By Andrea Granahan
Green Corn was coming up and once again I was spending my hard-earned money to travel to a part of the country that is hot and sticky (northern Florida) to dance in a circle in the dirt. And I was doing it joyfully.
It’s because I am Muscogee (Creek), and Green Corn is the most important of the four high holidays each year. It is the beginning of the new year and it falls on the summer solstice. I am of the Koweta clan, the wind people, the medicine clan.
My mother hid the fact we were Muscogee from my brother and I, partly because she was separated from that part of the family after my grandmother died at her birth and she was taken as an infant to live with other relatives, and partly because she was an evangelistic Christian; she thought a “pagan” background was shameful.
My aunt (White Eagle) who was older stayed with the Muscogee relatives and was active in tribal activities. She finally revealed the truth and my brother and I met our “lost” kinfolk. Ever since we made contact we have attended as many tribal functions as we can. When my aunt died and the tribe showed up to bury her remains with reverence in the old burial ground where generations of Muscogee are laid to rest, even my mother relented and became proud of her background.
The Muscogee, and indeed all tribes, were outlawed in northern Florida, southern Georgia and eastern Alabama, their homeland, until 1980. Until then they lived under threat of “removal” to Oklahoma. In the 1830s, Andrew Jackson defied the Supreme Court (“I have an army. They don’t.”) and removed what he thought were all Indians from the Southeast with the infamous Trail of Tears. Hah! Huge numbers of Native Americans fled to swamps and forests, or mingled and “passed” and kept their culture going, Jackson’s army notwithstanding.
Most joined Christian churches (a good ploy to avoid removal at first), but on Muscogee holidays met behind some of the churches after the others went home and held traditional ceremonies. They had no problem tying Muscogee beliefs to Christianity. Love and forgiveness are central to Muscogee faith.
Through the century and a half in hiding the Muscogee communicated with each other in subtle ways. Autumn leaves raked into the shape of a clan symbol, a feather pinned over a door, let Muscogee know they were all one people of the sacred fire. Now that they are no longer in hiding ceremonial square grounds have sprung up throughout the South, and the culture has emerged into daylight intact.
So why do I go back to the South, a place I chose to leave decades ago? It’s hard to explain what I get out of the exhausting stomp dancing around a fire. I am not just unified with my brother, my daughter, sometimes my granddaughter, and my many cousins when we dance together; I am unified with my ancestors. I am keeping them alive by acknowledging the traditions that they worked so hard and risked so much to keep alive and meaningful. I feel rooted, taking my place in time. I truly am one of the people of the sacred fire at those moments. A Cherokee leader recently said “Being Indian is not being part something, it is being part OF something.” I am Indian in the square.
When I am there our Clan Mother teaches us women the lessons, not just physical, but spiritual, to be learned from plants and animals. We sing traditional songs, we hang our brilliant, carefully prepared prayer ribbons and talk about the deeper meanings of the cardinal and ordinal directions. It is very old wisdom.
My brother joins with the men in their ceremonies and they prepare the ceremonial square to receive the women. We sit in the east – the place of new life where the sun rises. Then we dance. We dance in gratitude for everything the earth gives us, for life itself.
I taught myself Seminole patchwork to make my regalia. It was a work of love. I intend to learn beadwork to add to it. Each Green Corn, or when I can travel to other ceremonies, I take it out of storage, and bring it back home full of the dust of the ceremonial square. On each of the four high holidays here at home, my daughter, granddaughter and I get together to prepare our ribbons. We think of what our needs are, what we hope for, and select the colors to represent those things to bring to the women’s square, or to wear in the stomp dancing when we join the men in ceremonial square ground.
This past Green Corn, the women gave my daughter, recently widowed, a new name to help her in renewing her life. It was a powerful gift to her.
The emergence of the tribes in the homeland has the government very confused. They have only recognized the Muscogee in Oklahoma, the old Indian Territory where the “removed” people were dumped into reservations, since they were “illegal” in their homeland. But the hidden tribes are no longer hidden and are asking for recognition. Right now in Congress they are considering recognition of the Southeastern Creek (letters to representatives are greatly appreciated). The Bureau of Indian Affairs has already rejected it because they always reject recognition as a matter of policy. Georgia has recognized the Muscogee Creek. The other states wait for federal recognition before they take action.
The clans are not waiting, they are sharing ancient skills, ancient knowledge and dancing together. They are one people of the sacred fire with or without the government. I am Muscogee, of the Koweta clan, the wind people, and no government can take that from me.
There is a bill in Congress to grant recognition to the Florida Muscogee H.R. 2591: Muscogee Nation of Florida Federal Recognition Act. Please write your representative in support of the bill. You can find your local representative by going to http://www.house.gov/representatives/ and email him/her directly.