Creek Power: A visit with John Timothy

Posted By PowWows.com March 18th, 2014 Last Updated on: March 18th, 2014

Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Music Editor

Born 1966 in Muskogee, OK , the youngest of three children. His father, John Timothy Sr., bestowed his Indian name “Yafke” upon him because it means “evening” in the Muscogee (Creek) language. He thought this appropriate for the birth of his last child.
Growing up in the Muscogee Nation, it was not difficult for John to become familiar with his American Indian roots. He continues to embrace these traditions as an adult.

John worked at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee,OK from 1994 – 2000 , he served as Staff Artist and a Cultural Resources Officer

In 2000, John became the director of the Ataloa Lodge Museum on the historic campus of Bacone College in Muskogee, OK. a breeding ground for flute makers and players. John credits the Bacone Alumni for preserving this tradition.

John prides himself on using his flute for education and others enjoyment as opposed to self-promotion.

Musician John TImothy representing in his regalia!

Q) Hensci! ‘Stonko? We've known each other for years, but it's great to catch up on all the latest! Start us off with the basics?

A) I am a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, I am left handed/right minded, I am a born artist, by that I mean I think artistically, when not creating with my hands, I am with my mind. If I never create another piece of art or music, I am still an artist.

Q) You are a tremendous ambassador for Creek culture! Tell us about your journey in music?

A) The journey began listening to my parents' music, literally that is, my Father plays the fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin, harmonica and my Mother is known to sing at will, my mother is totally blind but has practically every song in a church hymnal memorized. My teen years learning to play the guitar hoping it would impress the girls, this led to my appreciation of the blues,
My late Uncle, Buddy Scott who was an award making flute maker from the early 70's, was a prominent figure in my life, I asked uncle if he would teach me, he provided me with instructions and honestly, I thought that would be the end of it.

John Timothy celebrates his Creek culture through music!

John Timothy celebrates his Creek culture through music!

Q) How did you start playing? Please give us the highlight reel!

A) I say tongue in cheek that my playing is purely by accident, but this is actually true. In 1994, I began working for the Five Tribes Museum in Muskogee, at that time there weren't as many flute players as there are now, so I was often asked by the director to bring my flute if a tour was scheduled, especially a bus tour. After every tour, I would assume it was the last time I would play in front of a group, but that was ninteen years ago and I'm still being asked. That is very important to me, being asked I never conjure a performance, no self promotion. I do not do this thinking I am to proud to advertise, it was how I was raised, If someone is truly interested in what you do, they will seek you out. I'm not selling a used car.

Q)What are some of your favorite accomplishments?

A) Live television is quite a thrill (local and international), performing in the Rotunda of Oklahoma State Capitol for the first annual American Indian heritage day celebration,playing and recording with great musicians.

Q) How does your Tribal heritage appear in your life as a way of life? How does culture impact the way that you live and the way that you make your music?

A) Growing up we do not realize how much we actually absorb and take with us growing older. It has impacted my life a great deal. I work in the fields of American Indian museum, art and education. What I learned as an adult pales to what I learned from experience as a child. The flute I do not approach artistically, I feel I have an obligation to keep alive what has been done by those before me, the native flute isn't a form of music I created, it belongs to the native community, that is what I think of when playing. I do close my eyes when playing and at times zone out then snap out of it when I'm done. That's when it is really good.

Q) How does practicing our Native lifeways help those who are struggling to come to understanding and freedom? What do you hope your music does in the lives of your listeners?

A) I actually hope listening to my music does the same for them as it has for me when listening, playing/giving music is a much different experience than listening/receiving music.

Q) Since your music and culture was passed on to you by your elders, how do you feel about passing your skills and wisdom on to the next generation?

A) I am fortunate to be in a position to do just that, one of my duties serving as a cultural club coordinator for the Center for American Indians at Bacone College. First thing, I encourage them to know and believe who they are, most have not had the opportunity to learn from a direct relative and do not feel it is theirs to preserve, but I remind them it is now their turn. Little by little they start to believe.

Q) Any powerful lessons that this way of life teaches you?

A) There are continuous obstacles, the biggest seem to be internal. Allowing myself to feel worthy, believing when others encourage me they are sincere.

Q) What are you glad you have learned along the way?

A) Knowing the difference between confidence and arrogance, arrogance works for a while but people see eventually see it for what it is. The most destructive is not being prepared, I'm guilty of it too.

Q) Who are some of your favorite musicians?

A) As far as Native flute goes first on the list would be the late Woodrow Haney, he is my favorite, not only because he was a very soulful player, he played the flute like it was a saxophone, but also because he was doing this long before it was cool. Of course, there were other greats and still are, but Woodrow will always be my favorite.

Q) If you could offer any advice to someone who would like to learn more and possibly start performing,singing,drumming or playing, what would it be?

A) Do it with feeling, dont over rehearse! Don't play and drive!

Q) What would you like us to know that we don't already know about you?|

A) I have worked in the field of American Indian Museums for nineteen years. I am very involved in assisting public schools by encouraging teaching professionals to not present American Indians as a source of amusement and entertainment, or in the past tense.

Q) Thanks so much for sharing with us. We sure do appreciate you!

A) Mvto!

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Joyce Starwalker Andrews

John Timothy is a very talented yet humble person, a true gentleman, an asset to the Native American community, his tribe and Bacone College as a whole.
Interesting interview with sensitive honest responses. Enjoyed reading this.

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