Likepvs cē

Likepvs cē / Welcome!

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is one of the largest federally recognized tribes in the so-called United States, with a population of 87,344 enrolled citizens as of April 2019. This website is dedicated to Mvskoke cultural and ecological traditions in Indian Territory (eastern Oklahoma), in the original homelands of Mvskokvlke (Alabama and Georgia, thereabouts), and anywhere else este Mvskoke happen to be living.

Mvskoke Country began in 2009 as a monthly column on environmental issues published in the Muscogee Nation News, reprinted elsewhere, and archived here. Each installment offered a topical perspective on enduring themes in human ecology; I tried to connect local concerns with global realities and to reconnect Mvskoke traditions with the natural world. Many of these pieces incorporated insights gained from close study of the Mvskoke language, which bears evidence of ecological decline in the historical period.

In February 2010, I presented this work at the Food Sovereignty Symposium organized by the Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative. In July 2010, “West Texas or Worse” was awarded second place in the Best Column Monthly/Bi-Monthly category at the annual Media Awards of the Native American Journalists Association. In 2010-11, I wrote a yearlong series on the Mvskoke calendar and its relationship to natural phenomena.

In 2011, I added a web-only feature: field notes, a weekly feed of vital insights from Mvskoke ecological knowledge. New posts appeared on Wednesdays, Ennvrkvpv—literally, “the middle of (the week)”—because that’s where we humans stand with respect to our natural environment: in the middle of things, and with no clear way out of the ecological crises we’ve created. The monthly column and weekly feed went on hiatus later that year while I worked on other projects.

In 2016-17, I posted monthly found poems on human ecology drawn from interviews with mostly elderly people in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation recorded in the 1930s. Revised versions of some of these pieces, along with many newfound poems from the archive, will appear in a book titled A Sort of Strange Land: Poems Found in Indian Territory.

In 2018, I began posting vintage recipes for traditional Mvskoke dishes from hard-to-find cookbooks and other obscure sourcesIn 2019, I began writing a quarterly column titled Pum Ēkvnv / Our Land” for POME Magazine, another MCN publication. I try to keep the links in the sidebar up-to-date, though external links found elsewhere on this website may be obsolete.

I am descended from the Evans and Escoe families, whose allotments were in the Oktaha area, south of Muskogee. I was born in Anadarko, in the western part of the state, and grew up in off-reservation communities in northeast Kansas and western South Dakota. After an academic vocation teaching at several public research universities, I am now an autonomous scholar, freelance creative, indigenous advocate, and nonviolent outdoorsman living in southwest New Mexico, within walking distance of the Continental Divide.

If you like what you find here, tell a friend.
If you have any comments or questions, let me know.

Mvto / Thanks
James Treat

More Free to a Good Home

I have a very limited supply of the paperback editions of my four book-length publications (below). If you will pay the postage ($7.75 USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate Envelope), I will be happy to mail you one of these books, signed or inscribed as you like. Please send me a message using the contact form in the right sidebar of this website, and be sure to include your email address. I will respond with payment instructions within 48 hours; if you don’t hear from me, check your spam/junk folder, since I will be replying from a private email account that might get blocked/filtered on your end.

ASFp

Around the Sacred Fire:
Native Religious Activism in the Red Power Era

University of Illinois Press, 2008

One of the founders and leaders of the movement was Clifton Hill, an outspoken Mvskoke activist. Many other Creek Nation citizens attended the annual gatherings including Phillip Deere, an influential Mvskoke elder. The Conference’s “sacred fire” was patterned after those kindled at the ceremonial grounds maintained by Mvskoke people and their indigenous neighbors.

NC

Native and Christian:
Indigenous Voices on Religious Identity
in the United States and Canada

Routledge, 1996

Includes the important essay “Who Can Sit at the Lord’s Table? The Experience of Indigenous Peoples” by Mvskoke writer Rosemary McCombs Maxey.

