Meet Native America: George Tiger, Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation
In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
George Tiger, Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Can you give us your Native name, its English translation and/or nickname?
Mekko (pronounced mee-koe), which means chief, king, or leader.
Where is your nation located?
Okmulgee, Oklahoma, is the capital and headquarters.
Where are the Muscogee (Creek) people originally from?
Alabama and Georgia.
What responsibilities do you have as Principal Chief?
Basically the same duties as the President of the United States.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?
When you know people (in my case, my family) who have been part of tribal government, that naturally gives you an idea or an interest. I’ve been around the Muscogee (Creek) Nation since 1975, that’s more than 39 years, as an employee, elected official, Speaker of the House, and now Chief. As well as observing government, I have also had a lot of guidance—from my father, Chief Cox, Chief Fife, and Chief Beaver. I felt like this was something I wanted to attempt to do and was blessed enough to be elected.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
One would be my father, who was a resolution writer for the National Council in the mid 1950s to the early ’60s. Also my grandfather, Chief Motey Tiger (who served from 1907 to 1917), was an inspiration.
Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?
In addition to my grandfather, there is my cousin, Chief Roley Camard. They both served as Principal Chiefs for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?
A significant point in Muscogee Nation history that deeply affected our culture was the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This act, enforced by President Andrew Jackson, forcefully removed the "Five Civilized Tribes" from the southeastern United States.
For the Muscogee people, this meant leaving our ancestral homelands in Georgia and Alabama, relocating in Indian Territory, which is now present-day Oklahoma. Our ancestors endured the decade-long forced removal through all seasons of winter weather and summer heat with a significant loss of life along the Trail of Tears. To this day our oral histories and tribal songs continue to recount the harsh weather and loss of life at the hands of the U.S. Government. We remain proud today, and our culture endures as Muscogee people.
How is your national government set up?
We have a tripartite government—Executive, Legislative, and Judicial—similar to the federal system.
Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
Yes, we have traditional Mekkos, ceremonial grounds, and tribal towns. A tribal town is a traditional township within the Muscogee Creek confederacy. There are three remaining tribal towns from what were originally forty-four: Kialegee, Thlopthlocco, and Alabama–Quassarte.
How often are elected leaders chosen?
For the Principal Chief and Second Chief, it’s every four years. The legislature, or National Council, is elected every two years.
How often does the National Council meet?
There is a monthly meeting, and at times there may be extraordinary sessions called.
Approximately how many members are in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation?
More than 77,000.
What are the criteria to become a member of your nation?
As long as you can prove lineage to the Dawes Rolls, you can be a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?
Yes, the Mvskoke langauge is still spoken. We have approximately ten percent of our people who are fluent speakers.
What economic enterprises does the nation own?
We own hospitals, a physical rehabilitation center, travel plazas, casinos, a retail shopping mall, and a country club.
Chief Tiger addressing members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, visitors, and museum staff, during the festival Mvskoke Etvlwv. National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C., November 2012. Photo courtesy of Mvskoke Media.
What annual events does your community sponsor?
We have the annual Mvskoke Nation Festival; the Mvskoke Hall of Fame (where we recognize notable tribal citizens), the Challenge Bowl (to promote learning about our culture, society, history, government, and language using traditional values as the foundation), the Native Made Art Festival/Indian Fall Festival in early November this year, and the Council Oak Ceremony (to remember our history and the peole who came before us). We are also a major sponsor for some of the state’s college and professional sporting teams.
What attractions are available for visitors on your land?
We are very proud of our historic Creek Council House; the state’s oldest country club, the Okmvlke Country Club and Golf Course; Council Oak; the Mound Building, which houses the National Council and District Court, and the Veterans Affairs Building; River Spirit Casino; Fountain Head Golf Course; the College of the Muscogee Nation; and Honey Springs Battlefield in Checotah.
How does the Muscogee (Creek) Nation deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?
We recognize each other as sovereign nations and handle relationships in that matter.
What message would you like to share with the youth of your nation?
The number one thing is getting an education. That would allow us to always have a pool of leaders for our future. Not only do we need leaders in our tribe, but also leaders of the various entities we have under the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
In the two years I’ve been in office, my administration has been aggressive in terms of business and economic development. I’m proud to say that work is being noticed by the state as well as by other tribal nations.
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All images used with permission.