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.



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.

Crazy Brave

My Monday morning drawing class resumed this week. We have each been asked to bring in a poem or piece of prose for Andrea to read out loud during our warm up exercise. I chose a poem written by Mvskoke poet and musician Joy Harjo from her memoir Crazy Brave for our first session.


Fear Poem, or I Give You Back

I release you, my beautiful and terrible
fear. I release you. You were my beloved
and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you
as myself. I release you with all the
pain I would know at the death of
my children.

You are not my blood anymore.

I give you back to the soldiers
who burned down my home, beheaded my children,
raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.
I give you back to those who stole the
food from our plates when we were starving.

I release you, fear, because you hold
these scenes in front of me and I was born
with eyes that can never close.

I release you
I release you
I release you
I release you

I am not afraid to be angry.
I am not afraid to rejoice.
I am not afraid to be black.
I am not afraid to be white.
I am not afraid to be hungry.
I am not afraid to be full.
I am not afraid to be hated.
I am not afraid to be loved.

to be loved, to be loved, fear.

Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.
You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.
You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.

I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice
my belly, or in my heart my heart
my heart my heart

But come here, fear
I am alive and you are so afraid of dying.

– Joy Harjo


We drew with our eyes closed and my heart felt strong.


I don’t normally make a New Year’s resolution, but on the 31st Steve asked me and I said, “I want to make more art work that matters to me”. Sometimes my art making has been about sheer beauty or experimentation, sometimes it has been made with the aim of being selected for a particular competition or an art show. Last year, I have been working more with my hands (rather than with my sewing machine) and choosing my Muscogee history, heritage and culture for my subject matter. This year, I intend for my art work to be more personal, honest and cutting edge.

I do usually choose a word for the year. This year my word is brave.


Full circle

The Muscogee concept of space contains the key idea of seven directions.  There are the four cardinal directions – North, East, South and West.   The fifth is downward into the earth, and the sixth is upward towards the sky. The seventh is the centre of the observerboea fikcha/puyvfekcv/fekcv, fire within spirit, or energy.  I love this because it places the individual within the entire world/universe.  In this instance, our view takes on a three-dimensional perspective so that the universe becomes a sphere instead of a circle.

The Muscogee annual buskida, or green corn dance is the most important festival, occurring in late summer.  The ceremonial ground has a central fire which contains the seven directions.  The four logs point to the first four directions.  The base and the rocks in the earth point downward, the smoke moves upward and the fire remains at the centre.


Symbolically, this parallels the Muscogee concept of self, which includes four external sacred paths, each with its own values, sometimes represented with colours.  Internally, the Muscogee spirit is rooted downward to Mother Earth, the fire of energy burns in the centre of the person, the spirit spirals upward in the Muscogee mind, and it exits through the top of the head at death to join the spirit and energy linkages with the rest of the cosmos.  Symbolically, the spirit within is in harmony with the Spirit without.

7th direction003

The year begins by igniting a New Fire at Green Corn Ceremony

I first learned about this concept a few years ago when I began reading about the Muscogee culture and worldview.  Initially, it was a purely intellectual concept, but as I have been journeying inwards and embracing my culture on a personal level it has become an internal orientation.  I think that because my Dad had lost touch with and rejected his indigenous heritage, that I grew up feeling disconnected from my ancestry and all of the richness of our culture.  Likewise, for many years I was disconnected from the pain and dislocation associated with our post-Contact history.  As I have been able to acknowledge the grief and deep loss that our people have suffered and passed down through the generations, I am coming to a deep appreciation of our culture and worldview and becoming grounded and centered in a way I never thought possible.  I feel like I am inhabiting my life from the inside out.

I made this piece recently from two whippy branches, gold thread, a metal & shell heart and some honesty.  This embodies the way that  I see my place in the world – contained, in the moment, with a three dimensional orientation and universal view.

7th direction001

The center of the circle of life is within all of us as we seek to find it.




The Busk Fire, Source of Balance and Harmony

A Sacred Path: The Way of the Muscogee Creeks

Choosing to witness

“My ancestry and the history of colonization in North America,
place me as a witness to the untold stories of this continent.
I can either take up that role of witness or ignore it.
I choose to witness . . . . “

The first room that people enter when they come to my Open Studio is filled with my artwork inspired by the Muscogee (Creek), the tribe that I belong to.  The work honours my people, our traditions and tells many stories.  Most of the work is done by hand.


I begin with the first piece I made “Winter Trees Wept” which is about The Removal in the 1830’s of the Muscogee and four other tribes, the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Seminole from the Southeastern United States to Indian Territory, 1500 miles to the West.  This was the most difficult piece for me as it contains the unbearable grief suffered by my people and by the land.

Winter Trees Wept

Winter Trees Wept

“‘Winter Trees Wept’ was the knife-edge that opened up the way into the richness of my Muscogee heritage.  I began drawing in October 2012 and real and imagined worlds have been flooding onto blank paper; marks made and stories told in charcoal, mushroom compost, paint and pastels.


