A look back at the first Council under the 1979 Constitution
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — ‘Creek election final results,’ ‘Council meets in historic session,’ and ‘Creek shut down hampers services,’ ‘Removal petitions filed’ and ‘Second Chief McCombs dies.’
These are all headlines found in 1980 editions of the ‘Muscogee Nation News’ while researching the first Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council elected under the 1979 MCN Constitution.
Some might say 1980 was a wild year for the Nation.
I always had a love for archives and research. I was the kid scanning through microfilm at the local library comparing milk prices, obituaries and the main headlines during a certain year. A real nerd.
I learned a lot during those times and this archive journey was no different.
How about we go in chronological order and start with January 1980?
‘Creek election final results’
An ‘MNN’ news story reported that Claude A. Cox was elected for his third consecutive term as MCN principal chief.
Within the first sentence, I’m already learning something new. Apparently this was before Article V, Section 1a of the MCN Constitution implemented only two consecutive terms could be served as principal chief.
Solomon McCombs was elected MCN second chief.
Yes, the McCombs building is named after the first elected second chief under the 1979 MCN Constitution. I say this as a major revelation because trying to give directions to the building comes with an awkward silence if you do not refer to it as the ‘main building.’
The elected National Council consisted of eight Council representatives from eight different counties within the MCN jurisdiction.
Okmulgee District elected Glen Moore. This guy gets interesting as the year goes on. Stay tuned.
For Wagoner District Ken Childers was elected. Helen Chupco was elected for Muskogee District. McIntosh District must have kept it local with Thomas McIntosh. Creek District elected Elwood Bigpond. Irene Cleghorn was elected for Tulsa District and Okfuskee District elected Toney Hill.
Hughes District’s first elected representative under the new constitution was tied between James McGirt and John Wesley. James McGirt ended up being the victor, decided by a simple flip of the coin. No, really. The winner was determined Jan. 18, by a flip of a coin.
I have questions about this coin. What kind of coin was it and did anyone keep it? If so, did they spend it? Was it heads or tails? Am I the only one focused on such minor details?
‘Council meets in historic session’
This was the headline I was looking for when I wanted to write about the first elected Council under the 1979 Constitution.
I was looking for a monumental moment in MCN history to show how far the Nation has come, the baby steps of the new legislative branch.
Council representatives being absent during meetings is not a new phenomenon apparently. Tony Hill missed the first meeting of being sworn into office.
Even with the absence of one it was still a proud moment in the Nation’s modern history, but six months after the election the record scratched.
‘Creek shut down hampers services’
The July ‘MNN’ 1980 edition is a roller coaster. One might forget this actually contains Festival coverage for the year. Which by the way, the font is so 1980 I want them to do a retro style logo for the Festival. I will buy the ringer tee it is printed on, just make it Creek and make it red. Don’t forget the feather.
I felt like I had to start with Festival to soften the blow of 750 MCN employees being placed on administrative leave because the entire Nation shut down.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs stated in a letter that MCN could not expend any federal funds or tribal trust funds without Council resolution. Sounds simple? Pass the resolution and business as usual.
Cox thought the same way, but when he approached Moore, who happened to be speaker at the time, (I told you this guy was going to be important,) Moore refused to call a meeting to pass the resolution.
If you are asking why, I’m right there with you. I never found a statement from Moore as to why he made his decision to not do what the BIA requested. I do know it made a lot of people mad.
A group of Muscogee (Creek) citizens came together and formed a petition requesting a meeting be called. Again, Moore refused to call a meeting.
At this point, Cox had enough and used his Constitutional rights as principal chief to call a meeting to end the madness.
There’s always a ‘but,’ right?
Moore was given notice about this meeting and called his own ‘secret’ Council meeting.
It was not secret enough because 150 citizens showed up and refused to leave until the resolution was passed.
I will always appreciate the power of people. Margaret Mead said it best, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
After six hours, the Council emerged with a temporary resolution allowing MCN to function again, but not without consequences.
‘Removal petitions filed’
The decisions and conduct made by certain Council representatives ruffled feathers, so much so petitions were filed July 8, 1980 to remove Moore, Bigpond and Hill.
Muscogee (Creek) citizens did not mess around during this time. I respect the original voices of courage who would tell you how they really feel and even were quoted in the paper.
“They treat us like two different people, a Creek citizen and an employee,” Cindy Bruner said.
“I haven’t seen them do anything but fight each other,” Stella Roberts said.
Then there is my personal favorite quote, “We voted them in, we can vote them out,” from Hepsey Gilroy.
A total of 1,116 signatures for all three petitions signed by Muscogee (Creek) voters were received for the removal of Council representatives.
Moore’s petition required 386 and consisted of 594, more than the total number of votes Moore received to win in the election.
The best section of this article comes at the very end.
‘For the first time since the ratification of the Muscogee (Creek) Constitution, Creek people are exercising their privilege as Creek citizens to express their opinion on tribal government.’
I appreciate that statement. These days it is common for people to voice their opinion and reading these archived news stories is a reminder of the importance in citizens having a voice.
‘Second Chief McCombs dies’
Before getting into the actual headline, here is an update since the August 1980 edition.
Moore, Hill and Bigpond were removed from office under the premise of refusing to pass legislation for the expenditure of funds causing several operational shut downs and layoffs. The most recent during that time being Oct. 1, 1980.
Now the year is rounding out in the November/December edition and three new representatives are being sworn into office.
Richard Larney for Okmulgee, Delbert Dunn for Creek and Carney Roberts for Okfuskee were voted in Nov. 1, 1980 to fill the vacancies of their districts. Kenneth Childers is the new council speaker.
Sidenote: Thomas McIntosh was not having it with the newly reorganized Council and just decided to not show up anymore.
Everything seemed calm and moving toward a steady direction. You can almost see the sun on the horizon. Oh wait…the headline.
Solomon McCombs passed away Nov. 18, 1980 due to a stroke.
The tone of the article from Helen Bennett is respect and gratitude for who McCombs was and all he did for the Nation.
Bennett reflects on an address McCombs made at the first National Council meeting. I highly recommend going to our archives and reading this article.
He is talking about concern for the people and taking care of one another.
“That is what is wrong with the Indian people today. I am not just talking about Creeks, but all over the country. We fight each other…that shouldn’t be. We ought to try to get ahead. We ought to a[t] least become independent by working with each other,” he said.
So ends the year 1980 for MCN. It was a roller coaster of events. Some things stay the same and governments have internal turmoil, but the Nation has come a long way in organization since then. There is always room for improvement. It takes time, effort and committed people.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” a very famous saying that has stood the test of time.
My interest in this particular subject sparked from the lack of text available for any MCN history past the year 1836. There are virtually no books on the subject of government or the events that led to the 1979 Constitution. If anyone knows of any sources besides ‘MNN’ archives, it would greatly be appreciated.
Interested in reading more from our archives? Click here to view editions from 1978-2017.