By Rob Trepp
Edited by Staff Editor
One of the central foundations of international law is that sovereignty is a power that belongs to people of a distinct culture. In the twenty-first century, that has grown to mean self-government.
Within that principle, sovereignty is the power to form a government and organize that government in any way the people see fit. While a dictator may exercise powers that imitate sovereignty, such as imposing a constitution, or issuing laws by edict or proclamation, the international community does not give as much deference to those acts as they would to a popular democracy.
So, this goes far beyond having a constitution. A tribal constitution, its laws, the execution of those laws, and even the interpretation of those laws, are evidence of sovereignty. The tribal culture, in all its many forms, is continuing evidence of why this particular set of people are entitled to exercise that sovereignty.
Every part of our culture that makes us distinct from others is another rock in the foundation of our sovereignty.
I know it’s a contentious issue with some, but religion is an excellent example. Hold to your own faith as you will, but embrace the fact that we still have our old traditions lived out at the stomp grounds as well as many churches in the Indian conferences of the Baptist and Methodist churches, plus other independent congregations that use our language and songs in their services.
Embrace the fact that we have our Mvskoke and Yuchi languages and, whether you speak them or not, respect those who do and feel they communicate more accurately in the language of their ancestors and find someone to interpret from that language to yours. If you don’t speak any of our languages at all, start learning words and phrases of common conversation, learn humbly when native speakers correct you and be proud that you want to learn it right.
Embrace the foods of our past, from the field corn for sofke and the hunt for deer, to the hogs first left behind by de Soto’s army and the chickens brought to us by the French to the sweet corn we have today, from corn bread to skillet bread. Learn from the women in your family how they prepare food that celebrates our traditions.
Embrace our geography here – learn our names for the rivers and creeks and hills where we live. Search maps of the southeast and see how many Mvskoke words still mark that land and where. Learn that their Tennessee River was once our Tenasi, and where Hutchachubba and Locker Poker and Wetumpka show where we lived before Removal.
Use our traditions in our meetings at every level, and when the first person rises to speak against something, smile proudly when they begin with the words “My enemy says …” as that powerful phrase comes from years that cannot be counted and a respect for dissent and independent thought.
Embrace that the clan and tribal town that you belong to by birth, by blood, have nothing to do with your faith or where or how you worship, proved by the many towns that became Christian after the US civil war, some even building their church were the old ceremonies had been. Each town has a history of its own, and the towns that survived at the time of the allotment roll represent hundreds more that we had before deSoto invaded us, stealing crops, kidnapping leaders, and raping our women.
Learn the stories of your family, your clan, your tribal town by blood, and our nation. Share them with your friends and understand, when their stories differ, neither of you are wrong – those distinctions come from your clan and your town: we are not a tribe, we are a confederacy of many small tribes, each with distinctions of their own. An American lawyer said that our towns were important because they were the oldest polities (governments) on the continent, because they were the first institutions stronger than clans.
Hope that sample ballots will some day be posted in our language. Find and share copies of the Readers used in our boarding schools and orphanages before statehood. Learn our hymns and their meaning, and know that many are sung to older songs of our people to whom religion was a center of their life. Learn a few lines of poetry by Alexander Posey or Susan Shown Harjo or Joy Harjo or Jennifer Forrester and share them with your friends. Read books like The Fus Fixico Letters and Seminole Burning and histories by Angie Debo and David Corkran and Michael D. Greene and so many others and be ready to discuss and even debate with your friends. Don’t correct your elders, but explain to them what you found in those books and accept their advice and explanations, even if to the contrary of what an outsider has written.
We have a wonderful, beautiful culture, built upon many clans of many towns, each with their own explanation of creation and how their clan is related to others, how their town is related to others.
We have a history both complicated and rich with leaders with ancient names who negotiated with Spain and France and England and the new United States.
A constitution is ultimately nothing if we lose what makes us distinct from our neighbors.
About the Author
Robert Trepp (Escaswvlke, Loca’pokv) is a life-long resident of the Muscogee Nation, diploma from Nathan Hale in Tulsa, BA and MA in Political Science from University of Arkansas (Fayetteville), consultant to 1975 Election Board (first election of Principal Chief and Second Chief since 1903), manpower planner, research specialist, research manager, Director of Government Policy and Research, clerk for Muscogee National Council, member of 1979 Constitution Commission, member of first Gaming Operations Authority board, Chief of Staff and Acting Director of Community Services for Principal Chief Bill S. Fife.
Successful tribal projects included Citizenship Code, Title I of Judicial Code, research that led to Muscogee Nation v. Hodel (first re-recognition of any Five Tribes courts), seven years lobbying to open Commodity Distribution to Oklahoma tribes, Gaming Code (first in Oklahoma), and multi-million dollar Housing Rehabilitation grant. Trepp testified to the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs on complex issues regarding the protection of native sites in the southeast.
Trepp is Vice President – Sales for Prescor LLC in Sapulpa, and CEO of the National Indian Monument and Institute, which just completed its 30th Tulsa Indian Arts Festival.