Richard Thornton | May 9, 2017 | 23
Why Native Americans Should Always be Team Players
Oklahoma Creeks say that Mayas never came to Georgia.
That was the headline in many online editions of newspapers in Georgia as the world sat down to watch the first broadcast of American Unearthed. These articles were the direct result of multiple public statements made by a delegation of Muscogee-Creek Nation officials, who were manipulated into visiting Georgia by the US Forest Service, just before the broadcast. By Saturday morning, all the articles had been deleted. It is a good thing, because you know what they made these men look like. These card-carrying citizens of the Muscogee-Creek Nation actively participated in an attempt to sabotage and denigrate an internationally televised program about Creek and Maya history. Unbelieveable!
Do you realize that Friday night’s program was the first time in the history of television that the Muskogean peoples were portrayed in a positive manner? As a child, I was ASHAMED of being Creek because the Davy Crockett Series on “Walt Disney Presents” always portrayed Creeks as naked, bloodthirsty monsters wearing Mohawk haircuts, and the Cherokees as a peaceful, civilized people . . . ironically wearing traditional Creek clothing. It has always been my dream to do something about it.
Honestly people, how many times over the past 250 years have government officials manipulated the Choctaws, Creeks and Chickasaws into royally skewering themselves?
It happens over and over and over again. The Creeks were the largest indigenous ethnic group in North America in 1800. The Choctaws were the second largest. Federal and state officials kept on cutting them in pieces to the point that in the 1940s, Oklahoma Creeks assumed that they would soon cease to exist.
You would think that when some low-ranking, hillbilly yokel in a federal agency wanted an Oklahoma Creek to sign a document or be in a video posted on a USFS website entitled, “Maya Myth Busting in the Mountains,” they would give it some forethought. Perhaps they would call home to Principal Chief Tiger for his thoughts on the matter. They didn’t. Now reporters are asking me why the Oklahoma Creeks did those things. As yet, I cannot think of a face-saving explanation for their actions, so I am telling the reporters that I don’t know.
Worst still, they have scheduled me to be on some national talk shows in 2013. What am I to say when someone like Katie Couric asks me about the documents that the Muskogee Creeks signed along with the North Carolina Cherokees? We now have proof that it was Cherokee leaders who ordered the USFS not to allow the History Channel to film archaeological sites in the Chattahoochee National Forest. The real reason is that they didn’t want the world to know that the Creeks, Shawnees and Yuchi once occupied all the Southern Highlands. Yet Oklahoma Creek officials got sucked into signing compromising documents that confirmed the false history that North Carolina Cherokees now tell tourists. It is hard for me not to cuss. As I told Principal Chief Tiger, if an Oklahoma Creek had called me a Muskogee on Friday, I was so angry that I might knocked their head off.
People frequently contact me with questions about the history of the Muskogee-Creeks during the past 182 years that they have lived in Oklahoma. I immediately send them to the Museum of the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Okmulgee. That is because (a) I am not a Muskogee-Creek. I am Itsate-Creek; and (b) living in Oklahoma was not part of my immediate family’s cultural experience.
Muscogee-Creek leaders and employees should follow the same consideration when asked about your heritage before your ancestors left the Southeast. Culturally, you are not the same people, who left the Southeast. The Creeks in the Southeast were a confederacy of many ethnic groups, many of whom were not even Muskogeans. Most of the members of the confederacy had ancient histories that differed somewhat from other member groups. The Muskogees were just one of those member groups.
I have found that most Oklahoma Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Seminoles and Yuchi know as little about the pre-removal history of their ancestors as I do about their history after removal. However, Muskogeans in Oklahoma have a valuable resource that most Oklahoma tribes don’ have. Southeastern Muskogean researchers stress scientific study of our past, not the fabrication of malarkey to please the tourists. For 182 years we have secretly maintained the cultural traditions that you may have forgotten.
This whole thing of blood quantum and federal recognition equals legitimacy is yet a continuance of the divide and conquer strategy that government bureaucrats have used for 200 years. Don’t y’all realize that you are being manipulated when these officials “make you feel important” because you have a BIA card. They always want something from you when they do.
We are who we are. I am slightly under 75% European. I will never be a “full blooded” Native American. Few people are these days. I see plenty of people in the Muscogee-Creek Nation, though, who have a lot less Native features than me. It doesn’t matter. It is what is in your heart, mind and soul that count.
PLEASE . . . call the researchers in the People of One Fire first before letting federal or state officials trick you again. Our members know the Southeast like the back of our hands. When we reach to the ground to pick up a piece of pottery, it could have easily been made by one of our direct ancestors. Can you say that?
Scott Wolter asked me this morning, if any hot babes had come my way as a result of the appearance on Unearthing America. Yes, a female raccoon, two days ago, begged for some of the South Georgia pecans that a Creek friend sent me for Christmas.
There was one section of American Unearthed that made me feel VERY DUMB. Do you remember when Scot Wolter showed a photo of the famous copper “Eagle man” that is found at both Ocmulgee National Monument and Etowah Mounds National Landmark? My immediate response was, “Okay Scott, don’t go there. You’re getting in the realm of Space Aliens Built Teotihuacan.”
You see while on my fellowship, Dr. Piña-Chan intensely studied the two books I gave him about the Southeastern Indians. He told me that the Eagleman seemed to be derived from Toltec or Huastec artistic tradition. So for years, I have vainly looked for art in northeastern Mexico that looked like the Eagleman. So far, I have not found it.
Then, Scott Wolter walks up to a building in Chichen Itza, at the behind the scenes behest of Gary Daniels. He points to a stone inscription that is very similar to the Georgia Eagleman. I felt like caca. Would you believe that as part of my fellowship, I photographed every panel on that building? Slides of that important link between the Southeast and Mesoamerica have been sitting in my slide trays throughout my entire career, and NOT ONCE did it dawn on me to look at them. I just assumed that there could be no possible similarity between art at Chichen Itza and art in the Creek homeland. Well, let’s be honest, there are discoveries I have made that other people have missed. It is a Muskogean tradition they we share everything and consult the whole community. It is a good tradition.
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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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