The Apalachicola River Community of Indians Tribal Organization (ARCITO)

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Phillip Deere: Creek Elder

 

Native American Elder and Wise Man Phillip Deere live from 1929 to 1985. He belonged to the Muskogee/Creek tribe and was an Elder who took part in the Native American movement and International Conferences and Forums. He was a carpenter and became internationally recognized as a spiritual leader and civil and human rights activist. He was an especially skilled oral historian and storyteller. His people were moved out of their ancient living spaces in the nineteenth century.

Whilst he didn't have a formal education, Phillip Deere was literate and had a deep intellect. He retained a strong sense and understanding of a natural earth religion and he had a huge memory of prayers and incantations for healing in the forgotten native American language of Old Muskogee. He is famed for his 1980 Longest Walk speech in which he articulated native American rights.
"The majority can be wrong"-Phillip Deere
Philip Deere, Longest Walk speech

PHILLIP DEERE
(1929 - 1985)

A Muskogee/Creek Elder who was active in the Native American movement
and took part in National Native Rights activities as well as
International Conferences and Forums.

THE LONGEST WALK, (42:00 min.s) recorded in a public forum Mar. 20,
1980 at Boulder, Colorado.

In this speech the late Phillip Deere explains the basic reasoning
for the American Indian Movement, as well his involvement in that
movement.


PHILLIP DEERE
MUSKOGEE CREEK ELDER

It's good to see some of my friends, people that I have known for
several years. People that have been involved in different movements,
and even the people that I have never seen before. I'm glad to be
here, to say a few words to this group, in behalf of the Indian
people.

Introduction has been made, so I don't want to waste too much time on
speaking of myself, or of my past history. Because I believe that
there are other things perhaps more important than myself, that we
should be thinking about.

When I became involved with Indian movements and Indian struggle, I
knew what I was facing. Because the problems that the Indian People
were facing, I knew them when I was a boy. My elders told me of my
tribes prophecies, the traditions of my people I learned from them.

When I was placed in school, boarding school, my uncles and my elder
people did not care for me to go to school. So I was never encouraged
to go to school, on to school. Because their thoughts was always that
once I get the white mans education, I will work against the Indian
people. This was some of the bad experience that my people went
through.

Turning Indians against Indians has been an old tactic of the
government. So, my people didn't care for me to go to school, but I
went on through grade school.

They want me to know my Indian way of life. They wanted me to know
and study the herbs and medicine ways of our people. Through
education, they believed that I would no longer come back home as an
Indian.

What I learned from them, I waited for many years, to see what was
going to happen. Knowing prophecies, knowing my language, my
ceremonials, my medicine ways.

Not having enough white mans education, I suffered many years
because, time came that I had my own family. Seeking jobs, I was
never able to find an easy job. My jobs has always been construction,
hard back breaking jobs.

Standing beside the roadside, I saw my own people driving by in nice
cars. Having nice homes, and i wondered, was it wrong because I
didn't finish school? I'm saying this because many of you are
students. I wondered, should I have went on and finished school. Did
I make a mistake by coming back home?

Then one day I came down with my health. I was too proud to ask for
state welfare, or ask anybody for help. But I didn't know what I was
going to do because of my family.

and about this time, the Indian awareness was coming about. and this
is when I began to work. Then I began to look back at the teachings
of my elders. I began to think about the prophecies that I heard when
I was a little boy. In my day and time, I never realized that I would
live to see this fulfilled.

I look at all around, it looked like it was hopeless. To continue
that way of life. When my Indian people were no longer acting like
Indians and they were no longer thinking like Indians. I refused to
go to any organizations within my own tribe, or any other tribe.

I refused to accept any government programs because none of their
programs would bring my children home. None of them would ever make
me more Indian. But it would take all the Indianess out of me. So I
closed my doors and only looked after my family and my children. But
time came when the young people began to knock on my doors.

