Alvarez teaches about Poarch

Published 4:08 am Monday, July 25, 2011

Alex Alvarez demonstrates a drum for children during a program Thursday. Alvarez said he enjoys having the chance to teach about his heritage.|Photo by Adam Robinson

Alex Alvarez took a Thursday morning opportunity to enlighten a group of children in the culture, heritage and activities of Native Americans.

Alvarez, a member of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, spoke to a packed house at the Brewton Public Library as he gave details about the Poarch Band of Creek Indians with stories and Indian lore, culture and music.

“I have been doing this since 2006 and it is part of my profession with the tribe to make sure the Native American culture here is getting displayed in a positive and educational manner,” Alvarez said. “There is a lot of miscommunication and stereotypes about Native Americans and when you do educational programs like this, it helps to dispel those to the younger kids. They grow up understanding what Native Americans are and not what the television portrays them as.”

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Alvarez demonstrated to those in attendance Thursday at the library words, instruments, songs, games, attire and history and stories about the Creek Indians.

“Creek Indian is a nickname for our tribe because we usually settled around creeks and different bodies of water,” Alvarez said. “Our real name is Muskogee. Muskogee is a word that means people of the marsh land. That is our real name. Our ancestors were not like the nomadic tribes of the great plains. We did not live in tee-pees, but we lived in log cabin-type structures.”

Alvarez said the Muskogee people were great farmers and grew most of their vegetation and he taught and told about the Muskogee culture.

“Culture is who a person is and how they do certain things, what clothes they wear, language they speak, food they eat and other things about them,” Alvarez said. “All that is the word culture. Native American culture is very unique. We all have different cultures.”

Alvarez told stories about how the turtle shell got its indentions and creases on its shell after being confronted by some angry animals, hid in its shell, and was thrown in the river.

“We the turtle came out of the river, his shell was all busted up,” Alvarez said. “An ant found him after he screamed for help and put his shell back together and that’s why today the turtle shell is not smooth. That is just a story like you tell here in a library. We told stories like that along time ago for entertainment because we did not have television and to teach little boys and girls about being nice to each other.”

Alvarez had other things that pertained to the culture being pottery, arrows, a drum and a flute.

“We got a lot of our inspiration from our pottery from the water so we have fish and other things on it,” Alvarez said. “We used pottery as cups and pots and also made art. We have baskets made from bamboo and we used it for storage, keeping our food safe and for food processing. Also our arrows are made from river cane. The feathers on the arrow helped it like the wings of an airplane. Our Indian marksman would hold a candle from hundreds of yards away and they could knock the flame out of the candle and not hit the person holding it. We used the arrow to hunt deer and get berries and other food items.”

With the drum and flute, Alvarez sang and played songs and told how it was used for dancing.

“Rawhide covers the drum and it makes a good sound when stretched over wood,” Alvarez said. “We don’t dance to the traditional drum beat that you usually hear, but we do make beats and dance.”

Alvarez showed the traditional beat and sang to the children and allowed them to try the drum.

Another key item Alvarez showed was the attire they wear while dancing.

“We usually wear patchwork vests,” Alvarez said. “They are ripped and sewn back together and the colors red, black and white are our colors that are most dominant.”

Another item shown Thursday was items used the game “stickball.”

“In the game of stickball the men use sticks,” Alvarez said. “There is a story we tell about how the birds played the animals in a game. Also this is how we would settle disputes in time of war. Instead of having a war, we would play stickball to settle land and other disputes. Along ago, the animals got in a dispute and the birds thought they were better than the animals. Animals had fur and teeth and thought they were better than the birds so they settled with the game A bat was told he could not be with the birds because he had wings, fur and teeth. He started with the birds but was told he was too small and blind and could not get the ball because he was blind. He then went to the bear with hurt feelings and joined their team but was told to wait for the big animals to play first.”

Alvarez said when the ball was thrown in the air to start the game, the birds grabbed it in their beaks and would score because they would fly and was beating the faster animals on land—until it got dark.

“The bat can see at dark and later scored all the goals because he could see and scored the game-winning goal for the animals,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez ended his session playing the flute for the children and having them sing, “Mary had a Little Lamb.”