The 1970s . . . what Native Americans think was forever began back then
A journey back in time so that you will understand the present. The text message generation of journalists are not telling you the truth. Until the 1970s, it was the policy of the US Government to erase the separate identity of indigenous Americans. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration was the only exception in a century of shame.
The year is 1970. The Choctaw Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Cherokee Nation, Muscogee-Creek Nation, Seminole Nation, Alabama-Koasati Nation, Shawnee Nation and Catawba Nation did not exist. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 had created the Choctaw Tribe of Mississippi, the Cherokee Tribe of North Carolina and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Miccosukee Tribe had broken off from the Seminoles in 1962.
After the passage of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act in 1936, which provided for revival of self-government among the Native American tribes, the US federal government offered the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, plus each of the Muscogee Creek tribal towns the opportunity to enroll as an individual tribe and establish their own government. Of more than 40 Creek towns, only three accepted. They became the federally-recognize Kialegee, Thlopthlocco, and the Alabama-Quassarte Tribal town. As far as “the Southeastern Civilized Tribes goes,” that was it.
As part of the 1937 Creek Docket Settlement, the Roosevelt Administration had offered Creeks in Georgia and Alabama the opportunity to form federally-recognized tribes. However, during the Great Depression there were no Creek leaders in the region willing to make their names become public, and everybody else was afraid that their children would be taken out of public schools, if state officials found out they were Creeks. Georgia would have a law on the books until the early 1970s, which forbade American Indian children from attending public schools. In Part Two, POOF will discuss the politics of the 1970s.
In 1970, the only state-recognized tribes were in Virginia and some of the former New England colonies. Most of their charters dated back to the 1600s.
- The 1970 Atlanta International Pop Festival drew 600,000+ spectators . . . It was bigger than Woodstock.
The technology of 1970
If you told a friend . . . “The WiFi is expensive at the Native American casino hotel. I will take a photo of the archeological site with my Smartphone and email it to you.” . . . your friend would have no clue what you were talking about. “Why would there be a hotel especially for people born in the United States and how could there be a gambling casino anywhere in the Southeast? . . . and what in the heck are WiFi’s and smart phones? “You need a camera to take photographs and the film has to be developed! That will at least take two days.”
In 1970, there were no cellular phones, I-pads, Smartphones, personal computers, lap top computers, computer “mice,” internets, WiFi’s, digital cameras, light pens, CD players or digital recorders that would fit in your pocket. A “monitor” was a type of armored riverine warship being used on the Mekong River in the Viet Nam War. Long distance telephone calls . . . especially international ones, were very expensive. A 20 minute call to Mexico cost the equivalent of $160 today.
If you complained to a friend in 1972 that yet again, there was no mention of American Indians in either national political convention and no American Indian movie stars, he or she would have said, “What else is new?” However, at the 1973 Academy Awards ceremony, Marlin Brando refused to accept the Oscar for his performance in “The Godfather.” Unknown Apache actress, Sacheen Littlefeather, represented him at the ceremony. She appeared in full Apache attire and stated that owing to the “poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry”, Brando would not accept the award. At the same time, the battle between American Indian Movement protestors and federal law enforcement was continuing at Wounded Knee. POOF will talk about that in Part Two.
In 1970, getting out in nature for recreation was considered by “educated people” in the Southeast the thing that redneck families and hunters did. In the spring of 1970, I asked an Emory University coed, if she would like to go on a daytime date in which we would to hike at Vogel State Park up in the mountains and have a picnic. She laughed at me on the phone and said that if she did such a rednecky thing, she would be butt of jokes for weeks at her sorority house. That attitude was about to change quickly. Plans were underway to make a movie out of James Dickey’s best-selling book, “Deliverance.”
On being American
In 1970, the words “Native American” composed a legal term, which meant “born in the United States.” In practice, though, they actually only applied to white citizens with English, Scottish, Irish, French, Dutch, German and Scandinavian names. In day to day speech, everybody else was Indian, Colored, Negro, Black, Jewish, Italian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Cuban, Mexican, etc.
