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Reservation Elections: A Visit with Robyn Whitecloud

Reservation Elections: A Visit with Robyn Whitecloud

The candidate on what's going right on the rez (and what can go better), famed family members, and the community delight over Reservation Dogs. “It’s so funny to see the way we grew up on the screen."

Hensci! Or for you non-Creek speakers - which would be me - Hello! I am here with Robyn Whitecloud, who is running to represent the Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council, Okmulgee District- Seat A. Election is September 16; get those absentee ballots in, Creeks! (My kid did.) Let’s meet the candidate…

But first! If you’re in New York City this Monday, September 11, come on down to P&T Knitwear, 180 Orchard Street. Five readers and I will read short essays starting at 6:30pm. I’ll also have a few copies of To the Bridge for sale, in case you want a signatcha…

Robyn and met in July 1990, when she was a teenager and her Uncle Tim - my daughter’s dad - and I drove from LA to Okmulgee, OK, bringing with us our 9-month old. I recall Robyn as one of the older kids that tumbled around our car as we pulled up to Grandma’s; also, quiet, watchful, responsible. Robyn went on to become an accountant and has spent all but five years of her life in and around Okmulgee, which some of you may better know by its fictionalized name, Okern, home of the characters on the show Reservation Dogs.

Okmulgee is also my daughter’s grandfather Will Sampson - whom Robyn knows as “Uncle Sonny” - and Tim grew up, and where Tavie has spent the past three years filming Reservation Dogs, which I have written about here several times, most recently after what I thought was a near-apocalyptic storm but which several of Robyn and Tavie’s aunties seemed not-much-never-mind, or that’s the way I took it when they called me “Chicken Little.”

I imagine most people reading don’t know a lot about Native politics or the arts. I don’t know much either! I didn’t even know Okmulgee and the surrounding area had been declared a reservation back in 2020, after McGirt v. Oklahoma. Robyn explains its origins and implications, the economic impact of casino gambling, what’s going right on rez and could be going righter (that’s why she’s running!), and what locals think of seeing the way they live depicted on the celebrated TV series. “Everything’s on there,” Robyn mentions. “The Deer Lady…”

Fair warning: Family stories ahead. Mvto! for listening.


Episode notes:

Robyn Whitecloud in front of a Yatika Starr Fields mural, downtown Okmulgee

Muscogee to English Translation. Tafv, which means “feather” (rhymes with “lava,” and pronounced “dava” by old-timers) was named when she was three months in utero by her great-grandmother, in a phone conversation that went like this:

Tim: “Grandma, Nancy’s going to have a baby.”

Mabel Hill: “Uhnhn. She’s going to have a girl, and her name is Tafv.”

In addition to getting Tafv her CDIB card, the aunties hustled to get her citizenship
Uncle Sonny

I cannot express for how long and how hard Will and Tim pushed the rock up the hill so that Natives could be portrayed simply as people - living people! - on film. That their kids and grandkids are doing it, I am ever overcome.

Zahn McClarnon plays Officer Big, a Lighthorseman, on “Reservation Dogs.”

The Sterlin Harjo movie Mekko floored me.

Circle Cinema, showing the episodes for free every week in downtown Tulsa. Skoden!

Robyn mentions Erica Tremblay, director of Fancy Dance, which Tafv set decorated.

Lily Gladstone, who stars in Fancy Dance as well as Killers of the Flower Moon, appeared in Reservation Dogs in a scene with my daughter, who was NOT supposed to act - and good lord, hates to be in front of the camera - but when the actress tapped to do the role caught COVID, Sterlin said to Tafv, “Okay, cuz, you’re it.”

“Following in Uncle Sonny’s footsteps…”

Good luck Robyn!


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