Professor Blue Clark (Muscogee Creek) is a voracious reader. His pack rat tendencies with file keeping and note taking served him well when presented with the formidable task of updating Muriel Wright's 1951 work, A Guide To The Indian Tribes of Oklahoma. For years, people turned to this book for answers, but time has changed the realities of most, if not all, tribes. Clark, as a member of an Oklahoma tribe, knew that.
“The University [of Oklahoma] Press asked me to revise and update the 1950's volume of Muriel Wright (Choctaw), which was the foundational guide. Many things, as we know, have changed in Indian country, in the intervening half century, “said Clark. “I especially want the general reader to know that American Indians did not disappear with the dinosaurs. They are still here, they are an intimate part of the history and contemporary culture of the state of Oklahoma, the whole United States, Canada and north and south America and central America as well, lots of historic and prehistoric connections.”
Clark, who admits to being the kid who read the cereal box at the breakfast table, so loves to read he would probably read your mail if you left it within his grasp, and maybe that’s what it takes. The busy and inquisitive mind of Clark has created a home library of facts and knowledge on the tribes of Oklahoma.
He began 40 years ago keeping files. “I wear two hats, one as an American Indian, and one as an educator and sometime scholar,” said Clark. To begin to manage his collection, he timed himself to see how long it would take to transform one file into a chapter.
“It is both in the oral tradition that I have tried to pay honor to, and also in the written academic archeology, anthropology, sociology literature as well,” said Clark. “And tried to make linguistic connections back to basic roots for the tribes and then bring it up to contemporary times, to talk about activities, culture, economics, politics, etc. And I continue to do wide reading.”
Clark brings the tribal realities to current times, including the growth of the gambling industry and the adoption of the Internet.
“I hope that if people have more specific questions about a tribe, that they go to those websites, and read the history, background, governance or whatever it is they are specifically interested in. And if they're interested in doing business with the tribe, go directly to the tribe and say, ‘Hey, let's meet and do business.’"
Many books on Native Americans are written by non-natives, and Clark said he has liked many of those books.
“I hope I have put into it some native-ness and some native insights and some native structure and some regard for ceremonies, rituals, which I do not discuss but mention that the practices survive and are maintained if not expanding among tribal population,” Clark said. “I hope that somebody appreciates the fact that there is some Indian-ness in it.”
Blue Clark's Indian Tribes of Oklahoma, A Guide was recently released in paperback by the University of Oklahoma Press.