Von Mekko Tyner, Lacey Azbell, Bobbie Coon, Mackie Moore, Trent Pembrook und Monte Randall
Hofonvnke, pum estvlke enlokce hompetv vhocakvtes(Long ago our people grew food). For many indigenous peoples, agriculture is an important part of our culture and heritage. This is especially true for the people of Mvskoke. Today, the theme of Sustainable Food Sovereignty embodies the roots of the mission and goals of the College of the Muscogee Nation (CMN) as a tribal college and land grant institution. The university uses a community garden to educate students about traditional gardening and includes corn in their overall pedagogical evaluation of student learning.
The CMN Garden had humble beginnings. In the spring of 2011, after the college moved into its inaugural building, Mvskoke Instructor of Languages and Native American Studies, Norma Marshall, worked with the Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative (MFSI) to create a cultural garden on the new campus in Okmulgee, Oklahoma . Marshall used the garden as an outdoor classroom for his Mvskoke Literacy Project (Service Learning) course. Students grew traditional crops while learning the Mvskoke language. As construction continued on campus, it became apparent that a permanent space was needed for the garden to continue.
In 2014, the USDA designated CMN under the Farm Bill as a 1994 Land Grant Institution eligible to receive capacity funds the following year. Upon receiving the designation, CMN received a USDA Rural Community Development Facility Grant to establish the Mvskoke Community Cultural Garden (MCCg). Today the garden consists of four raised beds, a greenhouse, a walkway, a pond, a storage shed and a gazebo that serves as an outdoor classroom. In addition, CMN received the Empowering Students: Bridging Culture and Education Scholarship from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). With this grant, CMN hired health coach Bobbie Coon to incorporate formal nutrition literacy and humanities programs into the Mvskoke community's health and culture courses.
CMN established the MCCg Advisory Committee to improve, support and promote the community's cultural garden. The advisory board is made up of faculty, staff and students and plans activities such as "Garden Day" and food demonstrations. The committee established a “Lunch and Learn” garden series over the winter to continue educating students about the garden and tribal heritage crops.
Vcen pum vhesaketvt omes(Corn is our survival). Corn is a gift from the Creator, more specifically from the corn mother or corn woman. Half of the people of Mvskoke used to eat corn. Unfortunately, not many people in Mvskoke today grow their own corn, making it difficult to find viable tribal seeds. In 2011, MFSI received a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant to research Mvskoke squash andsafke / safke,a traditional drink made from boiling dried barkvce cvlvtwe(Kornstein) with oak ash lye. Through this research, MFSI was able to identify an elderly Mvskoke couple, Dave and Cogee Long, who continued to grow traditional corn. Eventually, CMN received some relic earsmorningCorn and Pumpkin Mvskoke. With the help of former MFSI Board Member Kent Sanmann (Chickasaw/Kiowa), CMN was ready to take on the sacred responsibility of seed care and management.
To revitalize traditional Indian corn and increase food sovereignty, CMN planted vcce cvlvtwe from seeds inherited from Mvskoke, which the university had received. CMN hosted a full moon planting ceremony with cedar blessing at the MCCg Pavilion in early summer. In honor of our seventh generation, CMN students, teachers, staff and children have taken a step toward decolonization and food sovereignty by planting seven rows of corn seeds in raised beds. One of the goals of this revitalization initiative is to create a quality seed supply in a secure seed bank for the CMN and tribal community.
To further engage the campus, students enrolled in a field laboratory on Mvskoke culture and harvesting Safke corn. Then the students shelled the corn by hand. During the university's "Gardening Day," an activity during CMN's cross-curricular week, members of the MCCg committee and students began preparing dried corn and wood ash for the leach. The university has scheduled a traditional food tasting for Native American Heritage Month with the Garden's Osafke/Safke as a special highlight.
The commission planted many other plants in the garden. Members of the MCCg committee dedicated a three sisters bed featuring blue corn, beans and squash. Students will use the pumpkins to make rattles in the spring. They also planted fruits like tomatoes, melons, strawberries, and watermelons, and vegetables like radishes, cucumbers, beets, and lettuce. Additionally, CMN student Dawn Tyner and her family grew the Mvskoke squash using traditional seeds.
