For years, Georgia tried to build a Cherokee reservation and casino at the Atlanta Airport!
The People of One Fire has had over six thousand new readers join us in the past few days because of our news stories on proposed Native American gambling casinos. Hope you enjoy some of our other articles on the fascinating and ancient history of the indigenous peoples of the Southeast. They are actually a lot more fun than gambling . . . and free!
What you don’t know about is the incredible machinations that have been going on behind the scenes since the mid-1980s in order to change Georgia’s history. Not only did the Atlanta Journal Constitution regular put out false history in its news stories to pave the way for Cherokee casinos, but false history was put into the state’s official syllabus for Georgia State History classroom lectures and TV news reporters would spew out false history without fact checking their sources. Set down a spell and learn a little factual history that they neglected to tell you.
All along the big plum was planned to be a “Cherokee” reservation, casino and hotel-convention complex where the Ford Assembly Plant once stood . . . next to the Atlanta Airport. Eventually, those pushing for a Native American casino figured out that if a big chunk of land next to the airport was made into an Indian reservation, the state and local governments would not get a penny in property taxes, sales taxes or gambling revenues from it. There will probably be a casino there some day, but it will be one that would be a cash cow for the state government.
We go back to the 1980s. The federal courts ruled that federally recognized tribes had a special relationship directly with the federal government. As such, they could not be bound by laws passed by individual states, only Congress. Congress passed laws that legalized and regulated gambling on the reservations of federally recognized tribes. State recognized tribes were subject to state laws. Federally recognized tribes were not allowed to go outside of their home state unless they could prove that the new Indian reservation (casino) was on traditional territory always occupied by their tribe.
While the majority of members in the legislatures of the Southeast generally opposed casino gambling in the 1980s, lobbyists began working on politicians. North Carolina’s Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians were federally recognized already. Plans had been secretly underway for years to expand the tribe’s bingo operations into a full fledge casino long before the tribe’s casino was announced to the public. Florida’s two federally recognized tribes, the Seminoles and the Miccosukees likewise began developing casinos.
Alabama’s congressional delegation pushed through federal recognition for the descendants of Creek Indians living in Escambia and Monroe Counties in Southwest Alabama only . . . although there are MANY other Creek descendants in the state. Federally recognized in 1984, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians have become major players in the casino industry. They operate several casinos in Alabama and have recently purchased casinos in other parts of the United States.
Tennessee does not contain a federally recognized Native American tribe or any large state-recognized tribes with potential for federal recognition. So far, Tennessee has not made a concerted effort to acquire a Native American casino, although local economic interests in eastern Tennessee have longed for a Eastern Band of Cherokee casino on Lake Tellico for several decades.
Thirty years of attempts to build a Cherokee casino in Georgia
Certain economic interests in Georgia began secretly manipulating the political landscape for one or more Cherokee casinos in the early 1980s. This is odd since all of the state was originally occupied by the Creeks and the Cherokee Nation only officially was located in Georgia from 1794 to 1838. Maps published as late as 1707 even show all of western North Carolina only occupied by Creeks and Shawnees! Creeks and Uchees living in Georgia started seeing strange changes in the state history curriculum, plus maps published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed all of Georgia north of Savannah and Macon having been always occupied by the Cherokees. The new state history curriculum had 4 1/2 chapters on the Cherokees and 1/2 chapter on the Creeks. Much of the Cherokee material was actually about events and people living in North Carolina and Tennessee, since their real history in Georgia was so brief.
Initial plans involved the development of a Cherokee casino at the Brasstown Resort in Towns County. The three archaeological firms working on Native American village sites or mound near the resort were pressured to label the Pre-Columbian village sites as being Cherokee, even though they found no evidence of any Cherokee occupation, even during the early 1800s. Two firms refused to comply. One firm sold their professional souls and labeled their artifacts as being “Proto-Cherokee” because the mound was three miles from North Carolina. The mound contained artifacts typical of such places as Etowah Mounds in Cartersville, GA. The State of Georgia then paid for a $250,000 permanent exhibit of the artifacts uncovered by all three firms at the Brasstown Resort and labeled it “10,000 years of Cherokee History in Georgia.”
