Hickory Grounds

Hickory Grounds, near Henryetta, OK. GX tour group pictured with Mekko George Thompson and his brother Tim Thompson.

The following guest post is Part II in a series written by Rachel Jackson who is Global Exchange’s ‘Radical Oklahoma’ Reality Tours Trip Leader, which is happening now.

Radical Oklahoma – Red State Reality Tour: Day 3 (July 10th 2013)

Yesterday was a full day, rich with questions, conversations, and revelations, all the more intensified by the increasing summer heat.  Today we hit the road early to drive through the Cookson Hills, home to numerous historic Cherokee communities. 

In these hills stands the cabin of Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary that enabled a nation of people to become fully literate within a decade.  They have also been the hideouts for many an outlaw, including the notorious Belle Starr and Pretty Boy Floyd. Folk heroes abound in these parts.

We first stopped at Hickory Grounds, Oce Vpofa (pronounced O-je Uh-bo-vuh in the Muscogee language).  Hickory Grounds is unspeakably sacred to the Muscogee Nation.  It was the last ceremonial grounds to leave Alabama when the Creeks were removed on the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. We learned about the history and ongoing struggle to protect this important land.

Hickory Grounds was the site of the 1909 Crazy Snake Rebellion, a complicated series of events that resulted from many years of Muscogee resistance to land allotment. In order to open Oklahoma up for settlement and statehood, the federal government had to accomplish two things: 1.) abolish tribal governments and jurisdiction, and 2.) divide tribal land held in communal tenure into individual holdings.  The Dawes Act of 1887 and the Curtis Act of 1898 accomplished these two goals.  Chitto Harjo, leader of the so-called Crazy Snakes, resisted the process of allotment via multiple means across almost two decades.  

In 1909, a lynching of a man in Henryetta prompted many African American men and boys to flee.  They sought refuge at Hickory Grounds, where they erected tents and lived outside of town for many months.  Local racists could only abide the perceived threat of this situation for so long.  They raided the grounds, instigating a fire fight with these men and boys, and came after members of the Snakes at their homes as well.  Chitto Harjo was wounded but managed to escape into the Kiamichi mountains where he died two years later.

Today the Mekko at Hickory Ground, George Thompson, faces a new resistance struggle.  His position as Mekko (translated as “king,” but understood as “chief”) makes him responsible for the ceremonies that occur at the ground.  Though the details of his ceremonial knowledge and duties are deeply private, Mr. Thompson maintains the fire at Hickory Grounds.  He is only the fourth Mekko at Hickory Grounds since it was removed to Oklahoma in the 1830s, and he acts on behalf of not only current members of the grounds but also on behalf of ancestors long associated with the grounds, including past Mekkos.

Currently the Poarch Band Creeks in Alabama, a group that managed to gain federal recognition in the 1980’s by establishing descendancy from the Muscogee Nation, is actively desecrating the former site of Hickory Grounds in Wetumka, Alabama. 

In order to build a casino complex, they have dug up the remains of seven former Mekkos and approximately 60 others, including the bodies of women and children, along with ceremonial objects associated with the burial.  This is an ethically reprehensible act on the part of a group that promised to protect the former grounds as a condition of their federal recognition.  Perhaps worse, in Muscogee tradition, the removal of these remains disrupts ceremonies associated with the grounds today.

We were honored by the chance to talk with George Thompson and his brother Tim about the history of Hickory Grounds, some of the practices of the grounds, and the current struggle with the tribal government of the Poarch Band Creeks.  Read more at http://savehickoryground.org. Be sure to check out the resources page where you can view an excellent short film on indiegogo and read a statement from Mekko George Thompson.

Read Part 3 of the Radical Oklahoma – Red State Reality Tour next!

Rachel Jackson is a PhD Candidate and Dissertation Fellow at the University of Oklahoma in the Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy Program, Department of English. She researches and theorizes the impact of suppressed local histories of resistance on Oklahoma’s current political identity.



Photographer and Reality Tours past participant Linda Wolf

Photographer and Reality Tours past participant Linda Wolf

Photographer Linda Wolf is a proud past Reality Tours participant. Through her photographs you sort of feel you know her and those she captures.

Her global journalistic photos seem eerily familiar, even the ones of places you’ve never been. And her people pictures exude the human spirit, as showcased in her video below entitled, “I am a Full Woman.”

Definitely watch the video, but before you do…I asked Linda to share some thoughts for this post about what it was like to travel on a Reality Tour. Here’s what she had to say:

Linda Wolf’s Reality Tours Experience

I went on the Global Exchange trip to China with (Global Exchange co-founder) Kevin Danaher. First, I’d go anywhere with Kevin. He has been an inspiration to me since I interviewed him for my 2nd book, Global Uprising: Confronting the Tyrannies of the 21st Century. Kevin role modeled the best in leaders, I have to say. We were a small rag-tag group, and herding us was like herding sheep.

I once asked him how he could keep his composure when one of us was either dragging too much baggage, or always making us late. He said something I will always remember. “I look at the intentions behind people’s actions.” But, I think Kevin is just super chill – another reason I love Global Exchange. Everyone is super chill.

Everyone was easy to work with and bent over backwards to accommodate my needs, which centered around doing photography. They stopped the bus once so I could get out and take a photo. I felt I had complete freedom to go off on my own, within the confines of making sure I got back to the hotel in time for us to take off for airports or trains on time! I am so glad I went on that tour. In fact, I got some of my most favorite photos of people for Full Woman and other exhibitions, from that tour.

I’m not a person who normally takes tours of countries. I usually go alone because I don’t find tours that I feel care (about) the same things I care about — but Global Exchange went beyond what I would have wanted to do by myself. One thing I was really happy about was the way the tour was set up to support local, Chinese businesses – we only stayed in Chinese owned and run hotels, ate in only Chinese owned restaurants, and we did not follow the tourist routes.

Graveyard Dominoes

“Graveyard Dominoes” Photo Credit: Linda Wolf

My tour was called “A Sustainability Tour of China” — One of the highlights of my trip was going to the Graveyard of Extinction at The Nanhaizi David’s Deer Park in Beijing. There are approximately 145 tombstones in the cemetery, toppled over on each other like dominoes that cover a space of 100 meters.

"Graveyard Homo Sapien" Photo Credit: Linda Wolf

“Graveyard Homo Sapien” Photo Credit: Linda Wolf

Each stone is inscribed with the name of the species and the date released by World Conservation Union, that species went extinct. At the end of the line of falling tombstones stands a large concrete hand which represents where we are now, as well as what will happen if each species beyond the hand becomes extinct.

The tombstone for Homo Sapiens is not far down the line behind the hand. Seeing so clearly how interconnected we are to other species was astounding and certainly motivating to spread the messages I learned back home when I got off the tour.

Watch Linda’s “I am a Full Woman” Video:

One billion risingTAKE ACTION!