Byline: Morgan Taylor/Multimedia Producer, Braden Harper/Reporter
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – After three years and two canceled attempts, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Festival finally returned June 23-26. Thousands gathered at the Claude Cox Omniplex to celebrate Muscogee (Creek) People and Culture throughout the extended weekend. Festival-goers had the opportunity to enjoy cultural exhibitions, carnival rides, sports tournaments, and live entertainment.
“The two years that we weren’t together I think that was a big big struggle for the Muscogee People but we held together,” National Council Representative Galen Cloud said.
The 2022 Festival looked slightly different this year, spreading events over roughly two weeks. In the past, most events were scheduled within one extended weekend.
When asked what his favorite part about the Festival was, Principal Chief David Hill said meeting everyone that attended. “Just seeing that they’re having a good time, even as a Council Rep. you know the Festival is what we want to do for citizens.” Principal Chief Hill said.
The Festival officially began with the MCN Scholarship Pageant. Originally scheduled to be at Beggs High School, the location was changed at the last minute to River Spirit Casino and Resort in Tulsa due to no running water.
This year’s Pageant saw five contestants compete for Junior Miss Muscogee, one for Miss Muscogee. Tema Yargee was crowned Miss Muscogee Nation, and Chenoa Barnett was crowned Junior Miss Muscogee Nation.
Miss and Junior Miss made their debut appearance at Muscogee Nation Festival. They participated in the social stomp dance, joined Gary Fife on the live broadcast from the Mvskoke Media Booth, and were introduced on Este Cate night, giving speeches to the audience.
Yargee and Barnett were beyond excited for the festivities, where they could meet the performers, citizens, and elders and take many pictures with potential future princesses.
“It’s really meaningful to me,” Yargee said. “I got to introduce myself as the new Miss Muscogee Nation.”
Barnett said, “I am super excited to be here and to help represent our Nation. I’m just excited finally to have it back.”
The sports tournaments were initially supposed to kick off with the All Ages Golf Tournament at the Fountainhead Creek Golf Course. However, due to heavy rains, the tournament was rescheduled to July.
A tennis clinic for junior players was hosted at Hawthorne Park, and multiple category tournaments were held during the weekend for all ages.
With the golf tournament rescheduled, slowpitch kicked off the series of sports tournaments Friday, June 17, and preceded through Sunday, June 19. Cornhole made its debut appearance with tennis following it on Saturday, June 18. Tennis and slowpitch finished their respective tournaments the following day.
Oklahoma City Thunder Forward Lindy Waters III appeared at a sold-out basketball clinic at Henryetta High School. Waters is of Cherokee and Kiowa descent.
Then came the long-awaited primary weekend of the Festival. It began in Tulsa at River Spirit with the Living Legends Award Ceremony Thursday, June 23. Five Muscogee (Creek) Citizens were honored for their contributions to the tribe. The five citizens selected were Mose A. (Pete) Beaver, John Brown, Michael D. Coon, Edward F. Mouss, and Dana Tiger.
“I just want to say the honorees here are a very impressive group who have a lot of history and a lot of experience,” Mouss said. “A lot of Creeks working in different parts of the Reservation”
Over in Okmulgee, it was time for Stomp Dance when the sun began to set. Hundreds pulled up lawn chairs at the Claude Cox Omniplex Grounds for the social stomp dance. Things looked a little different for the dance this year after the devastating loss of David Proctor, who led the dance for over a decade.
Principal Chief David Hill said that different people would be chosen by Hickory (Hickory Ground) to lead with him starting first. An experienced ceremony participant, it was not his first dance but his first demonstration dance and first Festival as Chief.
He said he was somewhat nervous, but the celebration made him thankful.
According to MCN citizen Barb Atkinson, Stomp Dance is an event he’s always enjoyed attending. “It’s just what you do, my hips aren’t so good anymore, but I’m going to get up and dance a little tonight!” Atkinson said. “It’s rooted in my family. It’s part of me.”
Art vendors set up temporary shops selling clothes, crafts and jewelry. Indian Tacos were served for dinner.
Some of the ceremonial grounds were hosting their annual Green Corn Ceremony during the weekend, but others were there to support the demonstration.
