People Doing Things That Matter: Tammy Greer, Houma
People Doing Things That Matter: Tammy Greer, Houma
How Crazy Crow learned of Tammy Greer
While working on the Petal Southern Miss Powwow event listing for the Crazy Crow Powwow Calendar, we needed more information on the powwow ‘organizer’. While researching that (something we commonly resort to for a more complete listing), we ran into this story about Tammy Greer, whose name we recognized from several other online articles about that powwow over the years, as well as other activities revolving around her work with University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for American Indian Research and Studies. We thought it was a nice story worth sharing. From a child raised a by traveling minister when her mother couldn’t care for her, to a return to her native people, time in the military, return to Mississipi and reconnection with powwows and native culture, to a university education and doctorate, we thought you’d enjoy learning more about Dr. Tammy Greer.
Learning a Tradition of Houma Beadcraft & Baskets
Tammy Greer, a member of Southeastern Louisiana’s United Houma Nation, was born in New Orleans. Her parents parted before she was born, and her mother, due to lack of education and resources, felt unable to care for Tammy and her older brother. They were adopted by a travelling minister and his wife, but Tammy was back in touch with her mother and other relatives among the Houma during high school. One of her teachers noticed that she was an Indian, and wanted to help her to be in touch with Indian culture outside of her immediate family. That teacher sent her to Indian camp several times, where most of the kids were Houma. They learned how to bead, make baskets, and explore other sorts of expressive culture that families cultivate together in much the same traditional atmosphere. A teacher at the camp who had been to powwows her whole life took Tammy on the powwow trail in Louisiana, Texas, and Florida. She continued to learn beadwork from several folks, first beading a pair of moccasins, then making a dance dress and learning how to fringe shawls.
From Powwows to Military Intelligence and Back to Powwows
At those powwows she visited during her teens, there would be dancing during the day, lots of crafts done, and plenty of visiting. Then when the regular powwow dancing flagged around ten, the older generation would head for bed, and the young folks would “49” for hours more (that’s social dancing). After a 4-year hitch in the army, which included two years in army intelligence in Europe, she was back home, and back on the powwow trail, now accompanied by nieces and nephews. She attended the University of New Orleans, and received a doctorate in psychology from Tulane. She married, looked for work nearby, and soon was teaching at The University of Southern Mississippi. Following her divorce, she returned to beading and other crafts, and now that her kids are old enough to not require constant attention, can spend more time in these endeavors.
Golden Eagles Intertribal Society & Annual Powwow
After powwows started at University of Southern Mississippi (USM), she was recruited to help, and soon was advisor of the Golden Eagles Intertribal Society and head of the annual powwow. She points out that this powwow serves an important function in nurturing and publicizing an Indian presence in an area formerly populated only by Indians.
USM’s Center for American Indian Research and Studies
As a natural outgrowth of this activity and of USM’s location (central in terms of Indian populations of the Deep South), she initiated and leads USM’s new Center for American Indian Research and Studies. These days, many weekends find her and her kids at powwows in the region, dancing, visiting, and recruiting students for USM.
Focus on Beadwork
Although she still has the first regalia she made and danced in, much of her beadwork and other crafts have departed as gifts or in trade for the artwork of others. She finds beading relaxing, a form of meditation that has a physical product. Often, as she beads, her children will sort beads for her—crafts will continue in the family. Her beading designs first followed geometric patterns, but then diverged into pictorial and autobiographical paths. For instance, a cross represents her confirmation in the Catholic church, a snake symbolizes transformation, and so on. The boldest color contrasts, seen on a large talking stick (a traditional adjunct to a civil discussion—only the one then holding the stick will speak), represent the arrival of the kids, easily the most dramatic event in her life!
USM Powwow Connects Tribe, Community
USM’s Golden Eagle Inter-Tribal Sociey hosts the Southern Miss Pow Wow each year at the Petal Middle School’s gymanisum.
The free, family-oriented event hosted people and tribes from all over the country and included traditional Native American dances, dancing competitions, music and art, as well as food and vendors. “What we are doing here is inviting people to meet and greet and become aware of the Choctaw presence and the Indian presence in our nation, especially here in Mississippi, and to get to know,” said Tammy Greer, a Southern Miss professor and faculty adviser for the GEIS.
