Knowledgeable Citizens Help Others Grow Culturally
By: Sterling Cosper/Reporter
GLENPOOL, Okla. — As a retired substance abuse counselor, Muscogee (Creek) citizen George Coser has seen the impact of cultural identity loss.
“I worked on a reservation in Idaho and while I was there, nine young people killed themselves. I started talking to some older gentlemen and it didn’t take a Ph. D., for them to say, ‘they don’t like themselves,’ ” he said.
Despite his retirement, Coser is combating this identity loss in his own community by teaching stompdance classes on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m., at the Glenpool Indian Community (GIC) Activity Center in Glenpool, Okla.
“I saw a poster one time that said, ‘dance and the good times will come.’ I asked the guy who it belonged to and what it meant and he said, ‘when you dance and sing, you feel good about who you are,’ ” he said.
Coser believes that staying active is part of traditional culture and pointed out the positive impacts of this lifestyle.
“Our people have stayed active for all these years. I can remember growing up with my grandmother. She stayed active all the time and I attribute her long life to her activities,” he said.
His classes and adherence to tradition have helped his put this into practice in his own life.
“I’m glad I came from that background. When I was active I didn’t have any problems,” Coser said.
He believes that his students also benefit in a similar capacity.
“It keeps our young people busy. When they get out here they dance and enjoy themselves,” Coser said.
Coser feels dance is particularly important in Native culture.
“Every Indian tribe has a dance and I guess that is just the way you connect with your spiritual side,” he said.
A member of Arbeka Ceremonial Grounds, Coser is a stompdance leader and has been dancing at ceremonial grounds all his life. His aim is to help teach those who do not share this background.
“What we do here is give individualized treatment. You can go to the grounds but you won’t get individual attention,” Coser said.
Men in traditional stompdances sing while women keep time by shaking turtle shells tied around their legs.
“I always equate it to the rhythm. The drummer is the most important person in a band. Without our shellshakers, we don’t have a stompdance,” Coser said.
He encourages his male students to learn at least four songs before they start at the grounds.
“With the songs we sing, you have to know your verses,” Coser said.
Some of Coser’s students are already members of a ceremonial ground.
John Skeeter, an occasional attendee of Coser’s classes, is a member of Duck Creek, a Euchee ceremonial ground.
“I didn’t start singing until I was about 30,” Skeeter said.
Skeeter often brings his wife to Coser’s classes.
“She’s Catholic. We’ve been married for 14 years and together for about 20. We say we’ve converted her. People like her came in and didn’t know anything,” Skeeter said.
Bobby Bigby, a citizen of Cherokee Nation, heard about Coser’s classes through a friend she met in high school.
“We were involved with the American Indian student group there,” she said.
Bigby is half Native and half Asian American and has been living and studying abroad until recently.
“I have been in Asia and going to school at Washington University in St. Louis but I’m back in Oklahoma and wanting to reconnect with this part of my heritage,” she said.
Coser is co-chairman of the GIC board and teaches his class alongside the community’s sergeant-at-arms Monte Randall.
Randall, who is also dean of student affairs at the College of the Muscogee Nation, volunteers his time to teach youth language classes at the activity center.
“My stepdaughter is in the Glenpool Elementary School and was participating in the challenge bowl and that’s where we really started it,” Randall said.
He based the early part of his curriculum off of the study guides for this educational event hosted by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (MCN).
“We just started working on the language from that point,” he said.
After the challenge bowl, Randall started training his class for the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, April 1-2 at the University of Oklahoma.
“Whenever we did the skit for the language fair they already knew half the words,” Randall said.
Randall’s students placed at both events and now he hopes to shift his focus toward training them for the Junior Olympics, June 21 at the Mvskoke Nation Festival.
“Whenever we start training with the Junior Olympics I will keep on with the language,” he said.
GIC Community Chairperson Dianna Billie is pleased with her fellow board member’s efforts.
“They don’t get paid to do this or anything so I’m really proud of them,” Billie said.
Randall and Coser started the classes in September 2012 and Billie hopes GIC will be able to financially contribute to their efforts in the near future.
“Hopefully we are going to do some renovating and we’re going to try to put a little bit of money in that class,” Billie said. “We are going to have to get that approved by the community but that is just my vision as a chairperson.”
Coser hopes other MCN communities will start similar classes.
“What I kind of wish for is that other people would hear about it and do it in their communities,” Coser said.
In the meantime, Coser’s classes are open to anyone who wants to attend.
“It’s not just open to the Glenpool community; it’s open to everybody,” he said.
He believes traditional culture is not only good for those who practice it but that the practice itself is imperative in keeping Native culture alive.
“If we don’t pass it along it will die,” Coser said.
For more information about these classes contact Coser at: 918-576-1736.
Photo Credit: Sterling Cosper/Reporter