We gather now in a different way

I am hot-wired and beyond sleepless.

I am back home from three days of arts related symposia.  The first symposium was on Indigenous Art in Britain, I learned of this via Rainmaker Gallery in Bristol. I went as a Native artist living in the UK and to find out how and where Indigenous art work is exhibited over here.  Usually in the ‘anthropology’ context and in the past tense.  But this we can change.

The second 2 days were a symposium on Social MakingThe latter had to do with socially engaged art, eg, any artform which involves people and communities in debate, collaboration or social interaction.  Myself and another artist from Moretonhampstead took up two places which were funded by our local art gallery Greenhill Arts.  During these two days, I got some ideas about how I can challenge and change  the story that is still being told over here about Native American people. 

It is time to make our stories visible, to put us back in history and to tell our unfolding now and future stories.  It is time to stitch our selves back into the story.  Some of this I am beginning to do with my Mvskoke Journey and SacRED Threads art work.

These three days were a lot to take in and experience.  I let the days wash over me and certain aspects found a place to dwell within.

I am an introvert by nature and during the lunch break in Bristol, I chose a sack lunch and went out to find a quite place beneath the trees to sit and eat and be for an hour.

Highlights of that day were witnessing a round table discussion between six Native artists, hearing Marla Allison give the keynote talk at the end of the day and then attending the opening of her exhibition Painter From the Desert.   Coll Thrush spoke about collapsing time, the way that landscapes can hold historical trauma and how this trauma can be healed through commemorative acts.  All food for my future pilgrimage to our ancestral Homelands.  I also raised my hand to be counted as one of nine Native people in the largest gathering together in Bristol. 🙂
Radical and subversive re-curations and re-creations
are afoot.  We are putting our people back into the story
through art making and song and writing.
We are making new stories.
Throughout Social Making in Plymouth was the sound of an old fashioned typewriter hooked up to a laptop and fed directly onto social media as the days and hours were minuted.
In fact at both symposia, people’s laptops, phones and tablet were constantly evident.  I don’t engage at that consistent, persistent and insistent level.  I often wonder if screens take people away from what is happening, although I realize that the constant feed of ‘right now’ information is what many people have come to expect.

We gather together in different ways.

I met a Prince and did some of my usual hanging back and observing.

A meeting of Nations. His Serene Highness Prince Freï von Fräähsen zu Lorenzburg and Melinda Schwakhofer. Ambassadress of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Tea break on the steps of Devonport Guildhall, Plymouth.

The waters have broken
Incongruous confluences are being birthed
held in harmony by this artist/midwife’s hands.

Connections and conversations,
a palm full of golden seeds of new ideas.
Butterflies dancing over desert rivers.

Cultivate patience
and allow space.

A night time train journey through NYC
to the corner of 125th and Midnight
with a Queer poetess.
She gave me a key
to open new doors
and to lock others safe tight.

Time collapses and place becomes a collaborator.

We gather now in a different may.

Key to the river journey, 2018.
Ad interim assemblage of bleached & hand painted mulberry bark, drawing of a Mississippian river motif, accordion book page from ‘Little Red Stick : A Mvskoke fairy tale’ photo of the artist, a key and the artist’s hand.



“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

-Wendell Berry

Spring Cleaning

Today we began our Annual Spring Kitchen Clean at Chateau Schwakhofer-Coxon. Everything, and I do mean everything, comes off the shelves and out of drawers.
Silver and copper are polished, as needed. Wooden utensils and boards are oiled.
Spice and food packets are sorted through and culled. All surfaces are deep cleaned.

I knocked off for my afternoon nap at 2:30 and Steve carried on with polishing the copper, silver and pewter.

Absolutely brilliant!  On so many levels. 🙂

About 45 minutes into it I found some self-raising pastry flour that was a few months  out of date. I thought ‘I’ll make a cake and see if it still rises’. So I did and it did.

When we made our way around to the fridge,I found a jar of homemade lemon curd, Long story short, I’ve invited a bunch of people over tomorrow for an Afternoon Tea Party with Victoria Sponge and Lemon Bakewell Slices.

