By: Morgan Taylor, Reporter
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – The Muscogee (Creek) Nation Veterans Affairs Service Office (VASO) has an important project in the making.
VASO is asking all Muscogee (Creek) Veterans to come forward and tell their stories and be recorded on video to be made into a video series.
According to Director of MCN VASO Kellen Bible this project will be ongoing for the next year or so depending upon veteran participation.
“It’s a symbol of recognition to make sure that people are able to tell their stories, I think that an important part for veterans to be able to talk about things openly,” Bible said. “If they can tell their stories in the Mvskoke language then that’s even more special. We are trying to give everyone the opportunity to use their voice.”
The hope is to encourage veterans to come forward and tell their stories about themselves during their time of service.
“They can talk about their background, what it was like for them as a Native American individual to join the military, if they were ever in any conflicts over seas or maybe they have something special or unique to share about that experience or even about coming home,” Bible said. “We are leaving it open for them to tell us the stories.”
Secretary of Education and Training Dr. Monte Randall and the Language program are providing support for the MCN VASO by assisting in the translation of those Mvskoke speaking veterans.
“We are just mainly supporting the Veterans Affairs Office through the Muscogee Language Program,” Randall said. “We came together on this project and really want to capture the language as much as we can and to do some translations. We have one really good interview so far and others with the language.”
The primary goal of Educational Services is to serve as a supportive role to help in the translation, reinforcement and documentation the language.
“Even from an education perspective on what we can do to better support our veterans that are continuing on to school or technical trades? We can utilize this to learn. This is about opening up that process of engagement,” said Randall.
The MCN VASO is in the process of creating a website that will be used as a platform for promotion of the program and different services it provides and also in hopes of striking veterans attention for the video series.
“As the next fiscal year comes, we are going to start with more promotions and advertising for the program,” Bible said. “We have partnered with Mvskoke Media and MCN Public Relations to get the word out about what we can offer. It’s about starting new conversations.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and CDC guidelines has caused somewhat of an interruption in the process and technology and can be a communication barrier for some of the veterans who are elders.
“Some people are just used to showing up to the building, but now the doors are locked,” Bible said. “Everything is either by appointment only and we also do house visits now. Access to technology and being comfortable using computers or smartphones are transitions we have to accommodate for everybody especially in this COVID environment. We have to do things independently and separately.”
MCN Language Program Graphic Designer Brandon Barnett and MCN VASO Executive Officer Shawn Taryole will work closely in getting video footage of the veterans.
Taryole considers himself a liaison for the project and the veterans.
“I assist them in making that transition into technology. Some of our older guys still have trouble using cell phones,” Taryole said. “We have to bring them in and walk them through that process. We are working to make that transition happen as smoothly as we can.”
Barnett’s primary job is to capture the footage and take care of the video side. According the Barnett, veterans have been easy to open up so far in the video process.
“The veterans are pretty comfortable being in front of the camera,” Barnett said. “Especially if you get them one-on-one and in the [MCN VASO] building, it’s like a second home for them I think it’s really easy for them to tell their stories and it opens up other subjects.”
The team of four concur that this project is a new experience for all this being the first project of its kind within the MCN VASO and relying heavily on the veterans themselves.
“This is the first time we have come together on a project like this,” Taryole said. “We really want to take the time needed to let them tell their stories and I think everybody is really going to look at it and say ‘wow.’ We are going to put it on the different medias and let it speak for itself.”
Highlighting Muscogee Veterans during this time is an important goal of the project with the upcoming day of recognition for the veterans in November.
“I think an important aspect of this relates to, like on the Internet, how a lot of people don’t stand for the National Anthem,” Barnett said. “I think its important for our people to hear and see our veterans and hear it come from them the freedom that they fought for and some died for. Its very important especially for our children so they know what it took to get here.”
Letting veterans know they can open up about their experiences can create a way for healing according to Dr. Randall.
“I feel like the outcome of this would be an outlet for a feeling of reconciliation for veterans and even from the citizens perspective getting a better understanding of our veterans and what they experienced,” Randall said. “ Of course, not everybody is going to tell all but I feel like this is going to be an outlet for engagement, communication and ultimately for healing. A lot of veterans still struggle with PTSD, depression or other mental health issues.”
There are currently no deadlines or limits for participation in the video series. MCN VASO will accept veteran participants as long as the project is ongoing.
“It depends on the kind of response we can get,” Bible said. “As we are more available an social media and different technology platforms that’s hopefully going to bring people out. As more veterans see this as an ongoing project, we may get more traffic. We are just leaving it up to the veterans.”
As of now, there are a total of seven recorded interviews that are in the process of being released. MCN VASO is looking to release the first video of the series on Veterans Day Nov. 11 featuring Muscogee citizen Buster Bear.
MCN VASO will release one video monthly on their website and social media platforms up until veteran’s participation comes to a halt. With seven videos thus far, that allots for seven months for the series.
“It’s very powerful and I think once the citizens see this, they will see the different outlooks. We appreciate our veterans and we can show we are a strong tribe,” said Taryole.
Veterans and veteran families who are interested in telling their stories can contact the MCN VASO office to schedule an appointment with the team to participate in the project.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Veterans Affairs Service Office (918) 732-7739.