The Eastern Band of Cherokees decided to build a casino near Murphy, NC instead of Brasstown Resort, GA because the politics would be simpler. In 1997, interest in Georgia then shifted to building a casino in Bartow County, GA near Adairsville. The Keetuwah Band of Cherokees in Oklahoma would establish a 120 acre “reservation” on Interstate 75, where a casino would be built. The former president of the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists and a senior anthropology professor at the University of Georgia were hired to be the project’s spokesmen and also prepare a report claiming that the Keetuwah Cherokees had always lived at that location before going west. Georgia officials went a step further by attempting to lease the entire Etowah Mounds National Historic Landmark for a dollar a year to a private developer, who would build a “Cherokee” museum to replace the existing museum. This museum would be operated by a foundation with a Cherokee name and headed by one of the archaeologists, mentioned above.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs disagreed with the report produced by the two archaeologists. They turned down the petition by the Keetuwah Cherokees because their ancestors left Tennessee in 1817 to settle in Arkansas.
Interest then shifted to the site of the Ford Assembly Plant next to the Atlanta Airport. The entire tract of land would be declared to be a Cherokee reservation, then a casino and hotel-convention complex would be developed on the “reservation.” There was a problem, however. The Cherokees NEVER lived that far south.
This project went to extreme creativity in historical fabrication. State agencies and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution began producing maps which showed the Cherokees living from Savannah northward since the beginning of time. Meanwhile, the newly appointed director of the State Parks and Historic Sites Division terminated the annual Creek Indian festival at Sweetwater State Park, changed the annual Creek Barbicoa benefit dinner at Etowah Mounds to a Cherokee event, axed all the professional staff at Etowah Mounds and then made it a part-time appendage of Red Top Mountain State Park, seven miles away. Initially, Etowah Mounds was only open 2 1/2 days a week and was staffed by part-time personnel.
Archaeologists, working on contracts with the State of Georgia, were pressured to label any Native American site north of Macon, GA as being Cherokee. The State Department of Transportation issued a national press release stating that a planned archaeological dig at a satellite town of Etowah Mounds in Ball Ground,, GA would prove that Cherokees had lived in Georgia for at least 1000 years. Tribal bureaucrats in Cherokee, NC reworked and redistributed this press release to say that archaeologists working for the State of Georgia has proven that Etowah Mounds was built by the Cherokees. (hogwash) The archaeologists actually found no evidence of a Cherokee occupation whatsoever, but the public was never told that.
Rumors were spread via the internet that un-named archaeologists had discovered a previously unknown Cherokee town and mound between the Ford Assembly Plant and the Atlanta Airport Terminal. Some anonymous sources added that “Cherokee gold” had also been buried there so the archaeological site was off-limits to the public.
The North Carolina Cherokees apparently were no longer interested in sponsoring a casino in Georgia or else Georgia politicos didn’t want the profits to go out of state. There is a state recognized Cherokee tribe in the Dahlonega Area. It is composed of the descendants of a white man from South Carolina, named Timothy Davis, and his 1/32nd Cherokee wife. Davis came to Georgia to pan for gold, but ended up establishing a plantation with his wife near Dahlonega. He did not have to go on the Trail of Tears, since he was white. The game plan was for this state-recognized tribe in Georgia’s Gold Belt to get federally recognized and then be given a reservation at the Atlanta Airport.
The shenanigans by a group of Georgia archaeologists with ties to either casino developers or the Eastern Band of Cherokees continued until 2016, when a Las Vegas-based casino operator announced a proposal to build a $2 billion casino in Downtown Atlanta, if the Georgia General Assembly legalized casino gambling. Almost simultaneously, the descendants of the Davis family were turned down on their petition to be federally recognized. Interest in a Cherokee-owned casino in the state quickly evaporated for the first time in 30 years.
Why thar’s gold in them thar Downtown casinos.
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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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