And now we are all ready for another year of marvelous culinary adventures and inventions.


Finding my voice

My Vne Este Mvskoke exhibition came down last Thursday.  Through this ten-year body of work, I have used art making to talk about my journey into my Muscogee heritage and to tell unspeakable stories from my tribal and personal history.

I have also created the opportunity for myself to stand up and talk to people about my work and about issues relevant to Native Americans.  I spoke about my current exhibition at two Private Views that I held.  Throughout my exhibition, I also had a Pop Up Native American cinema in which I raised funds for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center in the US.  Before each screening, I spoke about the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in North America and then introduced the film.   And last Friday I gave a 45 minute talk and dinner about my current exhibit and my Mvskoke Journey.

To be at ease when speaking in public before an audience was a goal that I set for myself about a year ago.   I’ve recently read my poetry at public events, and through my work with Art Raft for Health, I have found myself standing up before funders to talk about it.  But I have not found public speaking comfortable.  My breathing becomes shallow.  My voice goes quavery and comes from the top of my chest.  I also rush and try to cram as many words as I can into the small space I feel has been allotted to me.

I know that this comes from having grown up in a society where, as a woman, I have not been given the space to speak and to be listened too.  Woman who speak are labeled nags, scolds, bossy, shrill or (fill in the blank).  Nor have I had much opportunity to see and hear other women taking their space to speak about what matters to them.  In fact, in films female characters feature in less than 20% of speaking roles.

A friend of mine helped me to become aware of my breathing and to deepen into a place of strength and confidence when I speak before people.   Talking about my art work, my ancestors and past and current issues in Indian Country gave me a reason to move into a deeper place.   My copywriter husband helped me to craft my story into a concise and meaningful talk.  I consider my self a pretty good writer, but writing to speak is a different bag of cats.

My talk went really well.  People thanked me for my truth and honesty, and I have been asked to come and speak in a few places around Devon over the summer months.  It feels really good to have set and reached a new goal.

My next goal related to being audible in public is to begin story telling and performance.  There are a lot of Muscogee (Creek) tales that I would like to share.  The story of Little Red Stick, a Mvskoke girl who ran away from the Removals to stay in her Homelands accompanied by Wolf and Spirit Bird continues to grow and unfold inside of me.  Her story will be a live performance with spoken word, music, art work and film projection.

Untamed, 2012

Vne Este Mvskoke – Private View

My exhibition has set sail with my Private View on the 6th of April!  It was very well attended and a few of my pieces have found a home with people.  I didn’t have the time to take many photos, but here I am with my series of six tafv/feather mono prints which have gone to a collector.

Series of six tafv/feather monoprints

These are some of my first artistic expressions of my Mvskoke heritage. Delicate and strong., these feathers have given me wings and taken me on a far backwards and far forwards journey.

tafv/feather mono prints series of six, 2008

Steve put together a lovely video which gives a flavor of the evening.

Speaking of flavors, I made some Private View snacks with Muscogee inspired ingredients.  Cornmeal biscuits and straws and homemade venison & beef jerky.


These gave people a nice taster of the sort of food I will be cooking for a talk and three course dinner in mid-May.  I’ll be posting the invitation to this event on Tuesday, so stay tuned. 🙂

Six Towns Held by River Spirit

Dear Readers,
The last time we were on the Road to Oklahoma together was  November.  I’d been struggling to make the gorgets come out right and had decided to focus on another part of the journey. I set about finding the probable town(s) that my Great Great Great Grandfather Pahos Harjo had lived in prior to Removal to Indian Territory.

I ordered a print copy of the Creek census of 1832/1833, which has come to be called the Parsons and Abbott Roll, from Mountain Press.  It is the most comprehensive pre-Removal document, as it was the result of a village-to-village trek on the part of the census-takers, and contains the names of all the heads of households arranged by Creek towns.

