“YOU’LL MOCK DEATH BUT ONCE!”
I ask the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma to excuse me for speaking about your relatives. I was asked by Indian Country Today Media Network, and I am moved to do so prayerfully. The act of tampering with the graves of your ancestors affects us as well, and we support you. I am deeply bothered by it, I want to know things and I want to say some things from what I heard and read.
Why are the Poarch Creek Indians of Alabama digging up Creek graves at Hickory Ground so they can build a casino? This is an insult to everything we stand for as American Indians, and it affects my people in in its insensitivity and ignorance. It gives our enemies the ammunition they need to discredit all of us and our attempts to preserve and protect our sacred graves. When the Creek Nation were forced out of Alabama onto their Trail Of Tears, like many tribes, groups of them scattered and were not removed, but had to fend for themselves and hide from the government. To their credit, after many years they held together and fought the government in court and reclaimed federal recognition against all odds in 1982. The toll this takes on a tribe cannot be fully understood by most of us until something like this happens.
When is an Indian no longer an Indian? When he no longer hears his past relatives speaking in his own language, when the music of his people past has been replaced with the noise of another culture, when he has replaced the bones of his own people with a casino! Where are your voices of reason? Have you not noticed there is a huge movement in Indian country now to save sacred sites? How could you not know that the graves of your ancestor go to the heart of your culture? They tell you who you are, they tell your children who they are, and they are the key to your ties to this earth, to the past and the future. They are literally the identity of your nation, those who fought to keep their way of life together and sacred for you. These are not hollow words—these are the very beliefs that make us unique people.
How does your action affect my tribe and culture? Our enemies will only credit one tribe for anything they consider a good deed, mainly if it affects them in a positive light. On the other hand they will condemn all tribes when one tribe does something they consider respectable or normal to them. When one tribe blows it, they blow it for all of us. That’s how it works. Now they will use you as the example of what all tribes do. When we tell them our graves are sacred they will turn to us and say, Well why did the Poarch Creek tribe dig up their ancestors and move them to build a casino? Yes, you become the standard they will judge us by. If you have lost the voices of reason in your own tribe to do what is best for your own culture, then it becomes our responsibility to inform you that what you are doing is wrong and unacceptable for the best interest of all of us.
The Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma are telling you to stop moving their relations from their resting grounds. You are making old wounds new again. But now I am here to tell you stop it on behalf of my loved ones as it is also insulting to our culture and counter to the struggles we are now having to preserve the dignity of our loved ones and their graves. You don’t live in a vacuum and your actions hurt all of us.
I see a greater problem related to these casinos when it come to preserving our culture and making the all-mighty dollar. Too many are being operated by non-Indians who have no understanding of our cultures. Too many times decisions are being made that should impact Indians but don’t because the decisions are being made by non-Indians. But the worst case scenario would be if non-Indians are making decisions that could negatively impact a tribe to other governments. Even to degrade their culture because these decisions were made by non-Indians under the nose of who are supposed to be Indian and the watchdogs of a culture. Where is your cultural conscience and cultural integrity? I believe the Muskogee Creek of Oklahoma have full right, a moral authority and a responsibility to stop you from yourself. Don’t you know that even the trees and the grass that grow where we bury the dead are full of the life force of the forefathers? We believe and know that when you walk on ground you carry the ghosts of your past into your homes on the soles of your shoes. Be responsible to them for us and mainly for yourselves for your future lies in the graves you disrespect.
Dan (SaSuWeh) Jones is the former chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. He is a filmmaker and former vice chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission, appointed by former Oklahoma Governor, Brad Henry.