A full-blood Muscogee Creek is a rare thing. Mike Berryhill estimates that there are about 1,700 left in the world, and he is one of them.
His first wife was not quite full-blood, she was seven-eighths Indian so their daughters are not quite full-blood either. Mike refers to this process as a “whittling down”, a metaphor which comes naturally to a man who spends much of his time crafting wood.
According to Mike a blood quantum is just a number and a tribal membership card may promise to bestow an identity, but it can’t. “If I meet a half-blood child and their knowledge (of Creek culture) is greater than that of a full-blood, then how can I say that he is less Indian?” Mike said.
The measure then is knowledge and involvement. Mike said that this is all the more important because Indians have to “walk in two worlds”. Not that he is against progress. Mike believes that material possessions aren’t inherently bad; they’re just a poor tonic for a person’s spiritual needs.
He gives the example of hunting, which was once about providing food and has become a competitive sport. Materialism has crept in, “You have to have the best compound bow, to buy the biggest gun and kill the biggest deer” Mike said, “People kill for pleasure nowadays.”
Mike used to hunt, now he goes into the forest to observe animals and to learn from them, “How careful they are, how they elude, and how they win”.
It takes this kind of maturity and respect for nature to make a good bow. Mike can’t remember how many pupils he has had, but he only counts four good bow-makers among them.
“You can’t really get people into it until they’re in their mid 30s or older, until they have had their family and achieved all they can in this world and they’re looking for something for their spirituality,” he said.
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