By a treaty of March 24, 1832, the Creek Indians ceded to the United States all of their land east of the Mississippi River. Heads of families were entitled to tracts of land, which, if possible, were to include their improvements. In 1833 Benjamin S. Parsons and Thomas J. Abbott prepared a census of Creek Indian heads of families, which gave their names and the number of males, females, and slaves in each family. The entries were arranged by town and numbered; these numbers were used for identification in later records.

A big issue here is that Creek men were not the ‘heads of the family’, the women were.  But this is part of yet another story of patriarchal values being thrust upon Indigenous people.

All of this information is online, but I get fuddled when switching between multiple tabs, and it’s difficult to search through long lists on a screen.  I had a go about four years ago, but it is so much easier to look through sheets of paper.  Information on the internet, great resource that it is, has an ephemeral quality.

My print copy has been transcribed and typed, but here is a glimpse of the original handwritten document.

creek census image

I went through the lists of all of the Upper and Lower Creek towns to identify my Great Great Great Grandfather’s name – Pahos (Pow Hose or Par Hose) Harjo.   Another problem is that the Mvskoke language was not a written language, so there were approximations made when recording people’s names and place names.

I identified about a dozen towns with something close to his name.  Six were in Upper Creek territory and about five were in Lower Creek territory.   The Upper Creeks, unlike the Lower Creeks, resisted colonization in every manner that they could and held as fast as they could to their traditional ways.  They supported traditional Muscogee leadership and culture, including the preservation of communal land for cultivation and hunting and opposed assimilation to the United States culture.   I have several good reasons for knowing that my ancestors are Upper Creeks.

First of all, I know that my ancestors settled first in Tuskegee Town soon after they arrived in Indian territory after they were Removed.  The emigrants tended to settle together and named the new towns in the West after the towns they left behind.   In our homelands, Taskigi was  located in the triangle formed by the convergence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers.  I found this information on the Dawes Roll (more on this another time).

Second, my Great Great Grandfather was named Tecumseh, after the great Shawnee leader who had encouraged the Upper Creeks to fight against the encroaching United States government into their territory.  In 1811, Tecumseh had begun a pan-Indian movement to throw the Americans out of Native American territories. This led to the Red Stick War in 1813 in which the Upper Creek Muscogee went to war against the Lower Creek Muscogee (who were allied with the white Americans).

Third, my Great Grandmother Malindy Phillips who  was born in Indian Territory in 1878 never learned to speak English, keeping fast to the old ways and retaining her Native language.

So I felt very confident when I identified six possible Upper Creek towns that my ancestors came from.  Still, sometimes I’m often afraid that it is all a mistake.  That I don’t have any connection to the Muscogee.  I think that this comes from the years of shame, secrecy, ambivalence and feeling ‘other and outcast’ about being ‘part-Indian’.  All of those feeling passed to me from my Dad, along with the fact of my Muscogee ancestry.

When I got the font, the font size, the color of ink and the paper just right, I printed off the six towns:  Clewalla,  Fish Pond, Hatchet Creek, Kialege, Oelarneby, Ottise.

Then I broke half in two.  The tears came.  It is true.  We were there and we had to leave it all behind.

I made an altar to hold all of this.

I placed the town names along with some shell squares onto a reproduction of a map from 1816 that the Mvskoke had taken to a treaty meeting.   I encircled them with the red thread of my River Spirit necklace.  I placed a black and a white feather, a paper clay mask and my Dad’s cremation disc on all four sides.  Then l lit a candle.

It hurts, I hurt.    I want to be mistaken so I don’t have to feel the loss.  Loss is too inadequate a word.  It is a tear, we have been torn.  Ripped open and ripped apart.  It hurts to rip it back open and it feels clean.  It feels quiet and still.  It can heal now.

It can heal now.

River Spirit holds the towns and the ancestors left behind and our journey.
River Spirit washes away the pain.
River Spirit cleanses the wound.

For my exhibition, I made a mixed media piece comprising all of these elements.

Six Towns Held by River Spirit, mixed media, 30 x 40cm

By the way, I did not use my River Spirit necklace in this piece.  We went for a walk in early February, along the river which flows just outside of Moretonhampstead.

I gathered several piece of river drifted wood and used one of them for Six Towns.