The Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse Ceremonial Ground
Edited by Hotvle Haco
"If you come to the stomp ground for four years take the medicines and dance the dances, then you are Creek." …” -John Proctor, Helles-Haya of (Old) Tvllvhasse
“We’re not Indians and we’re not Native Americans. We’re older than both concepts. We’re the people, we’re the human beings.” -John Trudell, AIM Leader
“I am just a little guy…The Creator is the one who has something to do with that (medicine),” he said. “It is the creator that has given us this, and so that does why I say that and I am sure ya’ll probably say the same thing, I am proud to be an Indian.”-Sam Proctor, Speaker of (Old) Tvllvhasse
“The law of love, peace, and respect, no man-made laws will ever take the place of it! And this is the law that we have always lived by. Because we understood this law, every Indian door was open.” –Phillip Deere, Helles-Haya, United Nations Speech 1978
GLOSSARY OF TERMS 94
“Nokoften hvlvtvs.” Hold it tightly.
For several years members of the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse ground have talked of the need for our tribal town to have a history of our journey written down, especially while we still have at least some of the elders who traversed this difficult path still with us. Many have walked on already, and each year those who walked the square of (Old) Tvllvhasse are fewer. Many beloved elders, just like their ground of (Old) Tvllvhasse are now just memories. Creek ceremonial grounds are much like a family, sometimes with a mother ground bringing forth a daughter ground, and all Creek grounds are a part of something like a genealogy, one leading back into the distant past. Creek stories tell of four towns united together and establishing the roots of the Creek Nation a millennia in the past. All of the couple dozen ceremonial grounds which remain are spiritual descendants of ancient Mound builders who thousands of years ago raised up sacred squares into the sky to honor the Creator, mounds which we can still see today. What’s harder to see, and in good part unknown (even to so many Creek people) is the traditions of these long departed southeasterners, a tradition that still goes every year around the ceremonial ground.
The Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse Ceremonial Ground along with our “mother ground” of Hvsossv Tvllvhasse, (located on the Poarch Creek Indian Reservation in Alabama) are in some ways living “relics” of an ancient spiritual community, even while they are both “re-established tribal towns”; after an absence of a hundred and eighty years again present in the land of our ancestors here east of the Mississippi; indeed they are the only two Muscogee Creek Ceremonial Grounds outside of the dozen and a half that today remain in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma. The path to their present existence was not an easy one. It must be said that the people of Kvnfvske and Hvsossv Tvllvhasse grounds owe a deep debt to the (Old) Tvllvhasse ground and to the Proctor family for three decades of help in the restoring of sacred ceremonial ashes and our traditions to the Eastern Creeks. Without the help of the leadership and people of the now gone (Old) Tvllvhasse Ground in the Creek Nation over the last 30 years, the “bringing up” of a restored Ceremonial Ground to the Eastern Creek wouldn’t have been possible.
The internal struggle not long after this momentous event and subsequent “daughtering” off of the Kvnfvske grounds, and its relationship with relatives and friends still at Hvsossv is an ongoing event and this work is intended to honor the members of Hvsossv as much as those of Kvnfvske in their part in bringing tradition back. The members of Kvnfvske hope for a reconciliation with the mother ground of Hvsossv. Only time will tell. These two grounds are few in number, true enough; unlike grounds in Oklahoma, Hvsossv nor Kvnfvske have the many nearby Stompground’s to help support the gatherings as grounds in Creek Nation in Oklahoma do. Where the grounds in Oklahoma have hundreds, east of the Mississippi we have dozens. This being said we are undaunted.
The traditional people of both the eastern Tvllvhasse tribal towns cling to the ways that they were taught to them by the Creek Nation elders and continue on in transmitting them to the next generation each year. Indeed, Hvsossv Tvllvhasse means “the Tvllvhasse of the east”, as Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse means “the Tvllvhasse of Florida”, and both seek to carry on correctly the traditions of the (Old) Tvllvhasse mother ground, whose legacy is now being carried on by Hvsossv’s sister ground of Wvkokaye Tvllvhasse as well. Despite the split of the Hvsossv Tvllvhasse group soon after the restoring of the ceremonial ashes to the east in 1999, into the Hvsossv and Kvnfvske parties, the two groups continue to support, visit, work together, and maintain cordial relations. Many observers have heard the respective Mekko of each ground speak with respect for one another’s work to preserve the inheritance of the sacred ashes that Helles-Haya David Lewis Jr bestowed to Old Mekko-tahte those years ago, a man who all at both Hvsossv and Kvnfvske ground loved and miss, and none more than Kvnfvske Mekko Locv Haco, who was his speaker for many years.
The recollections and perspectives in this work are those of members of the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse Tribal Town, both living and gone, and as such may be different from the knowledge, beliefs, and practices of other Creeks or Indians. The members of our mother ground at Hvsossv Tvllvhasse have their own perspectives on the events of the past 20 years, and the splitting up of the tribal town in 2003-2004. The establishment of the Hvsossv grounds on the federal trust Indian lands of the Poarch Creek Reservation led to complications, as some had feared during the practice ground years, with the notorious “Indian politics” coming into play. The struggles concerning tribal town independence, the PBCI tribal government fiasco controversy over the Hickory Ground development, and other issues seldom publicly addressed came to the fore among other, more personal controversies that led to the Hvsossv ground, just like its mother ground (Old) Tvllvhasse splitting into two separate ground, (not an uncommon occurrence among Creek tribal towns actually.)
The Kvnfvske group would take a tack similar to the off-rez “Independent Seminole” to the south, and purchase 10 acres in Florida to re-establish the ground, free of the “strings” of the PBCI tribal government, and its BIA handlers. Breaking the chains of the past and decolonizing the Native American people from years of struggle with the rocky relationship many have with the BIA and federal government is not easy. The leadership of the KTTT sought in the years after the split to not “tear down or buildup” anyone involved on the painful episode, and has of the last few years since the passing of Old Mekko-tahte to work towards reconciliation. Though Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse has many members who are Poarch Band of Creek Indians tribal members, the vision of the grounds as the “true government” of the Creek community is understood, and the values exercised in the way of life of these modern traditional individuals and families attest to the influence of leaders past, Opothle-yahola, Osceola, and Chitto Harjo to name only a few.
There is danger in putting thoughts and feelings into writing. The organic and spiritual nature of the ceremonial ground lifeway is ever changing, vibrant, and diffuse, like our Creator. The consultations with individuals over the last several years as this work slowly came into being with traditional people involved has been enlightening and led me to an even deeper conviction of the necessity for this work, despite the risks. History is rewritten each and every day as our elders leave us, events changing with each retelling second hand. Many of those present during the practice ground years, and even some who were there before the Hvsossv-Kvnfvske split are now gone on or have left the sacred ring for the mainstream American life. At each ground though a handful continue to preserve the gift of our ancestral traditions and to those people this work is dedicated, you all know who you are.
While there has always been a general prohibition against putting the knowledge and ways of the traditional Indian community on paper, the changing face of modern society has led to some in the traditional Stomp Dancer community deciding that it may be important to open up to some degree in the interest of transmitting some aspects of our identity to those who will come after. Sharing is at the heart of the Creek culture. While the vast majority of Indian people, like many eastern Creek have lost some, even all of the traditional culture of their ancestors, for the fortunate few who were able with friends and relatives from the Creek Nation help to preserve the old ways, a time of resurgence and revitalization has come as attendance at both grounds see increased attendance by Indians and non-Indian friends alike. Elders who in their youth saw the fading of traditional practices like the Green Corn Dance, Stomp Dance, and Stickball now see crowds of young people gathered at weekend dances across Indian communities in Oklahoma, and a generation of eastern Creek who have never known the times before the restoration of the stomp dance tradition is now taking their own places on the worn benches of Hvsossv and Kvnfvske grounds.
The sharing by “those who know” of the traditions with “those who are learning” is like a sacred chain that stretches across time and space from the Mound builders of thousands of years ago down to the young man getting named at Green Corn Dance last year. There is a duty to teach, to share, and to support one another for the minority of Indian people who are still traditional, so those yet born will have a chance to know and experience the warmth of our tradition. The loss of intact communities and tribal roots by so many Indians today calls upon those who have the capacity to act to do so with energy and effort, as today’s generation are at a crossroads, one that will determine the survival for some languages, traditions and communities. There is an ebb and flow in communities and cultures, like a tide that comes and goes, taking with it memories and abandoned customs yet bringing forward new possibilities and opportunities for those who would struggle on.
At times some ideas and practices are prevalent, at others can hardly be found. So it is with the traditional Ceremonial Grounds across this land, east to west. In some years there are more and in others less, but as a body it is always present. The spiritual traditions of the southeastern tribes have been diminished by the last several centuries of struggle but overall are now resurging in many communities, with younger person’s seeking out the old ways and the elders who have fought to preserve it. In the footsteps of these beloved ones, use of modern ways such as books, the internet, and social media are now demanding to be acknowledged for the powerful tools that they are in the connecting with our young people and the fast paced world we are all living in. To quote a warrior revered by our Mekko Locv Haco, we must “By all means necessary” seek to fulfill our sacred duty as faith keepers of the traditions preserved at such a high cost by our ancestors.
ECHOING A SACRED PATH
The publishing of "A Sacred Path," some years ago by my relative the late Ella Jean Hill Chaudhuri was an important event in some ways. Possibly for the first time a (traditional) Creek author forwarded perspectives on our culture and understanding, all from a traditional perspective, unfiltered by an academic interpreter. She spent a good part of her life gathering information on our Creek people, and as a full-blood Muscogee Creek she was heard. Being born near Okemah, a predominately full blood community in the heart of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, she was intimately connected with most of the remaining traditional people in Creek Nation. With Muscogee Creek being her first language, perspectives shared in The Sacred Path were truly genuine, and for some controversial since the presentation of some of the concepts and narratives she shared had never before been put into print. Her ties to the traditional community were total. She was born on May 29, 1937, on the Okfuskee County, Oklahoma allotment of her grandfather, James Scott, a venerated elder by many. The Scott family is like the Hill family in that they bridge the great divide of geographical location, culture and subsequent history which the removal opened among Creek people east and west. She was always very active in educating her fellow Indian people, and attended Eufaula Boarding School, like many of her peers from that generation.
Like many other Creeks she was a student in the modern educational system while she was growing up, an experience unlike that of her elders who often lived in social isolation in the depths of Creek Nation. She was active in traditional Creek teachings of the four seasons of a woman’s life and was a strong example of the matriarchal nature of the old way of life that many full blood traditional people still cling to even today. She belonged to the Bear Clan, and was a citizen of Ocea-pofv Tribal Town. On her father’s side she was the daughter of the Bird Clan and Greenleaf Tribal Town. She was the granddaughter of Mekko Elmer Hill of Fish Pond Tribal Town and Rhoda Yahola. Her parents, Wilburn and Mary Ann Hill, were members of Greenleaf Indian Baptist Church. As a descendent of both the Hill and Scott families, I draw strength from these elders now departed in continuing their work of preserving our culture.
Her parents were pious people, humble and unassuming, and taught their children the peaceful and respectful way in which a Creek person should conduct themselves. They as Creek Indian Christians were actively involved in religious work in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and among Seminole and Miccosukee people in south Florida. Often Jean and her three siblings, Clifton, Nathaniel and Rechinda, helped them in their efforts, so she was conversant in the many spiritual traditions which she grew up among. As were many of her generation, she was a civil rights activist, a political lobbyist, and an enthusiastic supporter and determined participant in grassroots Indian activities in the community. In the struggle she found meaning and inspiration.
Her efforts to put into writing some of the treasured ideas and practices of the traditional people was courageous and generations to come will benefit from her work, as this current one already has from many comments I have heard from those who find encouragement and insight in her book. She walked on to the next world on February 17, 1997, at her Tempe, Arizona, home. Traditional Indian funeral services were held February 21, 1997, at the Tempe Mortuary for her, an event crowded by many who respected her and her family deeply for the work she had did for so many years. The story of Ella Jean Hill Chaudhuri is an example for all of the need to learn AND teach, to study AND create, and reflect AND act when a need is seen. Her participation in the endless work of preserving the Ceremonial Ground tradition, especially through her work The Sacred Path, in part inspired this work you hold.
This work is intended to be from the perspective and experience of our Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse groundspeople. There have been quite a few Creek people who have put pen to paper in efforts to preserve our traditions as they knew them. In addition to the works such as those of latest couple generations by Willie Lena, Jean Hill Chaudhuri, and Davis Lewis Jr, there have been others as well. In the late 1970’s in a cooperative effort with the Indian Affairs Commission in Oklahoma, the people of the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town published a history of their community, with the tribal town members recollecting times past and interesting information about this federally recognized tribe of Creeks, one acknowledged separately from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Marcellus Williams gathered rich memories of elders like Emma Scott, Hettie Burgess, Susie Foster, Jewitt Jimboy, and others in that work. In the mid 1980’s Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma published a set of writings by Creek elder Lewis Oliver, a member of the Wotkvlke and born in 1904. Chester Scott also shared in a written manuscript his stories of the Little People and there are many such small works authored by our people through the years; indeed, according to Creek Indian Medicine Ways, the work by Dave Lewis Jr, written accounts of traditional Muscogee religion have been appearing for three hundred years!
The journey by Mekko Locv Haco who spent over half of his life struggling to bring back to the east as much of our old time culture as he could, is one that all Hvsossv and Kvnfvske people should remember. His independence, fortitude, and hard work is our inheritance, and is now in our hands as the work of teaching our young people now more than ever calls for attention. Mekko Locv Haco’s words about this labor echoed the words of the traditional Creek Helles-Haya Phillip Deere in the late 1970’s.
“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 Indian-ness 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.”
In compiling the materials herein, members of the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse ground hope that those who follow appreciate the import of the decision to commit some of our knowledge and traditions to paper. With changing times the challenges of transmitting our identity is growing and so after many years of discussion the community has. But the challenges we face in keeping the good heart, and having a “smile and a handshake” for all as our elders now gone on taught is an unending one. The rifts of the past decade and a half among the members of the Tvllvhasse lineage, east and west, are now being actively addressed and relationships repaired as the spirit of reconciliation and love long the great strength of the Creek people again takes its rightful place as our guiding star. Let the years ahead and the generations following us reveal the reunion of the frayed threads of the great tapestry that is the Etvlwv Tvllvhasse heritage.
At the heart of the Muscogee world is the Cuko Rakko, the Ceremonial Ground, and the tribal town, its people. In this “Big House” we humble ourselves. The Ceremonial Ground also called by some the Squaregrounds, Pvskofv, or Stompground has always been a focal point of Creek tribal life from the most ancient of days, and the earliest documentation of it goes back many thousands of years in the rich archaeological record of the thriving mound builder communities. The beginnings of the Ceremonial Grounds of today without take us back to the Mound Builder people of old, at least and some evidence indicates the roots may extend even further into the past. Of course our own traditions indicate that it has always been with us. When Europeans began to interact with the tribes of the south, the use of the mounds as sacred sites and centers of population had been slowing already, and this process accelerated due to the introduction of diseases, which Indian people had little résistance to.
Hundreds of thousands would die from the onslaught of the introduction of the disease which burned their way across the continent. Although the mounds were still in existence when the Spanish forayed into the southeast, many of the tribal communities had ceased to use them, with the exception of the Natchez, who continued in using their mounds. The Natchez people would ultimately themselves be forced to abandon that way of life when the French and their Indian allies attacked the Natchez people in 1731. The survivors of the Natchez would find refuge among the Creek and the Cherokee, and are still part of these communities today. The mound building culture though extensive in pre-Columbian times would be abandoned after European contact for the most part, although particular architecture and protocol of some modern Squaregrounds retain vestiges of it.
In any of the Mound Builders communities of old, one would have found a central plaza where the people of the community would gather. The sacred circle of the outer ring would enclose a central square bordered on its sides by large open sided sheds. The people of the community would gather at this plaza, with the men seated in the sheds that enclosed the central circle according to their clan or a position of authority within the community. In ancient times these Squaregrounds were at times in large temples constructed atop the mounds which the ancestors of the community had built. Other mounds would have other important buildings atop them and smaller surrounding mounds houses where the people lived. Some villages would have palisaded fences around them. Most were located near watercourses since in ancient times this was the most accessible form of travel. For millennia, hundreds of mound builder communities thrived across the eastern half of North America, and was itself a smaller version of the great mounds and temples well known from Latin America.
People ceased using the mounds for ceremonial purposes after the arrival of the Spanish and other Europeans for the most part, but they brought the square shape of the Ceremonial Grounds with them to their new communities. The Ceremonial Ground in those transitional communities after the end of the mound village’s culture was sometimes located in front of the communities’ central council house. In time this aspect of the sacred architecture found across this unique culture would be abandoned as well a century ago by most.
The square itself is the central focal point of all the ceremonial activities on the Stompground, as the camps which surround it host many social interactions on a more informal level. Today several tribal communities till maintain Squaregrounds, though there are differences between the Cherokee, Euchee, Shawnee, Seminole, Miccosukee and Muscogee Creek grounds, but for the most part all still retain the basic concept which was used during the Mound Building period. The majority of the Stompground’s in existence today is in Oklahoma, primarily in various locations throughout the “Eastern Indian” tribal communities scattered across the eastern part of Oklahoma. The sites where Ceremonial Grounds are found vary, from down a dirt road deep in the isolated countryside to being in someone's back yard in a couple cases. In addition to the many Stompground’s in Oklahoma there are others in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and in Texas.
Even for the half dozen tribes who for the most part retain the grounds as an important aspect of their identity, none can say that the majority of their enrolled members practice the Stompground way of life. In our modern world the Ceremonial Ground and the culture that springs from it are fairly rare even within the Indian community, with secular modernity and to a lesser degree Christianity occupying the place of the primary way of life of many of the 80,000 enrolled members of the Creek Nation, to say nothing of the 320,000 enrolled members of Cherokee Nation or other large tribes. That being said for the dozens of family for whom the Stompground is their chosen way of life it gives a sense of community and identity deeply rooted in the natural world and in indigenous perspectives.
For the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Cherokee Nation, and other tribes which still have significant numbers of enrolled members involved in Ceremonial Ground life, large interrelated families are the core of the Ceremonial Ground communities today. Often these cross tribal lines, with individual members of Ceremonial Grounds having roots in several tribes, and many most of the families who are part of Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse fit this description, with tribal roots from across the range of Native America, as well as the continents from Europe to Africa as well. The families of some of the Kvnfvske members is an example, with our present generation of family members having Aztec, Brothertown Mohican, Creek, Catawba, Choctaw, Lakota, Lumbee, Little Axe Shawnee, Pamunkey and many other tribal roots; some are tribes with Stompground roots to some degree, or with ties to the mound builder ancestors we all spring from culturally, others have joined us more recently.
Anyone is welcome at a ceremonial ground; the elders teach to “have a smile and a handshake for everyone”, but for those new to the Stompground, it is best to be invited and to sit with a member, someone who will chaperone a new comer in the subtle and unwritten protocols of any particular grounds. Of course to be there, you must first know the exact location of a ceremonial ground! Most are not easy to find, located for the most part deep in the back country of rural Oklahoma near isolated communities where the full bloods continue to hold out against the pull of assimilation and disintegration of tribal life, or in the case of our Mother ground Hvsossv Tvllvhasse, on the back part of the rez. Unlike the popular powwow culture, the Ceremonial Grounds do not advertise the times and activities that occur, for the most part; local people have the “moccasin telegraph” as it’s been called, and most people in the Indian community know when the different Ceremonial Grounds have their dances.
