Mvskoke people have always appreciated the beauty of nature, and the value of color symbolism. Catē (red) is an especially powerful color that can represent many things: the east, the sun, the sacred fire; blood, sacrifice, warfare, and survival.
For the dominant culture, preoccupied as it is with skin tone, red has been one of the primary colors of racial classification. Americans borrowed words from the Choctaws in naming their forty-sixth state “Oklahoma.” The literal meaning is “red people,” though the name is often mistranslated as “land of the red people,” which in turn is sometimes condensed to “red earth.” This last phrase happens to be a fairly accurate description of Oklahoma’s iron-laden soil. And “red earth” is not far removed from “Indian Territory,” which of course it was until the violence of statehood. Race is a colorful expression of manifest destiny.
Mvskoke and American perceptions of the color green are much more compatible.
In the dominant culture, green has been a shorthand reference to ecological concerns since the early seventies. The environmental organization Greenpeace, for example, was founded in 1971. The first green political groups emerged in the years that followed, though the United States did not have a national Green Party until 2001. Indigenous peoples have influenced the green movement throughout its short history.
Mvskoke people traditionally associate lanē (green) with the harvest. The most important event of the year at our ceremonial grounds is posketv—literally, “to fast,” because fasting is such a vital part of Mvskoke religion. This observance is known in English as “Green Corn,” reflecting the fact that it marks the ripening of a new corn crop. The ancient agricultural heritage of the Mvskoke people is also evident in the great seal of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. It features a plow and a sheaf of grain standing in an open field, and the modern (full-color) version is framed by a bright green border.
So it’s worth noting that last summer the National Council enacted, and the Principal Chief authorized, law NCA 09-040, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Green Government Initiative. This new addition to our Code of Laws is “designed to help promote a more traditional way of life by returning to what our ancestors valued and believed to be our sources of life: wind, sun, water, and the natural environment around us.”
The Green Government Initiative addresses four areas of environmental impact: construction practices, office activity, materials recycling, and waste management.
(1) It empowers the Office of Environmental Services to develop a comprehensive building code with construction requirements that are ecologically sound and energy efficient.
(2) It directs all government offices to conserve energy and reduce waste in their day-to-day operations.
(3) It establishes a recycling program to coordinate the collection of such materials from public and residential buildings.
(4) It calls for stricter regulation of solid waste, including toxic chemicals, on lands under the jurisdiction of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Environmental Services staff have already begun implementing the new law; recycling bins are now available throughout the Capitol Complex. An interdepartmental task force, the Muscogee Nation Green Team, is meeting on a quarterly basis to coordinate various projects related to sustainability. A follow-up law, NCA 09-194, has authorized access to a federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, which will eventually create as many as twenty-five new jobs in Mvskoke country.
The Green Government Initiative was sponsored by National Council representative Terrie Anderson and co-sponsored by representatives Selina Jayne-Dornan and Paula Willits. Anderson believes this endeavor puts us “on the cutting edge” of sustainability legislation. Other tribes have environmental regulations of one kind or another, but this may be the first comprehensive “green government” law adopted by a federally recognized tribe in the United States.
In the words of the Green Government Initiative, this bold venture “will allow the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to serve as an example for all Native American tribes” and “to lead the effort to return to our traditional beliefs.”
Let’s hope that future generations will look back on ours as the time when Oklahoma started going green.