The CMN campus uses production in a number of ways. The products were primarily used in the preparation of meals in the Core Values Café, the cafeteria on campus. During the summer harvest, cucumbers and melons are favorites on the salad bar. CMN donates food from the garden to community members for personal use. In the summer, when the blue corn is ripe, students harvest and hull the corn in the field lab at Mvskoke Farm while staff prepare the fire for a demonstration of making blue cornbread. The committee has planned more demonstrations of traditional cooking, how to make itvpvske(a sweet drink made from roasted and ground corn) andcvtvhakv(blue corn donut). Many CMN students have not had the opportunity to eat traditional dishes, let alone prepare them.
Ideal fruits and vegetables are dried and their seeds saved for next year's planting. Saving seeds is one of the many traditional gardening practices taught on campus. The committee hopes to expand the community garden's seed bank with a variety of traditional seeds. CMN's community garden is not only a source of practical knowledge, but also of traditional learning.
The MCCg committee relies on concerned elders with gardening wisdom from Mvskoke. Vernon Courtwright (Mvskoke) presented the MCCg with three peach trees. According to Courtwright, this tree variety produces Mvskoke peaches. Today he grows them on his family's original property near Eufaula, Oklahoma. However, these peach trees are not native to Oklahoma. They were brought to the state by their ancestors during the expulsion of the Mvskoke people from their traditional lands in present-day Georgia and Alabama. The committee welcomes the opportunity to revive a traditional culture that was important to our ancestors and that survived the displacement. CMN is currently working with the Oklahoma State University Extension Office to study pruning and grafting of these rare peach trees to produce more seedlings for planting. Although the trees take a while to bear fruit, this traditional harvest is a great asset to our community as we learn the process of caring for peach trees.
Cokvheckv omvlkat enakes(education for all). One of CMN's goals is to provide accessible educational opportunities for the Indian community and tribal members. Food sovereignty education is more than just planting traditional seeds, it also focuses on how food is prepared. CMN has developed two courses - Mvskoke Food Preparation and Mvskoke Woodworking - to educate tribal members about food sovereignty. The Mvskoke Preparation Course introduces students to the art of preparing and cooking traditional foods such as osafke/safke, cvtvhakv, corn soup and wild onions. Mvskoke's woodworking course, taught by Muscogee Nation Archives and Cultural Center (Creek) Special Projects Coordinator John Brown, introduces students to the traditional art of woodworking and teaches them how to make a woodworking machinevtapv,a traditional wooden shovel used for stirring osafke/safke or vpvske. Students strive to wear their vtapv while cooking at their ceremonial place.
As a land granting institution in 1994, CMN has worked to revitalize Mvskoke's historic corn safke. This is where the students of the CMN field laboratory collect their harvest. Photo by Bobbie Coon
CMN uses the outdoor classroom as a forum for Mvskoke Culture Field Lab students to share new experiences as well. In the summer of 2018, Coon and his field lab class attended a river reed workshop hosted by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. At the conference, the Cherokee Nation donated sugarcane seed to the CMN. Today we are working on planting seeds and growing sugar cane in our own greenhouse. The University will eventually relocate them to areas around the ponds. This project is extremely important, not only to the college, but to the Muscogee (Creek) nation. Flowpipe is a traditional plant used to make arrows, blowguns, building materials, baskets, and many other cultural items. In addition to his work at the cultural center, Brown is the director of the Mvskoke Cvkotakse Seccvlke (Muscogee Bow Shooter Society). Brown works with the gardening committee to locate sugar cane already growing in the area and provide advice on growing the crops. Brown makes arrows out of reed cane and uses them in traditional archery organized by many Oklahoma tribes.
In other courses, CMN teachers have worked with outside agencies that can help with MCCg and the environment. One of the collaborations is with Euchee Butterfly Farm. The butterflies help pollinate the region's plants and flowers. But today, butterflies are endangered by habitat loss due to climate change and human development. The monarch butterfly is currently under consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Jane Breckinridge (Muscogee/Euchee) founded Euchee Butterfly Farm in 2013 on her family's land. Part of Euchee Butterfly Farm's mission is habitat restoration and promoting the conservation of native butterfly species. In 2015, the farm began working with tribal nations to protect vital butterfly habitat. Armed with this knowledge, Muscogee Nation College has partnered with Euchee Butterfly Farm to create habitats along their annual migration routes that attract these pollinators.
