OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – Winston Churchill was once quoted as saying, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”. Muscogee (Creek) Nation Citizen Joy Sweger is making sure that does not happen in regards to Native American history. She was recently featured on an episode of Mvskoke Media Live Wire to discuss her research and services on Native American History.
Sweger offers free online Zoom Sessions on various Native American Topics. The topics she teaches include education, history, media representation, citizenship, spirituality as well as myths/legends.
Originally from Oklahoma, Sweger spent most of her childhood in Bixby. She said she would ask for stories from others on history as early as 5 years old. She would go on to earn an accounting degree from Oklahoma State University. Most recently, she earned her Master’s in Forensic Accounting.
Although Sweger can trace her Muscogee family lineage, it was not something her family was always open about.
“My grandfather was born in Indian Territory and my dad was the first Native American Citizen born in his family, he fought in World War II but he never recognized himself as Native,” Sweger said.
According to Sweger, her father did not enroll her as a MCN Citizen until 1974, after she graduated high school. At the time, Sweger’s father was not proud of his heritage.
“He said to us ‘nothing ever good came from being a Native,’” Sweger said. “That was so sad, but I didn’t realize what he meant until I started doing my research”
A Passion for History
Sweger has been researching Native American history for over ten years. To this day, she is still shocked by the information she uncovers.
“If I didn’t know, how many other people didn’t know? And what else didn’t I know?” Sweger said.
Sweger’s Zoom Sessions are designed to share history with others and serve their needs in whatever Native American topic they are curious to learn more about.
“My point is to have them enjoy the journey, and learn something new,” Sweger said. “It has to be something they’re interested in, I try to adhere my presentations to something they’re interested in”
Like many other Muscogee People, Sweger strives to preserve the language, culture and history for the next generation.
“I want us to be more together like we were before the United States, where we actually work together as people. Sweger said. “I’ve never met a Native American that didn’t want to help”
Although Sweger believes Native American Education needs to be reformed, methods like Critical Race Theory are not the answer in her opinion.
“No, because they don’t know Native American History. How can they teach what they don’t know?” Sweger said.
According to Sweger, the responsibility of teaching an accurate account of Native American history falls on each individual tribe. This includes keeping the culture, traditions and identity alive through education and sharing. In her opinion history is not going to be genuinely absorbed through mandated instruction but through unity.
“I think it is us coming together as a nations and helping each other. Not just independent nations but nations together,” Sweger said. “We need to learn our individual histories, how we worked together, what impacted us and give that to our children”
Sweger describes herself primarily as a storyteller. To her, storytelling has always been a gift she enjoys sharing with others.
“I love doing anything on it, and just taking people on journeys,” Sweger said. “I have never been a presenter or speaker but I’ve always loved storytelling”
A favorite story Sweger enjoys sharing is the story of the White Buffalo Woman.
“She (The White Buffalo Woman) was sent down from the Creator. She encountered two Native Men. One was not proper with her, and was punished. The other was told to get the village ready. He came and told her story of what God wanted them to know, and presented them with the sacred pipe. She told them how to use it, what the specific instructions are. She turned three times, once into a buffalo, the last time was a white buffalo, which he would come back and that was supposed to be the difference between blue days and red days” Sweger said.
Sweger believes cultural teachings should be taught how they always were within the tribes; passed down from parents to children.
“Passing it on I feel needs to go back to our life where it was legends and myths which is history and events and we tell them, we tell them the way our ancestors were told,” Sweger said.
A misconception that Sweger sees time and time again is how Natives are culturally sorted into one homogenized category. She drew an example of the differences found in European cultures.
“If you landed in Europe, and you heard everybody speaking, it would just sound like gibberish. Would you only call them Europeans, or would you try to find out what different nations they were?” Sweger said. “Nobody asks if me if I say I’m Native American, ‘what nation am I?’”
Learning from the Past
A Live Wire viewer asked a question on teachings regarding the genoicde of Native Americans throughout American History. Their question was, “Do you feel the Native American genocide is taught or acknowledged academically at anywhere near the levels the Jewish Holocaust is, if not should it be?”.
Sweger said she believes Native American Genocide is not properly adressed and are not known enough. While she believes the Holocaust was a horror itself, she believes it is not appropriate to compare the two periods in history.
“It would be wrong in my opinion because the suffering is just as bad in each place,” Sweger said. “It needs to be known so we never do it again”
Like Churchill, Sweger cautions that history must be properly passed down so it is not repeated.
Sweger welcomes anyone to contact her to inquire about free educational Zoom Sessions. As a storyteller, she enjoys listening to other people’s stories and learning about new topics.
“I hope that someday it’s like a pebble thrown into the water, that it’s a ripple. That the next person will tell more people, then the next person,” Sweger said. “Someday I hope I can say I’m Muscogee-Cherokee American and people will know what I’m talking about”
Sweger can be reached by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.