GLENPOOL, Okla. – Five new Mvskoke Living Legends were honored for their contributions to the tribe at Faith Church on June 22. This year’s selection faced challenges due to the high quantity of submissions for this year’s ceremony. This year’s selection of living legends included Betty Gerber, Gary Fife, Virginia Thomas, James R. Floyd and Mary Edwards Smith.
The ceremony saw dignitaries and prominent figures from across the tribe including Principal Chief David Hill and members of the national council. The newly crowned Mvskoke Royalty, Chenoa Barnett and Georgia Harjo were seen passing out programs and meeting new faces.
The Este Cate Hoktvke Suletawv Honor Guard appeared to present the colors as the national anthem was sung in the Mvskoke language. Lighthorse Chief Richard Phillips delivered the invocation in the Mvskoke language before Chief Hill gave his opening remakings.
“It seemed like there were alot of nominees for this year as well, to me I think all of them are considered living legends,” Chief Hill said. “It’s always good to honor all those that you can see on the cover (of the program) that every one of these legends has done a great job representing the nation.”
The qualifications to be selected as a living legend is a MCN citizen over the age of 55 years of age who has “brought recognition to and/or made outstanding contributions to the quality of life and development of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation on a local, national or international level”. This includes ceremonial religious leaders, artists, politicians, business people, educators and volunteers.
The first living legend to be honored was Virgina Thomas, the former director of the MCN Johnson O’Malley program. Thomas wrote legislation to fund a newly organized Mvskoke language development effort. Under Chief AD Ellis, Thomas was instrumental in reorganizing the Mvskoke Royalty Pageant that has now become one of MCN’s most culturally prestigious events. Thomas was also instrumental in establishing the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Challenge Bowl, an academic competition that challenges students on tribal history, culture and language.
“I encourage all of you to make a difference for this tribe,” Thomas said. “If you see something wrong, change it, don’t complain about it. Do it for your tribe, for your children, that’s who I do it for. I want to make sure that we stand upon the foundation of those that came before us, that we would be worthy of those who fought to get us where we are right now.”
The next legend honored was Mary Edwards Smith, a Mvskoke artist known for her traditional basket weaving. She is most notable for reviving the Creek Double False Braid rim in 2005, a method unique to traditional Creek basketry. She is a teacher, and has passed on what she has learned across the country including Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia and Washington D.C. Smith’s works have been on display at many museums, art festivals and Indigenous art competitions.
“For the past 30 years I have been teaching traditional Mvskoke artwork to the nation, schools, universities and museums,” Smith said. “I love what I do, I hope I have another 30 years to do it.”
The legend honored after Smith was Dr. Betty Gerber, a Mvskoke historian and the former executive director of The Museum Broken Arrow. Dr. Gerber is most notable for bringing awareness and advocating the true history of how Broken Arrow got its name. She acted as a bridge between the MCN, and the City of Broken Arrow by raising funds for an exhibit that properly educated others on the history of the MCN, and its significance to the area.
“You could have dropped me into any century, anytime, anywhere, as long as I was Muscogee Creek, I would have been tremendously proud of our people,” Gerber said. “It seems like we’re doing something good all the time. We take care of our people. We don’t put money before integrity. That’s why I am so proud. I hope that each one of you is also proud.”
Mvskoke Media Radio Specialist Gary Fife was honored as a living legend for his career in the field of journalism and media. Fife has worked in many different markets including Alaska, Oklahoma and Washington D.C. He was a trailblazer in Native American radio and has been awarded numerous honors for his efforts in various media. Fife was also involved over the past decade with the fight for free press within the MCN.
“One of our huge responsibilities is to present the truth and the kind of stories that belong to people to know, hear and share,” Fife said. “In the course of my career I’ve had the chance to visit many of the other Native American Nations across the U.S. I’ve seen how we are so much alike, and how we are so much different. One thing we all share is the need for the truth.”
The last living legend to be honored was former MCN Principal Chief James R. Floyd. With a career spanning decades within and outside the MCN, Floyd has served countless Mvskoke citizens, Native Americans and veterans. Some of Floyd’s most notable accomplishments during his term as principal chief include opening the final phase of the River Spirit Casino Resort, purchasing the land acquisition where Fountainhead Golf Course is now located, and bringing the tribe’s healthcare system out of financial crisis.
Although Floyd was unable to appear at the ceremony due to a prior conflict, his family was in attendance and accepted the honor on his behalf. He relayed the following statement, which was read by his son, Jacob Floyd.
“I feel honored to be recognized today as a Muscogee (Creek) Nation Living Legend and join a select group of very deserving tribal members who have given so much in service to our people. It has been a privilege for me and my family to serve the nation and our citizens.” according to the statement.
The event concluded with a lunch reception after the ceremony. This year’s living legends were featured in the Muscogee Nation Festival Parade on Saturday, June 24.
To view the full MCN Living Legends 2023 awards ceremony, visit the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Youtube channel.