Hey Uchees, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Creeks . . . did you know that you are new arrivals to the Southeast?
A propaganda film produced by the Eastern Band of Cherokees is now being featured at Etowah Mounds National Historic Landmark Museum and the nearby Funk Heritage Museum, which is the official Native American History museum for the State of Georgia. There was nothing seriously wrong with the previous film it replaced. At least it was actually about Etowah Mounds. The new film contains incessant views of the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina and numerous false statements about the Native American history of the Southeast. It uses Cherokee actors in traditional Cherokee clothing . . . speaking Cherokee . . . to infer that the builders of all the “Mississippian” mounds in the Southeast were Cherokees.
Will this manic obsession by the North Carolina Cherokees, to be something that they never were, ever end? In 2012, the Eastern Cherokee Cultural Preservation Office adopted a shell gorget, unearthed at Mound C in Etowah as its official logo. The new Cherokee dictionary uses a Creek gorget, unearthed in Columbus, GA, as its book cover. The problem is that because the film is being shown in a state museum, the general public thinks that the documentary is accurate and has the sanction of professional archaeologists and the State of Georgia.
The real name of Etowah Mounds was Etula, which is an Itza Maya word, meaning “Principal Town.” The Creeks inherited the Itza custom of burying their dead in the floors of their houses. Only a few elite families were allowed to bury their dead in Etula’s burial mound. Therefore, the Etowah Mounds Archaeological Zone is really one vast cemetery. You are now in luck, the Georgia Division of Parks and Historic Sites offers tractor driven hay rides across those burials. The current administrators of this state agency has come to view the Creek Sacred Site as some sort of playground.
The last time that a Creek Indian was employed at Etowah Mounds was about 15 years ago. She was the site manager, but was fired because she opposed Georgia’s effort to lease the famous archaeological zone to a multi-millionaire donor to the Bush Presidential campaign, so he could convert the flood plain around the archaeological zone into a gated subdivision.
Part Eight of the series
Horse Manure in the History Books (and unfortunately, the museums)
Etowah Mounds National Historic Landmark in Cartersville, Georgia is one of the most important archaeological sites in the United States. It is considered a sacred mother town of the Creek and Seminole Peoples. Until officials in the Georgia Division of Parks and Historic Sites royally screwed the top elected leadership of the Muscogee-Creek Nation in 2007, the Oklahoma Creeks donated $5000 a year to fund archaeological work at Creek town sites in Georgia.
Some of North America’s most famous archaeologists are associated with this archaeological zone. They include Charles C. Jones, Jr.; Cyrus Thomas of the Smithsonian Institute; Warren K. Moorehead of the Peabody Museum and Harvard University; Robert Wauchope, Arthur Kelly, Lewis Larson, Joseph Caldwell of the University of Georgia; and Adam King, then of the University of Pennsylvania, but now at the University of South Carolina. However, the new film shown at Etowah Mounds doesn’t even mention the archaeological work done there.
The film is entitled, “The Southeastern Indians.” That’s fine, except that Etowah Mounds does not represent the cultures of all Southeastern Indians. The cultural history of the Creek Motherland was quite different that that of the North Carolina Piedmont, which the program seems to be describing. Georgia contains the oldest known permanent agricultural village, oldest known mound and oldest known pottery in North America. North Carolina, except for the region closest to Georgia in a period prior to the arrival of the Cherokees, was always a backwater for Native American culture.
The film opens with this statement, “The Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles are newcomers to the Southeast. The film does not mention the Uchee, who are the oldest tribe in the eastern Southeast.
Facts: There is continuum of architectural traditions for the Choctaw and Chickasaw, which runs from 3,450 BC at Watson Brake, LA to mounds built in the 1500s AD. Geneticists, who are finally studying Muskogean DNA, are becoming increasingly convinced that it is the oldest AmerIndian DNA in the Americas and represents the immigration of peoples prior to the opening of a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska.
Propaganda Strategy: The Cherokees had nothing to do with the construction or occupation of Etula (Etowah Mounds), but they film maker always listed them first, whenever naming tribes. This represents a political strategy of Tribal Cultural Preservation Offices of both the North Carolina and Oklahoma Cherokees, which began in 2012. At that time they tried to manipulate their counterparts in other federally recognized Southeastern tribes to act as a unified body to counter the threat of “white people trying to change our history.” This, of course, was the Maya Myth-busting in the Mountains Thang and the Cherokees were trying to manipulate others into backing a bogus Cherokee history that University of North Carolina academicians created in the 1976 “Cherokee History Project.”
2. The film quickly inserted this favorite mantra of the North Carolina Cherokees, “No one knows, for sure, who the Mound Builders were.”
Fact: Pure, unadulterated horse manure!