Although the evening was warm, that did not stop participants from dancing and coming together in fellowship. “You feel that sense of pride, you feel that love, and that’s one of the things the Elders always taught us,” Rep. Cloud said. Stomp Dance continued into the twilight hours of the evening.
Friday, June 24, began with junior olympics, senior activities and rodeo slack. Event organizers began setting up booths and rides in the mid-morning hours. The Festival officially opened at 11 AM. MCN closed its offices at noon for departments to go out to work the events the Festival had to offer.
Crowds slowly began to trickle in throughout the afternoon. The weekend saw sunny weather with temperatures reaching into the 100s.
Mvskoke Media featured a booth selling t-shirts and merchandise and a live two-hour remote radio on KOKL Friday morning. The booth became a popular stop for its cornhole game, giving Festival-goers the chance to win free Mvskoke Media merchandise.
The Art Market saw multiple Indigenous booths, including Muscogee Artist Billy Harjo. The smells of barbeque and Indian tacos filled the air from food vendors such as Muscogee Elder Carol Tiger’s Hompvks ce tent.
The fast pitch and adult five-on-five basketball tournament began in the evening along with the Indian National Finals Rodeo. Friday night’s live entertainment saw a country lineup with Craig Morgan and Gary Allen. It concluded with fireworks.
The 5k run kicked off the Festival’s Saturday events on June 25 at the Mound Building. The event was also offered virtually to those who could not attend in person.
Horseshoe, volleyball, and youth basketball began their tournaments at the Claude Cox Omniplex.
Over in downtown Okmulgee, Muscogee citizens and Okmulgee county residents filled the sidewalks of 6th Street downtown near the Council House for the annual Festival Parade. Each department at MCN was encouraged to participate. Chance Lee Rush, also known as “Chance the MC,” commented on the parade and the rest of the Festival entertainment.
“It’s hot weather but it just shows all the dedication that the people that come out and put their time in and are proud of the heritage and culture,” Gano Perez said.
The Mvskoke Honor Guard led the parade flying the colors of the armed forces and the Muscogee Nation, state, and country. Following behind came the individual floats of Principal Chief David Hill, Second Chief Dell Beaver, National Council with department floats, community center floats, other neighboring tribes, and even state electoral candidates.
Elizabeth Deere and her family made it to the parade, something they’ve missed for the past three years. “Everyone’s so friendly out here. We come every year, except when we had Covid, we didn’t make it, but it’s been really great for everyone to get together,” Deere said.
Saturday’s Festival Fun Fair began promptly after the parade ended. Later in the evening, former men’s and women’s softball players and coaches came together for the Legends Softball Reunion at the Safe Space Building.
Saturday evening’s live entertainment featured an Indigenous lineup called “Ste-Cate Night.” Performers included Mike Bone, Sten Joddi, Tonia Jo Hall, and Tatanka Means. Sterlin Harjo, Dallas Goldtooth, and Lane Factor then took the stage to talk about the upcoming season of the FX original series, Reservation Dogs.
Like many others, Joddi said his favorite part about the Festival is seeing people from across the Nation come together. “It means a lot to me being able to show my daughters our traditions, our ceremonies, our ways,” Joddi said. “That’s one of my favorite memories coming here as a kid, just seeing all the beautiful Indigenous faces out here.”
Tatanka Means was the second act of the evening, performing a comedy bit with jokes about aunties and fry bread that had the crowd laughing. As a Native comedian, the jokes he tells are pretty universal with tribes.
It was his first time working with the Muscogee Nation, which he claimed to enjoy. Means said the Muscogee people showed him love during his performance.
Last on the agenda was a Native fashion show, followed by one last set of fireworks to close the night.
Festival organizers took security and safety precautions seriously. Lighthorse police were out, a cooling tent for Festival-goers that needed relief from the sun and hot temperatures were provided, and EMC medics were on standby.
A cash drawing of 20 $500 cash prizes was open to all MCN Citizens 18 and older. Winners were announced Saturday Night.
Despite hot temperatures, MCN Leaders were pleased to see MCN Employees and Citizens come together for the long-awaited return of the Festival.
“As Muscogee People we all like being together in fellowship, that’s something that’s who we are,” Rep. Cloud said as he enjoyed himself at the Festival.