Even though there is a festive mood, laughter, and fun-making there, the Ceremonial Ground is still a sacred place, a ceremonial space where the Indian people commune with the Creator in ways not easily understood from the perspective of the Abrahamic faiths and definitely alien to the secular mainstream. For average Americans who might witness the scratch during Green Corn or the rigors of the night long taking of medicine and post dance stickball game the mechanisms of Native spirituality can indeed be foreign. With the alienation from the natural world becoming more pronounced across American life, the “coming home” of many Indian people who have been reared over the last few generations in urban environments to the grounds and other forms of Native American spirituality is heartening.
When a newcomer first visits ceremonial grounds, it is wise to go to the leaders of the grounds and make yourself known, “shaking hands with the Mekko” is standard procedure at most grounds. The elders who are usually found sitting grouped up around a camp table sipping black coffee and catching up on the gossip since the previous weekends dance should be acknowledged as well. To let them know you are there and who you are is considered common courtesy, and many people will also make a donation of money or smokes to a public “tobacco box” that is kept in the leadership’s arbor and available to all. Often times someone will be directed to a camp if they don’t know anyone there and be “attached” to that camp. Social relationships are somewhat informal and friends made quickly among Indian people as outsiders soon find out. Pretense and formality among people of a Native American community is rare, and when found is usually a part of the protocols of ceremonial times. The people of the camp will inform a visitor they are hosting of any restrictions that may be present on their participation in the grounds activities. Camps are “owned” by the women and are their domain. Respect for the particular practices of a camp or Ceremonial Ground are important, as they do vary.
The leadership of a Ceremonial Ground is usually a small group of elder men, in Muscogee known as the Henehvlke. Most Creek grounds have a Chief (Mekko), a Second Chief (Heneha), and the Chiefs Speaker who are seated in the leader’s arbor. Other tribe’s grounds have an equivalent arrangement from my observations. Though they are there and are leaders, you can’t usually tell the leadership of a ground by particular clothes or the like, mainly because the egalitarian spirit of the community requires humility from those entrusted with the communities’ wellbeing. At a Creek ground, some men will be wearing a white crane feather pointing straight up in their hat, one that has been modified to twist and sway in the breeze as if it too was dancing.
These white crane feathers are one of the truest symbols of the Ceremonial Grounds cosmology. The activities of a ground are all pointed to increase health and well-being, balance and sustainability. It’s usually only men who wear a feather on the stomp dance ground in such a way; unlike powwow you will not see many people all dressed up in "Indian clothes" at the grounds. A “Seminole style” patchwork vest or jacket, an occasional ribbon shirt or the traditional women's tear dress is often worn on the grounds by many, though many young people will be see decked out in their best “hip-hop” style clothes these days.
Times change and so do the styles one sees among the people. One does wear what one is comfortable in whatever that is, many times dependent on the generation. Older men will be attired more in the country western style with black Stetsons and Levis, younger men in Dickies khaki pants and Ecko shirts and ball caps. This is getting dressed up, and is especially the case during Green Corn time, which is a highlight of the year in Stompground communities. It is truly a special time on the ceremonial calendar for the people of any Stompground, one of renewal and purification. Most members will be there in their best traditional clothing and sharpest hat, whatever their age, the women sporting their ribbon dance finery, their turtle shell shakers signaling the soon to commence dance across the camps.
In the middle of the Squareground is a sacred fire mound; some grounds have large platform like mounds, others have ones only a few inches high. When the grounds aren’t having ceremony the fire mound will hold the “sacred ashes”, the witness of the lineage of the Ceremonial Ground, testimony to generations of ongoing culture. When the ground is having Corn Dance or one of the frequent all night stomp dances, this is fire mound is the location of a sacred Fire. This sacred flame is a manifestation of the sun on earth, and some grounds hold that the ashes they hold is actually from the ashes of the ancient ceremonial fires that were carefully brought from the old homelands in the east.
It is around this fire in the center of the sacred circle of the Ceremonial Grounds that the people assemble, and near midnight the dance will begin. The main dance which is performed until day break is called a stomp dance and it is glue which binds the grounds community together. Dancers make a slow spiral, and will stomp their feet; one after the other, stomp right foot, then stomp left, stomp right, then stomp left, in a simple pattern that people of any age can keep up with. The rhythm and flow of the dance is one of a living thing, a twisting moving line like spiritual water flowing joyously through a canyon of time The dance is ordered with the song leader dancing in front, he followed by the shaker girl, often his wife or daughter, and behind them come the rest of the people of his grounds; man followed by woman, singers and shakers, these followed by children at the end. The Stomp Dance goes around the fire mound in a counterclockwise direction, sometimes spiraling outwards only to return in.
People dance in this direction with the heart and left hand closest to the fire. The dancers will circle the fire as the leader goes through his repertoire of songs, and when he is through the dancers break up and a new leader will come forth and it starts again, with the dance forming a spiral of dancers circling the fire through the night until daybreak finds them tired but happy. All night on many Saturday nights throughout the warm months, several grounds will host dances and the several tribes will visit one another’s grounds and enjoy the fellowship and joy of a simple but rich way of life.
The Creek Nation has the most Stompground’s remaining of the several tribal groups today which still maintain ceremonial squares, with between sixteen and twenty found around eastern Oklahoma. The Cherokee people, including Cherokee Nation as well as the United Keetoowah Band (UKB) have half a dozen, and several other tribes have a few, including the Euchee, Shawnee, and Seminole. Most of these communities will assist one another in putting on the dances, driving to one another’s grounds and dancing together. Though the Ceremonial Ground membership is primarily Indian, there are often neighboring non-Indians who have become friends or have intermarried with an Indian family who are part as well. People of African ancestry have long been part of the Creek Nation, and today Hispanic people as well are seen at dances. The diversity of the people of the Ceremonial Ground communities, like Indian Country and America in general is increasingly diverse. As of the 2015 the population of the officially enrolled members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma was near 80,000, with less than two thousand being “full blood”, though none remaining of pure-blood Creek blood by most accounts.
Though most of the Creek Nation enrolled members are not stomp dancers the respect that any citizen of Creek Nation has for these deeply rooted aspects of the Creek identity is common. The Creek Nation like other tribes is subject to the BIA and the blood quantum system that is a fact of life for tribal people everywhere. The few “full blood” Indians that remain and are soon to pass away from recent and past mainstream reports are not real people in the Indian community. Many doubt any such people still exist, and needless to say such classifications of people are not used by traditional folks for the most part. Mixture with other tribes and races has led to the average citizen of the Creek Nation today being of as much non-Indian as Indian ancestry. There has always been a strong African descent community among the Creek, as well as the Seminole. Admixture with these “Black” Creeks by “Indian” Creek people has long been a part of Muscogee identity for many. As one elder said in an interview years ago, “Creek is a people, Indian is a race”.
Creeks, like Seminole, or Americans for that matter can come in many types, shades and hues. Some people say the style of preaching found in African American churches may have originated with the ceremonial style of speaking used at the Stompground during the “long talks”. The famous Br’er Rabbit stories of Uncle Remus fame are really just traditional Creek tales which were preserved in the oral history of African American communities from a time when many more Indians and Black people had intertwined lives on the frontier. Indeed many still do in Creek Nation communities like Okmulgee and Tulsa. The story of the trickster Rabbit always a step behind his troubles is one of these commonalities shared by these two communities.
Joel Chandler Harris forwarded information on the ancient trickster of the many southeastern Indian cultures in times past. He collected materials for his series of books that featured the character Br'er Rabbit in the 1870s, stories about this foolish hero who has lessens to teach even as he struggles to get over on people. This work by Harris wasn’t the debut for the famous trickster though; the Br'er Rabbit cycle of tales had been recorded earlier among the Cherokee people, something not surprising as there are countless similarities among all the southeastern tribes. The well-known "tar baby" tale was printed in an 1845 edition of the Cherokee Advocate. The cross cultural exchanges which occurred in the colonial era and on the frontier between European, Indian, and African is extensive and can be found in many aspects of the culture of each.
The blood of the Scots and Irish runs in many Creek peoples veins as well. The ties between the Celtic peoples and the Creeks are as old as those between Creeks and Africans. A cursory examination of surnames in the Creek community attests to this long time relationship. Ties between southeastern Indians and those of the British Isles go back many centuries, with the “buckskin Scots” that were found among the southern tribes in centuries past almost indistinguishable from the Indians they took up among. The Choctaw, cousins of the Creeks, is an example of this long established relationship between the Indians of the south and the Scots and Irish. After the long, hard march to the west that would be known to history as the Trail of Tears, the Choctaw people of Indian Territory learned of people starving to death in Ireland under the British.
The oppressed Celts of the Emerald Isle were often dying because of the inescapable reality that although there were other crops being grown in the area, only the potato was available to the native Irish, with the rest of their produce were marked for export by the British who were maintaining an iron grip on the occupied island. The Irish were allowed only potato as primary sustenance for themselves, and their lives were for the most part mean and short, their communities kept on the edge of starvation as a control tool. By the early 1840s, nearly half of the Irish population, especially the poor, had come dependent on the potato almost exclusively for their main food source. The rest of the population also consumed it in large quantities. During the Irish Potato Famine, nearly 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland to other parts of the world. Much like some tribes in the Americas at the same time, the Irish were resisting the colonization of their island and lives by an outside power bent on leaving them landless and in poverty.
As we have said, the common Irish were not allowed any other food than the potato, and in the late 1840’s the potato crop was diseased and inedible. The Choctaws themselves had faced hunger, extreme suffering, and death on the infamous Trail of Tears, an event which had happened only sixteen years earlier. When they discovered the dire straits the Irish were in the Choctaw were moved to action. According to records, Choctaw individuals made donations totaling $170 in 1847 to send overseas to help the Irish, indeed many Choctaw had blood kin among the Irish. The Choctaw people of that generation exemplified the traditional values held continent wide by many tribes, a perspective that said no one should have more, till everyone has enough. The relationship between the Creeks and many European peoples is more complex than many think. Spanish, French and others have in generations past been become integrated into the Creek Community through many means and for many reasons. Having ancestry to some degree from various tribes and even races is not uncommon among almost all the southeastern tribes.
Elder Seminole Tvllvhasse Mekko Willie Lena and other members of the Lena family is an example of the multi-ethnic origins of many Seminole as well as Creek people. His “Oklahoma Seminoles Medicine, Magic, and Religion”” book can be found on the shelves of many traditional stomp dance people, and his years of leading the traditional Seminole people of his grounds continues to encourage those who knew him and his family.
Kvnfvske Fekseko (Marcus Briggs-Cloud) is married to one of Mekko Lena’s great-nieces and the family is held in high regard for their persistence in struggling to retain Seminole identity in Oklahoma. With the help of anthropologist James Howard, Lena’s book documents information from many persons, but the greatest portion came from Willie Lena and his deep well of knowledge of the life of common Seminole traditional people. During his life he served as a Seminole tribal town chief, being the Mekko of Seminole Tvllvhasse, and was an important link in the chain of preserving the Seminole identity in Oklahoma.
He lived in Wewoka, Oklahoma and was born in 1912, only a few years after Indian Territory was subsumed by the new state of Oklahoma. Predominately reared by his traditional grandparents, Mekko Lena was shielded from the white culture during his childhood in the Seminole Nation, living a life in some degree insulted from the mainstream of American life. Later in his life he was trained in Seminole Medicine ways and passed on many of these traditions and values to his family and grounds people. Recognized by many as a strong traditionalist leader, he accomplished his goal of gathering into a book many important perspectives of the traditional way of life that remained among the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Sadly many of the grounds he describes in this book are now down, and many of the traditional Seminole who remain continue to struggle to maintain their way of life as distinctly Seminole. Mekko Lena’s work stands alongside others of the few which are available which were produced with the help of academics.
Another elder who took the plunge in writing down their knowledge of our traditions and culture was Medicine Maker David Lewis. His “Creek Indian Medicine Ways” book was a first. Instrumental along with fellow Medicine Man Sam Proctor of (Old) Tvllvhasse grounds in his work to restore Creek traditions in Eastern communities, he is held in high regards by all who were present when he brought up the ashes of the Hvsossv Tvllvhasse grounds in the Poarch Creek community, after nearly 180 years of its absence. We will talk more about this momentous event later in this work though. Though controversial for his actions in documenting Creek spiritual practices in a book, he was one of the most respected and knowledgeable people around, and with his passing at the age of 81 in early 2015 the Creek community lost a true encyclopedia of tradition.
Authors like Chaudhuri, Lena, and Lewis have laid a foundation which I hope to contribute to in some small way, along with the other contributors to this work. Though the Creek and other Indian people of Alabama and the Florida panhandle are few and our traditions not as intact as larger tribes like Creek Nation, it is important for communities to tell their own story, to forward their own perspectives, and preserve their own unique traditions as a community. This is part of the motivation for the writing of this work. For us by us as the kids say these days!
We of the Kvnfvske and Hvsossv Tvllvhasse Stompground communities are on the very edge of the stomp dance world, the Indian world for that matter, in many ways. But we like our relatives to the west and south of us care deeply for our traditions as Creek people, and as Indians. For many of us it is the center of our world, the pivot our lives turn on. Today the Ceremonial Grounds are no longer the center of Creek life it once was for most Creek people, but there is a small community of several thousand mostly Indian people who carry on the ancient traditions of the Ceremonial Grounds. These “stomp dancers” as traditional Creeks are often known as, maintain 16 or more traditional Ceremonial Grounds scattered across eastern Oklahoma today, along with a dozen more Ceremonial Grounds which are maintained by other tribal groups like the Cherokee, Euchee, Shawnee, Seneca-Cayuga and others.
The population of Creek people in Oklahoma is nearly a hundred thousand today. Across the region of southern Georgia and Alabama and the Florida panhandle are a few thousand more people identified as Creek, and a small contingent of Creek speakers is resident among the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which is Miccosukee-speaking for the most part. The majority of these communities today are mostly non-traditional, being secular for the most part. With a danger of generalizing, the vast majority of people of Creek ancestry (enrolled or not), large or small, have little to do with the traditional culture today. This being said there is a small contingent who’s lives do still revolve around the ceremonial tribal town fire burning within the sacred circle, and the ceremonies which honor it, the relationships which form in its warm embrace, and the peace that it bestows.
This is the story of all stomp dance people to some degree, specifically those few among the Eastern Creek and Oklahoma Indians still clinging to the Stompground tradition as the truest expression of their spiritual beliefs. Because of the difficulty in measuring exactly the many moving parts to any community; social, legal, religious, and the like, I roughly define Eastern Creek as anyone with ancestry originating in the experience of the historic Creek Nation people who were not removed and who identify with it today, regardless of Indian blood quantum. Some families at the Poarch Creek reservation in Alabama and most among the descendants of the Scott Town and Scotts Ferry Indian settlements in the Florida panhandle have a significant amount of Carolina Indian ancestry, Catawba and Lumbee alike, but the Creek culture has defined all.
The Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse Ceremonial Grounds, like I stated earlier is today composed of several families from many diverse racial and tribal roots, with some who are descended from people of the Coweta, Eufaula, and Broken Arrow Tribal Towns of old through their Creek lineages, several of whom are intermarried with Catawba who migrated to Florida in the 1800’s; the Hvsossv Tvllvhasse Grounds on the Poarch Creek reservation has families present from several Upper Creek tribal towns; the process of re-establishing the ashes (lineages) of ancestral communities continues today as the unending search for roots, real and imagined, is fulfilled each generation. Meaning is drawn from ceremonials that have evolved along with the fate of the families and communities who struggle to hold on to them.
The authorship of the essays, stories, and insights which are found in this volume, formed by several minds, hearts and hands over the years, are now being brought out to a wider audience for the strengthening of a rebirth and restoration of the values, practices, and insights of the ancient Nene Muscogee, often called the “White Road of Peace”, the traditional Creek worldview and way of life. The most recent surge in interest in the Ceremonial Grounds that has been growing since 2000, and like a similar phase of interest in Powwows and pan-Indian culture in the late 1960’s and 70’s chidingly called the “instant Indian craze” by old time Indian families, todays surge of interest in the ground culture has yet to be unfolding long enough to evaluate; Only time will tell. Suffice it to say there are now suddenly present and newly described “Creek ceremonial grounds” appearing across the south. Few of the participants of these “more recently announced” organizations are known around the camps of the Ceremonial Grounds of Creek Nation, where the members of Hvsossv and Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse grounds continue to support and attend, such as Wvkokaye Tvllvhasse, Hillabee, and others.
The Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse people and our ancient southeastern ceremonial tradition remain a viable entity today despite being little known outside of a few communities. Although known in our home area by many of the older generation, our existence is a surprise to many others. Times always change, and not surprisingly so do people and their culture. Like people everywhere, so did the Creek people who remained in the south after the removal of most of the large Indian Nations to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. Most persons with some knowledge of Creek and Seminole Indian history know of the Green Corn Dance ceremony still held by a small “traditional” core among these tribes, a tradition whose roots stretch back thousands of years into the ancient world of the pre-Columbian past.
Fewer people are familiar with dozens of other populations of southeastern Indian people who have maintained practices born of the same ceremonial tradition. Even in the “strongholds” of southeastern Indian communities in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, there have been large shifts in the practice of the Muscogee traditions even within the last 100 years, even the last 30 some would say. Some of the reasons that today’s ceremonial practice is as it is can in some cases be traced to events dating back hundreds, indeed thousands of years.
Viewed in some corners controversially, the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse community has had its ups and downs as a group since the separation from the “mother ground” of Hvsossv Tvllvhasse. The Indian people and our friends who gather around the square to renew the community through the Corn Dance annually have always faced challenges to our identity and traditions, certainly an opportunity to learn the value of staying focused on the things that matter most; family, community, fellowship, and tradition rather than identity politics. Though most are not of Tvllvhasse or even Creek ancestry specifically, this “refugee town” as it refers to itself has continually accepted those who come from other Creek towns which have been dispersed, and more recently those of other tribes and races.
This is a tradition in both Florida and in Oklahoma; the smile and the handshake spoken of by elders across the Creek world apply not only to visitors to your camp but as well to visitors on the doorstep of your nation, they are to be welcomed. As Grandpa Wylie “Bill” Sampson, (a treasured elder of the Creek Nation and grandson of Principal Chief George Hill) of Okmulgee Oklahoma said twenty years ago, when any Ceremonial Grounds would go down, the leaders would tell those who wanted to continue on to go to a related ground which was “still up”. This was the case with “Grandpa Bill’s” family and their attendance to the ceremonial grounds of Tvlwv Rakko (Apalachicola) near Tiger Mountain outside of Henryetta Oklahoma. This Creek Ceremonial Ground, which was no longer holding Corn Dance by the 1950’s. Its memory lives on with many from the collapsing Ceremonial Ground choosing to attend nearby and related grounds which were still up like Hillabee, Alabama, and Nuyaka. Many grounds have come and went over the many generations.
Oklahoma has its unique experience for grounds people, as does we here in the south, today and in years past. Many eastern Creek elders remember the ugliness of the segregation years. The experience of the spirituality developed at the Stompground is tied to some degree to the generations of oppression under Jim Crow segregation by Eastern Creek and other Indians in the south. The Creek families who were left behind in the removal have spent many difficult generations finding a place for themselves in the often racist southern society in which they found themselves, and this process is still happening even now. In many cases political movements and spiritual practices have influenced one another as Eastern Indian people have sought to restore lost roots and reinvigorate remnant traditions and identities.
Intermarriage by several families with Hispanic and other people in the most recent generations has led to just one more layer of evolving identity of the Indian in Alabama and northern Florida. The diversity of mixed blood and other tribal Indian people among the several thousand on and around the Poarch Creek reservation today versus forty years ago before federal recognition is pronounced. The grappling for identity that goes on in such communities is intense and at times extremely political, as the many Indians left off the Poarch tribal roll at federal recognition in the 1980’s as but one of many examples of the corrosive effects of colonialism on all Native American communities. The struggle to maintain identity is unending in today’s material-delirium American experience.