Euchee Butterfly Farm donated over 1,000 plants of many different species to the MCCg, including spurge and various wildflowers. In the spring of 2018, students from the field laboratory in the Culture and Human Relations course in Mvskoke potted the plants around the garden pond. The MCCg committee envisions a two-way relationship, using butterflies to pollinate crops such as corn, squash, and squash grown in the community garden near those areas. The Tribal College is investigating possible expansions of this much sought-after species. Our focus is to increase the population of these valuable natural resources while educating the public about the dangers that pesticides pose to ecosystems, as these toxins pose the greatest threat to the population and natural habitats of the monarch butterfly.
As with many native nations, the three sisters (corn, bean, and squash) are central to the traditional Mvskoke diet. Dawn Tyner's photo
The CMN's cultural garden and outdoor classroom serve as a traditional teaching space for the entire university campus and as a form of reciprocity for the community at large. This indigenous teaching and learning method is used in a variety of ways in the cultural garden of the CMN. Use critical thinking to determine the right combination of native plants and vegetables to support each other and the soil in which they occur. Use troubleshooters to determine how many seeds are needed to feed our communities. And it facilitates the ability to plan for the future by teaching students how to conserve resources so the garden and our culture can thrive for generations to come. All of these lessons together increase the students' self-efficacy as Mvskoke people and give them the ability to envision a successful and enduring life. The strength of traditional teaching methods comes from a mindset of living as a community that includes our world and the natural resources that sustain us. When we apply it in the classroom, we change our thinking in the way our ancestors did.
Este Mvskokvlke paksvnke, mucv-nettv, pakse(Muscogee people yesterday, today, tomorrow). CMN plans to expand its landscaping capacity. The first step in this expansion is the addition of two raised beds to bring the total to six. The MCCg committee plans to use the two new beds as a shade garden. The committee will build the beds near the shed and north of the peach orchard, protecting them from the strongest sunlight. The addition will allow CMN to extend cool season harvests into the summer months. Second, the committee is attempting to remodel the greenhouse and turn it into a year-round production source for the Core Values Cafe. This second phase will start with a focus on lettuce production and will evolve according to the needs of the coffee. However, the expansion does not end in the garden. The environment is also improved. CMN worked with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to begin stocking our lakes with fish native to the area. Fishing will provide a positive activity for our community on our campus and will allow the CMN Science course to use the pond to identify fish species and teach about ecosystems.
Muscogee Nation College is paving the way for the seventh generation by working for the food sovereignty of the Muscogee Nation (Creek). Caci Bigg's photo
Other plans to expand the garden and its resources include inclusion in our assessment of student learning. For the past two years, CMN has been a member of the Higher Education Commission (HLC) Assessment Academy Cohort 2017. CMN's Assessment Committee is comprised of faculty and staff who have begun updating the university's assessment plan to include corn as a cultural component in our assessment of student learning. Traditionally, the Mvskoke Indians have used indigenous teaching and learning methods to sustain our societies through the planting, cultivation, harvesting, and processing of crops such as corn. The CMN will use corn as a consistent theme and theme in our general education courses. In language lessons, the students get to know the corn woman and the cultivation of corn. While other college algebra students learn about the space it takes to plant corn. Indigenous methods suggest that contemporary curriculum themes such as critical thinking, problem solving and planning for the future occur naturally in our holistic vision as people connected to our environment.
CMN faculty, staff and administrators worked to complete a new curriculum and course descriptions to meet HLC requirements for an additional degree that includes a focus on natural resources, conservation and sustainable agriculture. The new Associate of Science degree program will be 66 credit hours and will include courses such as botany, ecology, soil conservation, cultivation of traditional crops and Native American agribusiness. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation and its citizens are passionate about traditional agriculture, and CMN expects its full support of the natural resources program. Following HLC approval, the College of the Muscogee Nation plans to implement the new program in the fall quarter of 2019.
The Mvskoke Cultural Community Garden is a fantastic resource for educating CMN students about tribal gardening and food sovereignty. In addition, the garden has enabled the university to collaborate with the community and with the National Science Foundation, USDA and NIFA. CMN's community garden and corn revitalization pave the way for the seventh generation.
Mekko Tyner is the Secretary of Muscogee Nation College; Lacey Azbell is a CMN Research Specialist; Bobbie Coon and Mackie Moore are tribal service instructors at CMN; Trent Pembrook is CMN's grant coordinator; and Monte Randall, EdD, is the Dean of Academic Affairs at CMN.