3. The film states that “American Indians arrived in the Americas around 10-12 thousand years ago over a land bridge in the Bering Straight.”
Fact: Much older Native American sites have been discovered that predate the opening of the land bridge.
4. The film states that “Native Americans were nomads, who wandered over the landscape in small hunter-gatherer extended families bands in the Southeast until around 1000 BC, when they began to form larger migratory hunter-gatherer bands.”
Fact: Perhaps this is true for North Carolina, but the Bilbo Mound in Savannah dates from 3,545 BC and there was a permanent village on Stallings Island, GA and at shell rings on the Georgia and South Carolina Coasts by around 2,400 BC. Construction of a permanent platform village at Poverty Point, LA began around 1650 BC. Construction on the Booger Hollow oval platform mound in North Metro Atlanta began around 1,000-800 BC. Domestication of indigenous plants began in the Lower Southeast by at least 3,500 BC.
5. The film stated that “Making of pottery began during the Woodland Period around 500 BC.” The film showed a Cherokee woman making a reproduction of Georgia’s Swift Creek pottery and speaking in Cherokee.
Fact: The oldest pottery in ancestral Creek lands is Stallings Island, GA style pottery which dates from about 2,400 BC. That is the Archaic Period. The film’s statement would be true for much of North Carolina, but Etowah Mounds is in Georgia.
6. The film stated that “The first “Mississippian town” was at Cahokia. Construction of large mounds suddenly began elsewhere around the Southeast around 1000 AD.”
Facts: More horse manure . . . One of the largest mounds in the Southeast is a bird effigy mound at Poverty Point, LA, which dates from somewhere early in the village’s development . . . probably around 1500 BC. The oldest pyramidal platform mounds in the United States were at Mandeville (c. 0 AD) on the Lower Chattahoochee River in Georgia, Site 9FU14 (c. 0 AD) on the Chattahoochee in Metro Atlanta and at Leake Mounds (c. 100 AD) about two miles downstream from Etowah Mounds. Mound A at Leake Mounds covered about two acres, so its footprint was about the same as Mound A at Etowah Mounds. Construction of Mound A at Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, GA began around 900 AD, about 150 years before any significant mounds were constructed at Cahokia.
7. Visual propaganda: Whenever the film mentioned Etowah Mounds or the Mississippian Period, it flashed to a Cherokee man speaking Cherokee, in early 19th century Cherokee garb in front of a painted background, which supposedly represented a temple or chief’s house. The deerskin costume worn by the actor bore no resemblance to the colorful clothing worn by the people of Etula (Etowah Mounds) or the ancestors of the Creek Indians. The message was clear. “Currently, we don’t know for sure who built Etowah Mounds, but it was probably the Cherokees, because their name is on the first of the list of Southeastern Indians.”
Conclusion: This is last straw as far as the Georgia Division of Parks and Historic Sites goes. The previous film featured at Etowah Mounds failed to describe the many archaeological excavations at Etowah, but at least the film was about Etowah Mounds . . . not a travelogue tour of the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina. Their senior administrators have repeatedly insulted the hundreds of thousands of Creek, Seminole and Uchee descendants in the Southeast. It began with the banning of the annual Creek Indian Festival at Sweetwater Creek State Park ten years ago followed by banning of the annual Creek Barbecoa sponsored by the Muscogee-Creek Nation at Etowah Mounds . . . and only gotten worse since then. Would you believe that the main attraction now around Etowah Mounds is a hayride?
A bureaucracy at war with Georgia’s world class Native American sites
A new management team at Georgia’s Division of Parks and Historic Sites began waging war Georgia’s world class Native American sites as soon as they took power in 2006. New Echota National Historic Landmark, the last capital of the Cherokee Nation in the East has been so eviscerated of staff that it is barely open and there are plans to permanently close it. The management team immediately fired or reduced to part time status all professional rangers at Etowah Mounds State Historic Site, which covers about 100 acres. Several had masters degrees in history or anthropology. The site manager was terminated and the archaeological zone was made a division of a recreational park ten miles away. Operating hours were reduced to three days a week. The park is now operated by part time, minimum wage personnel with no educational background in Native American history or anthropology.
The entire senior management team at the Georgia Division of Parks and Historic Sites should be fired and replaced with people, who are more sensitive to the indigenous peoples of their state. At least some of those new personnel should be Georgia Native Americans, who will respect the sanctity of Muskogean town sites.
There are absolutely no Native Americans serving in senior management positions in the government of the State of Georgia or on the governing board of its Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the park system. Between 250,000 and a million Georgians have some level of Native American ancestry. There are also about 993,000 Latin Americans in Georgia. Most of them are at least partially Native American. Of course, you don’t see Latin Americans in the state’s senior management, either.
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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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