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This May Be the Last Time

Film Review:  Sterlin Harjo’s partially autobiographical film, “This May Be the Last Time”,  is one of the most intimate and accurate films ever made on contemporary Native American culture in the United States.  This is a must watch for all Native American descendants and music lovers.

Life is like a box of chocolates – Parte Trois:  So many moons ago that it is frightening, I was the drummer and co-leader of a teenage rock band.  The two songs that my fellow teenyboppers requested the most from us at sock hops were: “House of the Rising Sun” and “This Could Be the Last Time” as sung by the Rolling Stones.  If you have forgotten the song or are too young to know it, here are the Rolling Stones in 1965:  (Kids at my high school were definitely NOT dorky dancers like the ones on this TV program! LOL)

Now are you sitting down?   One of the many surprises that Sterlin Harjo provides us in this award-winging 2014 documentary is that the Rolling Stones adapted “Last Time” from a hit African-American Spiritual by the Staples Singers, “This May Be the Last Time.”   The Staple Singers didn’t tell anyone, but their African-American spiritual was actually an English translation of an old Muskogee-Creek spiritual  with the same name . . . that is still today sung in rural Oklahoma churches!

The documentary film weaves together several plots.  Harjo takes an introspective look at the Native American churches of his childhood and also explores the story of how his Seminole father went missing in a river.  The tapestry is completed by the research of a music science professor at Yale, who has become fascinated with Muscogee and Seminole church music.   The professor states in the film that he believes Muskogee spirituals were the first truly American music.   The climax of the film is when choirs from several parts of the United States and Scotland get together at Yale.   To tell you anything more would be a spoiler.

What deeply impresses me about all of Sterlin Harjo’s films are their deep and authentic spirituality.  This spirituality is not the New Age Princess Buffalo Calf Woman looking up at the moon and being serenaded by a wolf thing.   It is the deep faith of people, who endured an unimaginably horrific holocaust then were deported to a strange land.

My only negative comment on this film is that it projects the cultural experiences of  Muskogeans in Oklahoma as being universal, when in fact, their culture has changed during the 180 years of being away from the Motherland.  What little exposure I have had to traditional Creek music in eastern Georgia was very different music.  It was much happier and syncopated like Latin American music.  In fact, it was almost identical music to what the Taino descendants of the Caribbean region are playing today.

“This May Be the Last Time” is currently available on Netflix and may be available on other streaming services.  Do try to watch it.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

1 Comment



    This film is a powerful look into the Muskogee people and their feelings.

    I was not raised in a native environment. I was however, raised in a family that was completely Immersed in music. Because of that immersion, I feel the same kinds of things discussed in this film. The feeling relates both to the music and to the people who were important in my life as a youngster.

    Through this film, I feel that I have been looking into my own life. It is a blessing.

    Wado nigada



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