FTL

For This Land:
Writings on Religion in America
 

by Vine Deloria Jr.
Routledge, 1999

Includes several brief mentions of Mvskoke groups and individuals – along with other Oklahoma Indians – in order to illustrate broader patterns in American religious history.

WCC

Writing the Cross Culture:
Native Fiction on

the White Man’s Religion
Fulcrum Publishing, 2006

Includes short stories by Mvskoke writers Alexander Posey, Durango Mendoza, and Joy Harjo.

And I still have a few copies of the hardback edition of my book Around the Sacred Fire: Native Religious Activism in the Red Power Era, originally published in 2003 by Palgrave Macmillan / St. Martin’s Press. Let me know if you would like a copy, signed or inscribed as you like, for the price of postage ($7.75).

Mvto (Thanks),
James Treat

Free to a Good Home

I have a limited supply of my book Around the Sacred Fire: Native Religious Activism in the Red Power Era, originally published in 2003 by Palgrave Macmillan / St. Martin’s Press. This “narrative map” of the Indian Ecumenical Conference tells the story of an important intertribal movement among native people throughout Canada and the U.S. during the 1970s and beyond.

One of the founders and leaders of the Conference was Clifton Hill, an outspoken Mvskoke activist. Many other Creek Nation citizens attended the annual gatherings including Phillip Deere, an influential Mvskoke elder. The Conference’s “sacred fire” was patterned after those kindled at the ceremonial grounds maintained by Mvskoke people and their indigenous neighbors.

If you will pay the postage ($7.75 USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate Envelope), I will be happy to mail you a first edition hardback of Around the Sacred Fire, signed or inscribed as you like. Please send me a message using the contact form in the right sidebar of this website – don’t forget to include your email address.

Mvto (Thanks),
James Treat

A Month Named Glistening

POME Magazine, Winter 2020 ⇒

The long growing season in Mvskoke country finally comes to an end with first frost, when surface temperatures drop low enough to transform water vapor into ice.

Various factors affect the formation of these spiny ice crystals, producing different types of frost.  Each plant, in turn, responds to the onset of freezing conditions according to its specific characteristics.  Farmers are especially concerned with the nature and severity of this annual transition, particularly in climates with shorter growing seasons.

When our farming forebears were driven west in the nineteenth century, the ones who survived found agricultural circumstances fairly similar to those in the Mvskoke homeland.

Forced removal to Indian Territory must have been even more traumatic for people from dissimilar climates.  Imagine the subsistence challenges that faced Seminoles arriving from the Florida Everglades, Potawatomis from the shores of Lake Michigan, and Modocs from northeastern California.

As it turned out, the average frost-free period in eastern Oklahoma is almost identical to that of the old country, with the last freeze typically occurring in early April and first frost in late October.  So Eholē, the fifth month in the Mvskoke calendar, was as fitting in the west as it had been in the east.  The name for this month is commonly translated “frost,” but like many English versions of Mvskoke words, some important information gets lost in translation.  

The general term for ice and other forms of frozen water is hetutē.  This is the root word for at least two compound terms referring to different types of frost:  hetutē-hvtkuce, literally “little white ice,” and hetutē-lvste, literally “black ice.”  The apparent contradiction involving color may reflect the fact that frost crystals are usually translucent and can take on the cast of the underlying surface.

Eholē, on the other hand, seems to be archaic terminology with a more complex etymology.  Most written accounts of Mvskoke vocabulary render this month’s name as “frost,” but there are a couple of interesting exceptions. 

In 1791, U.S. agent Caleb Swan translated it as “falling leaf moon,” highlighting one of the more obvious effects of first frost.  In 1928, anthropologist John R. Swanton translated the other eleven month names but omitted a direct translation of this one, instead describing it as a term “indicating a change in the weather,” yet another way to convey the arrival of freezing temperatures.

Eholē thus signifies first frost, falling leaves, a change in the weather.  But it is not a conventional term for “frost,” so how did this month’s name originate?

There are intriguing clues in the two comprehensive dictionaries translating Mvskoke words into English.