Speaking of Mexican . . . in 1971, a blue-eyed, blond 17 years Mexican senorita spent several months with my parents in the suburbs of Atlanta as part of a cultural exchange. In 1970, Eastern Airlines had initiated the Atlanta airport’s first international flights to Mexico City, but a year later, few Southerners had ever experienced a close encounter of a third kind with a Mexican. The poor girl barely had a moment’s rest as everyone within a 10 mile radius invited her to dinner . . . especially those with 18 year old sons. There are now over a million Latin Americans in Georgia, most of them of Mexican, Cuban or Puerto Rican origin.
What does an American Indian look like?
If you were living in most areas of the United States in 1970, you thought all “real” full blood Indian men in the west looked like the popular Lakota Indian actor, Iron Eyes Cody, in the photo above. You thought all Southeastern Indians looked like Mingo, who played the congenial Cherokee chief and friend of Daniel Boone on a popular TV series.
Everyone knew what American Indian women looked like. In 1970s, two of the most popular female rock singers claimed to be Cherokee. They were Rita Coolidge and Cher Bono. Both consistently wore pseudo-American Indian clothing.
Rita was quite busy in 1970. Early in the year, she left Stephen Stills for Graham Nash . . . causing the breakup of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young . . . the top rock group at that time. Then in November, she met folk singer Chris Christopherson on a plane flight from Los Angeles to Nashville. Soon after landing in Nashville, they were a couple in a biblical way . . . if you get my gist.
This belief even extended to Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Uchee descendants in the Southeast. Sooner or later, they visited the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina. They saw lots of men, who looked just like Mingo. Since they did not look much like Mingo, these Muskogeans assumed that they had very little Indian ancestry.
The segregation between whites and Indians extended into academia. In 1973, the Atlanta Archaeological Society sponsored a highly publicized slide show by me on my travels in Mesoamerica at Georgia State University. At the time, the Siege at Wounded Knee was at its most violent stage. So anything “American Indian” was a hot topic. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had just run an article about the Creek Indian architecture student from Georgia Tech, who had hiked all over Mexico. This publicity insured a big crowd.
About 220 people attended . . . mostly Atlanta area professors, archaeologists, jet setters and GSU students. There were maybe six American Indians in the audience. I asked a series of questions to audience at the beginning of the program. Among the whites and Asians . . . not one person had ever kissed an American Indian, dated an American Indian, danced with an American Indian, eaten a meal with an American Indian, ridden in a car with an American Indian or had an American Indian as a guest in their home.
Four decades later, American TV viewers learned that Iron Eyes Cody was really named Espera Oscar de Corti. He was a first generation Sicilian American.
Mingo was played by Ed Ames. His real name was Edmund Dantes Eurich. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. Ironically, Fess Parker, who played both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone in Hollywood, was definitely (but secretly) part Cherokee . . . but his “Cherokee” features were actually Semitic. POOF will talk about that below.
In recent years Cher has admitted that her real name is Cherilyn Sarkisian. Her father was Armenian. Her mother claimed Irish, English, German, and Cherokee ancestry. Back in the 1970s, if one had a teeny-weeny bit of rumored American Indian ancestry, it was always described as Cherokee.
Although federally recognized Cherokee tribes refuse to acknowledge her as a Cherokee, Rita Coolidge still insists that her parents were part Cherokee. The fact is that Rita’s family always lived in a section of Tennessee in which the Cherokees never lived, but was occupied by the Chickasaw until ceded to the United States. She does have Muskogean features and so probably is part-Chickasaw.
The strange relationship between Hollywood and American Indians
Since the motion picture industry began in 1894, Hollywood has made an incalculable amount of money off of movies that included American Indians in the plot. Almost all involved a lot of Indians being killed. Until the 1950s, none had included an actual American Indian in a speaking role. In fact, perhaps 95% of the actors portraying American Indians were just regular “white folks,” Italian, Jewish or Arab.
The first movie to allow a real American Indian to speak lines was “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” (1955) by Walt Disney Studios. The project was filmed in the Great Smoky Mountains and so used local Cherokee Indians, wearing Mohawk haircuts, to portray the Red Stick Creeks in Alabama. However, for unknown reasons, when in the plot Davie Crockett travelled to northern Florida to trail the last surviving Red Stick hostiles, Disney bused in real Seminoles from southern Florida for those scenes, even though the filming was done on Fontana Lake in the Great Smoky Mountains.