The efforts by Poarch Creek people to restore the ancestors traditional Ceremonial Ground ways is a good example of the modern spirit of struggle for identity. For decades in the late 1980’s and 1990’s the people of Kvnfvske’s mother grounds, the Hvsossv Tvllvhasse (then only a practice) Ceremonial Ground struggled to recover areas of knowledge lost during the long years of Jim Crow segregation and poverty, primarily by working with elders in Oklahoma to bring knowledge, ceremonial protocols, and sacred Ceremonial Ground ashes back to the Poarch Creek Community near Atmore, Alabama. With the help of Creek Nation Medicine Men Sam Proctor, Dave Lewis, and many others, this dream was fulfilled at the turn of the recent millennium, and in the years since, it has held its own despite the rift between Hvsossv and Kvnfvske grounds. Through the tireless work of elder members of the Hvsossv Ground lineage such as Old Mekko-tahte, Mekko Locv Haco, and others the dream of bringing Creek traditions back to the Eastern Creek community is today accomplished and the responsibility to improve and expand this work falling on the shoulders of a younger generation.
Logically one would expect that the presence of a Ceremonial Ground on the reservation would mean a growing movement of Poarch Creeks to it to learn Creek traditions but this hasn’t happened; as many people who are not on the Poarch Creek tribal roll are members of the Hvsossv Tvllvhasse ground as are. It is the same with Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse too. The role that the traditional way plays in the lives of members of any Indian community is to some degree never going to be what it once was in past generations as technological advancements, modernity and capitalist lifeways together erode tribal identities across Indian Country. Many Poarch Creek reservation residents know little or nothing of the language and culture of their forebears. The stomp dancers of both Hvsossv and Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse grounds stand united in opposition to this.
Whatever the individual origins of the families present at Eastern Creek Ceremonial Grounds today, the overarching community of stompdancers and friends are carriers of an ancient and endangered tradition without doubt. Like religious communities worldwide large and small, the rise of technology and modern convenience has created a social landscape where the natural world is valued less than ever by many. This is truly concerning, as much as any past danger faced. This is another reason that the history and teachings of the Eastern Creek Ceremonial Grounds need be brought forward to a wider audience. Many are seeing the importance of a more natural, simpler way of life.
Poarch Creek James Cook (traditional name?) a member of Kvnfvske is an example of this return to a simpler way of life on his Alabama homestead, where he seeks to live the Ceremonial Ground values in his daily life and in his home. The ancient teachings and traditions of the Creek ceremonial culture have much to offer, and many are in great need of them. The environmental and social values long a part of traditional Indian teachings on how to live in balance and harmony are now being viewed by many in the mainstream as an important fact of life for survival of mankind going forward, their import and wisdom only now becoming apparent as the earth’s population careen headlong towards a dark and difficult future. Justin King, another Poarch Creek member of Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse ground received the grounds name “Wotko Fekseko”, and as the Heneha he balances his responsibility as an officer of the tribal town with his work as a public-school teacher in the Santa Rosa County, Florida school system. He sees his involvement with the younger generation both Native and non-Indian alike as a chance to break the stereotype each has of what a traditional Indian is.
With the growth in social and cultural diversity and the ever-changing identity of many Americans, including Indian people, it may be as Miccosukee elder Mary Francis Johns said around the Corn Dance camp in Blountstown years ago. “This generation is an opportunity to be a bridge; from where we have been to where we are going, not just as ceremonial people, or Native Americans, but most importantly as human beings.”
Mary Francis Johns with “Grandma Susie” Billie, 1980
THE CEREMONIAL GROUND TRADITION: LIFE IN THE SPIRAL
Life in the spiral would be one way to describe the unique “way of being” that the people of today’s modern Ceremonial Ground, whether they be Creek, Seminole, Miccosukee, Cherokee, Euchee, or Shawnee pursue. Living in a balance, giving rather than taking. This community is among one of the oldest in North America, a direct descendent of the Mississippian mound builders of thousands of years ago, a remnant of the once widespread civilization that met the conquistadors on their forays into the thick forests of the southeast. These ancient roots in the soil grow from a deep and abiding respect for Nature and are shaped by the way of life that for many eons centered on the annual cycles of corn crops, the movements of the stars above, and the life-cycles of countless generations spent seeking the wisdom of the Great Mystery. For today’s Ceremonial Ground families most no longer farm corn, hunt the forests, or fish the wide muddy rivers of the land we still remain in, but the symbols of this ancient relationship are still found through the entirety of the stomp dance way of life.
From birth to death, from the naming of the newborn to the final journey up the ball pole to join ones party to the camp fires of the departed we see twinkling each night in the sky, the traditional stomp dance way embraces and sustains us on the journey through this “middle world”. As Jean Hill Choudhury said in Sacred Path, the connections matter.
“The Creek spirit is rooted downward to mother earth, the fire energy burns in the center of the person the spirit spirals upward in the creek mind, and it exits through the top of the head upon death to join the spirit and energy linkages with the rest of the cosmos.”
The Stomp Dance is the most well-known aspect of a complex and rich ceremonial tradition, but it is just a small part of a great body of knowledge which was honed by the generations before us. Indeed, today we are often called “stompdancers” by our fellow Indians who practice other forms of spirituality. The “Indian Church” as it is known amongst the Creeks and the stomp dance community have had two centuries of struggle with one another for the center stage of Native life. Today this long running tussle is no longer as central as it once was in Creek life in generations past. This is because the majority of Indians whose elders were members of a Ceremonial Ground or Indian church is for the most part secular and no longer follow either.
It would be somewhat true to say that many of the people who still cling to the Ceremonial Ground (as well as Indian church) way of life are full blood, or close to it, especially among the two dozen Stompground that remain active in Oklahoma, the majority of which are among the Creek. Indeed a “state of the nation” speech not long ago by the Principle Creek Chief put forward that of the 80,000 enrolled citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation less than 2,000 were “full bloods”. A fair amount of these are the families of the dozen and a half Creek Ceremonial Grounds there. Outside of the Creek Nation Ceremonial Ground people, there are smaller communities of stompdancers among the neighboring Cherokee, Euchee, and Shawnee
There was, and still is, great formality associated with all Ceremonial Grounds; this is where we meet the Creator through our sacred ashes, Povfekcv.
Very strict rules of behavior exist for being in the presence of this mysterious force. This “Fire of Spirit” as one elder called it, (some say the Sun's Little Brother and itself an ancient Muscogee's perfect symbol for the symbolic presence of the Creator) has always been regarded as a powerful spiritual embodiment of "the Place where Epohfvnkv dwells among us." The central Sacred Fire of the grounds is regarded, not just as a convenient method of obtaining heat and light but as a living being, sometimes like a child requiring careful attention, sometimes as a grandparent, old and full of wisdom. Now, let us turn our attention briefly to one of the major annual Tvlwv ceremonies, called the Corn Dance or "Green Corn Ceremony." Hopefully, this will clarify an understanding of Muscogee communal and ceremonial life for our friends who are new to our tradition or who are returning to the ways of generations past.
Green Corn Ceremonies end the old year and begin the new. In years gone by, people from each settlement, each tvlofv within a Tvlwv, gather at their Tvlwv's principal community, often called (in English) the "mother town." Here, their sacred fire burns as visible symbolic embodiment of their connection to the Creator. In remaining conservative Creek and Seminole communities still practicing traditional ceremonies, people speak of their kinship as belonging to a certain "fire", or ground. Corn Dance, the Green Corn Ceremony, is a community affair. The phrase "Corn Dance" is a modern corruption of the Creek concept of Posketv (or Pvsketv), "to fast,". A long and arduous fast is the center of this several day’s long ceremony. The turning of the year for Creeks and Seminoles is the time to put in order one's personal affairs, make right all wrongs of the year past and settle any grievances, so that both community and individual can begin the New Year with a clean slate and purified heart and mind. Throughout the proceedings, people are exhorted during many speeches and the "Long Talk" to practice right and moral living in their lives.
Thanksgiving for the many gifts from Creator is a constant co-theme with purification and renewal. Laws, customs and traditions, folklore and other collectively defining habits of the Town are practiced in the original sense of that word. Although great similarity exists, each Tvlwv, (as independent Tribal Towns), has its own unique history, philosophy, customs and beliefs—treasured and rigorously defended against all others. Many ceremonial grounds though not all, have a Court Day to institutionalize this internal cleansing process. A Green Corn Dance is the reaffirmation of the life of the whole nation. At every tribal town, the sacred fire is a prominent witness to all things, the visible link connecting Humankind and Epohfvnkv, the Great Mystery, the Spirit. It is the fire and the heart of the people burning as one. The igniting of the Green Corn “New Fire” restores order to the cosmos out of the chaos developed in the past year. It is Creation re-enacted annually.
Formerly, representatives from each Tvlwv, each independent tribal town, met together annually (or more often, if needed) to govern the whole Confederacy. These meetings were conducted by the same formalities as used in the Tvlwv. At different times in history, this central government met in different places; thus, many Tvlwv have been the "capital" of the Creek Nation at one time or another. Tradition, both eastern and western, holds that the Creek Confederacy was founded when four Tribal Towns met together and formed a common alliance shortly after a major migration from the west. Some say ancient Tvlwv Rakko Apalachicola, associated with the Hitchiti speaking towns was seat of that ancient meeting. Rudiments of the Confederacy were already in place and working prior to European Contact. However, early contact provided the impetus, which caused this informal system of rule, by mutual consent, to crystallize into a formal confederacy, bringing together approximately fifty-five small nations who acted for their mutual defense and growth. There is no question that the foundations of the Confederacy were laid in pre-contact times; it is historical fact that the final formation took place as a result of the European invasion of Vnewetv, one of the many names of the “turtle continent”.
All Tvlwv were similar but not identical. Consequently, ceremonies were similar but not identical, as customs, traditions and beliefs were similar but local practices varied. Some spoke languages completely unrelated to languages of other Tvlwv. For instance, some Creek Towns spoke Cherokee in everyday life and a few Cherokee Towns spoke Creek. Euchee, Alabama, Kohsatte, Shawnee, Hitchiti, Notche (Natchez) and others were among the common tongues of many tribal towns. In typically Muscogee fashion, language, political unity or loyalty was not always the same. However, Muscogee Creek was the common tongue or Lingua Franca used in national affairs and between towns. The Creek were, and still are, a people in unity, not uniformity. Today, in Creek and Seminole Nations, there are still ceremonial Tvlwv that practice their ancient ways. Fourteen or more Creek Tvlwv continues on in East Oklahoma; there is two Tvllvhasse grounds in North Florida and South Alabama today, though they have only returned in the past generation. As of this writing, only one or two Oklahoma Seminole Squares are ceremonially active; some are momentarily dormant. Seminole and Miccosukee Indians in south Florida maintain at least four Squaregrounds, including the Independent Seminole. Each Tvlwv carefully maintains its own distinct history and traditions while sharing much in common with the other Tvlwv.
The 4 founding towns that gave rise to the Creek Nation according to some elders were Apekv, Tukvpace, Kowetv, and Kvsetv. From this alliance, a nation would grow over the next millennia according to some oral history among Creek people. The handful of tribal towns that survive from the hundreds only a couple centuries ago are all from the same root and share the same fate, as the modern world, consumerism, and ecological deterioration increase.
As with most tribal society’s planet-wide up until recent times, our people were divided into clans. The number of clans was very large, probably as large as the number of clans in any group of Native Americans. In some tvlofv, only one or two clans might be represented; in larger Tvlwv, all clans might be represented. All clans were divided into two groups which modern social scientists called "moieties." Clans within a moiety were bound together by strong feelings of kinship and obligations of mutual help. One did not marry within one’s own moiety. Though many Oklahoma and Traditional Creeks and some Seminoles no longer know their tribal town or clan, these divisions are still well preserved by tribal town families and culturally-conservative full blood Indian church folks. Unique among Muscogee’s, new clans have been occasionally created because of curious localized situations; a clan merger is not unknown either. Among Florida Seminoles there currently exist two different Bird Clans, as well as the “Big Town” clan, which is unknown in Oklahoma. Much clan lore has been documented by John R. Swanton in his prolific writings on southern Indians, if you are interested in more about them.
Originally, members of one moiety married "across the fire" into the other moiety. A man or woman could not marry into his or her own clan, or into any clan traditionally kin or aligned. For example, when asked clan membership one might respond in such a manner: "I am born to the Turtle Clan for the Bear Clan." Thus, the speaker told that his mother (and therefore himself) was of the Turtle Clan but his biological father was of the Bear Clan. That speaker would not marry into the Turtle Clan and its collateral or linked Clans such as the Wind; likewise, neither would he marry into the Bear or any of their linked or collateral clans. Furthermore, married couples lived with the wife's family, or at least in the same community. Children were always raised as members of their mother's clan. A woman's brother (or other close male relative) exercised authority over her children; a woman's husband bore responsibility for the education, training, and discipline of his sister's children (or the children of another close female relative).
Considered psychologically, this interweaving provided a very sturdy system of relationships, giving children very definite role models, a sure sense of personal identity and that all-important Muscogee concept of all things having a “proper place and purpose, a correct order of things”, (mvhakvtontos) as one elder put it in past years. Children grew up knowing and feeling their proper relationships at every level with every other member of their Tvlwv and with members of all other Tvlwv. At no time were they in a limbo between life's four stages; there were very clear signs, procedures and rites of passages to completely spell out and announce each progressive stage and its various rights and responsibilities. They were spared the identity crises which have become a common feature of adolescence in modern America today, where gangs, drugs, depression, and dysfunction are afflicted the Indian community especially. It is precisely this type of community, with its well defined, reliable inter-relationships, that many younger Americans have been trying to reestablish in the communes, rural communities, and other experiments in social re-definition that have sprung up since the late 1950's and are today manifesting once again with the compulsion to seek a simpler way of living closer to the earth and with mutual benefit for all beings.
With the amount of intermarriage between tribes as well as various races, the clan system of the past is slowly but surely evolving away from what it was only a few generations ago; it is changing into something new and unknown to some elders. The challenges to adapt to changing times has always confronted the Creek community and it continues to do so, even as everyone in the stomp dance community seeks to preserve as much of the treasured old ways that they can.
Unlike the clan system, which has seen significant erosion in the past few generations, the offices of the grounds remain somewhat unchanged by modern times. In different tribal towns, principal officers were chosen from different clans. In one tribal town, the Mekko might come from the Bear Clan, another town may choose from the Wind Clan, and so forth. Through different generations, chiefs were generally chosen from the same clan, and often from the same family. However, leadership was not primarily hereditary. Simply, a young man who had grown up in the family of a Chief was more likely to meet the requirements of chieftainship than one who had not lived so close to the daily problems of leadership. If the family or clan did not, in a certain generation, produce a fit candidate for the position of Mekko, the Tvlwv would simply select whatever man seemed suited to the job regardless of his clan or station. It happened often. A Mekko ruled not by enforced power but persuasion; he was not a dictator. Therefore, it was customary among the tribal towns to elect--or, in the case of seeming hereditary leadership, to affirm--only those in whose presence people found it easy to reach decision and agreement. Universally, people of tribal towns shunned those in whose presence it was easiest to find discord and strife. Unfortunately, this wise habit has not always carried over into modern tribal political life.
Red and White Divisions
A Tvlwv would be designated a "white town" or a "red town." White towns were places of refuge and peace--no blood must ever be spilled there; Red towns were defenders and fighters. Warriors were raised up from Red Towns; only a Red Town could declare or direct a war. It is in White towns that peace is negotiated and settlements to claims are made. Since each Tvlwv was essentially an individual tribe or small nation, each was independent, not bound to any other Tvlwv by anything but mutual consent. Moreover, no town was obligated to join others in war or in peace—and often they didn't! This factor played heavily in the destruction of the old undivided Creek Nation when it resided in the East. In the past, If Creeks from a warring community opened or engaged in any hostilities with the Americans, settlers or troops often retaliated against nearby peace towns that would be somewhat disadvantaged, due to their position within Muscogee political structure.
Division into white and red towns provided gentle internal competition within the Creek Nation, without the bitterness that often accompanies such rivalries. Red and white towns played each other in stickball games (War's Little Brother some say) called match games and in other sports. They traded produce and other goods; they intermarried. One reason for no bitter rivalries was that tribal towns could and did change their status: Red towns could become white and white towns could become red. Some towns, ever the practical, turned to whatever color was convenient at the time; others remained staunch and true to their historic designation. There is one Muscogee practice which we would do well to consider in these times. A Mekko who had led a war or ruled during war could not negotiate peace; no chief who had ruled during peacetime could rule during a war. Separate leaders with clearly different talents and values led the people at different times. This system worked well during times when wars were fought honorably "by the rules." Separate leaders for separate functions guaranteed that neither would ever have total control or unchecked rule and power over the people.
Many of the people of Kvnfvske and Hvsossv Tvllvhasse Tribal Towns have Eastern Creek roots to some degree, either biological or cultural. The Eastern Creek community has always existed since the removal of the majority of the Creeks by the federal government in the 1830’s from the area that would become the states of Alabama and Georgia today. The main body of Eastern Creeks who remained would be concentrated in the area near todays Atmore Alabama, and would evolve during the mid to late 1800’s into the Poarch Creeks. Other small pockets of creek people would find similar fringe areas to settle in in areas of Georgia and the Florida panhandle, with some intermarrying heavily with in-migrating Lumbee and other Carolina Indians. All Indians who remained in the east after the removals of the 1830’s would face alienation and marginalization in their own land.
Under the Treaty of Fort Jackson, signed on August 9, 1814 at Fort Jackson (near modern Wetumpka, Alabama) some Creeks were left a venue to remain in the south. The treaty, which would have a big impact on the Creeks who would remain in the south until today, occurred on the banks of the Tallapoosa River near the present city of Alexander City, Alabama. The Treaty was created following the defeat of the Red Stick, who were Anti-American forces predominately composed of Upper Creeks with a smaller Lower Creek contingent located in Spanish Florida. The armed resistance of the Red Stick was defeated by the United States and their allied forces including many of the ancestors of the Poarch Creek as well as with the assistance of friendly Cherokee. This defeat at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend broke armed Creek military strength and began a downhill slide that would culminate with the forced removal of the Creeks within a generation.
By the terms set out by the treaty, the Creek as a body were forced to cede 23 million acres of their remaining land in the modern states of Georgia and much of central Alabama, to the United States government; the agreement also allowed for Indians who chose so to remain in the area, but they would no longer be considered tribal Indians and would be subject to state laws. Dozens of families of Creek did remain. In the family lore of many Eastern Creek this treaty was remembered as the “Red Jacket” treaty by some elders even a century or more afterwards. Admittedly while many of the cultural traditions and language were eroded or lost after the removal, the identification with their Indian ancestry was strong in many families and communities, as still is. Even before the Fort Jackson treaty though, the ancestral Poarch Creek community especially was already established in its uniqueness within the larger body of the Creek Nation. This community served as something of a buffer between the main body of Creek towns and the Americans. Many were intermarried with one another and were mixed blood, and many lived lives as tradesman and had left the tribal town way of life of the average Creek. They lived on isolated homesteads and farmed and conducted business for themselves and many became successful.
These so-called "Friendly Creeks" signed business contracts with the American government to serve as station keepers, party guides, language interpreters, ferrymen and even river pilots for those newly arriving settlers traveling through the Creek Territory to establish new homes. Some also operated inns along the newly opened roads and raised free-range cattle to sell to settlers. The Friendly Creek families acquired land along the Alabama River from Tensaw to Claiborne and eastward along Little River and in time became concentrated in that area. With the removal, many of these inter-related mixed blood Creek families remained there and did not go on the long road to Indian Territory like many of their kinsmen did. These early ancestors of the modern Poarch Creek moved out of the traditional Creek villages and onto their own homesteads often near one another, many clustered down the Alabama River. Here they were able to meet the increasing demand for certain services to the fledgling American government, as settlers were streaming into Creek lands and into Spanish Florida.
