Muscogee (Creek) citizen William Harjo was named 2018 Honored Elder Artist at the Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival Premiere Night Feb. 9, 2018 in Glenpool, Okla.
Harjo, who has attended the Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival the past seven years, said receiving this honor from the festival is a great feeling.
“They are showing appreciation for an elder, for a Creek elder, which makes me feel good,” Harjo said. “Being the Honored Elder Artist is a show of respect for what I do. For Indian arts and you know as being a native artist giving someone recognition like that is something that means a lot to me.”
For the past 25 years, Harjo has been traveling worldwide selling handmade flutes and presenting his music and pieces including six trips to Europe.
Harjo was working in Kansas City, Mo., as an alcohol and drug counselor until he experienced a heart attack.
After that he and his family made a trip to Houston, Tex., to visit their daughter and that’s when they met some Alabama Coushatta citizens and decided to relocate.
“We both had just had enough with Kansas City and wanted to move, we knew we had a relative tribe in Texas so we just moved here,” Harjo said.
Harjo’s new home in Texas was close to a creek with plenty of river cane growing in it. That’s when he started bringing up the pieces and started making flutes.
While in Texas they continued to attend powwows as a family and that’s when a friend suggested he start bringing flutes to the powwows for extra gas money. Before he knew it, he was setting up booths displaying his flutes.
Harjo said after trial and error and many years of practice, he is now a one-man assembly line producing up to 20 flutes per week.
The production of a cedar flute through drying time and allowing the glue to set up is about 35 hours.
He also performs with his flutes through his own songs. Harjo said he does not read music but rather will make a sentence or two in Mvskoke or English and find a sound for each word and then begins to memorize the sentences.
Harjo plans to continue traveling and presenting his artwork at events such as the Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival.