HULBERT, Okla.- This year the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Language Department held their 16th annual language immersion camp. It was held at the Sequoyah State Park. This year’s theme was Mvskoke Punvkv Vlicecv, which translates to “Mvskoke language starter”.
The language immersion camp started in 2007 when the legislation allowed 50 students to participate in the camp. In 2016 tribal legislators passed a bill to enable the Mvskoke language department to do business with the Oklahoma State Parks.
Announcements for the camp are sent by email. The department contacts all 47 JOM affiliate schools, MCN Public Relations, Facebook and Instagram to make sure that as many students as possible have the opportunity to sign up for the camp.
MCN Manager of the Language Program Judy Montiel (Mvskoke) said, “we start ordering things and planning things at least six months ahead of time, there is a lot of different avenues we have to do. Just to be able to see the student learning is all worth it.”
There are certain qualifications that need to be met during the application process. Applicants must provide a 200 word essay on “why the Mvskoke language is important” and they must be enrolled as a Muscogee (Creek) citizen, between grades 7-12.
Unfortunately if students are 18 years old on the first day of camp they are not eligible to participate. However, the language department hopes to host a camp with older age groups in the future.
“We’ve got a couple that aged out but we are hoping we can put together an adult camp that will include those that have aged out but still an opportunity to come and be part of the camp,” Montiel said.
During their time at camp students were provided three meals per day. There were rooms available for an overnight stay throughout the week at Sequoyah State Park and there were support staff that kept watch over students throughout the nights.
A camp nurse from the MCN Department of Health was present to do minor check ups and provide assistance in case of an emergency.
Day to Day Activities
The purpose of this camp is to help students connect with the Mvskoke culture and language.
Lessons were split into three groups with six language instructors.
“We had 25 students and six instructors, they all taught something just a little bit different,” Montiel said. “There are some that are veterans that had come previous years, that’s why we kind of split them up in different levels of learning, there’s some that’s not even heard the language.”
The veteran group consisted of 13 students that had previously attended the camp before. They were taught by MCN Language Instructors Phillip Harjo and Eli Rowland.
Group number one consisted of five students and was taught by MCN language instructors Gracine Hicks and Carolyn McNac.
Group number two had seven students that were taught by MCN Virtual Language Instructor Desiray Emerton and MCN language instructor Becky Barnett.
The various groups participated in different activities. Activities revolved around counting, colors, animals, clans, ceremonial items, Mvskoke stories and respect for the language.
Evening activities involved swimming, basketball, volleyball, cornhole and touring the scenery of the park with chaperoned golf cart rides.
This year Vicki Tate (Mvskoke) of the MCN Office of Child Care handled the crafts by showing students demonstrations of creating chokers, reed baskets, and molding medallions out of clay.
Each week there is a one hour demonstration from the ceremonial grounds and traditional church. After each demonstration, ground members share a meal with their respective groups. Members of the traditional churches and ceremonial grounds are given a stipend for their services.
“Some of the kids that attend the camp may have never been to ceremonial ground and there is some that has never been to a church. We want to provide that opportunity for them,” Montiel said.
Before introducing the group to the church, Montiel is firm that church members be there for demonstration only. “We want to let them see and experience but we don’t want to be like an influence to these students without their parents’ consent.”
The Mvskoke Royalty were invited to introduce themselves in the Mvskoke language and encourage students to pursue their goals. They shared what it meant to hold their respective titles as princesses.
This program was able to partner with the MCN Accessing Choices in Education program under education and training. They provided giveaways and prizes for students.
“We coordinated a lot of paperwork and found 90% of them to be eligible for their program. So that partnership was really valued by us and the parents that brought their kids.” Montiel said.
This is the second year of the post camp retreat, which lasts two to three days with a survey. This helps the staff know what the students’ biggest impressions were during their time at the camp and what their suggestions are for the future.
The students were gifted by the support staff and program staff with hygiene items, promotional beach towels, Nike sling packs, wristbands and camp t-shirts.
When the students attend the camps a gift card will be provided between $10 to $125, depending if it fits within the camp budget.
“It’s given to the parents because of them being under 18, we have to provide it to the parents in the parents name then we also put out a letter of understanding that the parents sign that it’s intending to be used for the students,” Montiel said.
Future plans for the immersion camp are to bring in more elder speakers in order to inspire students to become more motivated to learn the Mvskoke language.
“The language is going away, we don’t have time, time is not on our side. So for me it is very rewarding that these kids came to learn something that’s ancient for one thing, it’s like a language from the beginning of time and for them to learn it and teach it. It’s rewarding to see all of the kids wanting to learn something from ancient times.” Barnett said.
According to Montiel, one of the instructors shared that the students were excited to learn more about the language, history and culture. Many students are looking forward to coming back next year.
“A lot of the students showed interest of wanting to retain that knowledge for years to come and found it pleasing to them, to be able to do that,” Montiel said.
There are programs that are provided to learn about the Mvskoke language for adults and for citizens that reside outside the jurisdiction boundaries. Some of the classes are in person, others are either online, or hybrid.
To learn more about the program, contact MCN Language Project Specialist Jordan Squire at 918-732-7725. Further information can also be found on their Facebook page.