Cokv-Walv Mvskoke

If you subscribe to the Muscogee Nation News, then you’ve probably received one of the wall calendars produced by the Communications Department.  The current edition is titled Mvskoke Etvlwv 2010 Nettv Vhvnkatv, or “Muscogee Nation 2010 Day Counter.”

That’s an interesting turn of phrase, “day-counter,” and there are at least two other ways to express the English word “calendar” in the Mvskoke language.

The term hvse-onayv combines hvse, which can mean “sun” or “month,” and onayv, “one who tells (a story).”  Of course, the sun and the (lunar) month are both related to how we keep track of the passage of time.  So a colloquial translation might be “date-teller,” another pretty good expression for calendar.

My personal favorite is cokv-walv, a contraction of cokv and owalvCokv refers to a book or some other form of written text, while owalv is a prophet or fortune-teller, one who can predict the future.  So the literal meaning is “book-prophesier,” though the phrase makes more sense in English if we translate it as “text that predicts the future.”

This strikes me as a reminder that any calendar offers only a prediction, not a promise, of days to come.  It’s easy to see something in print and assume it must be true.  But there’s no guarantee we’ll be around tomorrow, which is why it’s important to live each day as our last.

Incidentally, the English word calendar comes from the Latin kalendarium, “moneylender’s account book.”  So take your pick, nettv-vhvnkatv or hvse-onayv or cokv-walv, they’re all more suitable than calendar.  Better to live by a day-counter, a date-teller, or a text that predicts the future than according to a moneylender’s account book.

Previous editions of cokv-walv Mvskoke reproduced photos of Mvskoke historical sites and ceremonial grounds.  Mvskoke Etvlwv 2010 Nettv Vhvnkatv features a dozen images of Mvskoke churches, including Butler Creek Indian Baptist Church, where I have family ties.

It also shows Mvskoke names for the days of the week and the months of the year.  This is helpful for those of us who did not grow up speaking the Mvskoke language, and these names can teach us about Mvskoke country as well.

For example, the seven-day week is a cultural tradition from ancient Europe and the Middle East—it has no basis in natural phenomena, unlike the lunar month and the solar year.  Mvskokes adopted this periodic cycle in recent times to accommodate the dominant culture.

A century ago, the names for the days were mostly loanwords:  Monday became Mvntē; Tuesday was either Tustē or Mvntē Enhvyvtke, “the day after Monday.”  Today we also have descriptive terms based on each day’s position in the weekly rotation:  Wednesday is Ennvrkvpv, literally “half of” (the week) or “its middle”; Thursday is Ennvrkvpv Enhvyvtke, “the day after the middle of the week.”

The names for the months, on the other hand, are much older and reflect Mvskoke familiarity with the natural world.  They are listed here beginning with the month of posketv (Green Corn), the new year ceremony traditionally held around summer solstice:

Hvyuce, “Little Harvest”

Hvyo-Rakko, “Big Harvest”

Otvwoskuce, “Little Chestnut”

Otvwoskv-Rakko, “Big Chestnut”

Eholē, “Frost”

Rvfo-Rakko, “Big Winter”

Rvfo ‘Cuse, “Winter’s Younger Brother”

Hotvlē-Hvse, “Wind Month”

Tasahcuce, “Little Spring”

Tasahce-Rakko, “Big Spring”

Kē-Hvse, “Mulberry Month”

Kvco-Hvse, “Blackberry Month”

Six of the Mvskoke months are named for seasonal weather:  frost and winter, wind and spring.  The other six months bear names related to food production:  berries, harvest, chestnuts.

Seasons and staples—our ancestors knew their environment and understood their dependence on the provision of nature.  They survived by marking time with a system that rooted them in the annual round of subsistence.

Why bother with such things in a modern world of comfort and convenience?

Mvskoke terminology is much more than linguistic trivia or ethnic nostalgia.  Our indigenous forebears were keen observers of earth and sky, and cokv-walv Mvskoke conveys some of their most vital agricultural insights.

This is just one example of what scholars call “traditional ecological knowledge,” the distilled wisdom of generations and the land-based way of life that generates it.  As among other indigenous peoples, Mvskoke ecological knowledge addresses practical, social, and religious concerns.  These are valuable traditions that can help us meet the challenges ahead.

