Greg Bigler on Euchee Legal Traditions

Gregory Bigler has posted “7000 Dzo-Gaw-law (Ancestors)” on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

I read Stories from the Euchee Reservation on a plane. I read it cover to cover, I was as if emerging from a dream in which animals and humans understand one another and spirits come to visit over a cup of coffee.

Judge Bigler is a Euchee tribal citizen and a member of Polecat Ceremonial Grounds, a Harvard Law School graduate, longtime district court judge at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. He co-counselled Indian law cases to the U.S. Supreme Court, mentored generations of Indian law attorneys, published law review articles.

Yet as Judge Bigler’s stories make clear, Indian people are keeping their traditions alive, listening to their chiefs, speaking Indigenous languages, and navigating contemporary circumstances: sending gossipy texts at the stomp grounds, wolf eating tofu in the forest, or teasing academics about their decolonizing methodologies. Shaw-jane, Mr. Rabbit, remains popular even after many years on the Indian story circuit.

This is a world, real life, for the people who keep the fire, the towns, the ballgames, and dances alive day in and day out, carrying out the ways of their people. These are cultural traditions handed down from generation to generation, suppressed for hundreds of years, still surviving today. Even if only with maybe a few hundred traditional practitioners.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided in the 2020 case of Jimcy McGirt v. State of Oklahoma that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation remains a reservation, “Indian Country” for purposes of federal criminal jurisdiction. The McGirt decision, means the Muscogee (Creek) Nation government has jurisdiction over a significant portion of northeast Oklahoma.

What law now applies in the reservation? Federal and tribal law, perhaps state law by agreement or statute? What is tribal law exactly? The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the right of tribes to exist as distinct peoples with their own “laws, customs, and traditions.” It recognizes their rights to maintain their religious sites, indigenous languages, sacred plants, traditional medicines – or as Natives put it, the Declaration recognizes the rights of Indigenous Peoples to maintain their “ways.”

The ways of the Muscogee and Euchee people are carried on at the stomp grounds. These ways can be understood as the laws, customs, and traditions of the Muscogee and Euchee people, are highly complex, deeply embedded, and alive. Following the directions of their chiefs, carrying out ceremonial rules, honoring the spirit world, maintaining peace and order, caring for children while teaching them proper ways of behavior, and so on. These laws, customs, and traditions, structure Euchee society in Stories from the Euchee Reservation. These laws are challenged by many things – the history of conquest and colonization, generations of social and economic deprivation, and the temptations of contemporary society – yet they remain alive to this day.