Response: April 2014 Issue

Muscogee (Creek) Women Called to Serve

Muscogee (Creek) Women Called to Serve
Women of Native American heritage take part in a service at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

Since the beginning of time, the women of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation have played a major role in the existence of the Muscogee people, and to this day their contributions have allowed the nation to survive. The challenge today is made more difficult by the fact that women must be able to walk in two worlds-the past and future-and still maintain their balance. The structure of the ancient society is still intact in some parts of the nation today, and the Muscogee women must protect this to ensure that future generations of Muscogee people have a foundation to build on and an identity to be proud of.

Living history

In the 1970s, the leadership of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation drafted and adopted a new constitution, revitalized the National Council and began challenging U.S. federal law to affirm the nation's sovereign rights to maintain a national court system and levy taxes.

Today starts another chapter in our history as we continue down the path our forebears laid for us. For the nation's traditions, culture and language to survive, it is incumbent for the Muscogee women to regain the nation's strength and inspire other women to step forward and say, "Yes, I am a Muscogee Creek woman. I know who I am. I know where I've been. I know where I am going."

In 1950, Helen Chupco was elected president of the Women's Society of Christian Service for the Oklahoma Indian Mission where she served four years and then was reelected to serve two more years in 1958. When the nation's National Council was revitalized in the 1970s, Ms. Chupco was elected as one of the first women council representatives. She served faithfully for 23 years on the tribal council representing the Muskogee District. She was honored by the Oklahoma State Senate in April 1992 in recognition for her leadership in tribal government. Ms. Chupco laid the foundation for other women to become involved in tribal government.

Pearl Chalakee Thomas

For the past four years, Pearl Chalakee Thomas of Okmulgee, Okla., served as council representative from the Okmulgee District. Ms. Thomas is a lifelong United Methodist and has served in many capacities within the church, including with United Methodist Women. When asked why she decided to run for council, Ms. Thomas said it stemmed from the encouragement of her late husband. Before he passed he suggested that she run for council, but she had just retired and wanted to enjoy her retirement. Other council members approached her and asked her to run as a representative from her district.

Ms. Thomas had worked for the tribe and was familiar with its various programs and budget process. Not many council members had this knowledge. She had always had an interest in the tribal government, especially since living in the same area of the tribal headquarters. When she approached her two children about the possibility of running they were reluctant to give their OKs knowing the responsibilities and costs involved. But two of her grandchildren said, "Go for it, Grandma!"

Joyce Wilson Deere

Joyce Wilson Deere of Muskogee, Okla., was elected council representative from the Muskogee District in fall 2013. She says that she believes in being of service. During her professional career she worked with and for Indian people. Ms. Deere is a lifelong United Methodist and has served as an officer in her local church and United Methodist Women at the local, conference and jurisdictional level. She is an active participant in the Muskogee Indian Community. When asked to run for the office upon retirement, she felt compelled to continue a life of service by serving the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

"I would like to see the Muscogee (Creek) Nation grow and prosper in the business ventures it enters into so that we will be able to provide the highest quality of services to the citizens we serve, provide more job opportunities for our tribal citizens, create special programs for our children and youth, and continue with the preservation of our language and culture through education, our traditional churches and our ceremonial grounds," Ms. Deere said.

Building the future

Ms. Thomas says that serving is a learning process, one that never stops, and that she enjoys every bit of it-the ups, the downs, the meetings, the late nights, the sometimes-trying times away from family. It's an exciting experience she will never regret.

"My hope is that we move forward with a positive outlook and always support each other in our opportunities as we continue to make our tribe stronger and more self-supporting," Ms. Deere said. "My dream is that we, as a tribe, become financially sound so that we can meet the needs of every Muscogee (Creek) citizen needing assistance." Ms. Thomas stated that the tribe is growing, and now there are bigger needs, such as expanding services and land acquisition, establishing programs where people don't have to travel long distances to receive assistance.

"One of the things I respect of the council is at all our meetings we would start with a tribal hymn and a prayer," Ms. Thomas said. "And for some unknown reason it seemed the women were the ones that would either lead the song or say the prayer. Our people are very spiritual, whether it is traditional or Christian. Several of the representatives are either United Methodist members or affiliated with a United Methodist church."

Both Ms. Thomas and Ms. Deere feel it an honor to serve their Muscogee (Creek) Nation as representatives of the National Council, following the legacy that Ms. Chupco and other foremothers established. They are Muscogee Creek women. They know who they are. They know where they've been. And they know where they're going.

Josephine Deere is director of interpretation and programs/connectional ministries for the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference of The United Methodist Church and a former United Methodist Women director.

Posted or updated: 3/31/2014 11:00:00 PM
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