Richard Thornton | May 9, 2017 | 23
Banned Creek Indian festival was on a Native American town site
An educated Native American population is an empowered electorate. The People of One Fire cannot stress enough how important it is for you to learn the early history of the region that you live in and monitor everything that is stated in the public arena. You cannot depend on government officials, tribal officials or archeologists to tell the truth. These days, many seem to be for sale to the highest bidder . . . and the local journalists? . . . they do as little research as possible.
Remember in 2012, when reporter Bill Torpy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted the opinion of a retired electronics engineer from Florida as the “expert opinion” on why the Track Rock Terrace Complex in the Georgia Mountains was built by the Cherokees? That is par for the course these days in local newspaper and television journalism. Few reporters check the facts, especially in regard to history.
In the 13 years of its existence, the Sweetwater Creek Native American festival at Sweetwater Creek State Park had become one of the most popular such events in the Southeast, second only in attendance to the Southeastern American Indian Festival at Ocmulgee National Monument. The event was sponsored by Friends of Sweetwater Creek State Park and made thousands of dollars, which were donated to the state park.
It started out as a Creek Indian festival for the thousands of Creek descendants in West Georgia and East Central Alabama. With the blessing of the Creeks, the festival expanded to be inclusive for all Southeastern tribes. This made the festival even more popular as it drew attendance from throughout the Metro Atlanta Area.
Then in early 2006, the new director of the Georgia Division of Parks and Historic Sites issued a press release that the Sweetwater Creek Indian Festival was being permanently banned. The official reason was that there was no Native American history associated with Sweetwater Creek or its environs. The real reason was that its annual date was the same as a festival at the Eastern Band of Cherokees Reservation, 140 miles away in North Carolina. The Cherokees believed that the Sweetwater Creek Festival was drawing attendance away from their own event.
The new director’s next act was to un-invite seven top Muscogee-Creek officials to the annual Creek Barbicoa at Etowah Mounds. The name of the fund-raising dinner was changed to
“A Woodland Feast” and an employee of the EBCI was invited to speak in their stead. The Muscogee-Creek Nation had been donating $5000 a year to the State of Georgia to support archaeological research. That came to a screeching halt after this insult.
A slam dunk affair
Initially, the banning of the popular festival was greeted with astonishment and hostility by the public, but got very little press coverage. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution initially ran a brief article that reported the director’s statement as fact.
Outraged civic leaders and Creek Indian descendants then went to the TV stations. They had no facts to contradict the version of history by the state administrator. Their very valid points, though, were that the festival made lots of the money for the state parks program and that many taxpayers enjoyed attending the festival.
The state bureaucrats then produced an archaeology professor at the University of Georgia, a history professor at Georgia State University and an archaeologist in the Georgia Division of Historic Preservation, who all backed up the administrator. “Well shucks folks, we’uns don’t know why, but there were just not many Injuns around Sweetwater Creek Park.”
The proponents of the festival lost heart after the “experts” backed up the administrator in the newspaper and in all local TV stations. Later on, the Friends of Sweetwater Creek were allowed to have a “Summer Festival” but it has never drawn the attendance of the original Creek Indian Festival.
These “experts” couldn’t have told a bigger lies. The park is near the Chattahoochee River. The river’s 63 mile long corridor through Metro Atlanta is almost non-stop Native American archaeological sites. Large Creek towns thrived for centuries immediately south and east of the park. The famous Sweetwater Creek Stela was found on a hilltop shrine that is now part of the park.
The biggest lie of all did not manifest itself until this morning . . . ten years later. American archaeologists typically prevent the public from seeing the list of archaeological sites in any state. The reason given is that artifact poachers would ransack these sites, if they knew where they were. Actually the poachers seem to know more about where village sites are than the archaeologists.
Whatever the case, the archaeologists employed by the State Historic Preservation Office and the University of Georgia would have had access to the top secret archaeological site files. All they had to do was look up the latitude and longitude of Sweetwater Creek State Park to see if there were any archaeological sites there.
This morning I stumbled upon an archaeological report from 1966, which listed four designated Native American archaeological sites within or adjacent to Sweetwater Creek State Park. In fact, the lake which makes up the heart of the park, was a Native American town site. Apparently, no excavations were made at this site, prior to the lake being filled. Maybe that’s why the archaeologists lied. They did not want the public to know that someone had dropped the ball.
The People of One Fire was not formed until November of 2006. However, we really did not have an extensive library and knowledge base for several more years. At that point in time, we would have probably taken the word of experts also.
If you excuse the pun, this story is “water over the dam,” but there will be future incidents similar to the Sweetwater Creek fiasco in your neck of the woods . . . sooner or later. It is a lesson learned. If the leaders of Douglas County, GA and Creek descendants in that region had known about archaeological sites 9DO1, 9DO2, 9DO3, 9DO4, 9FU9 and 9FU4, they could have slammed them in the faces of these lying “experts” and the Sweetwater Creek Native American Indian Festival would still be with us today.
Now you know!
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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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