The powwow, which used to be on the USM campus and was moved for space reasons, also featured a School Day April 16 when local elementary school children played games and made crafts inspired by Native American culture in order to learn more about the American Indians. Greer said the GEIS also has another School Day in November and traveled to schools throughout the year. On campus, the group holds ceremonies and events in the Medicine Wheel Garden located between the Liberal Arts Building and the International Building. Tammy encouraged the USM community to come to the various events and to learn more about the Golden Eagles Intertribal Society.
“At our Powwow we celebrate the Southeastern American Indian traditional customs, ways and people,” said Southern Miss professor Tammy Greer, advisor to the Southern Miss Golden Eagles Intertribal Society. “The event provides a wonderful opportunity for people within and outside of Native American cultures to enrich their understanding of other cultures, build bridges and develop broad notions of community.”
Medicine Wheel Garden at the University of Southern Mississippi
The Medicine Wheel Garden on the University of Southern Mississippi’s Hattiesburg campus is a space for plant life, spiritual renewal and learning.
In 2005, Tammy secured a grant to cultivate the empty area in between the Liberal Arts and International buildings. This grant, given to Greer by the grassroots organization Seva, allowed for enough money to purchase stones to make the circular shape of the garden and soil to fill it. However, there was little money to purchase plants. The purpose of a Medicine Wheel Garden is to be filled with indigenous and organic plant life. Greer came up with the idea of allowing people to adopt areas of the Medicine Wheel Garden, which helped in filling the garden with plants, although not all were native to the area.
“Native plants can’t be bought from Home Depot and in a lot of different places they have died out,” she says. Despite the difficulties, she did not give up on her vision. Instead, she created a board with a picture of the Medicine Wheel Garden. She carried the board with her on visits to local Native American tribes, inviting anyone with an interest in it to donate plants. It was four years later at the 2009 Choctaw Indian Fair that an elderly couple took a special interest in the garden.
In October 2009, that couple came to Southern Miss with a trailer of over 500 native plants dug up from the Holly Springs National Forest. A few months later, the couple came down with another 500 plants from the DeSoto National Forest. Six to eight months after the initial truckload the garden was filled with native plants, and non-native plants began to be The couple, Joe and Merrill Willis from Oxford, also donated a bench that is still in the garden today. The bench is dedicated to Tammy for her work to create the garden.
“That’s the power of an intention,” Greer said. The garden is in the shape of a wheel, representing the Medicine Mountain in Wisconsin. Greer said the wheel is a sacred shape to Native Americans as it represents the idea that life happens in one big circle. Members of the Golden Eagles Intertribal Society at USM help her with the upkeep of the garden. Roger Dewayne, Intertribal Society secretary, said the garden is separated into four quadrants, each corresponding with a different geographical direction or feeling.
“Each tribe has their own specific meaning for the different areas of the garden,” Dewayne said. Tyler Meador, community advisement officer for the Intertribal Society, said his personal experience with the garden is internalized. “I go there to center myself,” Meador said. “In the north [quadrant], I receive energy and logic.” The garden also is a center point for people to express and share their culture. Native Americans can connect in a very personal way that allows unification among different tribes, Meador said.
Every plant that makes up the garden has some sort of medicinal or creative value. “We even have plants in the garden that are used for making dyes or tools,” Greer said. “What people had before they started mining iron and copper to make tools were plants, wood, rocks and shells. So, the plants helped a lot in our everyday lives.” Along with medical and creative value, the plants offer healing and spiritual powers. Greer used the Spanish Dagger plant as an example. With its spiky appearance, the Spanish dagger deters animals and people from approaching it.
“Be a Spanish Dagger,” Greer said. “Think of yourself as that to ward off evil.” Greer hopes that through the Medicine Wheel Garden, the knowledge of and uses of these native plants will continue on to the younger generations. “What we are tying to do with these native plants is that we are trying to help people carry on the use of native plants for tools, medicines and everyday needs,” she said.
2015 Southern Miss Nominee, IHL Diversity Award for Excellence
Service, Research, Teaching Recognized at 2015 Faculty Awards Ceremony: Each year during Black History Month, the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning recognizes a faculty or staff member from each university for demonstrating positive advancement of diversity on campus and within the university community. The 2015 Southern Miss’ representative for the IHL Diversity Award for Excellence is Dr. Tammy Greer.
For more information about the USM’s Center for American Indian Research and Studies, the Golden Eagles Intertribal Society, the Petal Southern Miss Powwow, the Medicine Wheel Garden, contact Tammy Greer at firstname.lastname@example.org.