How I learned to be Indian

The first time I exhibited my art work about my Muscogee (Creek) heritage, I was shocked when someone said to me ‘You are so lucky to be part-Indian’.  I wish that I had the wherewithal to ask just what she meant.  The history of all indigenous people in the United States is marked by physical and cultural genocide, and land theft and we have all inherited a legacy of Historical Trauma and Unresolved Grief.

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s with a father who felt very ashamed about his Muscogee ancestry.  My dad Frank was born in 1919 to my Muscogee grandmother Mattie Davis.  His father Ted Schwakhofer was of Austrian-American heritage.  Both of my grandparents were 16 years old.  My grandfather had nothing to do with his son or the mother of his child.  All that my dad received from him was his surname.

My dad said that he could understand the Muskogee language, but never learned to speak it.  The White kids called him a ‘Half Breed’ and the Muscogee kids didn’t like him because he was part White.  From 1920 onward, Native American children in Oklahoma were educated in the mainstream school system, where they and all of the other pupils learned that Indians were ‘savages’, although my dad used to argue with his teachers about this.  My grandmother Mattie would have gone to a residential school where students were actively discouraged from speaking their native tongue by having their mouths washed out with soap, or worse.

My brother, sister and I grew up knowing we’re part-Indian, but not much more than that.  My dad used to get The Muscogee Nation News delivered to our house and letters from distant relatives in Oklahoma, but by and large, he’d cut himself off from his ancestry.  I grew up wearing my Muscogee heritage like a cloak of shame.

I’ve come back to working with fibre and textiles in the past several months.   I’ve been studying an inspiring book by textile artist Rosie James.   I took the plunge into a machine sewn portrait of my dad onto paper printed with the front page of The Muscogee Nation news from 1978.

I made a line drawing from a photograph and printed off some text to make a layout of the piece.

Then I put the front page into Photoshop and added some text directly onto the page.  It is too fine to embroider onto the paper.  I used a glue stick to attach a piece of cotton organdie to the back of the paper to stabilize it and keep it from ripping when I stitched the portrait.  Then I machine stitched directly onto the front of the paper.

This is how it looks from the back.  I had originally thought about stitching through the fabric onto the front of the paper so had traced the picture onto the cloth.  It gives an interesting effect which I may explore in later work.


My Dad used to have The Muscogee Nation News delivered to our house in West Covina, California and kept them in a drawer.   He’d read them at the dining table, drinking a beer,  He’d say: “We’re part-Indian.  We’re Creek.  We’re one of the Five Civilized Tribes.”


Little Soft Thing

I’ve become a little soft thing over the past few weeks.  The last time I checked in to Inspiraculum, I was in the middle of my Yuletide hibernation.   Then in mid January I came down with a very persistent version of the flu.  I haven’t felt like doing much of anything and stayed in for much of the last month.

I did gently re-organize my studio.  No major changes, but I bought some new task lamps and shifted things around for more work surfaces and more efficient storage.

I also brought harmony to my threads, paper, art supplies, buttons and beads, which was most satisfying.  Not only the results, but I often found  the process very meditative and relaxing.



Last night I returned to my Pilates class for the first time since December.   My instructor Candice has a lovely voice and interesting turns of phrase.  We are asked to be like ‘little clams’ or ‘a bird spreading it’s wings’.   We also use a ‘little soft thing’ to rest our heads upon.  I used my fleece jacket in the first few sessions, then went out and bought a small cushion once I knew that I would be continuing the class.

I made a cover for it on Sunday night.  I love birds and used some fabric that I had left over from making a clothes peg bag .

It feels good to be returning to the outside world once again.  On Sunday morning Steve and I went for a walk.  I felt the softening of Winter’s hold and the first balmy hints of Springtime.

Of course this is the time when the earth quickens with life.

There has been a lot stirring and coming to life deep within.  I am certainly looking forward to new growth and all that this year will bring.

The returning of the Light

Early this morning from our living room window, over the rooftops, I spied mist covered fields beneath a clear blue sky.

I pulled boots and a warm gilet over my pj’s and went out for a walk beyond my village and out into the countryside.

The only people out and about were the posties, some shop keepers, a few dog walkers and their charges.   I said to the greengrocer ‘Isn’t it quiet  .  .  .  .   but busy day today?’  He shook his head and said ‘Calm before the storm.’


Steve and I are all set for the holidays.  We have a pretty relaxed and mellow time over Christmas.  We exchange heartfelt gifts and enjoy cooking and eating even more fabulous food than usual.  We did some final food and gift shopping yesterday in Exeter.  It was somewhat manic and I was glad to return home after a couple of hours in town.
While I was walking down the lane I thought about Christmas. The seasonal films we’ve been watching – A Christmas Carol, A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life –  are about finding the ‘true meaning’ of the Yuletide, usually the importance of friends, family and love for our fellows.  I also observe how so many people are focused on the materialism of the Christmas holiday and stressed out about needing to create the ‘perfect’ day.

I wondered about what it would be like to completely strip back the gifts, cards and feasting. What would remain? Would there even be a holiday?

My thoughts went back to the time long before the legend about Jesus being the son of God was peddled and before the Bible was written.  What there always has been is the return of the light, the days drawing out and the turning of the year to fruition. We have always and still do depend upon this for our survival. Not just humans, but all life.
This holiday, this Holy Day, celebrates the life force which animates every living thing. We gather together with our loved ones to remember that we are not alone. We feast on rich foods to nourish and sustain us through the darkest and leanest time of the year. And we light a candle to mark the returning of the light.

B is for Bay

Some friends gave us a few branches of bay leaves for Christmas.  I strip the leaves off and put them between the pages of a heavy book to flatten them out.

Because they don’t dry curly it makes them tidier to store and just in case I make Hasselback potatoes, they slip neatly between the potato slices.

I use a hefty book such as Larousse Gastronomique.

Gonna need a bigger bookshelf

I have a pretty big collection of books by and about Native Americans.  They’ve been distributed between my studio and some of our bookcases in the living room.

In November 2015, I got them all together and made a stack of 70 books.

For Christmas that year, I asked for a Sapiens bookshelf which I put in my studio to hold all of my Native American library in one place.

I have an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of this library.  23,040 pages just in case you were wondering.  To date I have 28 books about the Muscogee ranging from our language, spirituality, creation stories and folktales, history from the 1500’s through the Civil War and genealogy.  My latest book is The Politics of Indian Removal:  Creek Government and Society in Crisis by Michael D Green.  This excellent book is is distinguished for its Creek perspective.  I’m finding it fascinating to immerse my self in  while I am working on Road to Oklahoma.

Just one little problem is that it is book number 86 in my library and I have no room for it!

So to paraphrase Roy Scheider, I’m going to need a bigger bookcase.