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PBS in my Muscogee World

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

I have no idea when I started watching PBS.  It was always there in the background of my active world.  I was an active child and being outside with my Muscogee (Creek Native, Traditional Ceremonial Leader and archaeologist) father while he roamed the 2-acre yard, checked on the animals (we always had several of the horse, cat, dog varieties), and worked diligently in the garden was plenty to keep me entertained.  Of course, my mother was not only a devoted mother, but also had gotten her MS in early childhood by the time I was 2.  She would take me outside for ‘science’ to explore what kind of insects and frogs and worms we could find.  I had it made. 

Misty Penton 5 yrs old, Rebecca Penton Filer, 2 yrs old (sisters), and April Penton (mama)

However, summer days are long and hot and there are just some times when every child and every parent is happy to take a break and have a snack, relax and get cool in the a/c.  This is when I got to know Mr. Rogers.  What a kind man.  What a comfort.  What a wonderful way to be safely introduced to strange things and thus make them familiar! Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood created a safe space to explore seemingly mundane things to adults that to kids are sometimes frightening but definitely a struggle. Difficult emotions, like feelings of anger, or guilt or grief that are so new and raw for young ones, having a safe space to process and gentle guide gave comfort to me for which I am certain my parents benefitted.

One day at Florida High preschool when I was 3 years old, I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Rogers!  He was a friend of one of my classmates’ parents, the luckiest girl in class, Katherine Hiett (Viker.) Katherine’s parents had arranged for Mr. Rogers to visit our classroom.

Mr. Fred Rogers, Florida High School 3 year old class, 1973-4. I am the very excited little one front and center with her hands over her mouth! Ms. Katherine Hiett Viker is to the right of Mr. Rogers hugging his arm. So much excitement but we have ourselves under control for the next amazing thing. Photo credit to Ms. Katherine Hiett Viker, thank you.

All of us children were running wild waiting for him to arrive.  As we all know, often times children have difficulty controlling themselves when they are excited.  The moment Mr. Rogers walked in and saw us in such an excited blur, instead of being agitated, he said,

“Hello children, I would be so delighted if you would all gather here and in front of me and sing this song with me: it’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor would you be mine, could you be mine…”

Amazing magic man… calm happiness swept through the room. Everyone front and center and ready for the next magic move! Mr. Rogers actions reminded me of the Muscogee Rule of Leadership my dad always said to me:

‘Who can you control? A: ‘Only yourself!’ 

‘Then how do you lead?’  A: ‘By example!’ 

From my 3 year old perspective, Mr. Rogers understood Muscogee Leadership and I was happy to follow him, as were ALL of my classmates…he shows us by example the magic is in all of us. Then as we were all calmed and happy, we got to hold the class guinea pig!

Muscogee peoples (Creek Natives) see everything in dualities, in balance and harmony and try to keep things in balance and harmony.  As you may have noticed I have been so blessed to be a part of this community for many, many years. I did go to graduate school at the University of Oregon for my MS in Bioanthropology, and lived in Eugene, Oregon working at the Oregon State Museum of Anthropology for 5 years.  Oh my goodness was I happy to come home.  When I came back, I was an adult to my Native Tribal Town, Eknv Hvtke (White Earth) as I had a 5 month old daughter and a husband, and we were all so happy to be back home in Tallahassee with WFSU Public Media. 

Of course if you know any archaeology types, you know we always watch PBS to keep abreast of what new discoveries are happening worldwide, and I am no exception. My own 2 beautiful children had Caillou, Dragon Tales, and Zooboomafu – and always loved all the animal documentaries, just like their mom.

Time flies, and most recently, Elders from Eknv Hvtke and the Muscogee Nation of Florida have tasked me with the responsibility of sharing our Tribal history as we cannot lose our young ones, as well as that of traditional Storyteller for the tribe…(can you see my shoulders droop lol).  Another ‘Muscogee saying’ my father has been teaching us all for years (he is a Ceremonial Leader at the Tribal Traditional Squaregrounds) is: ‘Your gift is your responsibility.’

As the Education Director at The Museum at Fred George Park and Greenway (operated by Wildwood Preservation Society 501c3), I had the most incredible opportunity to work with WFSU/PBS and Local Routes to do a 5 minute Ecoblog on one of our most sacred traditions, shell carving.  It is rare that traditional shell carvers speak to outsiders, much less the media, but we are purposefully sharing our culture and history directly from the experts. WFSU’s Rob Diaz de Villegas did an in-depth review and interview with one of our incredible shell carvers, Christopher Thompson, as well as myself, and it was an incredible opportunity for us to share that this community has Native Neighbors. 

We are here, and we are happy to share our story with you!  Thank you to WFSU for always being here and growing with me.  As an Education and Engagement Specialist I am ready to give back for all the great years WFSU/PBS and this incredible community has given me.

Misty Penton, MS., Muscogee Storyteller and Education & Engagement Specialist

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