I have been taking up wire, clay, wool, twigs, bark,  fabric, bird wings and claws and shaping some of the inhabitants of the Muscogee world.


Chufi (trickster rabbit), poyvfekcv fuswv (spirit bird), perro (boat), hvcce (river), enliketv poyvfekcv (soul shelter) and Birdman, a supernatural deity who resided in the Upperworld with the spirits of the Sun, Moon and Stars.



Birdman – twigs, thread, blackbird wings, tail & claws. 50 x 19 cm


Everywhere, there are maps.  I have printed off a map showing the location of the five tribes and the Removal routes to the West.  This helps me to explain so much.


 This map shows the Upper Creek Nation with our villages and towns along the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers.

Muscogee Red Stick

ecatecvlke enfvyvtetv pome enliketv, red stick leads us home – twig, oil pastel, watercolour pencil, acrylic paint 30 x 30 cm

This work feels so important and deeply healing to me and my ancestors.  It continues to be a privilege to share it with visitors to my studio and to my blog.

The quote which begins this post was recycled from this interview of Cree/Metis poet Marilyn Dumont



6 in a million butterflies can’t be wrong

When most people consider the word ‘holocaust’ as a historical event, they think of the European Jewish Holocaust.  For the Houston Holocaust Museum’s Butterfly Project, the museum has been collecting handmade butterflies in an effort to remember the 1.5 million children who perished in the Nazi Holocaust.

My six butterflies are based on the Native American Holocaust, which was perpetrated upon the indigenous people of North America by European invaders and once the United States of America was formed, by the US government.

Holocaust Museum

Authors such as the Holocaust expert David Cesarani have argued that the government and policies of the United States of America against certain indigenous peoples in furtherance of Manifest Destiny constituted genocide. Cesarani states that “in terms of the sheer numbers killed, the Native American Genocide exceeds that of the Holocaust”.  There are 37 Museums in the U.S. dedicated to the Nazi Holocaust.

The United States does have the impressive National Museum of the American Indian, however there is no mention of or display space dedicated to the role of the US government in the decimation of America’s indigenous people.  Carter Camp (Ponca), co-founder of the American Indian Movement [AIM] and one of the organizers of the occupation at Wounded Knee in 1973, has written an eloquent and impassioned essay addressing this:  Hiding Genocide: The National Museum of the American Indian.

Attorney Peter D’Errico makes a cogent argument for the establishment of a Native American Holocaust Museum in this article in which he refers to the ‘duty of memory’.

“It seems that the first “duty of memory” is to remember. And how do we remember? By searching out the past, looking for evidence, facing facts, poking through facades, ignoring excuses, refusing lies.”

I belong to the Muscogee (Creek) and carry the tribal and personal memory of our holocaust, the Indian Removal Act 1830 and the resulting Trail of Tears, in my blood and the collective history of the Native American Genocide deep in my bones.  Sometimes this history weighs heavy on my soul.  I try to give this pain a voice and to express it through my artwork.  It heals me and I believe that it somehow heals my ancestors.

Between two worlds with 'Winter Trees Wept'

Between two worlds with ‘Winter Trees Wept’

In 2010, I made two Holocaust Butterflies for the Butterfly Project based on images of  Comanche children and words from the (broken) 1865 treaty between the Comanche and the US Government.  My butterflies combine text and photographs printed onto paper.


On May 28, 1830, the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson.  This butterfly is made of printed excerpts from Jackson’s 2nd Annual Message to Congress, December 6, 1830 in which he outlines the Indian Removal Act and images from the £20 bill.

Andrew Jackson butterfly 8

Andrew Jackson butterfly
8″ x 10″ , printed on lokta paper.

And is it supposed that the wandering savage has a stronger attachment to his home than the settled, civilized Christian? Is it more afflicting to him to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children? Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the States and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the General Government kindly offers him a new home, and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement.
– Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson butterfly - detail

Andrew Jackson butterfly – detail

Since the Butterfly Project focuses on children,  I spent an afternoon researching Indian Boarding Schools, whose mission was to ‘Kill the Indian, save the man’.  With the founding of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1879 the U.S. Government launched an effort at what is now called cultural genocide where Indian children were taken away from their families and put into boarding schools for three or more years.

Residential schools had a specific goal which was . . . institutionalized assimilation by stripping Aboriginal people of their language, culture and connection with family. the results for many, have included a lifestyle of uncertain identity and the adoption of self-abusive behaviours, often associated with alcohol and violence, reflect a pattern of coping sometimes referred to in First Nations as, “The Residential School Syndrome” (McKenzie & Morrissette, 2003, p.254).

About the schools:

More than 100,000 Native children in the US were enrolled in off-reservation boarding schools. Parents who refused to give up their children were imprisoned and their children were forcibly taken away. The first school was founded in 1879 by Richard Pratt, an army officer, who based the system off a school he developed for a prison in Florida. The schools were funded by Congress and run by churches and missionary societies. Pratt mandated that the children be taken far from their homes at an early age and not returned until they were young adults. In the boarding schools boys were taught menial labor and girls housework. They were forced to convert to Christianity, embrace Western culture, and speak only English. Native languages and traditions were prohibited and severely punished. Children were subjected to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by the priests and nuns in charge. Torture was used to punish native language use; children were involuntarily sterilized and died of disease, beating, poisoning, hanging, starvation, strangulation, and medical experimentation. By the 1930s most off-reservation boarding schools were closed, but today boarding schools still exist within reservations.

Most of what I read and all of the photographs were very difficult to process.  The one photograph that undid me however was of a nun standing in a classroom of Indian children.


My Muscogee bloodline comes through my father.  Although my father did not get sent away to boarding school, his mother almost certainly had been. I can remember my Dad saying that he went to a Catholic run school and that the nuns were very cruel.  He also said that he could understand Muscogee, but couldn’t speak the language.  He wouldn’t have been allowed to.  In contrast, his grandmother Malindy Davis nee Philips, a full-blooded Muscogee (Creek) Indian could speak no English.  So in the space of two generations, the language was lost, the Indian was killed.  The man was saved, but the price paid was a dark legacy.

I had a pretty difficult relationship with my father.  Through this healing work of reclaiming  and understanding my Muscogee heritage and legacy I am coming to understand and feel compassion for my Dad.

Chiricahua Apache, Carlisle Indian School - before and after, 8

Thomas Moore (Cree), Regina Indian Industrial School – before and after,
8″ x 10″, printed on architectural tracing paper.


Chiricahua Apache, Carlisle Indian School – before and after, 8″ x 10″, printed on architectural tracing paper.

Chiricahua Apache, Carlisle Indian School – before and after,
8″ x 10″, printed on architectural tracing paper.

The definition of intergenerational impacts and the legacy of residential schools abuse follows:

“Intergenerational Impacts” refer to “the effects of physical and sexual abuse that were passed on to the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Aboriginal people who attended the residential school system.”

The list below of impacts that intergenerational Survivors face on a day-to-day basis:

  1. Alcohol and drug abuse;
  2. Sexual abuse (past and ongoing);
  3. Physical abuse (past and ongoing; especially, but not exclusively, of women and children);
  4. Psychological/emotional abuse;
  5. Low self-esteem;
  6. Dysfunctional families and interpersonal relationships;
  7. Parenting issues such as emotional coldness, rigidity, neglect, poor communications and abandonment;
  8. Chronic, widespread depression;
  9. Chronic, widespread rage and anger;
  10. Eating disorders;
  11. Sleeping disorders;
  12. Chronic physical illness related to spiritual and emotional states;
  13. Layer upon layer of unresolved grief and loss;
  14. Fear of personal growth, transformation and healing;
  15. The breakdown of the social glue that holds families and communities together, such as trust, common ground, shared purpose and direction, a vibrant ceremonial and civic life, co-operative networks and associations working for the common good, etc.;
  16. Spiritual confusion; involving alienation from one’s own spiritual life and growth process, as well as conflicts and confusion over religion;
  17. Internalized sense of inferiority or aversion in relation to whites and especially whites in power;
  18. Toxic communication – backbiting, gossip, criticism, put downs, personal attacks, sarcasm, secrets, etc.;
  19. Becoming oppressors and abusers of others as a result of what was done to one in residential schools;
  20. Dysfunctional family co-dependent behaviours replicated in the workplace;
  21. Cultural identity issues – missionization and the loss of language and cultural foundations has led to denial (by some) of the validity of one’s own cultural identity (assimilation), a resulting cultural confusion and dislocation;
  22. Destruction of social support networks (the cultural safety net) that individuals and families in trouble could rely upon;
  23. Disconnection from the natural world (i.e. the sea, the forest, the earth, living things) as an important dimension of daily life and hence spiritual dislocation;
  24. Voicelessness – entailing a passive acceptance of powerlessness within community life and a loss of traditional governance processes that enabled individuals to have a significant influence in shaping community affairs (related to the psychological need of a sense of agency, i.e. of being able to influence and shape the world one lives in, as opposed to passively accepting whatever comes and feeling powerless to change it.

Upon arrival


Four months later

The Chiricahua Apache butterfly is printed on heavyweight architectural tracing paper which transmits light.  An interesting effect for future projects.

Chiricahua Apache, contra jour

Chiricahua Apache, contra jour

Mass grave identified near a former Catholic Indian Residential School - Alberta, Canada. 8

Mass grave near a former Catholic Indian Residential School – Alberta, Canada.
8″ x 10″, printed on architectural tracing paper

I finished my final four butterflies by adding bodies and antennae.



I sent them off to Houston last week where they will represent a fraction of the forgotten children of the Native American Holocaust.

Sources & bibliography:

Indian Boarding Schools

US-Dakota War of 1862 – Indian Boarding Schools

Native Residential Schools in North America

Residential School Syndrome

Residential Schools:  The Intergenerational Impacts on Aboriginal People

Historical Trauma

Healing from Intergenerational Trauma

Intergenerational Impacts of the Indian Residential Schools