- The Euchee (Yuchi) History Project
From out of the audience in Kellyville, Oklahoma, a Euchee elder questions a college professor about the presentation she has just given. "In all of our oral history that has been passed down, that information has never come to light among any of us," the elder says. 1 Such were the exchanges in October 2010 as a panel of academic researchers addressed members of the Euchee community for the first time during the initial Euchee History Symposium.
The event was held as the Euchee people themselves embarked on their first significant effort to compile a comprehensive written history of their tribe. Held in conjunction with the annual Euchee Heritage Festival, the symposium brought together noted historians and other scholars who have researched the history of the Native American tribes of what are now the southern and central United States. Key advisors to the project, most of whom have conducted significant research in Euchee ethnology and linguistics, were i nstrumental in arranging the presenters. As a continuation of that initial experience, Robbie Ethridge, coeditor of Native South, suggested we prepare an article on the Euchee History Project, including its purpose and process.
Euchee History Project
The Euchees have lived primarily in the area south and west of Tulsa, Oklahoma, since Removal in the 1830s. They often see their name spelled "Yuchi" in academic literature but frequently refer to themselves as the Tsoyaha, a word in their own language that means "Children of the Sun." 2 When the Euchee (Yuchi) Tribe of Indians polled its membership [End Page 121] in 2008, it found that 88.4 percent of respondents agreed that knowledge of the tribe's history was very important. Although anthropologists and linguists from Albert Gallatin in the 1830s to Jason Baird Jackson and Mary S. Linn in the 2000s have studied and published works about the Euchees, no historian has ever addressed Euchee history in a comprehensive manner. 3 The survey results also indicated tribal members felt a need to bolster pride in Euchee identity, which a more thorough knowledge of the tribe's rich history could help promote. 4 With the survey results in hand, Chairman Andrew Skeeter and tribal member Cynthia Tiger began work on an application for a Social Economic Development Grant from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families. In October 2009 the tribe launched the Euchee History Project, with two years of funding from the grant, the ultimate goal of which is to craft the first comprehensive written work of history focusing exclusively on the Euchees.
The Euchee (Yuchi) Tribe of Indians was incorporated in 1992 by the tribe's ceremonial ground leaders, the traditional leadership for hundreds of years, in order to be eligible to apply for certain federal grants to assist in community development. The Euchees maintain three ceremonial grounds, where ceremonies such as the annual Green Corn rite are performed. Considered one of the constituent peoples making up the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Euchees are not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs outside of their affiliation with the Creeks. However, the Euchees insist they are a separate people who, although drawn into the Creek political orbit and a part of the Creek Confederacy since the 1700s, have always maintained their own language, customs, and culture. 5 The Euchee language is an isolate, thus unlike any other known Native American tongue. Even its very structure, which uses different noun classes to divide Euchee people from non-Euchees, emphasizes distinctness. 6
Federal recognition independent of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has long been a goal of the Euchees, and the material being compiled for inclusion in the Euchee (Yuchi) History Project may one day help to bolster the tribe's case with federal and state governments. In the meantime, as Chairman Skeeter wrote in the ANA grant application, the project "will enhance the preservation of our history and stimulate greater interest and involvement by our tribal members." 7 [End Page 122]
The purpose of the project is to establish a comprehensive written history for the Euchees. To...