The white settlers called them Creek Indians after Ocmulgee Creek in Georgia. They originally called themselves Isti or Istichata, but began to identify themselves as Muskogee soon after Europeans arrived. Muskogee is pronounced “muss-KOH-gee,” with a hard ‘g’ as in ‘go.’ Sometimes it is spelled Muscogee or Mvskoke instead. It comes from Maskoke, which was originally the name of a particular Creek band. Later, this name became used to refer to Creek people in general. Today, many people use the two words together: Muskogee Creek. Some Seminoles are Creek people. The Seminole tribe was originally an alliance between certain Creek, Miccosukee, Hitchiti, Oconee, and other Indian people of northern Florida and southern Georgia. Only some Creek people, not all of them, joined the Seminoles.
The Creeks are original residents of the American southeast, particularly Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina. Most Creeks were forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1800’s, like other southern Indian tribes. There are 20,000 Muskogee Creeks in Oklahoma today. Other Creek people are living in southern Florida as part of the Seminole tribe, in the Poarch Creek band in Alabama, or scattered throughout the original Muskogee homelands.
There are two Creek tribes today. The Poarch Creeks in Alabama live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to the tribe and is under their control. The Oklahoma Creeks live on trust land. The Creek Nation has its own government, laws, police, and other services, like a small country. However, the Creeks are also US citizens and obey American law. In the past, each Creek village was led by a chief called a miko who was selected by a tribal council. Historically, all these chiefs were male. Today, the Creek councilmembers and principal chief are elected, just like senators and governors, and can be either gender.
The Creeks traded regularly with all the other tribes of the southeast. These tribes communicated using a simplified trade language called Mobilian Jargon. They frequently fought with the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes. The closest Creek allies included the Yuchi, Miccosukee, Alabama, and Coushatta tribes, who were united into a loose confederacy in the 1700’s.
Creek men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Creek women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, the chief was always a man, but today a Creek woman can participate in government too.
The Creek people lived in settled villages of single-family houses arranged around a village square. Creek houses were made of plaster and river cane walls with thatched roofs. They also built larger circular buildings for ceremonial purposes, and most towns had a ball field with benches for spectators. Some Creek villages had palisades (reinforced walls) around them, to guard against attack.
The Creeks were known for their American Indian baskets, woodcarvings, and glazed pottery. When they had to move to Oklahoma, the Creeks couldn’t get the materials they used to use for some of their traditional crafts, so they concentrated more on other crafts such as beadwork and art.
Adapted from Native Languages of the Americas by Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis