Richard Thornton | Aug 9, 2017 | 5
A Cultural Heritage shared by Southeastern Native Americans and their Neighbors
This week marks the Tenth Anniversary of when 18 Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole professionals and professors talked on the telephone for the first time, after becoming friends over the internet during the previous six years. The general tone of the conversations was anger . . . “Enough is enough!” The conversations quickly turned to a need to formally organize and by mid-summer, Ric Edwards had suggested a name, The People of One Fire. How things have changed since then.
We had a lot of gripes. Both major political parties were increasingly viewing American history as propaganda that could be manipulated to help “their side win.” Academicians, who had never invited a Native American in their home, much less go on a date with one, were creating an increasingly inaccurate orthodoxy of 12,000 years of indigenous American history. While being obsessed toward little potsherds with English names, they viewed Native Americans as either being extinct or else, intellectually incapable of understanding our own heritage. Tell that to my mother who rode off to the University of Georgia in a mule wagon, but graduated Summa Cum Laude!
Southeastern archaeologists viewed Native American archaeological sites as their private domain, whose discussion and analysis were off-limits to the descendants of those who lived there. Yet they went out of their way to invite public involvement with Colonial, Frontier Period and Civil War sites.
Native American history is America’s history
The original members of the People of One Fire viewed Native American history as America’s history . . . especially in the Southeast. Muskogean place names are endemic in the Lower Southeast. The foods that our Creek and Uchee ancestors ate are now eaten by peoples all over the world . . . Deep fried poultry, smoked meats, barbecued meats, corn bread, corn fritters, brunswick stew, hush puppies, grits, corn on the cob and a legion of indigenous vegetables. Even the words, yahoo and okay, are of Muskogean origin. These are our gifts to the world. This is an accomplishment that all Americans can be proud of.
Initially, the concept was for the People of One Fire to be an archaeological society, open to all people, Native American descendants or not. We would be associated with the Society of American Archaeology and its state chapters, such as the Society of Georgia Archaeology. We couldn’t find a Native American archaeologist to lead us and in the meantime began receiving strange emails from several of the 57 people, who had signed up to join the group.
Several new members suggested that we stage obstructive demonstrations at construction sites, burn saw mills or sabotage construction machinery. Duh-h-h, like those of us in the real estate-construction industry would sabotage our means of making a living? When that didn’t work, two elementary students on the list of members emailed me that they wanted my AOL instant messaging address so they could chat with me. Say what?
Obviously, delusional Southeastern “law enforcement” personnel had nothing better to do. I tracked down their computer IPN’s and office addresses then confronted the shocked criminals. The guilty parties were taken aback when they realized they were the hunted, not the hunters. I asked them why they had conspired to commit terrorist acts and had given false names to us . . . both criminal offenses. I threatened to turn them in to Homeland Security.
The liars whimpered back such stupid statements as “We know that all you Injuns are nothing but pervs (sexual deviates), tree huggers and eco-terrorists!” Say what-t-t? Later on in 2006, some Alabama “law enforcement” officers promised a mother that they would go easy on her son, if she was able to “infiltrate our terrorist cell and learn our plans.” Say what-t-t? By the way, the woman did as was told, but the crooked cops did nothing to get her son out of prison.
By the end of the year, we had decided that the best route to go was a low profile information exchange between Native American researchers. Surely, the paranoid people in the Bush Administration wouldn’t be threatened by that. So for the next six years, that is pretty much how we operated. Few folks even knew that we existed.
Unfortunately, we were to learn that things wouldn’t get much better when the other national political party took control of the helm. Certain government agencies like the National Park Service are “top notch.” Others are rift with incessant shenanigans being carried out by their employees. In one case a woman living in Florida was sent by the Obama Administration’s FBI to the Atlanta Area to infiltrate the “subversives” in People of One Fire, but she couldn’t find the People of One Fire. It’s a website and a network of kindred souls, dummy! LOL
There were some small exceptions. The People of One Fire was the first organization to learn about the destruction of a mound in Oxford, Alabama in order to make land fill for a Sam’s Warehouse. It was us that spread information about the travesty to all the national news services. We also helped quite a few school teachers make their Native American history classes more interesting and accurate.
Maya Myth Busting in the Mountains
The big change occurred in March 2012. On December 21, 2011, I wrote an article in the Examiner about Track Rock Gap. I hoped to get maybe 500 readers and some of those might be archaeologists. The article ended up being replicated all over the world . . . even in Mongolia . . . and having several million readers worldwide. The whole purpose of the article was to let archaeologists know about the site. I was living in an abandoned chicken house and desperate to get my architecture practice going again. The “Maya thing” was of no relevance to my past historic preservation and urban design work.