According to the Muskogee prophecies, I heard the cry of the red
man. I heard the voices of my people, and this is when I began to
work with the young Indian people.

This is when I got acquainted with other tribes. All I knew was my
own tribe and my own language and my own ways. I never knew any other
tribes. It has not been no more than twenty years ago. Perhaps, not
even fifteen years ago, that I began to get acquainted with other
tribes.

When these young people talked to me about their problems, when they
told me about the reservation life, they didn't have to tell me that
day after day. I knew what they were talking about because I have
went through it all. So, I got up and started working with these
people, ever since then I have been on the road. Where ever I can
reach my people, I want to be there to encourage them to go on, as
Indian people.

The miserable life that our people have went through, was planned by
a government, or was planned by a non-Indian. Our lives were
controlled. We were told almost daily what to do, because we were
under the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and I understood this.

When I seen the courage of our young people, many of them were coming
out from foster homes. Many of these young people were coming out
from urban areas. A lot of them had forgotten their language, a lot
of them didn't know anything about their ceremonies.

Many of them were raised up by non-Indian people, they knew nothing
of their tribe, some of them did not even know what tribe they come
from. But they knew that they had different color.

When I heard the cry of the young generation I looked back, and I
listened again to my elders. This is when I began to stand up with
these young people and to work with them. I made a commitment.

In 1972, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs was occupied, when the
Native people, the original people of this country was being
surrounded by Federal Marshalls. When I received an eviction papers
from the government, I was more determined to work with the Indian
people. And made a commitment.

That on my way home, where ever I find a young person who may be on
the verge of becoming alcoholic. Who may be passed out laying on the
roadside because of alcohol. If this young person wants to go home,
I'm going to take him with me.

If there is any young person that wants to go back to his original
way of life and needs help. He may be stoned from smoking grass, but
if he really wants to go home, I'm going to grab up his hand, and
take him home with me. Was my commitment.

Since that time, no matter how these people were pointed at, they may
be looked at as violent groups, they may be looked at as militants.
They may be ex-convicts. Something within them told them that they
were the original people and they are the Indian people. They are
the evidence of the western hemisphere. And they had that feeling.

This is when the Indian Awareness was coming about. So, I chose to
stand with these people, and I have never given up that idea to this
day.

I am misunderstood by many. I've even been told, "Why, as a medicine
person, do you work with violent groups?" I've been told by
people "I'm surprised to see you working with American Indian
Movement."

But I have tried to give them reference to something that they
already know, or that they have already read. Most everybody at one
time or another has been Christianized, and most of us have been
sitting in churches at times. We've heard or we've read, that the
whole needs not a position, (physician?). So, the job that I have, I
will always be there.

So, I've participated, I've supported many movements, if I'm not
there physically I want to be there in a spiritual way. Including
Wounded Knee and other movements that came about.

There were many, many organizations throughout this country.
Organized according to the whitemans' organization. So, they could
not bring Indianess to my children.

There were many factions in each tribe. Every tribe has their own
disagreements, they have their own little fights, little arguments.
That continues to go on to this day.

We had movements like Alcatraz, Wounded Knee, Pit River. Many
occupations, many protests we have seen. In 1977, many of us went to
Geneva, Switzerland. To make a presentation to the world.

In this country in which we have been taught, the Land of The Free,
we as Native people find out, that we are not as free as we think we
are.

When Treaties after Treaties were broken and were never carried out.
Every Nation of Indian people made Treaties with the government.
Each treaty has been broken. Time after time we talked about our
treaties, but many of us began to understand that decisions on
treaties cannot be made on the Supreme Courts.
The Judge, in no way, can rule in our favor. The Canon of Ethics
will not allow him to do that. He cannot rule in the favor of
another Nation.

So when we talked about treaties, were talking about a separate
nation. Therefore, we couldn't do nothing here within the states.