The first was published in 1890 at Red Fork, which is now part of southwest Tulsa.  Among its roughly eight thousand entries, the most likely candidates for words cognate to eholē are the verb holocetv, “to glisten, shine bright,” and the related adjective holocē, “bright.”

The second Mvskoke-English dictionary was published in 2000 by the University of Nebraska Press.  It includes an entry for a similar word, the adjective hololoccē, “iridescent, shiny (as of a feather).”

Both dictionaries also list words that might complicate this analysis:  vholocetv, “to cloud up,” for example.  On the other hand, I know at least one person who has heard eholē used to describe a woman wearing shiny clothes.

Frost is likelier to form overnight in the absence of cloud cover, when the land cools more rapidly and chills the moist air at ground level.  Perhaps this month’s name originated in the appearance of a transformed landscape after a cold, clear night:  bright, shiny, glistening, iridescent.  And the sight of frost in the morning sun can be particularly striking at its first occurrence each year, after seven months of weather above the freezing point.

Why bother with all this scrutiny of language and weather?

If these speculations are correct, they suggest that eholē is much more than a factual description of a natural phenomenon.  Think of it:  a month named “Glistening”!  The play of sunlight over our frost-covered world, a pristine landscape that just hours earlier displayed only earth tones and vegetation in decay.  Whoever coined this name had an eye for beauty where modern science sees mere crystalline ice and the refraction of light.

Any agricultural society might name one of its months for the coming of frost.  But it takes an aesthetic appreciation for the environment to settle on a word like eholē.  This is traditional ecological knowledge at its finest.

Our Mvskoke ancestors were wise people indeed.

A Second Mvskoke Removal?

POME Magazine, Fall 2019 ⇒

Ten years ago, during a brief sabbatical from university life, I visited Glacier National Park in northwest Montana. I had been there twice before, in the mid-1960s, when my family camped our way across the northern plains to escape the southern plains’ summer heat. Home movies shot on 8mm film preserved brief glimpses of glaciers that are now only a memory, of glacial runoff that no longer flows.

Although I don’t recall much from those early childhood adventures, I had always wanted to go back to the “crown of the continent,” a desire that had grown more urgent as I learned more about global warming. I was living in Illinois at the time, so I rode Amtrak halfway across the country hoping to see the last of the park’s namesake attractions before they’re gone. By strange coincidence, I arrived at the gateway hamlet of East Glacier on the eve of the heavily promoted PBS series “The National Parks.” But television is always a poor substitute for first-hand experience, and electronic media is also a symptom of the very crisis facing this particular park: anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change.

Glaciers are formed during periods of regional cooling, when snow accumulates from year to year and gradually turns to ice. If this process continues long enough, the combined weight of snow and ice forces the bottom layers to advance across the land, eroding terrain like a giant scouring pad.

But glaciers produce more than just scenic landscapes. Meltwater from alpine glaciers amounts to about a quarter of annual mountain runoff. These cool, clear streams provide more than half of the world’s fresh water supply. Turn off the glacial spigot, and a lot of people are going to be thirsty.

When the climate turns warmer and drier, glaciers start retreating. And they’ve been under attack since the Industrial Revolution, when humans began burning fossil fuels in earnest and filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. This process has accelerated in recent years as we’ve increased our use of nonrenewable energy. Scientists estimate that 98% of the earth’s glaciers are now in retreat, and that 80% of them will disappear by the end of this century.

In 1850, there were about 150 glaciers in the area that would become Glacier National Park. When my family visited the park in the mid-1960s, there were about 50 left. By the time I returned in 2009, there were only 26.

Park brochures and exhibits at the time said these dwindling survivors wouldn’t last beyond the year 2030. But talk privately with a park ranger and you’d learn that the latest measurements indicated they were melting even faster than expected. The glaciers of Glacier National Park might be completely gone by 2020, now just a few months away.