As American settlers seeking their own land began passing through Creek Territory in greater numbers, incidents of violence began to increase. To the angst of many Creek leaders, a growing number of those traveling the Federal Road and other venues through Creek lands began to stop within the Creek Nation. They often illegally cleared out homesteads and began settling on Indian land as if it was their own despite the protests of Creek leaders. The always simmering tensions would soon spill over into full-fledged conflict. Becoming torn between their differing ways of life and reactions to the presence of these interlopers, Creeks soon found themselves at odds with one another on how to best react to the new situation, and conflict increased between Creeks considered "friendly", many of them the ancestors of the todays Poarch Creek, and those deemed "hostile" towards the U.S. Government, often known as Red Sticks.
A skirmish in 1813 which happened at Burnt Corn Creek and the subsequent retaliatory attack on Fort Mims resulted in the outbreak of full hostilities between Creek factions. The situation culminated in the final showdown and eventual defeat of the Creek Nation forces at the battle of Horseshoe Bend . Andrew Jackson took command of Fort Toulouse, renamed it Fort Jackson, and signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814. As a result of the Treaty of Fort Jackson, the Creeks were illegally forced to cede their territory to the United States and were forcibly removed from their land in Alabama.
Despite the federal government’s policy of removal of most Indians to the west, there were many Creek families in the Tensaw community who had been of assistance to the United States by providing essential services in the past. Some of these families including Manac (McNac or Moniac), Hollinger , Sizemore, Stiggins, Bailey, Colbert, and Weatherford, were allowed to retain their land and were not removed. Fortunately, some families, such as those of Semoice and Lynn McGhee had been unable to file their land selections earlier and in 1836, a special Congressional Act enabled land grants to Lynn McGhee, Semoice, Susan Marlow and Samuel Smith, or their heirs. Other areas would see the few remaining Creeks intermarry with Carolina Indians of Lumbee and Catawba origin and settle into isolated community such as Scotts Ferry, Scott Town, and Mount Zion/Simmonsville in the Florida panhandle. The main body of Creeks would congregate in the area near Atmore Alabama though as they adapted to a new life outside of the Creek Nation and within the newly enlarged state of Alabama. From the 1830’s to the outbreak of the Civil War those who remained lived on the fringe of the society, though a few were able to become successful in farming or business.
Locv Haco at The Poarch Powwow 1990
Within a few decades hard times would come again as after the American Civil War social disruption, violence, and the changing racial environment of the post war years occurred, with any one not obviously white becoming targets for marginalization. With the changing social climate of the south descending into darkness, the eastern Creek families, especially those of the Poarch creek communities became more and more insular and self-isolated, as they navigated the dangerous waters of a social order based on a White-Black view of race. The period from the American Civil War to the Civil Rights era was one of the most difficult for any Native Americans in the south, but it also was what created the insularity which preserved these isolated pockets of Indians in the sea of Whites and African-Americans which surrounded them. Their social isolation would remain intact throughout the latter half of the 1800’s and first half of the 1900’s. Most of the Poarch Creek families in the Indian community were farm laborers, turpentine workers or worked with pulp wood logging. Indian-only schools and churches developed, and Indians at Poarch were buried separately from whites in a segregated Indian cemetery, Judson Cemetery, on land donated by a freed slave for that purpose. In this era poverty and struggle were the norm for many, but especially so for Indians.
DESEGREGATION AND THE END OF SOCIAL ISOLATION
In the mid-20th century larger social upheaval would once again lead to struggle for the Eastern Creek, with changes occurring with the desegregation of the schools and increases interactions with non-Indians. Smaller settlements of Creeks in Georgia and in the Florida panhandle would also face the same assimilative force of change as the Poarch Creek communities at Hog Fork, Bell Creek and Hedapededa, though many of the clustered communities of Creek would fade in the mid twentieth century as greater economic opportunities and decrease social isolation would lead to all these communities of Creek descent seeing outmigration lead to population decrease and intermarriage with outsiders by the 1950’s. This was not the end though as even as the original small tribal communities of the past century dwindled in population a new political battle to secure recognition by the state and federal authorities of the existence as well as un-surrendered sovereignty of the Eastern Creek would emerge, at the time as the civil rights struggle led to massive social change in the south as the old order of segregation would fall and laws would change. With this era of unprecedented social change occurring, many Indians in the south took the opportunity to assert their continued existence and demand a more pronounced role in their relationship with authorities. Some have called this era the “Indian renaissance” as tribes across America sought increased self-determination and a righting of past wrongs.
The cycles of loss and renewal can be seen among a people tied by blood to the Eastern Creek; the Catawba people of South Carolina, who had several families who moved down and intermarried among the Creeks during the times past, sought to hang on to their roots. In1918 the Last Catawba Corn Dance was held. As with the Creeks in Oklahoma, the Catawba Corn Dance was a descendent of the ancient Mound Builders. A well-documented example of the survival of the southeastern Ceremonial Grounds was the Catawba Green Corn Dance, among the Catawba of the Rock Hill Reservation, Eastern Siouan people who remained in their homeland during the removal of the 1830’s . What follows is an article from 1913 about the last Catawba Green Corn Exposition:
“A small number of Catawba Indian families benefit economically from the so-called Indian show circuit. Some are active enough to be called professional Indians. These Catawbas make a living by attending powwows, historical events and folk art shows. A few merely sell pottery and other Catawba crafts such as blow guns, cane flutes, wooden whistles and walking sticks. Others offer pan-Indian crafts such as bead work and dream catchers. Two contemporary families provide a full cultural service including pottery demonstrations, singing and dancing, and an occasional history lecture. This business has been a part of the Catawba Indian cultural landscape for about a century. Not the first of such events but probably one of the best documented was the Corn Exposition held in Columbia, South Carolina, in January 1913. Catawba participation was sponsored by the Rock Hill Chamber of Commerce. The Indian booth was situated next to an Indian relic display mounted by Winthrop College. The Evening Herald, The Record, and The State newspapers made every effort to provide full coverage and dramatize the Catawba departure and Expo program. The first day the party traveled to Rock Hill and the next day, January 27, they departed by train for Columbia. The paper provided a short description of the delegation which included six men, two women and six children, all gaily dressed in Indian garb. The men wore grand feather headdresses. Each man had a Rock Hill pennant suspended down his back. Their arrival at the Exposition grounds was celebrated with fanfare. Two of the men participated in a parade down Main Street in Columbia.
The coverage provided for the next week is rich in detail. For instance, the Indians erected a dwelling. The press called it a wigwam. We don't know if it was a culturally accurate brush arbor or a canvas tent. The late Doris Blue, who was one of the six children, remembered sleeping in a military barrack style building. On January 28, the Indians began to demonstrate pottery making before large crowds filled with curiosity. The potters sold all their wares almost immediately. The women also baked corn bread, probably Catawba Ashe Bread. The women also joined the men in afternoon demonstrations of Catawba dance.
It is interesting to note that the Corn Exposition was the last documented occasion when the Catawba women danced with turtle shell rattles tied to their ankles. The State newspaper found these of particular interest and reported, "The latter [turtle rattle] is a queer instrument worn by the Catawba maidens in the dance. It was worn on the leg beneath the skirts and produced a weird noise." Such rattles were and still are worn universally across the Southeast by Indians who participate in the so-called Southern Cult and its all-important Stomp Dances. Such leg rattles are necessary to the Stomp Dance, a dance style which is currently being revived by the Catawba. The men danced, chanted, drummed and shook cow horn rattles filled with buckshot.
1918 Catawba Green Corn Dance Exhibition SC (courtesy Catawba Indian Museum Archives)
The group was led by Robert Lee Harris who had traveled with the Daniel Boone Troupe. He was spoken of as a potter of unusual talent. Under Harris's lead, the Indians danced the graceful and yet highly dramatic Wild Goose Dance, one of the most popular dances at the Yap Ye Iswa Festival celebrated on the reservation the Saturday after Thanksgiving. They also danced the wildly vibrant Bear Dance. This dance was discontinued in the 1920s and today is being revived by Monty and Anna Branham. Monty has written a new Bear Dance Song in Catawba. A small but growing number of Catawba Indians know how to perform this ancient show stopper of a Catawba dance.
Unfortunately two dances performed at the Corn Exposition are no longer danced by the Catawba and their patterns have been lost. The first was the Fox Chase Dance organized by a man called Standing Bull. It was probably learned by Robert Lee Harris during his Daniel Boone Troupe days and was not traditionally Catawba. The second was the Catawba War Dance organized by Robert Lee Harris.”
The news coverage of the Catawba participation in the Corn Exposition is filled with superlatives. One article The Record newspaper was entitled, "The Catawba Are Star Number." So successful was the Exposition in general that it was extended for an additional week. Photographer Blanchard recorded the event in photos and one is reproduced here. Of the 22 Catawba Indians who took part in the Corn Exposition, only seven can be identified with any certainty today: Robert Lee Harris, John Brown, Rachel Brown, Rosie Harris Wheelock, Doris Wheelock, Edna Wheelock, and Richard Harris.
Since the 1980’s some Catawba led by Monty Branham and others have worked to revive the Catawba Ceremonial Grounds traditions, and to one day restore the Green Corn Dance Grounds at Nesbitt Bottoms. Another group who has also been working to restore their Ceremonial Grounds is the Four Hole Edisto people in South Carolina. Under leaders like Andy Spell and others, Edisto tribal leaders have been traveling to Oklahoma and learning more about the ancient southeastern ceremonial ways. Several of the State recognized groups in the Carolinas are now once again stomp dancing, playing stickball, and holding Green Corn Festivals. The Creeks who remained in the east, like many of the other tribal groups who survived the removal era, carried on their quiet lives, ignored and forgotten for the most part, often having to endure constant pressure by the mainstream to push them into the African-American community. The Traditional Creeks people, despite the oppression of segregation and assimilation, have persevered and maintained, along with the “Cow Creek” Muscogee of Brighton Reservation and the Miccosukee of the southern part of Florida, an unbroken Green Corn tradition in its homeland east of the Mississippi. These communities like the eastern Creek sought for a return to tradition which had been taken from them. In the middle part of the 20th century many tribal communities turned to a new search for identity as segregation came to an abrupt end, and once again American changed around them, with all the upheaval and difficulty for the Indians as always.
It was at this crucial midcentury crossroad that came at the end of the deep social isolation of the past one hundred years and due in part to the Jim Crow segregation policies of the southern states that the lives of Eastern Creek would begin to change. Segregation was a difficult experience many Eastern Creeks had been subjected too for generations. By the advent of the 1960’s Chief Calvin McGhee and other Eastern Creek leaders would begin an effort at cultural revitalization of the Eastern Creek community.
Chief Calvin McGhee 1970
Leaders form several isolated pockets of Creeks would work together to form a council to improve the lives of their people now called the Creek Nation East of the Mississippi. Calvin McGhee traveled far and often encouraging those of Indian descent to organize and reassert their status as Native Americans, a difficult task with the racial conflicts in southern society becoming violent and unpredictable. Calvin McGhee would seek to unite all Creek people in the east into one tribe. Others such as Chief Arthur Turner the leader of a Creek group from Florala Alabama would reconnect with cousins in Oklahoma, including Dode McIntosh, the Principle Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in efforts to revive Creek language and general culture. Both were descendants of Chief William McIntosh of the Koweta Tribal Town (as are some of the families of Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse Grounds) and had many meetings during the late 1960’s and 70’s to encourage Native American identity. At Poarch classes were organized to teach traditional Indian craft like basketry. Initiatives emerged to revive Indian identity among eastern Creeks.
Mekko Locv Haco and Kvnfvske Haco
Initially this was through the teaching of Powwow and other pan-Indian activities. Calvin McGhee himself was noted for the colorful Plains Indian style headdress he was often photographed wearing at events, an accoutrement never worn by Indians of the east historically. In this early phase of the cultural revival movement many Eastern Creek had lost all trappings and traditions of their Muscogee past, and initially many were drawn to the Pan-Indian culture of the times. It was through the participation in the pan Indian Powwow world that some Indians in the Atmore area reconnected with the Creek Ceremonial Ground traditions in the 1980’s. Soon they were organizing trips to Oklahoma to learn more about their lost traditional Creek culture. Others in the Florida panhandle were also making trips to Oklahoma and to the Seminole reservations in southern Florida to try and bring back lost parts of their culture. By 1980 stomp dances and stick ball games were being held in Atmore, Alabama as well as in Blountstown, Florida by Indian people working to restore their cultural as well as political heritage.
Mary Frances and Archie Johns, Creek-Seminole elders from South Florida along with other Seminole families developed a relationship with several Creek/Lumbee/Catawba families in the Calhoun/Jackson County area and this would develop into a practice Ceremonial Ground among the descendants of the Scotts Ferry Indian community, people of the Scott, Hill, Oxendine, and other families. (This group including elder woman Elaine Hill and her children, and Hotvle Haco, the grandson of Meck Hill would join with the Hvsossv refugees in establishing Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse grounds after the Hvsossv-Kvnfvske split in 2003).
Similarly, the Poarch Creek community had absorbed many Indians from other tribes throughout its long history and this inter-tribal identity led to the presence of several families amongst the Eastern Creek who would pursue the work of bringing back the “old ways” of the Creek people together. Kvnfvske Mekko Locv Haco is from such a family; his paternal grandfather was a Brothertown (Mohican) from Wisconsin. Hotvle Haco has elders from among the Lumbee and Catawba tribes in the Carolinas, and there are half dozen families at Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse with blood ties to as many tribes. As a refugee town, Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse has a long tradition of welcoming outsiders.
In the beginning in the 1970’s and early 80’s though the movement to restore Creek tribal ways to the south was only a handful people. Among those who would play a role in the emerging revival of the Stompground way of life at Poarch was Locv Haco, who was also known as Gordon Fay and who since the early 2000’s has been Mekko of Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse. He was the Speaker for Old Mekko-tahte at Hvsossv Tvllvhasse Grounds and at the practice grounds before the ashes came up. His roots go deep in the Poarch community as a descendent of the Hollinger, Wiggins, and other Indian families, as well as having Brothertown ancestry through his grandfather, and Mohawk through his grandmother’s lines. Living in the Atmore area his entire adult life after his time in the service as a teenager, he initially headed an active group of young people who were involved in the continuing reviving of Indian tradition through participation in Powwows and Pan-Indian events.
His 5 acres just outside Atmore has been a hub of Indian activism for 30 years. He held the first sweat lodge ceremonies at Poarch on his property and he hosted a massive gathering for a Peyote Church ceremony with Ruben Snake on the eve of the 1986 federal recognition. Eventually he with several others including ??? began to focus solely on the effort to bring into the lives of the younger generation of Poarch Creek the traditions of their ancestors, the ways of the Ceremonial Ground. This small crew began to learn the ways of the ground, very different from that of the world of the Pan-Indian Powwow. Little did they know that for well over a decade this process of learning would entail dozens of trips to Oklahoma and in some cases a complete re-orientation to their own identity. Their understanding of who they were as human expanded as the sacred ways of the Ceremonial Ground would become rooted in their hearts and minds.
Beginning in 1985 Several Indians from the Atmore area including Locv Haco, ?,? would begin making trips to Oklahoma to take part in the revival of the Ceremonial Ground tradition that was occurring in Alabama even as it was in Oklahoma. Historically there had always been a dozen or more grounds up at any time in the Creek Nation but in the late 70’s more grounds began to appear, as political acknowledgement as well as funding to Native American issues and concerns increased.
Some of this rise in the political activity by Ceremonial Ground people in Oklahoma was related to a federal case brought in the 1980’s to try and restore authority to the traditional Mekkvlke (traditional Ceremonial Ground chiefs) and to
“seek declaratory and injunctive relief against the policy and practice of the Interior Department in recognizing and dealing with defendant Cox, Principal Chief of the Creek Nation, as the sole embodiment of the Creek tribal government, and in refusing to recognize, facilitate, or deal with a Creek National Council as a coordinate branch of the tribal government responsible for certain legislative and financial functions.”
The hopes of a restored “traditional” government for the Creeks led to some families who, during the preceding few generations had seen a weakening of their ties to the traditional tribal town government of their ancestors, seeking to get involved again. When the case was lost some once again returned to the path of assimilation and the dozen grounds revived became again defunct, and returned to their status as family lore and not central to the lives of those families. The early group among the Poarch Creek who began going to Oklahoma to learn about stomp dance included many young people such as Chris “Ding-Ding” Blackburn and Alex Alvarez who today are leaders among the Poarch Creek community, as well as some elders who had witness the struggle for federal recognition during the second half of the twentieth century. For those who were there during the 12 “practice ground” years on Locv Haco’s property and the subsequent 4 years after the ashes came up and before the break up of Hvsossv into 2 separate grounds, the memories of the fellowship, effort, and fun burn bright.
The relationships developed with the members of the (Old) Tvllvhasse grounds were instrumental in helping the eastern Indians return to the old time traditional Creek frame of mind. Phillip Deere said it best in reference to the treatment of Indians and tribal communities in the past, especially so in Alabama during Jim Crow.
“Even the culture, even the religion, under man-made laws, was taken away from the Native people. But we managed to survive. We continued with our way of life.”
There was much to recover and the eastern Creek along with the Tvllvhasse people in Oklahoma would work together to restore to the east a home ground, and to the west a stronger invigorated Tvllvhasse ground.
Even though (Old) Tvllvhasse has now become several distinct grounds, with Hvsossv and Wvkokaye Tvllvhasse both daughtering from it, and Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse daughtering off from Hvsossv, the memories of the good times out at the grounds will always be with those who were involved. “Old Kowetv” provided a good place on his land for the people to come together and even though everyone today appreciates the grounds they go to now, the old place will always be missed, like Old Kowetv.
Indeed, the ties of the past remain and the relationship to the old ground still lives in the memories of the people who were there. The names of individuals like John Proctor, Leon Bell, Jonas Harley, Eddie Lowe, Jimmy Gibson, and Thomas Yahola are remembered by the members of Kvnfvske around the camps today. Folks like Edwin Marshall, Leon Bell, Sam Buck, Toby Carpitcher, Jimmy Carpitcher, Jimsey Carpitcher, Jimmy Gibson, Alfred Harley, Jonas Harley, Harvey Little, Eddie Lowe, Kelly Lowe, Edwin Marshall, John Proctor, Justin Yahola, Harold Yahola, Thomas Yahola were the great singers remembered by those founders of Hvsossv and Kvnfvske who were there during the practice ground years. Shell shakers like Linda Alexander, Pat Bell, Rhina Bell, Vlecv Bell, Joyce Core, Carol Ellis, Bonnie Gibson, Naomi Harjo, Jeanette Harley, Phyllis Henry, Melba Harley, Corrina Lowe, Vivian Proctor, and Bertha Tilkens were the women who helped to restore the Locv to their rightful place of honor and instructing the Creek women from the east, many who had not shook shells before ion the proper way to do so.
Practice grounds ballpole
Pacman Richards (Choctaw)
Ding ding, sam, fushacoce (kevin rackarf)baby (Rodney rackard)
Old mekkos camp
Samara proctor, chebon, Jeremy mcghee
Jeremy mcghee, Travis, locv, barney pryor, unknowns
Locv on back of truck
Maria hill, heather catrett
Above is Sam collecting plants for the Dance. Helles-Haya Sam said once
“My momma said, ‘I am going to tell you three things that you need to abide by,’… ‘Have love, always have love, be meek, be lowly in heart and if you have these in practice and live that, you will live a long time. I was born in 1933 in a rural community,” he said. “It is about four miles from Hanna, Oklahoma. And about a quarter mile west of where I was raised is our ceremonial ground, one of the ceremonial grounds called Muddy Waters.”
He passed on as much of the past as he could anytime he could.
