Belonging

I have Muscogee ancestry on my Dad’s side. He grew up in poverty in Muscogee, Oklahoma in the 1920’s and 30’s, feeling very ashamed and marginalized, called a ‘half-breed’ by the white kids and the other Indian kids. He inherited and passed on to our family the violence and rage and addiction that had been passed to him through the generations. I grew up knowing that I am part Indian, but feeling shame-filled and secretive about it. My Dad never learned our language or any of our traditional ways.

When I got into my 20’s, I read everything I could find on the European Holocaust. There simply wasn’t anything being written about the Native American Holocaust and the genocide inflicted on the indigenous people in America. I later started learning about Historical Trauma and Unresolved Grief in Native American communities. I identified the source of my family’s dysfunctional inheritance and did a lot of work acknowledging the damage and healing the scars.

I’ve made some important pieces of artwork to mark this journey and in the past couple of years, when I’ve shared them with people and told them about my family history, they would say how lucky I am to have that background. At first I thought they were crazy, because there was so much pain and grief, so many generations of unfulfilled lives in response to our history. I’ve also been learning a lot about the Muscogee. About our pre-Contact (1492) life and traditions, the Indian Removal Act, Trail of Tears and Relocation to Oklahoma, where my Dad grew up. I’ve come to understand my Dad and feel compassion for him. I’m certainly the first person in my family line who has faced and felt this stuff. It has felt like a huge burden at times and has lain heavy on my heart.

Last night, I spent a couple of hours going through the Muscogee (Creek) census from 1832 town by town. My GGG Grandfather, Pahos (Pow Hose or Par Hose) Harjo Philips came from one of 12 Upper Creek towns in what is now known as central Alabama. That’s Red Stick country. The Red Stick Muscogee were the ones who supported traditional Muscogee leadership and culture, including the preservation of communal land for cultivation and hunting and opposed assimilation to the United States culture. They went to war in 1813 with the Lower Creek Muscogee (who were allied with the white Americans), influenced by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, who had begun a pan-Indian movement to throw the Americans out of Native American territories. We lost, but we went down fighting.

In a radical act, my GG Grandfather (B. 1826) was named Tecumseh Philips after the great leader. By 1836, the last of the Muscogee were ‘removed’ to Indian Territory, 1500 miles to the West. I am named after Tecumseh’s daughter, Malindy Philips, who is my great grandmother.

When I found last night, that I am descended from the ones who fought back, I felt like an eagle was flying in my heart, like the sun was beaming from my soul, like the sacred hoop had been mended. I felt whole again and I felt the strength of my people. I feel proud to belong to the Muscogee.

Brian Larney_Red Stick

Red Sticks by Brian Larney

Artwork by Brian Larney

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3 thoughts on “Belonging

  1. Hello, Although I have been subscribed to your blog for some time now and always read the posts with interest, I have not commented until today~ Loved reading about your discovery of your ancestry ~ My heart gave a leap too on your behalf ,upon coming to the end of one path which led to your brave , strong fore -bearers. I too have native American in my family but not as near in the line ~ mine would have been a great -great grandmother ,but we have always been very proud of the fact we have this member added to our ‘tribe’ and most people, especially Europeans seem to greet this information with real interest and positivity. When I was in my twenties I read every book on native Americans and first hand accounts of both their history and the then current views by native Americans .I educated myself about their cultures and struggles and learned in greater depth the horrific treatment by the incoming settlers, the American govt ect. I know you are a bit younger than I ,and perhaps not as many books circulating then on the native American struggle~ but there was much more being written and published during the late 60’s and early seventies with the rise of awareness and activism on the part of certain tribes~ (which I am sure you know about re: Wounded Knee (1970’s) and Alcatraz ect ) There is so much more to be proud of in being from Native Americans than not, and we know the source of so much of the current problems with alcohol, the violence associated with it and poverty ect. A long legacy created by the destruction of their native cultures ~So pleased for you that you are finding a way to come to terms with your personal experiences and to re-connect with all that is so good and wonderful about your ancestors.

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