I first wrote about this majestic place on “the backbone of the world” in my column “Mvskoke Country,” which ran monthly in the Muscogee Nation News for several years, 2009-2011. Glacier was established in 1910 as the United States’ tenth national park, so in 2009 government officials and local leaders were gearing up for its centennial. Since we modern humans can’t seem to kick our addiction to coal and oil and natural gas, I wondered in print whether that might be a good occasion to announce a new name: Glacier MEMORIAL National Park.

Today, the park’s official website encourages visitors to explore “pristine forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountains, and spectacular lakes,” but there is little mention of the few “small glaciers” that remain. Buried three menus deep on a page titled “How to See a Glacier,” the website confesses that “Glacier National Park isn’t the easiest place to see an active glacier.” There are internet links to nineteen permanent webcams in the park, but none that features an actual glacier. Seven of the nineteen webcams are trained on paved roads or parking lots, which strikes me as a pretty accurate reflection of the ecological transaction that has taken place.

What does all this have to do with Mvskoke country?

Mvskokvlke have lived in warm, humid environments for a very long time. The Mvskoke language doesn’t even have a term for glacier, though it wouldn’t be hard to come up with one—akhvse-rakko hetute, “frozen lake,” might do.

The impact of global warming may be more obvious at higher altitudes and latitudes, where glaciers tend to live, but every place on our planet is feeling the effects of rising greenhouse gases.  The average temperature on the Great Plains is already up nearly two degrees compared to 1979, a remarkable increase in just forty years. And it will likely jump another couple of degrees during the next decade.

Temperature rise in the southern plains will be largest during the summer months. Extreme weather events—heat waves, heavy rains, tornadoes—will become more frequent. The southern plains will get less precipitation during the twenty-first century, especially in the west. The panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas could dry up enough to produce another Dust Bowl.

In the very near future, people in Mvskoke country are going to find themselves living in a climate that is noticeably hotter and more arid than they remember. It is almost as if the Creek Nation has pulled up roots and started migrating to the southwest. You may roll out of bed one morning and wonder how you ended up in West Texas, or worse. Could this be like a second great removal, with este Mvskoke—and everyone else—embarking on a long passage into the unknown?

The earth simply cannot sustain our current levels of consumption and waste. Anthropogenic climate change is tempting fate on this spinning, blue planet.


What Climate Change Means for Oklahoma

In the coming decades, Oklahoma will become warmer, and both floods and droughts may be more severe. . . . Soils have become drier, annual rainfall has increased, and more rain arrives in heavy downpours. . . . Summers are likely to be increasingly hot and dry, which would reduce the productivity of farms and ranches, change parts of the landscape, and possibly harm human health. . . .

As rising temperatures increase evaporation and water use by plants, soils are likely to become even drier. Average rainfall is likely to decrease during spring and summer. . . . Increased evaporation and decreased rainfall are likely to reduce the average flow of rivers and streams. . . . Decreased river flows can create problems for navigation, recreation, public water supplies, and electric power generation. . . . Compounding the challenges for electric utilities, rising temperatures are expected to increase the demand for electricity for air conditioning. . . .

Increasing droughts and higher temperatures are likely to interfere with Oklahoma’s farms and cattle ranches. . . . Yields are likely to decline by about 50 percent in fields that can no longer be irrigated. The early flowering of winter wheat could have negative repercussions on livestock farmers who depend on it for feed. . . .

Although summer droughts are likely to become more severe, floods may also intensify. . . . Over the next several decades, the amount of rainfall during the wettest days of the year is likely to continue to increase, which would increase flooding. . . .

Higher temperatures and drought are likely to increase the severity, frequency, and extent of wildfires, which could harm property, livelihoods, and human health. . . . The combination of more fires and drier conditions may change parts of Oklahoma’s landscape. . . . When fire destroys the natural cover, the native grasses and woody plants may be replaced by non-native grasses, which can become established more readily after a fire. Because non-native grasses are generally more prone to intense fires, native plants may be unable to re-establish themselves.

“Climate Change Indicators in the U.S.”
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency