Vanguard

Earlier this year I completed Road to Oklahoma, which I have been working on for about four years.  It has evolved as I have learned about and got in touch with my Muscogee ancestry and heritage.

I entered it in the 48th  Annual Trail of Tears At Show in Talequah, Oklahoma.  The Trail of Tears Art Show began in 1972 with the intent to create a venue where diverse art forms can be used to exhibit American Indian heritage.  TOTAS s the longest-running American Indian art show in Oklahoma.  I first heard about this show in 2016 and it was my dream to have a piece of artwork juried in to it.  I’ve shown and sold my work in the UK, but I feel that when Native people view my work, that it is ‘gotten’ at the deep level that it is made from.

Road to Oklahoma – Artist’s Statement
A road is just a road until you travel upon it. Then it becomes part of you. This road began with the Missisipian peoples, ancestors of my tribe, the Muscogee (Creek). Some of their motifs are part of this piece. Later, the Mvskoke were forced from their river towns – represented here by beads – along the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory, later Oklahoma. For my dad, the road promised escape from the traumas of the past to a new life. But, however far he travelled, the trauma travelled with him. Further down the road, he passed it on to me.

Road to Oklahoma,   34 x 11″

At the bottom of the piece, I added a bundle of red sticks to honor my Upper Creek ancestors  and my dad, Frank Charles Schwakhofer who was born in a time and place where he could not be Mvskoke.

I also made and added the Mississippian Hand, originally made from mica, from Angelina fibres.  My ancestors believed that our newly dead gathered in a hand shaped constellation of stars, prior to joining our ancestors on the Milky Way.

I am very, very proud that Road to Oklahoma won two prizes in this year’s Trail of Tears Art Show.  First place in it’s category and I won an Emerging Artist Award.  🙂

Next year is 2020, the centenary year of my dad’s birth.  I have been longing to go to Oklahoma for several years, to put my feet on the ground where my dad and ancestors lived and to re-connect with my people, the Muscogee (Creek).  I have had six pieces of artwork in Oklahoma over the past year.  I feel that these are emissaries and paving the way for me.  I spoke at a conference in Norwich this summer and met a few Southeastern Native artists, including two Muscogee (Creeks).   It feels great to be connected to some people in advance of my journey there.  I will be going Home.

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 several 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