When we seen the Native womens being sterilized without their consent
or without their knowledge. When we seen the President of the United
States flying all over the world talking about Human Rights,
condemning other countries who deny Human Rights to its' people.

We felt like, that somebody needed a lesson on Human Rights, right
here in the United States, instead of in Russia, or any other
country. Because Human Rights was denied to the Native People here.

We seen that, through our studies, in what little schooling that I
had, I was told that, we live under the Freedom of Religion, Freedom
of Speech. I looked at the word Religion, because it did say
Religion. It didn't say Christianity. But it says, Freedom of
Religion.

But that Religion was not free to the Native people.

Many of our Religious practice was outlawed by the acts of Congress.
The Religions that we had could not be carried on because of certain
laws that prohibit that type of Religion.

So, we do know that the word Freedom of Religion, has no meaning to
Indian people. So, somewheres, we had to seek that Freedom.
Somewheres, we had to fight for that Freedom. It does not look too
good on this country, when the Native people have to go to another
country seeking their rights. But we had no alternative. So, we
made these presentations to the International community in Geneva,
Switzerland in 1977.

To back up our complaints, not too long after that, there were
several bills introduced to abrogate treaties. To do away with all
the treaties that the Indian people had with the United States
government. According to the paperworks, there was to be no more
Indians.

And again, the Indian people had to stand up again and prove to this
country, that we are the original people of this country. We are
still here.

So, the Longest Walk was organized from the West Coast. People began
to walk, into different states, all the way to Washington, DC.

Everywhere our people went, they found United States citizens that
knew nothing about these bills. Right here in Americas, there are
people here, that know nothing about the Native Peoples struggles.

Going from across this country, arriving in Washington, DC. I could
see, not only the Red people, marching for their rights. But we,
along the road, we found the non-Indian people who believes in
Freedom. We found non-Indian supporters along the way. The white
people, the Black people, the Yellow people began to support us.
They began to stand behind us.

Hundreds, thousands of them marched into Washington, DC with us to
show support.

During the time that we were in DC, for the first time that I know
of, traditional people were able to get into the White House. We've
had Tribal Council members, we've had Tribal Chairmans, we've had
Principal Chiefs of different tribes, but none has ever tried to open
the doors for traditional people to walk into the White House. For
themselves, yes they've been there to Washington several times.

But we've never had any of our medicine people, we've never had our
elders, we've never had the grassroots people to go into the White
House to speak to the President, or the Vice President, Secretary of
Interior.

Because of the support that the Longest Walk had, we were able to get
in there and talk, to the Vice President and many other government
officials.

It was these people who were determined to get Freedom for their
people. People who were seeking justice in this country, made it
possible. That some of our elders, go into the White House. Even if
they had Interpreters to speak for them, we were able to get in there
and present our grievance to the Vice President Mondale.

We've had representatives go to Washington time over and over. Years
and years ago, I gave up hope on some of our representatives. Some
of our tribal leaders, council members, chiefs, chairmans, made
several trips to Washington. Upon arriving in Washington, receptions
was prepared for them. So, they dined at the same table, wearing
their suits, neckties on, having the same kind of a haircut, as the
Secretary has. Dressed up like the government officials. Sitting at
the same table with them, made those tribal leaders feel so good,
they forgot what they went there for.

So, we couldn't find no changes coming about for the Indian people.
We couldn't see nothing happening for our people. The living
conditions was the same on Pine Ridge reservation and all the other
reservations. The people that were in control over the money, over
the fundings and programs, they had their nice cars. They had their
nice homes, they were well dressed.

But the people out on the reservations in the rural areas, their
living conditions was not changing. So, something had to be done to
make these changes. And it took just ordinary people. Mainly coming
out from this young generation, to wake up the government.

Many times we hear people talking about this group as violent
groups. We still talk about Wounded Knee and what happened there.
People still talk about the damages that was done in the Bureau of
Indian Affairs, 1972. This has no meaning to me.

