Muscogee gets voice in Georgia’s national park plans
Macon, Georgia – As Tracie Revis climbs the nine-story Great Temple Mound from the Okmulgee River in the heart of what is now Georgia, she follows in the footsteps of the ancestors of the Muskogee people who were forced to relocate to Oklahoma 200 years ago .
“This is a green, gorgeous land. The rivers here are amazing,” Revis said recently, looking out from the forest canopy to the distant green horizon. “We believe that those ancestors are still here, their songs are still here, their words are still here, their tears are still here. We speak to them, as you know, we still respect those who died.”
If approved by Congress after a three-year federal review ends this fall, Macon’s mound will serve as the gateway to the new Okmulgee National Park and Preserve, along with nearly 900 additional cultural and historic sites. It protects 54 river-mile floodplains with Importance confirmed.
Efforts to expand an existing historic park at the mound site will help finance the purchase of land and require federal administrators to seek indigenous knowledge of resources, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in line with the Tribal Homeland Initiative.
“This kind of land acquisition represents what our conservation efforts should be: collaborative, inclusive, locally-led and a priority for our nation’s tribal states. ,” Harland said at last weekend’s 30th Annual Ocmulgee Indigenous Celebration.
At a time when some culture warriors view government as an enemy, years of coalition building have eliminated significant opposition to federal control in the heart of a credible Republican state. . Hunting is still allowed to prevent wild pigs from destroying the ecosystem. A delegation from the Georgia Legislature is participating and Muskogee (Creek) Nation is hailed as an integral partner.
“Our voices, our voices, have been pervasive throughout this process for some time,” said an attorney for Muskogee and Yuchi, who moved to Georgia this year to join Macon’s Protem Mayor Seth Clark. said Levis. The National Park Service has primary authority over ancestral land centers that once spanned Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama.
Integrating a patchwork of state- and federally-administered lands, we are able to attract more than one million visitors each year, totaling 187 million to hike, canoe, hunt, fish and learn about Native American history. You can spend your dollars and generate $30 million in taxes while maintaining over 3,000 jobs. , found studies on the economic impact.
“This is a game changer for the region,” Clark said. “I think rethinking our economic vitality through the sense of ecotourism is huge for this community.”
Gliding over the surface of Ocmulgee, kayakers can only see forest and wildlife, interrupted at times by bridges. Few people know that 14 more ceremonial mounds rise from the nearby swamps.
The plan should keep the wilderness as pristine as possible while building trails and access ramps. Land is never acquired by eminent domain. Instead, Park Service oversight expands boundaries and facilitates financing for more public hunting areas by purchasing private wetlands from willing sellers.
The Ocmulgee, Oklahoma tribal government also purchased 130 acres (52.6 ha) of lowland to be surrounded by a park. Principal Chief David Hill said there were no plans to develop it, hoping to preserve it so that its 97,000 citizens could always have their own place in the birthplace of their culture. increase.
“Our history is here. Our ancestors are here. Our story began here. said Hill.
Muscogeans say their history is full of trauma, but they are proud of how they are now thriving after surviving the road to misery, the term for the path of tears. 80,000 Native Americans were displaced from the eastern United States in a forced march ordered by Congress. Many died of disease, starvation, or abuse because the federal government broke promises to care for them in exchange for their land.
White settlers had made their lives intolerable through constant campaigns of “exile or exterminate” in the 1820s and 1830s. As soon as natives such as the Muskogee, Seminoles, Cherokees, Choctaws, and Chickasaws left the Deep South, they were replaced by hundreds of thousands of slaves who were forced into the rivers by Northern owners to clear the land for cotton. sold down.
The settlers kept the place names without knowing what they meant in the native language.
Desecration continued rapidly at Okmulgee Mounds, the spiritual, legislative, and economic center of the Creek Confederacy. Huge burial mounds were blown up for railways carrying cotton. Civil War battlements later divided the field.
About 700 acres (283 ha) surrounding seven mounds were designated a national monument in 1936. But archaeologists haven’t stopped him from removing his 2.5 million artifacts, which reflect 17,000 years of continuous human habitation. Most remain unexplored in Smithsonian, Park Service, and university archives.
For decades, the park has been advertised with postcards depicting exposed skeletons. It turned out to be the skull of one person and the bones of another, said Raylin Butler, director of historical and cultural preservation for Tribal States. I didn’t give it to you,” she said.
Facts about genocide and survival began to resurface in the 1970s when Revis’ aunt Addie and other tribal elders returned to Georgia to lead a cultural debate. “That’s where the original idea for the celebration came from, that the story had to change,” Reavis said.
After two decades of painstaking cooperation, the Tribal State was able to reunite and rebury 114 bodies in the mound in 2017. And this February, his adjacent 1,000 acres (404 ha) of sacred land was protected and purchased by the Federal Land and Water Service. Harland said the money would be free to taxpayers. Expanding this into parks and nature reserves would allow him to protect an additional 85,000 acres (34,400 ha) downstream.
“We get asked all the time, ‘This is such a beautiful place, why did everyone leave?’ It wasn’t asked, it was forced,” Hill said. So Oklahoma is home, but this is still our first home.
Michael Warren is a member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team.
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