Native American history of the Southern Appalachians
Approximately 90% or more of the letters to my Examiner column are from readers with Native American ancestry in the Appalachian region, from Ohio and Pennsylvanian southward. Virtually all have the same dilemma. Their family’s heritage or their tribe’s history do not jive with the “official” Native American histories and maps adopted by the United States Department of the Interior. It is obvious that there is more confusion about the Native American history of the Southern Appalachians than any other part of North America.
Most common are the complaints of Shawnee, Chickasaw and Yuchi Indians. Branches of the Shawnee were once spread across the region from Ohio to Florida. There are Shawnee geographical place names in all the states there and between. The Chickasaws know that their territory once stretched from the Mississippi River to the Smoky Mountains, and also included towns in Georgia. The Yuchi’s were once scattered over most of the Southeastern United States. According to the official maps of the U.S. Department of Interior, however, the Shawnees, Chickasaws and Yuchi never existed, and their homelands were always Cherokee.
I am in a peculiarly appropriate position to write a series on the entire region from Maryland to Alabama. I grew up in Gainesville, GA at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I have been hiking and camping in the Southern Highlands since age 11. My first project after graduating from planning school was being the architectural consultant for the Qualla Housing Authority on the NC Cherokee Reservation. A year later I moved to Asheville, NC and lived there for 10 years. While in the Asheville Area I became the first director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Historic Resources Commission and met with the group of professors, who were attempting to find the route of de Soto. I then lived in the Shenandoah Valley, where I became the first Chairman of the Woodstock-Shenandoah County Historical Commission. Since 1997 I have lived in several counties in the North Georgia Mountains, except for that period in 2010 when I lived in a tent in the North Carolina Mountains.
It is my hope that this series will be such a powerful piece of historical journalism that the U.S. Department of the Interior will ultimately be forced to change its official histories, maps and NAGPRA policies.
To read the first article of the series:
This is going to be a blockbuster!
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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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