'We're Still Here': Creek Nation Council Oak Ceremony

Oct 18, 2016

Long before the gushers of Glenpool, before any oil mansions dotted the tree-lined Arkansas River and before the automobile-ruled the streets of Tulsa, there were the Locv Pokv people, or as some know them- the Muscogee Creek. Locv Pokv was the daughter of the old town in the deep south of Georgia and Alabama, the Turtle Meeting Place.

The Council Oak Tree that’s perched atop the hill at 18th and Cheyenne in Tulsa, overlooking the Arkansas River, is where the Creeks ended their journey along the Trail of Tears in 1836 and lit a new fire. It was Tulsa’s first City Hall. According to Robert Trepp, descendant of the well-known Perryman family of Tulsa, the Creeks carefully packed their original flame in a lantern filled with moss so it wouldn’t extinguish on their long journey to Oklahoma.

More than 175 years later, the flame still burns and every year, the City of Tulsa and the Muscogee Creek Nation come together on that same spot at the end of the journey to honor their tradition, survival and to say, according to Principal Chief James Floyd, “We’re still here.”

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd
Credit Allison Herrera

Mekkos, the leaders and keepers of ceremonial grounds, also attend the annual ceremony to honor the city’s Creek roots. Mekko Simon Harry, from Duck Creek, is 94 years-old and can remember his grandparents telling him about dancing near the Council Oak Tree.

“That fire is my church,” he said during our interview on the windy Saturday afternoon after the ceremony came to a close. While waiting with his granddaughter, he explained that this was their original religion, before the white man came to Tulsa.

The annual Council Oak Ceremony may be little more than a way for city officials like outgoing Mayor Dewey Bartlett and Mayor-elect G.T. Bynum to quickly acknowledge the city’s past, but it’s still important. Nearby, maybe a stones throw from the tree, a world class park will grace the banks of the river, near what used to be the most prominent Creek family’s allotment.

As the ceremony wound down and people got in their cars to head to a stickball game and feast, all of the Mekkos stood proudly in front of the Trail of Tears sculpture near a tree that will hopefully be there for another 180 years.

Credit Allison Herrera