Tan Hall is marked by four stunning totem poles, made to provide a foundation of understanding for the students, faculty, staff, community members and all who enter. It is the center. There is a sense of home throughout the center that houses offices, a library and gathering places for students and community. It is quite inspiring.

While here I have met with classes at the university, and with community groups. I will be performing my play and music. I visited with women’s groups at the Friendship Centre in East Vancouver. The second group was at a youth center for young women who have dealt with domestic violence and other difficulties. This was a highlight. We met together at their center, and then we took a van to North Vancouver to the Squamish Reserve to meet with the skipper who agreed to take us out on the water together. Wes Baker is his English name. This was not a usual request. The canoes don’t usually go out in winter. We went out in a West Coast traditional Salish canoe out to the water to paddle together. Wes knew the canoe as if it were his own body. He knew the water also in that manner. I appreciated the protocols that made a ceremony of entering the canoe, entering the water and moving through the waters together, and for the return. The canoe culture has revived and grown in the last several years, with many canoes from many of the nations up here journeying miles across water. It takes great strength of working together of mind, body and spirit to paddle a canoe through the waters. And everyone must pull together. As we traveled he told us many stories of the place, of the waters, and one anecdote was of a very generous friend who is always the first one to find the store, or Wal-Mart wherever they go on these paddles. She always brings them something back. They have honored her with the name: “Shopsalot.” He had a great sense of humor. I will always remember this day. It was a special one on the necklace of days.

What has threaded through this time here is the song “Espoketis Omes Kerreskos”. I hear it and sing it constantly. I have been studying how our Mvskoke music is a root of jazz, blues and rock. To even state what has become a very obvious truth rocks the foundation of American music. Hugh Foley, one of our Oklahoma musicologists showed me how this song marks the trail of influence. It is a kind of song line that follows the Trail of Tears.  Take a listen to the Rolling Stones, “The Last Time” and you’ll here one direction the trail led. We were there at the birth of American music.

This morning I head out into the day. This could be the last time, we never know. So let’s act with the kind of awareness and treat everyone with kindness.