Muscogee Nation News, June 2010


English and Muskokee Dictionary, by R. M. Loughridge and David M. Hodge

A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee, by Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin

Beginning Creek / Mvskoke Emponvkv, by Pamela Innes and others

Red Earth, Green Government

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.

Muscogee Nation News, May 2010


Beginning Creek / Mvskoke Emponvkv, by Pamela Innes and others

“Contributions of the Indian People to Oklahoma,” by Muriel H. Wright

“Official Seals of the Five Civilized Tribes,” by Muriel H. Wright

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Office of Environmental Services

Okfuskee Then and Now

Tribal towns have always been central to Mvskoke life.

Before removal, people living in the Creek Nation distinguished between two types of community:  tvlofv, a smaller settlement of households and their fields; and tvlwv, a larger network of families affiliated with a particular square ground and its fire.  Each tvlwv encompassed various tvlofv, in much the same way that an Amish sect unifies scattered Amish settlements.

One of the more prominent tribal towns in the old country was Okfuskee, an Upper Creek tvlwv on the Tallapoosa River.

The site is now covered by a reservoir, but it’s safe to say that Okfuskee was organized around three essential public structures:  town square, council house, and ball field.  This central district was likely surrounded by private homes and gardens laid out in an orderly fashion, with a large communal farm on the outskirts of town.

There were several Okfuskee villages nearby, in the Tallapoosa Valley, and several more on the Chattahoochee River, more than seventy miles overland to the east.

*                *                *

Like other towns in Mvskoke country, Okfuskee relied on cooperative agriculture.

The town’s cropland was managed by one prominent leader, an official the English referred to as “master of the ground.”  Among other duties, he directed the spring planting of the communal fields—and Okfuskee residents could be punished for failing to help.  But few wanted to miss the singing, joking, and storytelling that made this vital work a festive experience.

Other responsibilities for food production were assigned on the basis of gender.  Women supplied fruits and vegetables from their household gardens, while men hunted game animals to provide meat for their families.

Townspeople refrained from eating produce from the communal farm until posketv, known in English as Green Corn.  And they could afford to do so, since the family plots were planted earlier and with a different variety of corn, one that ripened quicker.

Okfuskee was hvthakv, a white town devoted to peace, and early interactions with the British were mostly peaceful.  Mvskoke diplomacy was often signified with agricultural products given as natural tokens of goodwill:  corn and watermelon seeds, dried tobacco, strings of barley corn beads.

But relationships between town residents, between women and men, and between Okfuskee and the colonies began changing in the eighteenth century, especially during the years leading up to the American rebellion.

Increasing trade led to economic dependence, so Mvskoke men started hunting deer for their skins rather than their meat.  Imported livestock damaged crops, so Mvskoke women had to spend more time protecting the fields.

Okfuskee grew more dispersed and townspeople altered their interactions with the land.  The bonds of community welfare began to loosen just as settler aggression reared its ugly head.  War, dispossession, and exile were just over the historical horizon.

*                *                *

The Okfuskee name lives on today in several places:  a ceremonial ground and a chartered community, both northwest of Okemah; a Baptist church, southeast of Eufaula; a county government, seated in Okemah; and a district of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

But it’s been hard for tribal towns to practice collective farming since removing to Indian Territory, particularly after the allotment of Mvskoke lands a hundred years ago.

Of course, this reflects a broader social trend away from local agriculture in the twentieth century, with fewer and fewer people directly involved in food production.  In Okfuskee County, for example, the 2000 U.S. Census found that only 2.5% of the employed labor force was working in agricultural occupations.

That’s a far cry from old Okfuskee, where every able-bodied citizen helped produce the community’s food supply.

Perhaps the twenty-first century will bring a new era of home-grown farmers.  We have a lot to learn from our Mvskoke ancestors.

Muscogee Nation News, January 2010


Okfuskee: A Creek Indian Town in Colonial America, by Joshua Piker

U.S. Census Bureau – Okmulgee County, Oklahoma QuickLinks