“They told me where we are at, Tvllvhasse and Wvkokaye and Tokpafkv was of the same fire. Tokpafkv was located near Calvin, and Wvkokaye was, the way I have heard, it was located close to just before you get to the river. I heard that or that was how I was told by my uncle.”
Will Hill spoke of Sam Proctor and his work often and with admiration for his tenacity to preserve tradition.
“I have known Sam Proctor my entire life and have long been inspired by his efforts to preserve the heart of the Muscogee Creek culture and keep the traditions alive,”
All who worked with Sam over the years to bring back the Old Ways to the east would say the same.
Sam at old Mekko’s house
Old Mekko im middle
Left old Mekko and canter sam scratching scott catrett
Sonny lewis speaking
Practice grounds ballgame
THE PRACTICE GROUND
To accomplish something as monumental as restoring a people’s ties to their culture is never easy; hard work, countless hours and tanksful of gas, and immeasurable personal effort was displayed by Old Mekko Slick, Locv Haco, and others in accomplishing the work that led to the establishment of the two Tvllvhasse grounds of the east. Many years of 2000-mile round trip journeys from south Alabama to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma, often several each year by the Poarch stomp dance group led to a growing interest by others to re-establish for the Creeks still in the east a fully “sanctified” ground, one acknowledged by the traditional Creeks in Oklahoma and with custody of the ceremonial ashes restored to the Creeks in the east. In keeping with protocols recognized by the remaining Ceremonial Grounds in Oklahoma the group established a practice grounds, located on the 5-acre property of Locv Haco on Green Acres Road (where he still lives) and began choosing officers for the organization, selected leaders “acting” in their official capacities until the sacred ashes were “brought up” and with them the new tribal town’s traditional bonafides.
Ballpole at the practice hassossa ground 2000
To do this according to the protocols of creek ceremonial traditions, a practice grounds was established without the willow-covered arbors or the central fire that mark the inner precinct of the stomp dance grounds. Though the members would carry out activities of the usual schedule of any stomp dance ground with ball games and dances; a practice ground is like a test run where ballgames and stomp dances are held, initially to garner interest and hopefully membership among the Indians once affiliated with it. This practice ground period is for a hopefully restored ground to come, after an appropriate period of participation by community members, usually 4 years in Oklahoma.
Typically, in Oklahoma when a ground is “brought back up” after years or decades of disuse, the period of the practice grounds phase is about four years, but with the efforts by the practice grounds group from Poarch, and now known as Hvsossv, it would take four times this long.
Slick ? emerged as one of the leaders and would eventually be asked to be the Mekko
For two decades Mekko Slick, his speaker Locv Haco and others would strive to learn the songs, dances, and protocols of the Ceremonial Ground lineage.
STRIFE AMONG THE TVLLVHASSE
Most grounds in Oklahoma have certain families who have traditional made up some or much of particular grounds membership. A glance at many tribal town rolls from the earliest documentation of Creek communities, records like the Parsons and Abbott roll of 1832 , through to the membership of todays 16 Ceremonial Grounds show a remarkable continuation of particular family’s participation in the life of their tribal towns for many generations.
Among the Tvllvhasse, the Proctor brothers would be such a family who would strive to restore and maintain their familial ties to their ancestor’s ways.
The contribution of the group from Poarch to the efforts by the Proctor family to re-establish and maintain the (Old) Tvllvhasse ground was important to both parties as relationships evolved and many connections between the Eastern Creeks coming to Oklahoma to learn and the members of the re-established Tvllvhasse grounds grew.
The contributions by the visiting Eastern Creek from Poarch helped the Proctor family to bring the Tvllvhasse grounds back up to strength, but the spirit of renewal and fellowship would be short lived as dissention and strife between the brothers of the (Old) Tvllvhasse ground led to a falling out among the Proctor family members, and unfortunate event made worse as the Eastern Creek group from Poarch was soon being caught up in the fighting.
To say that there was not an expectation building as year after year passed that the eastern Creek group would receive sacred ashes and sanction from the “mother town” to “daughter off” would not be true.
As the new millennium approached and the group had been working for years and still had not received sanction, a crossroad was reached; with the Proctor family and Tvllvhasse grounds breaking into factions, leadership began to wonder if they should not reach out to other options.
Though there has been an erosion of the offices and institutions of the Creek Ceremonial Ground tradition there are many parts of it that remain intact; In the past were strong medicine societies with initiated memberships, and though this is now mostly gone, the remains of it came to play a role in the return of the sacred ashes to the east.
David Lewis Jr, a preeminent Medicine Maker in Oklahoma was approached by the Poarch Stomp dancers to help bring the Ashes back up.
This knowledgeable elder who took the plunge in writing down the knowledge of our traditions and culture was said by many to be the last Medicine person from such a society still practicing. His “Creek Indian Medicine Ways” book was a first. Instrumental along with fellow Medicine Man Sam Proctor of Tvllvhasse grounds in his work to restore Creek traditions in Eastern communities, he is held in high regards by all who were present when he brought up the ashes of the Hvsossv Tvllvhasse ground in the Poarch Creek community, after nearly 180 years of its absence. Though controversial for his actions in documenting Creek spiritual practices in a book, he was one of the most respected and knowledgeable people around, and with his passing at the age of 81 in early 2015 the Creek community lost a true encyclopedia of tradition.
Born a full-blood Creek and for a good portion of his life a practicing medicine person, he tells of the medicine tradition of his family and community, a spiritual practice that has shaped his life in the Creek Indian Medicine Ways book he collaborated with Ann T Jordan. David grew up in the Henryetta Oklahoma area, and eventually moved away for boarding school, after which he served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. He later married the love of his life, his wife Lillie Mae Gipson, they becoming man and wife on March 2, 1957 in Las Vegas, Nevada. They remained happily married for 57 years and were special people to many across Creek Nation. In his book he gives us some perspectives about his life and work.
He tells us a lot of the details of his journey to being a medicine person in this groundbreaking work released in 2008. Lewis was born into a family of medicine people, from a well-respected lineage. In his work, he states that he was chosen at birth to carry on the medicine tradition of his family. This somewhat controversial book in the eyes of many conservative traditional people was said to reveal to much about the Old Ways. This book, co-written by academic Ann T. Jordan, a Euro-American anthropologist, is one that though thin contains many important insights, passages in which he shares his memories about his medicine training as a child and his eventual initiation as a medicine maker into the mysteries of the depths of the sacred ashes. He shares his memories of his father and grandmother, also respected medicine people who trained him in the secret practices of deep medicine and speaks of the challenges inherent in walking life’s path and practicing medicine in our times.
Angie “Ecoce” Fowler-Barrera at Corn Dance
In this book, one that was not without some controversy when released, the researcher documents the place of Lewis's medicine family in the written record of the Creek Nation, a record which though not extensive does shed some light on the evolution of the Creek Nation. Dave Lewis is the great grandson of Jackson Lewis, a legendary Creek Medicine Man who even today is remembered for his strong medicine and friendliness to those he met. It was he who was interviewed in 1910 by anthropologist John Swanton on countless aspects of traditional Creek culture, a record which is treasured by many Creek people today for its wealth of information about Creek life of a century ago. Jackson Lewis is mentioned many times in classic works on Muscogee Creek traditional medicine and culture, works that were published by the Bureau of American Ethnology in the 1920s and were authored by Swanton.
In the midst of the implosion by the members of Tvllvhasse, eventually the Poarch practice grounds reached out to David Lewis to help them secure the sacred ashes which are the continuation of the tradition and the symbolic sanctioning of legitimacy for traditional Creek stomp dancers.
On ??? 2001 David Lewis, now elderly an the last remaining “initiated” medicine Society Hillis Haya (Medicine Man) left, came to the Poarch Creek Reservation and “brought up” the ceremonial ashes, bringing to life again the sacred flames of the no longer practice Ceremonial Ground, now called Hvsossv Tvllvhasse.
A few of the older generation of Indians from Atmore, some the few full blood Indians still there, were glad to see the return of the Old Ways; to most enrolled Poarch Creek it was irrelevant as the continuing economic development efforts by the B.I.A. backed Poarch Band of Creek Indians tribal government was the main focus of their idea of “Indian-ness”.
Then mother ground itself in Oklahoma also saw changes as the once unifies Proctor family and Tvllvhasse Grounds split into two contesting parties, that of Cromwell Tvllvhasse and Wvkokaye Tvllvhasse.
David Proctor, one of Sam Proctor’s many sons, was Second Chief of the (Old) Tvllvhasse Ground and became the new Mekko of Wvkokaye Tvllvhasse after the breakup of the (Old) Tvllvhasse Ground which was established in the mid 1990’s on his mother’s lease land near Nuyaka, Oklahoma. Though few in Oklahoma would like to admit it, Wvkokaye and Hvsossv Tvllvhasse are both daughter towns of (Old) Tvllvhasse. Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse daughtered off from Hvsossv Tvllvhasse soon after it was established. Today there are many of the members from both Kvnfvske and Hvsossv Tvllvhasse who continue to go to Wvkokaye Tvllvhasse as well as many other grounds in Oklahoma; as the furthest flung members of this ancient family of Ceremonial Grounds we have a duty to maintain the ties between traditional people everywhere.
Chaudhuri stated in A Sacred Path that the persistence of Creek culture has long been an on-going struggle, especially in the place where the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse now is rooted.
“Since the coming of the Spaniards into Florida, the story of Creeks has been a story of survival on the run.”
As the only Corn Dance ground north of Lake Okeechobee in Ekvn-fvske, the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse ground and its people know this fact first hand. Most of our families survived the horrors of the century of Jim Crow segregation here in the south by being careful how we “went about”, and by becoming nearly invisible in our own land, which unlike the imposed governments continued to nourish us as families through the forests game, the rivers, fish, and earth’s corn crop.
With restoration of the Sacred Ashes to the Hvsossv Tvllvhasse grounds and the subsequent split into two separate grounds (Hvsossv “on-rez” on land granted to the members by the PBCI tribal government and one “off-rez” on land bought by the members many who are Poarch Creek), Helles-Haya Sam Procter traveled to Florida with Hotvle Haco to set up the practice ground and play ball. This practice ground would be named Kvnfvske by Helles-Haya Sam, who told the assembled families that one of his own elders had been taken to Indian Territory generations ago from the same area of Florida’s panhandle.
Our traditional culture shaped by our ancient laws or protocols, (vhakv-haya) are a pattern that is repeated across the generations from the ancient times down to our day. The root of our way of going about is Nature itself (mvhakvtontos) and its influence is there in the totality of all things, including our own human world. Epohfvnkv is universal and all things originate from this singular Source, though the manifestations of this energy are uncountable and as diverse as is the Creation. One elder years ago, used to say that the Sun is the face of the Creator. Our link to this Source, through the Sun and flowing from the Sacred Ashes, wherein Povfekcv, this fire of spirit grants renewal to us during Green Corn is important and elementary to the pattern of traditional Indian life. The patterns from the smallest to the largest are the guide from which our culture emerges. Old Mekko of Greenleaf once said that our counterclockwise motion around the Sacred Ashes is like that of many things in the natural world, and the Sun in its motion.
The four elemental forces, the assistants of Epohfvnkv that are foundational to our way of life; Fire (Poafekcv), Breath/Wind (Hesaketvmese), Water (Wewafullv), and the Earth (Ekvn-vcakv) all facilitate a balance, an equilibrium rooted in the beginning of life and present throughout. Though the manifestations of these four are many they are each their own domain. As Jean Hill Chaudhuri put it, there is a great unity.
“There is no disjunction between “I” and “Thou”, soul and spirit, Creator and created”
This unity springs from the Universal Source and yet is connected to each and everything.
“Epohfvnkv’s energy and therefore the vpoktv (or assistant) Hesaketvmese’s breath of life is in all.”
A single “thing”, and everything is ultimately composed of the same energy, and so though appearing separate and diverse, is at the root all one great whole. The interconnectivity is beyond comprehension in its vastness and subtlety and yet is functioning each moment everywhere all the time. This is the energy that is understood among some traditional people as Epohfvnkv. This same Source has countless names and descriptions in the multitude of cultures around this planet. The perspective shared is just one. From many traditional Creek peoples view none are wrong, none are right; these are all differing perspectives shaped overtime by the relationship of the community with the energies myriad manifestations. It is what it is, what differs is our posture towards it, the attitudes and beliefs that fuel the actions in regards to this Universal foundation.
While the modern world has worn away the outer reality of the old-time Creek culture, the interior is still active and vibrant within the minds and hearts of the Stompdancers. The mysterious side of creation is still present; Eco-mekko, Hvcko-capko, Este-capcake, and Este-lopvtske are rarer now but still stir the stillness of these ancient woods. Many who visit Moundville in Alabama for the frequent festivals and other activities that occur there say they have felt the presence of Este-capcake, the Tall Man who guards ancient holy places like these, a mysterious being who’s as known for his unique “scent” as he is for his height and frightening appearance. Many of have seen from the corner of our eye the Little People about their mischief. Ue-pucase, the Tie-snake can still can be seen stirring the watery depths for those foolish enough to look for him, though according to some stories it will be for the last time! The stories from our elders are important and passing them on to our young people is an important responsibility we bear. Not all of these stories are taken seriously by everyone, but some should be,
The struggles over the custody of the Hvsossv Tvllvhasse Sacred Ashes have led some to speak of the Nokosomv, the small, black mystical creature who oversees the grounds and that some say will make his appearance when the ceremonial ground Sacred Ashes is not well tended and the members are out of balance.
Dave Lewis Jr, the Medicine Maker who restored the Sacred Ashes to our people always stressed the import of the balance to our lives.
“by thinking in a positive way, not a negative way, everything (is) positive. We do take our Medicine regularly to keep ourselves strong. We do sweat…to keep ourselves mentally and physically clean and strong.”
This goodness, this positive attitude spirit to one’s self and others spoken of by Lewis isn’t new to our people. In the early 1770’s William Bartram, a Quaker and naturalist travelled extensively among the Creek people of the Old Creek Nation, in what is now Alabama and Georgia, and he was struck by the genuineness and kindness of our people, the “smile and a handshake” of our elders talks..
“I know that a Creek Indian would not only receive in his house a Traveler or Sojourner of whatever Nation, color, or Language…and here treat him as a Brother…as long as he pleases to stay, and this without the least hope or thought of interest or reward, but serves you with the best of everything his ability can afford.”
An elder once said that the Traditional Creeks are a people rooted in “place”, and all have deep roots in the land. Unlike many Native American nations, our culture is not worn so visibly on our sleeves. We possess no great feathered war bonnets, beaded moccasins, buckskin dresses and ghost shirts. “Stomp dancers are rugged lot” said one elder years ago, and he was right. His words linger even as he has walked on. Stompdancers are unique. We do not use the stereotypical Indian accouterments often seen on television, in movies or written about in countless volumes of questionable accuracy or repute. Our ceremonies, camps, and homes are welcoming. Our arbors and sweat lodges and cook chickees host all sizes and colors of friends. Our friends might say of us that they don’t fit “outsiders’ ideas of what American Indian culture is and have been a fiercely independent people for many years. One of our great Spokesmen, Vine Deloria Jr. did a lot to help people who were not Native American to understand our views.
“The real interest of the old Indians was not to discover the abstract structure of physical reality but rather to find the proper road along which, for the duration of a person’s life, individuals were sup-posed to walk. This colorful image of the road suggests that the universe is a moral universe. That is to say, there is a proper way [or “there are proper ways”] to live in the universe: There is content to every action, behavior, and belief. The sum total of our life experiences has a reality. There is a direction to the universe, empirically exemplified in the physical growth cycles of childhood, youth, and old age, with the corresponding responsibility of every entity to enjoy life, fulfill itself, and increase in wisdom and the spiritual development of personality. Nothing has incidental meaning and there are no coincidences. . . . In the moral universe all activities, events, and entities are related, and consequently it does not matter what kind of existence an entity enjoys, for the responsibility is always there for it to participate in the continuing creation of reality.”
They might say of us that their visible culture is simple but not antiquated. Nowadays, we make use of the modern materials readily available (like milk cans for shakers). We use them in expressions evolved from ancient forms. Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse has ancient foundations that still flourish. Its culture adapted, survived and continues to do so today. If you encountered a Creek ceremonial and observed it quietly from afar, what might you see? It would probably be--a ragged folk reeking of strong coffee, wood smoke and sweat, with exhaustion etched on every face. Or, you could see something entirely different if you were able to observe with your heart and not your intellect—if you could see the centuries of cultural beliefs, philosophy and daily life practices embedded within each and every visible action. If you watched their Ribbon Dance from afar as an outsider, you would only see ancient women, middle-aged matrons and young girls, don ribbon-laden granny styled dresses and tromp around in a circle sixteen times. Occasionally, some might jump up and down. Sound silly? It could certainly appear so. For the poorly informed, that is about all they would see. Those who know southeastern culture experience something different, something magical. Appearances are deceiving, as you will soon discover. As looks go, The traditional Creeks are a plain people and somewhat proud of it. However, they do have a spiritually rich but quiet way of life. Their culture's beauty and dignity is worn inside, privately. Outside ornamentation is left to those who place a higher value on such things.
The writings contained in this volume represent only one collective model of thoughts, beliefs and traditional explanations Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse grounds have of themselves, their history, social and political structure, cosmos and unique way of life. These articles represent not just the views of one, but one collective view of many, and many have contributed to this collection presented here. Truthfully, these words are weighted more to the cultural ideal--how things should be, than to the actual. These writings express goals, teachings and desired achievements for which the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse people strive, struggle and occasionally reach. These articles will share their Elders’ ways, that is, the understandings of lessons intuitively felt, personally known or learned long and hard through and with perseverance. It is said things spiritual change and endure through time. All others change and fade with time.
An internalized spiritual life is not subject to the destructive disintegration all things external must suffer in physical form. Ceremonial dance steps aren’t executed with exact precision or their dress sewn with perfect seams. Nor, is their singing equal to those Oklahoma grounds with hundreds of participants—not even close! However, they are firmly anchored in their past yet modern without being too materialistic. As they quote, “We are children of the past, who live in the present and are co-authors of our future.” Born out of the struggles of the last 40 years to reconnect with other southeastern communities and to restore our ceremonials and tribal communities since the end of segregation, but our Corn Dance cycle is as old as people in the southeast.
The survival and fate of the ceremonial traditions of the Eastern Creeks is intimately tied to the struggle by the Indian people everywhere to have self-determination and create political options that are viable for future generations. From all corners of the south the descendants of the Creek Nation of old and their friends have found a renewed interest in learning and preserving the ceremonial traditions.
Mekko Locv Haco leading at an indoor dance in Blountstown FL 2006
“Everything inside the square has a meaning which has been passed on”
said David Proctor the Mekko of The Wvkokaye Tvllvhasse ground, the sister of Hvsossv Tvllvhasse ground. Looking ahead he said in a 2010 newspaper article,
“I tell people that as long as we don’t try to change anything for convenience, we’re going to be here forever.”
The younger generation has a great challenge not only in preserving our Stompground traditions, but in understanding its many and deep lessons.
“We’ve learnt enough where we’re mimicking what we’ve seen without having knowledge of the real reason why we’re doing it,”
Mekko David Proctor once said, and this insight has led the Kvnfvske people to begin recording the perspectives of elders while we can. Most Creek people still don’t know much about the ways of their ancestors, even 30 years after federal recognition of the Poarch Creeks by the American government.
In 2009 an incident occurred that highlights the loss of understanding of many Eastern Creeks of our own Creek traditions, even as some in the community struggle to pass on the true traditions of the Ceremonial Ground and Creek ways. As an example of many episodes of Eastern Creek accepting roles not rooted in our own culture, the Birmingham News reported that a “Creek medicine man lifts "curse" from Talladega Superspeedway”; the article goes on to say that the Speedways handlers “brought in Robert Thrower, a medicine man from the Poarch Creek band who lives in Atmore. Thrower, who is also an ordained Southern Baptist minister, performed a ceremony at the start-finish line at the speedway to "restore balance" to the land.”
Tahme Fekseco 2014
POWER THE LIFE FORCE
"Power, best expressed and understood through ceremony and ritual, is geographically specific… watch water, winds and smoke... Povfekcv always moves in a circle!" said an elder many years past. With the risk of being technical we should speak on the subject at the heart of the ceremonies we preserve. In nature, the spiral is the verb of Power. Native American cosmology and worldviews often confuse those raised in other traditions, especially if their traditions hold erroneous or stereotypical views about Native Americans. For generations, countless statements about Native American concepts have been offered up to the public or put forth in print and declared to be the heart of things Indian. Seldom have such statements approached accuracy simply because no one statement fits all—neither regions, nations or individuals. This is not to say that common threads do not exist, they do. However, a few threads do not make the whole garment of a culture or a belief system. Nevertheless, one thread or idea with wide play throughout the Americas is that of Power. If one statement could be declared basal, it would concern ideas of Power. This is particularly true for the people of Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse. For us, Power and ideas about Power are the heart of the Muscogee lifeway. Expressions of Power and all the associated ideas must be understood to comprehend Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse grounds uniqueness; this is no easy task to consider Power and its presence. To facilitate this difficult task and to state briefly what is purported to be so, let us momentarily engage in the very thing Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse and other Native American communities’ rail against, namely, judgmental statements and unintentional half-truths. Vague generalities based on accurate statements widely held but inappropriately applied out of context will serve as our example.
The four values at the root of traditional Mvskoke culture are to love, to be humble, have a caring attitude, and to take care of yourself.
We define Power using Native American perspectives and examples. Lastly, an understanding of Power, its function and application in the life of the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse community will be discussed. To set forth a clearer understanding of Power, its aspects and role accepted by surviving southeastern ceremonial communities in Alabama, Florida, and Oklahoma is no easy thing to do. It is neither our desire nor within our abilities to decide who knows more, what tribal traditions, Native Americans or others. Native Americans, by some of our distractors yesterday and today, are characterized as savages, child-like primitives’ incapable of thought who lived their lives by instinct, some practical knowledge, and silly superstitions prior to European contact. This is an absurd image. Traditions and teachings of Native Americans developed over several thousand years of careful minute attention to every aspect and detail of the natural world around and inward world within. In fact, new worldviews continue to unfold and develop even now.
All cultures continue to develop, stagnate, grow or regress. Readjustment is natural. Cultures and organisms, life at all levels, follow similar patterns. Forebears of Native Americans are the equal of philosophers and saints of European, Asian or other traditions, in subtlety, profundity and wholeness of thought. The primitive-civilized distinction takes too much for granted; it cannot serve as a framework for exploration of profound differences or similarities between Native American and other people's thought. One could argue strongly that there is no such thing as European thought. Examples offered may include John Hus, a Czech, and a priest named Martin Luther or kings and peasants. Even a brief study would discover great diversity in European experience over countless generations, many extolled, many not. Eventually, it would be decided certain subtleties and characteristics do allow one to name something as being European and not Asian, African or of some other cultural or regional designation. Precisely our point; Native Americans possess great diversity, too.
Diversity nearly made extinct in the minds of non-Native Americans by too many movies, novels and erroneous folklore. Early Europeans were unable to grasp the diversity of Native American cultures. These diverse Native American cultures cannot be summarized in a few pages just as one cannot summarize 2000 years of European culture in a few pages either. The European mind arrived on these shores with its own preset categories: religion, science, philosophy, ceremony, ritual, customs, kinship, government and the like; each was distinguished from the other. Although these cultural slots were all interactive to some extent, they were not an integrated whole. More often than not, they reacted to each other rather than with each other. This was incomprehensible to Native Americans. Europeans seemed unable to grasp all-pervasive Power, a concept intimate with most Native Americans. Europeans deified and divided Power, which was distributed only to those who selected conformity. Divisions such as animate or inanimate, life or death, moral or immoral, royal or common, sacred or profane had a narrow focus in the European mind, a focus so narrow that Europeans were only able to recognize a limited range of "Beings"--namely people and angels. In fact, many Europeans did not accept Native Americans as human beings! Europeans did not recognize natural balance and harmony.
They divided everything and believed themselves divinely ordained to overthrow nature. At the heart of the Muscogee Way and most Native American societies, is an acknowledgement and acceptance of an indivisible all-pervasive Power. Native American divisions were anything but narrow and rigid. One inevitably finds the necessary mechanisms for escaping even these broad interactive categories best describe as fluidic. In Europe, individual freedom was limited; community frequently curtailed it. Native American personal freedom enjoyed support within the context of community. In Europe, Power was a distant abstraction individually deified. Native American Power was simultaneously more than a distant abstraction. It was both integral and could be experienced personally although Power, itself, is held to be impersonal. Though failures occurred, Native American societies strove to live in a harmonious balance integral with a universe filled with countless interacting "beings"--humans, pine trees, golden silk spiders, earthworms, ethereal, brown bears, rocks, foxes, and blue jays, that is, all things having form, substance, purpose and place.
Mekko Locv Haco with his daughter and grand daughter
As some would call it, things possessing "Will" or "Life" are alive. An eight-year-old Creek boy once stated out loud that rocks have a mighty powerful "will" because they stay still so long. "Will" or "Life," it is also called "Power," from French "pouvoir," "to be able" is called Povfekcv by the traditional people. To have Power is to be able, to be capable, to live and will. Power is the enabler of all things. Power's source, viewed symbolically, is the ordered Upper or Higher World and the disordered Lower World, worlds of energy, spirit but not physical matter. Power is without limit, form or individualizing characteristics. Power is the activator and enabling force of our solid Middle World. Humans exist in this Middle World sandwiched between Power's opposing natures--orderly and chaotic. Humans influence and are influenced by the flow or movement of Power, the [original] energy, animator or pure source--the deepest spiritual expression of Power. Another expression for Power is Innate Wisdom, that is, incorruptible thought, similar to genetic memory. Native America regards Power as sacred--sacredness itself. In addition, Native Americans have all seemed to regard Power as being a constant and always being in motion when it is active. Power is said by some to be bound up in a constant duality—cosmos and chaos, active and potential, or balance and imbalance. It is no accident that the plane of human existence is called The Middle World. To the people of Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse, Power is with and in all things. It is either potential or active but not simultaneously both.
A particular being may or may not manifest or make full use of Power. An animal may possess only normal Power, its life, strength and instincts. Or, it may exhibit extraordinary measures of Power that sets it apart from others of its species. Native Americans consider things so set apart sacred. Sacred because they are dedicated and devoted to a singular purpose or use and therefore worthy of respect, reverence and veneration. A tree, a rock, a mountain are all actively or potentially Powerful. Thus, they are actively or potentially sacred. All things derive their being from within the sacred source, all of them--everything in what is now called "environment"--must be respected. They are each wise in ways, which we have yet to understand. Power is impersonal. That is the most important but difficult thread to understand. Power is without judgment but conscious. Humans can personalize power. Each woman and man can turn his or her heart toward the Source and be intimate with it. Humans create this intimacy; Power does not. Power is equal towards all things.
Power personified flows forth and is called Epohfvnkv, Creator in one context, or Povfekcv in others. It has many forms and many names. It can be perceived but has no personal perception beyond a consciousness of self-awareness and the will to exist. The human role is to seek out and support balance and harmony in all things. We, as any “being," may serve as vessels for portions or all of sustaining Power. Power defines Wisdom through natural law. Human life, inseparably interwoven with all other beings, is only one member of the whole community, all beings in the universe that is, itself, regarded as one whole body. As members of this whole body, humanity practices its religious rituals--events that direct or explain the flow of Power. Rituals prepare humanity for Power's inflow. Ritual allows humans to both perceive and receive Power from its source. What many call prayer can be seen as an imploration for Power, from a sacred, if not central, source, that sustains all beings. Ceremony and ritual provide humans and all beings with patterns. By such patterns they are capable of acquiring and using Power to influence or regenerate parts of the universe. A human community may, by its rituals, ask that sacred Power flow into it and bring it new life.
Another function of ceremonies is “spiritual housekeeping”. Power flows through openings or cosmic portals such as a Squareground or particular person. Such sacred or set apart places or people must be maintained in proper order, be free of physical or spiritual clutter and provisioned with those things needed to host Power. Ceremonies or rituals mark the boundaries and flow of Power and its activities. Rituals do not define Power or life as some assume but help define and establish effective rules for the use of Power. Holding this Power-based view of reality makes it natural that ceremony or ritual precedes the in filling, absorption, of Power. Many bird and animal beings observe courtship rituals prior to the coming of new life. Some view human intercourse as sacred ritual that opens the way for Power to flow and do the work of generating life. As such, it is not to be regarded lightly. Difficulties arise in trying to explain that this same Power, this sacredness which can dwell lovingly in the heart of an individual, is the same Power that may be misused by those whose hearts are impure--tuned to selfish means which can produce disharmony. Such Power is no longer sacred, no longer life giving. It has become perverted, destructive and life depriving. Women and men must strive always to keep their relations with all other beings in respectful balance. Morality is a relative degree of the beneficial use or corruption of Power. Thus, morality is a human responsibility because humans can use power.
Its provenance is not the impersonal Epohfvnkv, the Creator and Source. "Acquired, Ascribed or Using Power" are just ways of saying life (Ascribed or Innate Power) is sacred and in motion--Active Power in use. Flowing of sacred Power (motion, use) is the basic Native American value from which originates customs and moral intuitions. The aged are thought to be knowledgeable, wise and Powerful. Consequently they are treated with respect. Their longevity provides ample opportunity for exposure to, and absorption of, Power. Wisdom is born of experience. Virtues of honesty, (self) restraint, industriousness, etc., are not only necessary for proper use of Power but result from it. Such characteristics are necessary if one walks a sacred path such as Nene Mvskoke, the Muscogee Road. During times of life-crisis, such as birth, illness or even menstruation, Power, or its strength and effects, may be deceptive and thus dangerous. It may be too strong for some to endure, and thus, equally dangerous. At times like these, communities and individuals practice certain rituals to prevent harm, that is, they call forth rules of understanding and perceiving Power.
Persons who are receivers of Power must act in a manner proper to Power. They must abide by certain time-hallowed and effectively proven mechanics to insure the sacred is not perverted or accidentally turned to destructive ends. The Native American woman, as do all women, has proof-positive that she has become Power filled. The women of Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse separate themselves at times of menstruation to protect those around them whom they love. Women, at this time, are Power-laden. They are simply filled to overflowing with an infusion of Power--not unclean in any manner. Running 220 volts of electricity through 110volt wires will cause a power overload and an eventual meltdown. Modern Native Americans often use electricity as a micro-example of Power. Electricity is neither good nor bad. Only uses to which it is put produce good or destruction. Ceremony and ritual is to Power as wiring is to electricity. Improperly wired homes are doomed to destruction, immediate or eventual.
Following this logic, one can see correlations between trained electricians and trained ceremonial leadership. Remember, Power is, itself, non-judgmental and impersonal. Power neither rewards nor punishes. Power does not purposefully change human condition. Some may say Power is non-directive or non-specific. It is the human misdirection or misuses of Power's partnership that wrought destruction and harm. Power does not will it. Any Concept of Power explained through Anglo-European philosophies using inductive and deductive logic will suffer a great injustice. Power, as the concept, is best described as being Omni-radial, fluidic and trans-immanent throughout the cosmos. Conversely, human-derived symbols representing conceptual understandings of Power are created using intuitive logic.
Humans are only one part of the vast “Body of the Universe”, dependent on other parts. They are not, themselves, the center of a World. The people of Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse recognize that their actions will affect other humans and all other things or beings--the animal nations, the plant nations and all sister and brother nations of every kind and species. Humans must not offend natural order, the innate Wisdom of Power. Restraint and respect are doors to joy and profundity of life. Humans are largely the authors of their own reward or punishment. Innate Wisdom or natural law may open a fault line, erupt a volcano or brew a storm; but that is another matter altogether--physical imperfection as a byproduct of Power's duality in fluctuation.
In summary, there are many important characteristics of Power: It is all encompassing, all-pervasive and permeates equally throughout the known universe, all its parts and even beyond. Power reacts toward, around, within and through all things equally in a level, unemotional manner characterized by steadiness. Power is self-preserving yet impersonal. It is without judgment, anger, forethought or partiality in any way except that which is expressed in the natural order of things, such as the selectivity of the strong over the weak or intellect over dumb muscle or brute force. Power is impersonal because of inherent equality. Inequality is found only in the user. Some say "Power reacts (to human activity), it never acts. This may be so. Take note that positive or negative effects result from a thing or being interacting with Power. It is not Power that determines if effects of that interaction will result positively or negatively. It is the innate characteristic of the thing or being reacted to that decides a positive or negative outcome. Humans are the only creatures who are aware of their own innate character and who have the knowledge or ability to alter their innate characteristics.
To we Native Americans, innate character is central to all interactions with all things, especially Power. Impure containers contaminate. One use of ceremony and ritual is to alter innate character. It translates organized knowledge, needs, Power, knowledge about Power and the unknown into symbols. The symbols are then arranged according to the purpose at hand. Medicine people organize an appropriate and meaningful set of behavioral activities expressed through ceremony and ritual to free "Power" from the paradigm of symbols. Like Power, symbols expressing Power remain constant. Their meanings are position-specific and ever changing as understandings of the grammar of Power changes. The Kerrv, Hopoyv, and Medicine Maker’s role is more than a Translator of Power. Medicine people are also the Authors of that language--they help us alter our understandings and ourselves in unimaginable ways.
They are gatekeepers to a larger view. Some say this Power is Epohfvnkv, symbolically called the Master of Breath, Creator, Ruler and Source by some in English. Others say that Power is not the Creator but merely an outflow from Creator who is beyond comprehension but not acceptance. There are also those who just say...Power is! Regardless of which view is held, Power is paramount to the people of Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse. Power is the heart of things Muscogee. Many symbolic representations of Power, such as the Sacred Fire, the Sun, Mother Earth, and others, are discussed throughout this work. In the ancient aboriginal past, throughout the present and even for the future, Power fueled and fuels human capability. All humans, as beings with choice and a defining memory, use or misuse Power at all times. Humans have "Ascribed Power," such as life from birth and certain innate abilities. From that, we make ourselves into what we are through "Using Power," that is, "Achieved Power." In the Muscogee World, the ceremonial life around the Sacred Fire focuses this partnership and enlightens the symbols. This understanding is the foundation of Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse tribal town beliefs, ceremonials, cosmology and philosophy; it is the source of life—our source of life.
People of the Eastern Creek tribal towns have a difficult road to travel. One side is modern America. On the other, ways brought down from the elders. Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse preserves old teachings--immense respect for life and the profound relationship of all things. The people mold these into a perspective that allows them to survive in today's world. Who can ignore televisions, automobiles, threats of global holocaust or computer regulated reality? Not everything ancient is accepted because Elders said and did things in certain ways. Ancient Elders' understandings were often imperfect, or more suited to their time and place. Consequently, some ancient practices die out; they are no longer needed or appropriate. Not everything modern is accepted either just because other people accept it. At times, this lesson has been difficult, but Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse people have learned to pick and utilize what serves them, not what they must serve. Gently, they tread the road that divides two worlds, ancient and modern.
Ceremonies serve as guides and interpreters--road maps of life. They mark boundaries of existence and experience and provide models for interactions with each other and the outside world. Ceremonies meet many different needs. They change--not day to day or year to year, but over the flow of years, as needs, thoughts or understandings of participants change and grow. Ceremony is a living entity, a being with its own ways. Like any living thing, it is capable of growth, change, decay and even death. Ceremonies, as living beings, must travel the Fourfold Path of Life as do all living things: Infancy, Youth, Maturity and Old Age. Collectively, the entire year is treated as a larger ceremony. Years are divided into two parts--Summer and Winter, called working and resting seasons. In Summer are the awake ceremonies; in Winter are the sleeping or resting ceremonies. Summer gatherings are community oriented and therefore public. They take place at Squaregrounds which are often just called the Square. The Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse Square is a large circular clearing surrounded by the camps of the people.
It is centered around the Sacred Ashes; four brush covered arbors mark the cardinal directions. The "Ball Play" is just to the west of the Square. In addition to the public summer ceremonies, there are private ceremonies that belong to or are practiced by individuals, clans or families; they take place as needed with only appropriate participants attending. Summer gatherings consist of four major ceremonies interspersed with minor social and workday gatherings. All major ceremonies take place at the Squareground and are centered on the Sacred Fire believed to represent both the heart of our existence and a living portal to the Source, Epohfvnkv. This fire, the earthly symbolic embodiment of Epohfvnkv, is the true host at a Square. Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse yearly schedule of Corn Dance ceremonies mark and reflect life's four stages as they are experienced by all living things: an individual, a community, the Sacred Fire and even the Earth. Therefore, in Muscogee logic, the ceremonial year has its beginning with the Sacred Fire's new birth annually at the Green Corn Dance. All summer ceremonies follow the same general structure with minor variations in form based on particular seasonal needs or emphasis deemed appropriate by the ceremonial leadership. The following brief discussion applies to summer ceremonies, with specific insights into individual gatherings.
Ceremonies now last about three to four days each for most of the community. Individuals with specific ceremonial functions are required to fast and undergo other private preparations for a period of four to twenty days before approaching the Square. Ceremonies are often held over the weekend to accommodate those who must travel far to attend nowadays. Originally, ceremonies occurred at the actual time of the New Moon. With all ceremonies, Thursday and Friday are gathering days. Family camps are set up, foods prepared, ball games held, ceremonial objects readied and friendships renewed with those who have come from afar. Gradually, people make the awesome transition from everyday life to the time-frame of a Squareground where time moves much as it did hundreds of years past according to elders. Anthropologists who have visited Creek grounds and are familiar with literature about ancient times and practices always note a different type of time. Participants consider any time spent at a square as sacred time. This time moves differently than modern time in everyday life. Its movement is not linear but cyclical.
At all ceremonies, a major event is the fast. The community grows together by fasting in unison. The individual is disciplined into re-acquainting with her or his inner self by fasting--one fasts to conquer body and mind. People dance. Several dances, danced several ways, provide endless variety. Footsteps dance downward into Mother Earth in unison; the community of believers moves as one body nursing at Mother Earth's breast. Individual showy stuff of pow wows is unwelcome behavior among these traditional people who seek oneness with Earth, not escape from it. All touch "Medicine" made from herbal plants given by Earth. People feel that if the Earth is made from Epohfvnkv, source of all things, then within Earth are things special to Epohfvnkv. These special things with their preventive and healing properties are contained in "Medicine." It is one's own physician-philosopher on call internally to maintain one's spiritual, mental and physical health!
Fasting, stomp dancing, and touching "Medicine" is followed by being ceremonially "scratched." This act of reciprocity to Mother Earth, a small portion of one’s own body which she has nourished each day of our life, is but a small gesture of our appreciation. The people hold that their blood is the only valuable thing they own; they freely give it. Scratching, held to be beneficial, purifies the body and strengthens the people. It promotes endurance and general health--it is always considered a "preventive" measure rather than a "curative" act. Most of all, it is communion with Mother Earth, Epohfvnkv and the community, a recognition of all they share. Many Women note drops of blood always precede or accompany the inflow of Sacred Power. For men, could this ceremonial scratching with gar teeth or other needle-like implements be a form of communal male menses? Does shed blood signal purification? Are men now able to receive an infilling of Sacred Power--such life-giving or sustaining Power as Women possess? Some think so. (When ceremonial leaders or a group of men step inside the circular shell ring marking the boundaries of the Squareground, their female nature surfaces, a transformation of sorts.) Before and after scratching, Medicines are taken which cleanse both actually and symbolically. Through these actions all are purified, cleansed, and brought together in unity and oneness, that is, wholeness with Creator, the Source. With all now capable with Power, all may now safely peer through the "portal." In culmination, the community feasts, a great feast of Earth fruits. In thanksgiving for all that is and will be, the feast is first shared in portion with the Sacred Fire, center of all these activities and visible heart of the community.
Prior to breaking the fast, there is a strict separation between the sexes. As Epohfvnkv is to Earth, so Women are to the square, a model of earth; males represent creation. Women are Co-Creators with Epohfvnkv, Source of nourishment. Through their ceremonial camp-keeping and cooking activities, Women do for men and children as Epohfvnkv does for all things. Squareground activities mirror Sacred Cosmic Order. Women also protect men by their separation. Uncleanliness is not implied but only a danger for men incapable of a brush with Creative Power as it flows through Women. The year begins by igniting a New Fire at Green Corn. The Old Fire is allowed to expire, that is, enter the sleep that follows life, on the ceremony eve. Into the old Fire is placed all that hurts and plagues them from the past year. They must attend the building of the New Fire with a clean heart, a clean mind, a cleansed body and a pure spirit.
This Fire is an infant; it must be cared for as such. The people are the parents of the infant Fire and must tend and feed it carefully, lovingly. The behavior of community members present toward the new Green Corn Fire sets the tone of its character for the year to come. As parents, they can raise a good child or a bad one. As keepers of the tradition the whole community in large part authors its own future and determines the quality of its relationship with Epohfvnkv and Power. Strengthened or weakened, the people are responsible: they make their own future.
Green Corn is associated with renewal. Green Corn is where learning begins. Its emphasis is on the individual setting all things right in one's life. The date for Green Corn is the New Moon when the milk is in the first corn ripening on the stalks. Some Squares set their ceremonial date to fall on the Full Moon. Following Green Corn by two new Moons is Little Green Corn, recently called the Cold Corn Dance. The Fire is now older. It is full of exuberance, strong and playful, like all things are in their youth. At this stage, the Fire does not require as much attention as it did in its infancy, but it seems to require more wood. In this growing stage, like all youth, the Fire requires much nourishment. Yet, it is also old enough and strong enough to return companionship, albeit sometimes playful. All refer to this Fire as brother or sister and consider each other as equals. Little Green Corn is the "coming together" of community in harmony and the growing of things together. It is associated primarily with the South and is often like an organized community carnival, a time to visit the Fire, to sit reverently at it, to learn, work, study, and play together. Each individual set things right at Green Corn. Now, dynamics are group oriented.
Late in the ceremonial year the matured Fire is strong and wise. Now considered our guardian parent, it cares for us. At this Fire all pay great attention to formal detail. This part of the yearly cycle is associated with the West which governs aspects of communal spirituality, reverence, holiness and life's end. It is a time of prophecy. Long periods of silence and inward quietness are required in order to hear its voice. The Fire's prophecy can be given individually to one ready to receive it. It may also be given formally through those associated with the West Arbor. Some years, public prophecy is not given. This is a time of preparation for winter, both internally and externally. Maturity is the most fruitful time in one's life. After winter’s long quietness, the people eagerly gather for Stickball, Squirrel Soup’s new start, and the First Dance which occurs in early spring. The dances held before Green Corn is the ending of the year for our fire. The spring months Fire is now considered to be an Elder, a grandmother or grandfather to the community. It is wise but very weak due to its age and for having borne the collective burdens of the people through the long winter.
All have an obligation to tend this Fire carefully. Old age is a sort of second infancy. It must be treated tenderly. Dry, easy-to-burn wood is fed to the Elder Fire. It mustn't expend too much energy or work too hard. The dances of the early year are considered the Fire has earned love and gained experience. This Elder deserves gentleness, quietness and respect--it has much to teach and we much to learn. Berry is a time of gardens and preparation. If planting has not already been done, it is accomplished now. Even though first dance is near the end of the year, seeds are already being planted to pave the way for next year's crop, both internally and externally. Ceremonial life is a circle, too. Seed transcends the seasons; clan and family overlap the generations of life. In this way, People of Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse Tribal Towns experience the whole cycle of life in the ceremonial year. Birth, growth, maturity, death--all is experienced. These overlap in such a fashion that one is taught that balance and harmony exists throughout the cosmos. An internal balance and harmony reflected through the seasons by the ceremonial round is learned, too. It is the Nene Mvskoke, the Muscogee Way, the Sacred White Path of Peace.
THE RIBBON DANCE: THE FEMININE POWER
The people of all Ceremonial Grounds regard women, the matriarchal tradition, and their Ceremonial Dance as one of the most important cultural elements of the community. In modern times, observers have reserved the English title "Ribbon Dance" for the women's main part in the Corn Dance. Corn Dances celebrate the renewal of life through public thanksgiving and fasting. A ceremony of spiritual cleansing, improvement and uplift, it remains today the most important event of many tribal towns. Through the Corn Dance, balance and order is re-established, renewed and affirmed for the individual and the community. The word sometimes used in English for this most important of ceremonies is “Busk”, and comes from Pusketv which in Muscogee means "a fast" or "to fast." The Ribbon Dance is called Hoktvke-Pvnkv, Woman's Dance or Hvse-Pvnkv, the Sun's Dance". By some, it is called Etske-Pvnkv, Mother's Dance or Hvketv-pvnkv.
Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse like most Creek grounds accords women a unique status that belies the comments of earlier observers concerning the "servitude" position attributed to native women. In contemporary times and earlier, such a low station has never been the norm for our Hoktvke (women). Once, the Creek even had women warriors who bested the Spaniards during their tour of the southeast long ago. It is our belief Woman was created first, then children and man last. First Woman arose from the union of Life and Earth, that is, from a bonding of the Spirit and Material. To citizens of traditional tribal towns, First Woman and all her female descendants (along with females of all species) stand closest to Epohfvnkv, the Creator and Source, as Co-Creators of life. They are a continuum; they form an unbroken chain from Epohfvnkv to us today. They are both the physical and spiritual conduit of Life.
The balance of the male and female energies is woven throughout the Creek culture; it permeates all aspects of the Mvskoke mind and heart. This balance is not a given though but is a goal to be strived for in the way we go about as an individual and as a tribal town. It is to be tended to not only while at the ceremonial ground but in our homes and interactions with other nations as well.
Women, as Co-Creators or Life-Carriers, are Power-laden by Nature. They periodically withdraw during menses in order to exercise control, protection or restraint of their life-giving Power marked by menses. There is no feeling that they are dirty, unclean or polluted. Contamination is a misinterpretation by early observers unable to understand the concept of "too much Power" or beliefs that such Power might neutralize sacred objects by being too strong for an object's ability to contain it or for the user to control it. Men must be careful and not be exposed to more Power than they can handle; Woman protects Man! Menstruation is regarded as a periodic cleansing, renewing and strengthening, not only of woman, but all her male kin as well. At this time, there is a potential "in-flowing" of Power and strength; Creator is fully with her--Great is her responsibility, greater her obligation. During Corn Dances, ritual is geared to need and not to some artificial time frame. Women, circling the Fire mound in the Town Square, draw the old year to a close. Their circling line cuts off the outside world and move the celebrants into an inward spiritual state. Their Dance joins the physical and spiritual planes. Through women, Ceremonial Grounds are cleansed and participants made ready for the reception of the New Year and New Fire, a renewal of Power. For Creek people any New Year, new birth or renewal must begin with the women. Because women could create life, it was they who decided a prisoner's fate, too.
Social dances, renewing of friendships, visiting and preparation for Fast Day on the morrow fill evening's remainder. Rest and sleep follow with an early rising mandated. Work begins immediately with sunrise. After preparing the Grounds for the forthcoming fast and celebration, ceremonial elements and their accompanying dances begin in earnest. The sounding of a conch shell trumpet from the Square both announces and initiates sacred happenings now beginning, a sound welcome to the ears of the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse people. Many Creek churches also retain the use of a shell horn to call their services to order. A low shell impregnated earthen ridge surrounds the Ceremonial Ground proper to demarcate the sacred from the common, at a few grounds. Some older rural churches in Creek country also exhibit a similar boundary created from sweepings of frequent yard cleanings.
The order of the Woman's Ribbon Dance varies from town to town. In some, it occurs as the only activity late in the first day, usually Friday, followed by the men's Feather Dance, Tafv-pvnkv, on the next day. The Feather Dance occurs later the same day at some Squares. Several Grounds have incomplete cycles where the Ribbon Dance, Feather Dance or other major features are missing or only occur occasionally. It varies Corn Dance to Corn Dance but at each Green Corn Dance, Ribbon Dance must precede the kindling of the New Fire, which Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse maintains for the whole year. Woman's life-giving and nourishing Power, circling the empty Fire Mound, is necessary to cleanse and purify the Grounds and make them ready to sustain the birth of the new sacred fire which is regarded as Epohfvnkv’s visible presence and abode in our midst.
As time nears for the Woman's Dance, older men (who are quite anxious by now) send two young Tvkpala out from the Mekko’s Arbor, bearing tall feathered wands of cane called Koha-hvtke, Koha-tafv or Koh-tafv, 17 to call the women for their Dance. The First Call, as it is known, is totally ignored by the women, who continue with their own tasks of the moment. A short while later, these same men again move through the camps with wands in hand to give a Second Call to the women. Once again, they are ignored. In fact, at this point many of the women pretend to act annoyed while others merely turn their backs and giggle quietly. Some women do leave their camp tasks or other activities and begin unpacking their dresses and hang them up for all to see. Soon, men complete their preparations for this part of the Corn Dance. Tension and anxiety may be felt throughout all hvpo, the camps, in anticipation. Two Tvkpala course the boundaries a third time with the feathered canes. This time, they are careful to encircle the entire Ground, Ball Post and all campsites.
At this Third Call, women often act agitated and occasionally shout at the camp criers. They've been known to chase them from campsites or threaten to hurl nearby objects at them, in mock seriousness. However, immediately after the third pass, women drop whatever they are doing and hurry to dress. Each woman hurries to be the first ready; this brings luck to her family. No woman dares dress before Third Call for fear of being regarded most unpleasantly. The thought of being last to dress is equally disconcerting, although no one seems to know why. Each woman, therefore, helps the other. No one announces "I'm ready!" until each dancer is ready. When fully attired, women sometimes respond in unison, "I am ready!" No woman was last. All were prepared at the same time. Now, each household, through the women, shares luck for the New Year. This is typical of the way things should be done at Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse; unfortunately not all things work as such.
Men are careful not to send the Fourth Call until sure that all participants are ready. As the last Call rolls loudly through the ground and camps, dancers quickly tie on shakers, leg rattles that sound crisp as feet meet Earth in the rhythm of the Dance. This last act of readiness [attaching Shakers] produces cascades of Ribbon and a sudden quietness throughout the camps. Only two sounds are noticeable: one, the sharp report of the Shakers and the murmur of the people across the Squareground. Men quickly take their seats according to their position, rank or appointment. Not only do women dress for this Dance, but men are required to don their finest traditional shirts and sashes as well. Men must also rise and stand respectfully to honor all women in the Ribbon Dance as the file of Dancers passes their Arbor. Visitors are asked to accord the same respect from their appointed places. Loose animals are tied. What is a Native American camp without dogs underfoot? Disregard or interruption of this Dance by anyone, Native American or visitor, results in swift punishment or a heavy fine. Rude or unpleasant people are asked to leave or, are forcibly escorted from the grounds. A sacred moment approaches!
Among true devotees, the sight of free flowing Ribbons causes a sudden change from hustling mundane activities to a deep reverential quietness of hushed expectation. Symbolically, Ribbons preserve strong cultural memories from the past. Ribbons collectively represent war trophies, great accomplishments, personal battles and cherished moments. Various colors and lengths of Ribbon hold personal significance for the participants and their relatives. These personal associations aren't shared outside the family or local female community; they're not even shared with men. They are forever the woman's private domain. It is not unusual for a man to ask a woman to wear a Ribbon for some special petition of his own. This request obligates the man, or men of the town, to offer a gift to the dancer or someone she designates. The most common gifts are first Tobacco, then cloth, beads, ornaments, food or other items. Any, or all, may be offered to a dancer or to all women participating. Stories tell of tribal town men who carry their mother’s ribbons to war in generations past and returned.
At the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse grounds, Ribbons are visible memories that a woman wears; they help to keep alive and preserve her family history. Women of some Creek towns no longer attribute any special meaning to this Dance or the Ribbons beyond a "That's the way we have always done it" attitude. Many women have used the same Ribbons since their first Dance, replacing them only when they have frayed severely through repeated use. A few women use new Ribbons at each Corn Dance. For some grounds, a Ribbon not to be worn again is carefully halved during Nettv Kvckv, the "Broken Days" preceding the New Fire at some grounds. The bottom end [worldly portion] is split to "kill" or deactivate the special sacred characteristics assumed through usage. The bottom half and all it represents is consigned to the family's individual cooking fire or the Squareground Fire. The upper portion is frequently divided up, with different women using them in differing ways.
A portion may go into a woman's personal bundle, that collection of spirit laden objects to be passed on eventually to the younger generation with all their connected stories and events. A key word or phrase is often written on the Ribbon to aid memory.
An upper portion, or a piece of it, may be given to a relative or close friend unable to participate that year. It may also be hung in the room where the woman spends most of her time. Occasionally, it is hung above the entrance most frequently used.
A portion is often buried with some member of the community when death occurs. Any undesignated portion is interred with the woman or tied (nailed) to the ball post after the last dance in fall.
Whether kept or distributed, the bottom portion of every Ribbon, which part which reaches into the active daily world is destroyed by Fire when it is to be used no longer. Fire is a purifier, an active agent of Epohfvnkv, Creator and Source. There are additional attachments, associations and deep memories attributed to these ornaments of the Woman's Dance; every town, every woman have their own particular ways.
There are several styles of dress traditional to this celebrated occasion. There are two styles most popular. The usual garment is often made of two pieces: skirt and blouse after the “Seminole” fashion, or yoke and dress similar in manner to the neighboring Cahtv (Choctaw people). Any yoke dress would often a ruffle trim. The material from which all ceremonial clothing is made is also regulated by tradition, especially the colors or calico prints used, but that's material for another article. Occasionally, a cape is worn over an under dress which resembles modern Florida Seminole attire. Older women have suggested several possible reasons for the preference that calico ceremonial dresses are of two distinct pieces. Two pieces may represent the spiritual and material worlds by top and bottom parts. The division into red and white towns may be signified. The Creek traditional perspective on duality may be the reason: summer and winter seasons, youth and maturity, life and death, or other opposites may be symbolized. The old clan “moieties” (across the fire kin) may be remembered by the two pieces. "Because that's how it's always been done" may be the real reason for this practice. Of course, this dress survives from the common clothing worn by Americans in the early 1800s.
Ornamentation is often cut-fold ribbon work or broad patterned patchwork like that which adorns the traditional man's shirt. No rule seems to govern footwear other than personal comfort. Shoes, sneakers, moccasins, and bare feet are all seen. Most women and young ladies wear aprons during the Dance. There is a pattern to apron wearing, among the women who do. Mothers often wear them; young girls almost never wear aprons. With young women in their teens, apron wearing in generations past began after first “moon-time” or some related criteria of their own clan that is not openly discussed. Dressed with final touches of colorful Ribbon, dancers not forbidden to enter the Square for ceremonial reasons gather in the “near” Arbor, reserved for women, children, and guests just off the grounds edge.
In most Creek grounds women are not provided an Arbor inside the ring; they assemble on the edge of the Squareground, as is the protocol among the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse Groundspeople and other Tvllvhasse squares.
From Third Call until final assembly, seldom more than twenty-five minutes (Indian time) elapses. After this Call, a man is sent to sweep the Arbors, including posts and benches, with an herbal brush or gall berry broom. Women help each other get shakered-up and be-ribboned. Last minutes are a flurry of colorful activity. At her place, some woman often appears with a fresh sprig of Willow or Sweet Gum in her left hand. All men quickly gather around the Square in their own finery. They are now anxious for the whole proceedings; anxious that all go well and nothing be omitted. The entire town listens intently to petitions being intoned by the leaders.
An ancient Atasse, a ceremonial knife, reminiscent of a war club or the flint blade used to sever umbilical cords, is carried by the Women during this sacred dance. The fierce and unbending will of the Women is seen during this dance, and is powerful to witness. Men and women must be careful not to come into physical contact with each other during this time; this separation is to be maintained throughout the Corn Dance from sunrise until after the Fast is broken. In this, many grounds are more lax than it should be nowadays.
An appointed Town Speaker, the Mekko Tvlvrwv approaches the assembled women to deliver a short address in quiet tones as he has been instructed by the Mekko. Women are thanked for their participation in the Corn Dance. They are praised for their Power with which they imbue the town by their dance, for bringing the cleansing purity of the Sun to sanctify the grounds and for the real comfort they bring the community. Dancers are charged with keeping clean hearts, pure thoughts and remembering the needs, hope, prayers and thanksgivings of the grounds during their ceremonial dance. Other charges or commendations may also be given at this time; the general community is not privy to these more quietly spoken words. Dancing is ordered by seniority, at many grounds oldest to youngest. Years which see large numbers of dancers adhere tightly to the age rules; in years with very few dancers, the lineup may be more informal. Young girls at the end of the line often supply quiet amusement as they fall behind and struggle with their shorter legs to keep up the vigorous pace. Rare exceptions to the order of oldest to youngest are babes-in-arms and, occasionally, very special visitors who are being honored, are invited to dance. They may dance in line behind their hostess.
The woman chosen to lead, called at some Squareground’s First Woman is always exempt from the seniority rule. She represents women collectively. However, she is often the Matriarch or oldest woman kin of the male leader capable of dancing. She initially takes her place at the head of the four chosen Atasse dancers, who stay a bit ahead of the other women. After the Speaker has completed his address to the women, he returns to his Arbor by way of the Fire, where he makes an offering of Tobacco. Sometimes the women may direct him toward some special purpose in his offering.
When the Mekko Tvlvrwv is seated, the two Tvkpala step from the Mekko’s arbor and circle the Pvskofv one time; other men have carefully sprinkled the ground with water, especially if the day promises to be hot, dry, and dusty. The two Tvkpala stop at the edge of the Woman’s line and face around the circle clockwise; they have now become forward protective honor guards for the women. At some grounds, the Tvkpala draw two guidelines to mark the dancers' path; they also line the "crossing place." Viewed from above, one sees the shape of the Wheel of Life where women's feet will tread for their tribal town and its citizens.. First Woman, the leader of the Dance, takes her place before her Arbor, the signal for the line- up. She is followed by her second. Since the Mekko Tvlvrwv’s talk, the grounds have been quiet. There is now only the sound of Shakers as the other women step into line in their appointed order. The women now at some ground’s face outward, towards the Sun, with their backs to the cooled cleaned Fire Mound, where the New Fire will soon be kindled. Women are vehicles of Life and Light via the Sun, Epohfvnkv; they give birth and renewal to all things.
When all are ready, The Tvkpala (who previously cleared the grounds for the Dance) proceed counter clockwise with a lively running step to the next Arbor. They turn back toward the line of women and pause, facing the Dance lineup. First Woman, who has now turned to her left, advances toward the Tvkpala with a light walking step some call the "old woman's pace." One by one, the line of Dancers begin a kick step matching the sturdy step begun by Leading Lady in place. Each woman takes up the step and turns leftward behind leading lady. They will follow leading lady who will guide the line of Dancers on the path marked by the First Woman after the Tvkpala. First Woman advances with her pacing step to the next arbor, stops and faces the Fire until the line of dancers reach the edge of that arbor; she then turns and quickly moves on to the next arbor. Often, Tvkpala are one arbor ahead of this first matron of the dance. In some years, they are all one behind the other. Of course, other procedures prevail at other grounds; each Square keeps council with its own traditions, and these change over years and generations.
Slowly - methodically - rhythmically, the line moves out around the path set by the Tvkpala and First Woman, each of whom continues an arbor ahead of the other. A few elder women have expressed the belief that these Tvkpala represent the children brought forth by the original First Woman. For this reason, the women sometimes present gifts to these two after the Ribbon Dance. Following the path set by their honor guards and First Woman, the Second Lady and the dancers move in ever quickening pulsating unison around the Squareground. Sometimes the two men draw marks in the ground to count the rounds. At other times, small sticks, used for keeping ball game scores, are placed in front of the Chief's Arbor to mark the rounds. Each round produces its own distinct rhythm from variations in dance steps chosen for that course.
After a set of four rounds, First Woman stops and turns to face the front of the Arbor at its northern end. She waits for her Second Lady and the dancers to move up next to her. The line dances in place facing her. She raises high the Atasse in her hand. At this high signal, women execute four small jumps; then swiftly, First Woman cuts downward with the blade on the last jump. The women respond with the exclamation "Hae!" The women turn outward (to the East) toward the Sun again. They stand and rest in place a few brief moments. Usually, if a longer a break is to occur at this point. First Woman takes her seat, followed by the others in order. The Tvkpala then return to their seats. Fresh water is now served to the women by a Vfvstv (helper) appointed to the task.
Some years, eight rounds are accomplished before a seated rest. If eight rounds are to be concluded the Tvkpala stop after four rounds until all have rested a few moments and taken water in place. Then, they turn toward the dance path and step forward. First Woman turns and follows. Women catch their step again from the Second Lady and four more rounds are completed. After eight rounds, a seated rest is required in order to break the Dance into the two required distinct parts (four sets are the ancient preference). Each round or set varies in its own tempo, the dance steps executed, the jumps or intensity according to the particular goals of the dance set by the Head Woman and her town’s tradition.
The last round is always the most invigorated. First Woman stops - Dancers stop - four jumps - a shout - it is finished. Women rest from their last set. The Long Dance or a Stomp Dance usually follows immediately. Preparations for Ribbon Dance are quiet and reverent; women continue this attitude into the Dance, itself. Often, they enter a deep spiritual state, hearts and minds laden with burdens of the past year. They see themselves as Co-Creators and Sanctifiers. The men believe they are, too, or should. In spite of the seriousness, men of the community are allowed to openly encourage the women. Across the Square, subdued emotions reflect the deep importance of this simple but powerful Dance. Tears are not unusual among some participants and observers. When we reflect on the depth of meaning and connection to the Feminine essence of existence and our world, this should not be surprising. Throughout the encircling rounds, as the Woman’s Dance concludes, a heavy feeling lifts as the old year and all its burdens are released. To be a Woman of the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse Tribal Town is to be special.
On the last night of the old year, people cast their concerns into the now dying Old Fire with prayers of thanksgiving and a vow to forgive wrongs, make amends for errors and practice better lives. Much thought is required--easily spoken promises are promises not easily kept. Encircling the ashes or cleaned mound of the now extinguished Fire that had burned since the previous Green Corn, the dance ends the old year. That Sacred Fire had grown old, weak and weary; it had become heavily polluted carrying burdens of the people. In days past, this pollution had been made complete on the last day of the old year by the custom of placing in the consuming flames, detritus from households, yards, and larders. [Some new items are often given to the dying Old Fire representing a sense of sacrifice by a people taught to own things and not to be owned by things.] For the traditional Creek, the Sacred Fire is the final recipient of all worldly things of town life. With the Fire's passing on the last night of the old year, also occur the deaths of all mundane wrongs and of the old year itself. The building of the New Fire is a new beginning, a time of renewal and rebirth. Wood is physical; flame is spiritual.
Body is physical even as life is spiritual. An extinguished flame can be kindled anew. A body is perishable, the spirit is not. Like flame, it is rekindled each year. In the traditional Creek view, wood is not just consumed to ash to be no more. It is transformed by the Sacred Fire into heat and radiant light! The New Fire is not born strong enough to carry the town's burdens through the New Year unless its foundation is empowered by the Woman's Dance. Medicine doctoring treatment, passing Breath of the Master of Breath to the Fire through the Corn sacrifice, represents only half the necessary action. The Square remains defiled until women have encircled it. As they do so, all old things become entrapped, brushed aside, or destroyed by Woman's creative life-giving Power that each woman brings to her town from Epohfvnkv, the Creator and Source.
As women face Sunward and turn inward, they bring to the Squareground, the purity, Power and sacredness of the Sun, of Epohfvnkv. Some view the New Fire of Green Corn as the Sun's Little Brother; a Grandson to Epohfvnkv and Grandfather to us. Some elders would say that significant is our responsibilities in this matter. Women are agents of Light; they conduct strength from the Upper [spiritual] World to the Middle World we inhabit with our physical bodies. With or without child, they are universally Mothers, nourishes and sustaining life. They are necessary. Woman gives man strength, courage, and the purified state necessary to tend New Fire duties. New Fire is the materially symbolic residence of Epohfvnkv, Creator and Source. For us, the Sacred Fire is Epohfvnkv’s physical home in the midst of the community; each heart is an individual spiritual residence. Like a child that becomes an adult, the Fire grows to immense strength through time, along the path of an annual sacred spiral. Though mere human beings did kindle it, a person still must be bolstered in order to properly approach and care for this physical dwelling place of Epohfvnkv, the Creator and Source of all things. To old-time traditional Creek people, so sacred is our Creator's Sacred Fire burning in the town that no one would dare to willingly let a personal shadow fall between Fire and the Sun to possibly interrupt that mystical unseen, powerful communion between the Spirit and Mother Earth--our elders, our parents.
Words can only hint at what traditional people experience emotionally and acknowledge while women dance in their flowing Ribbons. As the Dance draws to a close at the last round, one feels the full emotional trauma of all events of the past being drawn into one moment; all the wars, all the deaths, all losses. Time crystallizes into a single point and place, visible to all. With the final jump at the end of that last round, that crystallized sequence of time is shattered. It is no more; it is the past. The past, with all its profaned associations, is disarmed of its regret, the burden of its presence cast aside. Expended, it no longer controls us and we are as a single entity renewed. Now, there is no tension, only peace. At some grounds, at the last step of the Ribbon Dance a shout goes up from the people "Mvtoooo! It is well done!"
Though to an uninformed observer, this is women circling a little plot of cleared earth, the actual Ribbon Dance is a simple affair simply executed but the results are complex, powerful and sustaining; anything but simple. Too soon, it is over. Women sit or stand quietly in a reflective moment. The Speaker and helpers remove the Atasse and other implements carried in the Dance. They are returned to the town’s Medicine House. Broadened smiles flood weary faces. These sacred offerings of the dance will ascend with the first white smoke of the forthcoming New Fire.
Even first time observers of this dignified but simple dance, who don't fully grasp the ritual significance or understand the symbols involved, never fail to note and experience the inexplicable peace that radiates from it to the People, it concludes with family hugs and handshakes from female to female. Happy New Year! Good wishes are shouted everywhere. The Corn Dance proceeds smoothly with peaceful anticipation. Even the Scratching Ceremony will be relaxed. Woman has completely fulfilled herself. Men are brimful too. It is our traditional way. It is Nene Mvskoke, The Muscogee Road. It is…life.
STANDING UP FOR TRADITION
Turning from a subject as sublime as the Ribbon dance to the profane and convoluted world of politics may seem to be too hard of a turn but the attitudes and beliefs that begin in the spiritual manifest into the physical world and the relationship between peoples. The recent tussle between the Poarch Band tribal government and the Muscogee Creek Nation concerning the development by Poarch Band of the “Holy Ground”, site of the Old Hickory Ground Tribal Town site isn’t the first time that the modern world and its capitalist values has clashed with the ancient and abiding respect at the heart of our Muscogee identity.
Years ago the early Hvsossv ground group protested the tribes actions, long before the most recent flare up.
Story by Mekko here
The changing times have led to some Indians losing the sense of connection to ancestors that during times past was pronounced. The ties which Creek people in the west feel to the homeland of the Creek people has in years past been exemplified by trips by groups of Creek elders and families to visit the sites where their families once lived. The visiting of these sites in recent years by church groups, descendants of tribal town associations, and other organizations in Oklahoma led to many Western Creek groups visiting sites from days when Creek Nation was still in the south. Soon after Poarch Band of Creek Indians gained federal recognition in 1986, the state of Alabama returned to them a property in central Alabama that was the site of the venerated Hickory Ground of old, presumably to be preserved due to its important historical value. With the economic development surge which the Poarch Band has been involved with in recent years, the property which is located near Wetumpka, Alabama became the focus of proposed development.
The most recent episode of a long-running dispute over the Poarch Band attempts at developing the site of the Hickory Ground into an economic venture is a good example of recent clashes between modern and more traditional perspectives. Leaders from Hickory Ground Tribal Town in the Creek Nation in Oklahoma began protesting the Poarch Band’s plans when they found out about the developing of the site. Meetings at the homes of Hickory ground people led to a growing effort reminiscent of the glory days of the Indian Power Movement a half century ago, when Philip Deere and other Creek traditional people came to the fore of the world stage at Wounded Knee and other actions on behalf of the rights of Indian people. Historically, the Hickory Ground played a big role in the struggle to avoid allotment and maintain the communal nature of Creek landholdings and identity as people in the lead up to Oklahoma state hood over a century ago.
The “Crazy Snake Rebellion” was centered on Hickory Ground as a focal point of resistance to the violation of the treaty agreements made between the Creeks and the US government. Standing up for their rights as Indian people isn’t new to the people of Hickory Ground. Once again they would step up to challenge what they perceived as another attack on the integrity of their identity as caretakers of tradition and the land granted to them by the Creator. Unlike times past though, the adversary would be their kinsmen who had been left behind during the removal of the 1830’s, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Tim Martin, head of the Poarch Band’s economic development arm, gives a sense of just how far the Poarch Creek economic ambitions have grown since their federal recognition decades ago. "Gaming," Martin said recently to the press, "is doing fabulous." Gambling and hospitality operations by the tribe have generated as much as $600 million in revenues in 2012, according to information from the tribe's annual report. The Poarch Band of Creeks with a membership just over 3,000 is continually looking for new places to invest.
In Huntsville, Alabama some say the Poarch Creek Indians has a hotel on the footprint of Redstone Gateway, a sprawling development on military land, with rights to build another, and the tribe has as well acquired stakes in a string of Florida hotels, at prime spots in Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach and near Orlando. Just across the Alabama state line In Atmore, the home of the tribe's reservation, the Poarch Creek investment extends down many roads. PCI has opened a manufacturing and fabrication company named Muscogee Technology; a farm for cattle, pecans, peanuts, soybeans and wheat; and two smoke shops that serve as convenience stores.
Recently the Creek Casino & Hotel (Montgomery) opened the final phase of its $65 million renovation; the five story hotel boasts 123 rooms, including eight suites, an events center, and a full-service, high-end salon, retail space and an infinity pool and Montgomery's sister locations in Atmore and Wetumpka have been designated as AAA Four Diamond hotels." I cannot adequately express how proud I feel today, when big plans and big dreams have finally come to fruition," said Stephanie Bryan, the current Poarch Creek Tribal Chairperson and CEO. In the quiet hollows and dusty back roads of the Creek Nation though there are other Creek people who find little to be proud of in Poarch Band and its headlong rush to economic abundance over the last few years, even as traditional values, Creek language, and the Creek culture have for the most part taken a back seat to business interests.
Wayland Gray of Hickory Ground, Creek Nation
In 2013 Wayland Gray, a member of Hickory Ground led a party from Oklahoma to come to the Poarch bands reservation trust land near Wetumpka, Alabama to perform a blessing ceremony, seeking to communicate to the spirits resting at the Hickory Ground that they would not be disturbed without their descendants doing all they could to stop a desecration of their burial place. He and three other Creek Nation citizens were arrested during the ceremony at the property. The 246 million dollar, 20 story hotel and casino that the Poarch Band proposed was slated to be built on the same property as the ancient Hickory Ground, an important site in Creek History and extremely meaningful to the hundreds of Creek in Oklahoma who were the direct descendants of that tribal town. Wayland Gray and several other Creek traditional activists would seek to bring to attention of others the true attachment that many in Creek Nation as well as throughout Creek country feel for the site. His statements during the incident indicate the perspective of traditional grounds folks.
“"Now the spirits (of the dead) have a casino and bar all around them," Gray said, "They're still out there, they're dancing."
His views are shared by many of the traditional grounds people in the east as well, especially those of the Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse, which have strong ties to Oklahoma grounds and families, as does the Hvsossv Tvllvhasse Ground, our mother ground. Other grounds as well as organizations and individuals in the Creek Nation were concerned about the Poarch Band’s lack of perspective on the meaning of the site to all Creek people. George Thompson Jr., a Creek Nation Supreme Court Justice even came to Alabama when Wayland Gray’s case was brought to court on charges for the struggle with authorities that ensued when the blessing ceremony happened, with trespassing and other charges levied against him. Speaking to the press, he said that his grandfather’s grandparents were resting at Hickory Grounds old site and he was supporting the efforts to prevent the grounds desecration through his efforts to bring attention to the situation.
"Even though we're 1,000 miles away, we came back to honor our ancestors," Thompson said about the blessing. "In the process, our members were denied to do that."
A respected elder, Thompson’s participation in the effort speaks to the import of the incident in an already rocky relationship between the Poarch Band of Creek and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s people. Efforts to stop what Poarch tribal government had planned led to intense efforts early on to stop this development before it started, with organization and meetings commencing among some Poarch Community traditional people as well as people in Oklahoma. Justice Thompson was a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that the Creek Nation filed a few years ago in an attempt to stop the construction of the hotel and casino on the old Hickory Ground before the ground was broken. The complaint stated that the Poarch Band of Creeks had acquired the Wetumpka land from the state of Alabama under the false pretense of preservation of it as an important cultural and historical site for posterity, that the Poarch government did not have permission from Hickory Ground descendants when they excavated graves, and additionally that the Ceremonial Grounds and ancestral burial grounds should be protected under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
The dispute between Poarch Band and Creek Nation traditional people is just one of several over the decades since Poarch Band was acknowledged as a tribe in 1986, but is the first to spill over into the public sphere. From a certain perspective the roots of the adversarial relationship could be seen as going back to the founding of Poarch Band’s existence by ancestral “White Sticks”, Creeks who fought with the United States against other Creeks during the Creek Civil War before removal. Though some in Creek Nation view the Poarch Band as an illegitimate acknowledgement of a group which has little right to recognition, others have a more expansive view. As Poarch sees it, they emerge from several families of Creek that "provided essential services," to the U.S. Government and as such were allowed to stay, according to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians website.
Cooperation over two decades between the traditionalist movement group among the Poarch Creeks (including Hvsossv and Kvnfvske Tvllvhasse grounds) and the members of the (Old) Tvllvhasse Ceremonial Grounds of Creek Nation did build lasting social and spiritual/religious relationships between the two Creek communities but the IRA intergovernmental cooperation and connections were strained at best and out right adversarial at times. The controversy concerning Poarch Bands intentions to develop the Old Hickory Ground site would lead to extremely vociferous calls for protest and even physical struggle by some. The presence of people like Justice Thompson and other authorities in the fray would lead to a growth of attention by national press and academic circles.
Wayland Gray when Acquitted on Trespassing Charge
for Seeking to Bless Sacred Land Being Developed
Justice Thompson wasn’t alone in his support of Wayland Gray in his efforts to focus attention on the desecration of Hickory Ground. With him 30 other Creek Nation Indians left from the small town of Henryetta in Oklahoma to be in Alabama to support Wayland Gray at his trial. Gray made clear in the court case his protests were not against casino, economic development by tribes, or other such concerns. Creek Nation itself has several in different areas in Oklahoma. Grays objections were primarily concerned with the nature of Poarch Bands use of the land. Stating that the gambling operation built on the Hickory Ground is a case of "money over ancestors" in Gray’s view. His words speak to his and many other traditional peoples frustrations.
"You dig up any other race of people besides natives in America today and you'd be imprisoned and shamed all over the media, you dig up the natives and you get a PHD, you get an award. We're not dinosaurs, we're not artifacts; we’re human beings."
Wayland Gray and other Creek people who are part of the traditional world feel a connection with the ancestral places that in modern American seems unrealistic and oppositional to mainstream values to some. Efforts to maintain ties through memory and ceremony to the roots of the Creek ceremonial traditions in the Southeast are fewer today than when living elders who were reared with stories by their grandparents of the “Old Country” and how life there was in times past. Actions to defend the ties that remain like those which Gray and others have participated in lately are one aspect of a growing concern by not only traditional Creek people, but persons from many races and traditions to preserve the ancient heritage of the continent. When asked by reporters what effect he thought his struggle would result in, he answered them with a view many traditional people would have said.
"It's not up to me, it's not up to the judge, it's up to the Creator," Gray said. "No matter what the outcome is, I'm going to walk out with a smile."
Phillip Deere once spoke to the U.N. about what he saw coming on the horizon.
“In the future, there is going to be somebody else suffering. He too will wake up one day and find out that he has no rights. He too will find out that he is not a free person either. We can see that, very much like the shadow of the clouds that come over us. We can see that as a shadow today. And I am sure that my children will live long enough to see that all the freedom will be taken from all human beings. Already this is going on. You talk about discriminating against the Indians. Don't think that is an Indian problem. You had better wake up. You had better find out where you stand as a free person!”
This was from a speech given in 1978. The climate a decade or two into the 21st century shows that the world is still an uncertain place and that the values of our elders are still meaningful. The wheel of time turning goes on, and the days of Phillip Deere and those of our own are not that different, as his words from 1978 show.
“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.”
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Etvlwv (Ee-duhl-wuh): see Tribal Town
Mekkvlke (Mee-kuhl-gee): the leaders of the traditional Creek tribal town government historically, and the leaders of a Ceremonial Ground today.
Pusketv (buhs-gee-duh): the annual Green Corn Dance held by Ceremonial Grounds.
Tribal Town: the tribal town is the basic unit of the Creek Social order historically, with each being independent and sovereign bodies within the larger Creek nation. Today it is often used to mean the membership of a Creek Ceremonial Ground.
Hvsossv/Hvsosv (Huh-soh-suh): meaning “east” in the Muscogee language it was the name adopted by the Poarch Creek who worked for years to re-establish a recognized Ceremonial Grounds for the Eastern Creek community. Hvsossv Tvllvhasse grounds is today located on the Poarch Creek Indian Reservation north of Atmore Alabama on federal trust Indian lands.
Hillis Haya (hee-lus hah-yuh)- the usual term used for a “medicine man”, though in traditional Creek society there was traditionally many differing terms, types, and occupations for those who practiced various spiritual specialties.
Mvhakvtontos (muh-hah-guht-ohn-dohs) proper place and purpose, a correct order of things
Cuko Rakko- the ceremonial grounds
would expect the answer to be a rambling narrative that might seem not to bean ans
wer at all.This is just what I expected. I settled back in my chair in preparation for Mr. Proctor's answer. Without hesitationhe said, "If you come to the stomp ground for four years take the medicines and dance the dances, then you are Creek." The answer was completely unexpected and thus even more force-fully illuminating. Mr. Proctor had listed a set of practices which made someone Creek, or more properly in context, a member of the traditional Creek religion
Trut h an d Native American epistemologyLE E HESTER an d Jim chaney SOCIA L EPI STEMOLO GY, 2001,VOL.15,NO .4, 319–334 https://webpages.uidaho.edu/~morourke/524-phil/Readings/hester.pdf