Every freedom loving person should stop and find out why these
Indians are acting like they are. Why are they demonstrating? Why
were they protesting? Why are they doing this? Check that out.

If you believe that everybody is equal, if you believe that everybody
is free, find out the reasons behind Wounded Knee. Find out why the
Longest Walk, and you will find the oppressed people right in your
back yard. You will find the poorest people.

Once a proud Nation but brought down to where they became beggars in
this country. They are right here, within United States. You will
find out, who is being denied the Human Rights. So, we must stop and
think, why our young people were acting as they were?

There was a time when they were proud people. But when they had to
move away from the reservations and go into the urban areas, into
city life, that too became a hard life for them. Because they were
denied jobs, they were refused jobs, not because they were dope
addicts, not because they were alcoholics, but simply because of
their color, they were denied these jobs.

On the streets of Denver, on the streets of San Francisco, New York
City, Indian people, young Indian people that went to school, the
same as you are here, were denied these jobs. And they had to walk
down these streets with their head hanging down in shame, because
they were Indians.

But I am proud to say those days are over now. That they no longer
have to be ashamed of being a Indian. Today, they are proud Indian
people.

I'm proud to see our young Indian people taking part in these
demonstrations. I was glad to see them on the Longest Walk when they
arrived in Washington.

Everywhere I go, where ever I see our young Indian people, with
braided hair, wearing a feather in their hats, showing their
Indianess. I'm proud of them, because they no longer have to be
ashamed that they are Indians.

The Indian Awareness is here, and there is no way that we going to
avoid it.

The prophecy says that, we will come to that forked road that we'll
have to make a decision on which road we're going to take.

We cannot walk both roads, we have to take one or the other. And we
are now at that forked road, and that's why many of our young Indian
people prefers to be Indians again.

There was a time when even our own people pointed at one another and
laughed at one another. Calling them old timish', when they talked
about ceremonies and their dances. They were ashamed to dance, they
were ashamed to be at a ceremony at one time. But today, the
interest has grown.

The spiritual rebirth has come about. And it was these kind of
movements that made it possible for this to happen. We gained the
attention of the world, the world now knows, that there are Native
People here.

The world now knows that we do have a religion of our own, we do have
ceremonies of our own. So, in 1980, November, once again we made
another trip to Rotterdam, to the Russell Tribunal. Different
Indians from different tribes, many nations of people were there to
make presentations again, in this Tribunal.

We're now letting the world know where Mr.Indian stands. We now let
the world know if we are indeed free people or not.

The freedom that the Native people are talking about today, is not
the freedom that you may be thinking about. We're not talking about
free to go into the bars. If you don't want me in Hilton Inn, I'm
not going to fight you for it. Because that's not the kind of
freedom that I am seeking.

The freedom that the Native people is seeking today is to be free to
be who they are. They have a right to be who they are. That's why I
encourage the Indian people, you can be nobody else, there is no
failure in life until you tried to be somebody else. So, you have to
be who you are.

Once you get back to being Indians again, no one will have to tell
you how to act. You will know exactly what to do. Whatever is not a
part of your culture, you will let that go.

Because we can prove that we had a government that could not fail. A
government that was workable. A government that has been tested and
tried for thousands and thousands of years. And that government is
still workable.

We are the only people within this country that lived without jail
houses, without prisons. We had no insane asylums. But life we
known, right here in America, into thousands of years. And what was
so wrong with that kind of a life.

There is nothing wrong with that way of life. Be who you are and you
will know what to do. No one will have to tell you what to do.

In closing, I would like to say to the students, if we have any
students here. Sometimes people misunderstand me. I am not against
education, but I am against brainwashing.

As long as you don't forget who you are, what you come from. There is
nothing wrong with education. But if you forget that you are an
Indian. If you forget your own people. If you only learn one way of
life, you will never be no help to me.

But if you know both ways of life, if you think that I should be
condemned, you can go ahead and condemn me. But until you know both
ways of life you have no right to condemn me, or my religion, or my
way of life. and that has been the case with our Indian people for
many years.

For years and years different organizations cried and cried, and
begged the government because we didn't have no Indian employees in
the Bureau of Indian Affairs. and one day they passed a law called
Indian preference law. and so our educated Indians began to work for
the BIA.

But according to the education system, they didn't know anything
about their selves but they knew everything about the white mans way
of life, so it didn't do no good to put the Indian behind the desk.

What we found there was a brown white man. and sometimes our Indians
are, sometimes they're even more damaging than the white man,
sometimes.

So we must know both ways of life. and that way no matter how much
education you get, you will never forget who you are. If you don't
forget who you are you will be able to help your own people.

There was a time when Grandma sent you to school, maybe to a little
grade school. May be primary, first grade or whatever, Grandma
dressed you, and wanted you to go to school. Because she felt
handicapped without education.

She felt like that if you get this education you will help yourself
and perhaps come back to the reservation and help us. So she did her
best and sent you to school. Even sent you to boarding school.

But she didn't know that that school was going to individualize you.
She didn't know that school was going to make you independent. Isn't
that what the congressional record say? "These savages must learn to
say mine, instead of ours," were the early instructions of 1800s'
when education came into the Indian country. and I don't think those
ideas have changed yet.

So when you go to school, you learn to be an individual person, when
you leave that school, and that's why our Indian people receiving
their diplomas and their degrees, they did not go back to the
reservation. They went to San Francisco for a job, from San Francisco
there was a better paying job in Chicago, so they went there, from
Chicago they went to New York and never went back to the reservation.

Young people, Grandma is still out there on the reservation. Grandpa
is still out there. Uncle and Aunt, many of them still drawing water
from the creeks. Many of them still have outside toilets. They
still live in those old shacks that you grew up in, is what I have
reminded many students in different Universities.

But if you know, Indian way of life, you will learn how to care for
other people. You will learn the laws that has been here for
thousands of years.

The natural laws of love, peace and respect. No man made laws can
take the place of it. and this is why the Longest Walk comes about,
this is why many of our Indian people are protesting. This is why
they are speaking out for their rights. These are the rights that we
seek. This is the natural rights that was given to us.

There is nothing wrong with knowing your language. There is nothing
wrong with being who you are. We must understand this, no matter how
much education we seek, we have to know this, because it is something
that was given to us by the great spirit and by the creator. It did
not take the act of congress to give me my color. We are who we are
and we must be proud of it.

So in our awareness week, where ever they may be, this is what I have
to offer to the native people, and to the non-Indian people it is
time that you study the history of this country.

When you do you will get away from the thoughts of John Wayne movies.
You will get away from all the books that you have read. You will
truly understand what the Native People are doing, you will
understand their problems.

Not too long ago, this country celebrated 200 year birthday. In 200
years time, Indians and non-Indians, if they understood these natural
laws, they should be looking at each other as brother and sisters,
but this is not happening. So, there is something wrong, somewheres.
We have to think about this.

We have to see the reasons behind all the actions that you have heard
about, or have read about. Our people are still fighting, they are
still standing up to be recognized.

As a freedom loving person, every citizen of the United States should
stop and recognize these problems. How can we solve the problems in
other countries if we cannot solve them here at home?

We must understand that we are all human beings, it is important to
be human being, it is important to act like one. But if you can't act
like one, you might as well not be one. I may be misunderstood many
times but perhaps the reason is that I am talking about a human being
way of life.

Because there are those that believe that they descended from apes
and sometimes I believe that maybe there are some people that
descended from apes, that's why they don't know what I'm talking
about. Because I'm talking about a human being way of life.

Perhaps when I say Indian Way of Life, it is in error, because Indian
way of life is a natural way of life, therefore it must be a human
being way of life, thank you.