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Navajo-Hopi Observer | Flagstaff, Arizona

home : features : out & about May 28, 2016

7/16/2013 9:59:00 AM
Native connection alive at Celtic festival in Flagstaff
Chief William McIntosh. Submitted Photo
Chief William McIntosh. Submitted Photo
Clifford Fewel
Navajo-Hopi Observer

It was at a Scottish whisky tasting in northern California in 1996 when Flagstaff's Richard McKenzie learned he might have a living relative among the Creek Indians in Oklahoma. Over sips of Glen/Grant and other single-malt beverages an odd coincidence emerged in conversation among the Scots: one-eighth Creek McKenzie might share a bloodline with history's most famous Creek, Chief William McIntosh.

McKenzie, his wife, Jude, and many others have been publicizing for months the 16th annual Arizona Highland Celtic Festival, set to kick off Saturday at Foxglenn Park on East Butler Avenue in Flagstaff.

To anyone with knowledge of Celtic history and culture Richard's shared Celtic/Indian heritage is not rare, said Jude, president of the Northern Arizona Celtic Historical Society.

"When the Scots and the Irish first came to this country it wasn't that they married Native American women because there were no other women to marry," she said. "It's that when they came here they found that they understood each other culturally."

Jude said a strong sense of family loyalty forms the basic bond between the eight tribes of the Celts and the nearly 600 Native American tribes in the United States, as does a history of stronger forces pushing the groups around the map.

She said the first Celts were central European salt traders - salt is at the root of the word Celt - and that dominant forces from Roman times forward continually forced these hardy tradesmen into "tips of regions" such as northwestern Spain, peninsular Brittany, France, and on up to Cornwall and Wales in England.

In response to a question she's heard before, Jude patiently explained, "The Celtics (hard C) are a race of people. The Celtics (soft C) play basketball."

Once Richard learned that he might be related on his mother's side to Creek Indian Chinnubie McIntosh of Tulsa, he sent a letter to the elderly descendant of Chief William (1775-1825) and son of the late Chief W.E. "Dode" McIntosh. He wrote that he thought they might be kin.

The letter he received in reply began, "Dear Cousin Richard," and contained a well-researched explanation of how they did indeed share the bloodline of Chief William McIntosh, Richard's great-great-great-great-great grandfather.

It should be noted that Chief William McIntosh remains a polarizing figure in Native American history. He was the son of a Scotsman from Savannah, Ga., and a Creek woman of the Wind Clan. Raised among the Creeks, he also became fluent in English and moved easily between both Indian and white societies. His most controversial action as chief was when he negotiated the sale of his tribe's land in the South to the U.S. government, and then led his people along the infamous "Trail of Tears" to Oklahoma.

"Some say he was a bad guy for selling their land to the government," said Jude, "while some say he saw the writing on the wall and chose to go someplace else because his people would have been slaughtered if he didn't."

Chief McIntosh met his own end at the hands of northern Creeks who opposed the sale. McIntosh passed along to his family a fierce pride in their Scottish Highlands roots as well as in their Creek Confederacy heritage.

Dode McIntosh exhibited that pride more than a century later. He attended clan gatherings in Scotland wearing his full Creek chief's regalia. He died at age 98 in 1991.

Dode's son, Chinnubie, followed his father's example in 2005 when he accepted Richard McKenzie's invitation to come to Flagstaff for the 8th annual Celtic festival.

"He came to Flagstaff wearing a full headdress," recalled Richard, "and the Creek women had woven for him a special tartan for his kilt. The Native Americans at the festival that year said, 'Whoa, what's this guy doing here?'"

According to Richard, Chinnubie made a couple of trips to Flagstaff but is now in his 90s and doesn't travel. Jude recalled that Chinnubie performed ceremonies mixing Native American rituals with Scottish rites, and that he gave Richard a Creek nickname, "Sun-yekces este," which translates loosely to "ultra man" or "man to whom good things happen."

Richard and Jude, who are 58 and will have been married 37 years this August, each said the Celtic festival should have broad appeal to Navajo and Hopi residents, not only for the centuries-old links between cultures, but for the activities that include music, dancing, tug-o-war and the tossing of hammers and telephone-pole sized logs called cabers.

"Native Americans might be surprised how some of our traditions feel very comfortable to them," said Jude. "Our festival is not like a county fair. It's like a family reunion. You walk in and you feel transported to another place. We're all related. It's all about family."

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