Several archaeologists from other parts of the United States and Mexico did send me thank you’s for giving them the “heads up” but the archaeologists in Georgia and Florida pounced on me like hungry jackals. Most of the people, who started the People of One Fire, backed away from public view and since then have only been periodically contacting me to suggest articles or update me on their research. So our information exchange web site quickly became viewed as one man’s blog site.
A group of Georgia archaeologists were dispatched to make speeches to organizations in the Atlanta, whose members were the region’s movers and shakers. I was not allowed to provide an alternative view on the subject. Since these archaeologists really knew very little about Creek cultural history and virtually nothing about the Mayas, the programs took the form of ultra-rightwing attack ads that slandered me professionally. Most of these archaeologists ended their lectures by warning Atlanta’s elite that if they allowed the Mayas to win, I was going to take away all their money and cause their daughters to have tall babies with black hair, high cheek bones, tan complexions and extraterrestrial intelligence. Oh the horror of it all!
The only problem was that I was not interested in partisan politics, plus was not in an election or a popularity contest. I was a homeless, destitute architect living in chicken house, who few people knew before their speech campaign . . . the laughing stock of Union County, Georgia. The only women, who would have anything to do with me were Native Americans, who didn’t put acquisition of wealth and power as the sole purpose for their lives.
Now, I was Attila the Hun, who was going to start a Marxist Revolution in the name of the Mayas and seduce all the daughters of Atlanta’s elite. Nevertheless, I was forced to write a book on the subject so there would be some record of the facts.
Of course, most of you now know that all along the vast majority of Southerners thought that the evidence presented by the People of One Fire presented was quite logical and they thoroughly enjoyed eating Creek food like battered, fried catfish and hush puppies. They thought that it was quite cool that some Maya refugees had relocated here. The gravestone of the whole charade was when scientists at the University of Minnesota announced that there was a 100% match between attapulgite mined in Georgia and Maya Blue stucco on the buildings of Palenque in Chiapas State, Mexico.
The powers that be behind the Maya Myth Busting debacle realized too late that they had turned a nobody into someone that Google Search produced a dozen pages about. That’s not very smart politics. So since mid-2013, the drones of iniquity have adapted a policy of ostracization. Academicians, bureaucrats and Muscogee-Creek Nation officials, “in the know” don’t return phone calls and emails. However, after monthly readership at the People of One Fire hit 77,098, such childish things are equivalent to spitting in the wind.
The third funniest thing of the “Maya Thang” happened on the Friday of the premier of America Unearthed. The Gainesville Times and Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted archaeologist, Johannes Loubserm telling assembled USFS bureaucrats and out of state tribal bureaucrats that I was a white racist, who was trying to steal their history. He, Johnny Loubser was there to save them from this outsider. Of course, neither of the newspapers fact-checked that statement. There were no Native Georgians at the meeting!
At the USFS sponsored meeting, Loubser interpreted the 300 terraces at Track Rock as being jointly built by the Cherokees and Creeks around 1000 AD. As soon as the Oklahoma tribal bureaucrats were out of town, he then told the press that the Cherokees built the terraces alone as locations for performing sacred dances and building tombs for their great chiefs. Track Rock was always in the territory of the Creek Confederacy until 1785. A word similar to Cherokee did not appear on European maps until 1717. They certainly were nowhere around in 1000 AD.
Johannes Loubser is a man of Dutch Jewish heritage, who fled South Africa during the collapse of apartheid. He called me a racist? And no, I am not anti-Semitic. Two of my dearest friends in life were Harry and Lillie Lerner, who survived the Holocaust. Lillie was one of the few people, who got out of Auschwitz alive. She wrote that beautiful book about her experience, The Silence.
Don’t apologize for not being Native American
We are now getting back to our original plan of celebrating the contributions of the Southeast’s Native Americans to all that is good about the United States today. We expect all readers to abide by the Spiritual Path of the Creek People i.e. avoiding sarcasm and personal attacks . . . but invite all readers to contribute their discoveries and thoughts to the general body of knowledge.
I hope to get far more people involved with writing articles for POOF. Variety is the spice of life. You don’t have to be descended from any particular ethnic group to write articles for us. Well, if you weren’t interested in history and all things Native American, you wouldn’t be reading this essay in the first place.
A big MVTO (thanks) to all of you people out there that have made the People of One Fire possible during the past ten years.
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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.
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