The leader of the last surviving Red Stick Creek hostiles was given the name Chief Red Stick, of course. Chief Red Stick was given a speaking roll, when he announced that the Creeks would bury the hatchet and live in peace with the white man.
American television started out with a much better record of portraying Native Americans than it does today. Two of the most popular TV shows of the 1950s co-starred REAL American Indians.
Jack Webb was the producer and co-star of “Dragnet,” a police drama. His mother was a Mohawk Indian, but he tried to conceal his Native Ancestry until the 1970s. He was never a visible participant in Native American issues.
Dragnet ran on radio between 1949 and 1957. The first TV version began in 1951 and was broadcast till 1959. The second TV show ran from 1967 to 1970. The third TV show ran from 1989 to 1991. The fourth TV series was broadcast in 2003 and 2004.
“The Long Ranger” was one of American earliest television’s dramatic series. Starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverhills as Tonto, the program ran from 1947 to 1959. Jay Silverhills was a member of the Mohawk Tribe in Canada and frequently was a spokesman for First Nations issues. He never took part in political demonstrations, however.
One of the most popular television actors of the 1960s was a Creek Indian from Waycross, GA. Pernell Roberts played Adam Cartwright on Bonanza. He always concealed his heritage from Hollywood. He never accepted a role playing a Native American, but also never accepted a role in a TV program or movie, which portrayed Native Americans negatively. Although he looked very “Creek” as a young man in Waycross, he inherited a “balding gene” from his Caucasian mother and so looked less indigenous as he aged.
We did not know that Pernell was a subscriber and supporter of the People of One Fire until after his death on January 24, 2010. A few days later, his secretary or wife sent us an email, asking that his email address be removed from our subscription list. Then a month later, just as I was moving from a tent into a cabin near Fontana Lake, NC, I received a large manila envelope from a law firm in San Francisco, which described in detail all the chapters of his life with photos and copies of news clippings. The packet included acknowledgement that he had been very active behind the scenes in many efforts to improve the lives of Native Americans and in the promotion of Native American arts. Pernell even put many Native American young people through college.
The enigma of Burt Reynolds and the amazing impact of “Deliverance”
Throughout his career, actor Burt Reynolds said that he was born in Waycross, GA like Pernell Roberts. His father had been the sheriff of Ware County, GA until the family moved to Florida. At various times, he claimed to be Creek, Seminole or Cherokee. Then in 2015, Reynolds admitted to an investigative reporter that he was born in Lansing, Michigan and that his father moved the family to West Palm Beach, FL to work as a police chief. In the interview, Reynolds stated that he had no Native American heritage.
Still today there are holes in Burt Reynolds’ official bio. Something is fishy about this version, because some people in Waycross remembered Burt Reynolds living there as a teen for awhile . . . some say that he drove booze into the “dry” county from Jacksonvile then later possibly, he was a policeman in Waycross. In a 2016 interview, he said that he “grew up” in Georgia and Florida.
Also, until age 36 his only highly visible roles as a actor were all playing Native Americans. Reynolds DOES have Muskogean physical features, including his skull proportions. His first acting role was as a “Cherokee savage” at the Ghost town in the Sky attraction near Franklin, NC. He played a Cherokee black smith on the hit TV series, “Gunsmoke” for three years. His first starring movie role was in “Navajo Joe” in 1966.
Reynolds was originally hired by the director of “Deliverance’ to play a “civilized” Indian, living in Atlanta, who goes back to the Georgia Mountains to regain his native spirituality. While watching the filming, I personally saw Reynolds wearing a Seminole long shirt while being filmed. He also wore the long shirt between filming canoe scenes on the Chattooga River. However, all references to him being an Indian and scenes of him wearing a Seminole long shirt were cut from the final movie. There has never been an explanation why the director of the movie, “Deliverance,” John Boorman, deviated from this portion of the plot of the book, “Deliverance.” It is known that he and the author of the book, James Dickey, literally got into a fist fight over deviations of the movie from the book.
Nevertheless, “Deliverance” had a far greater impact on American culture than any movie before or since. As soon as Deliverance began screening around North America, young people began flocking to the wilderness, especially in the Southeast. Canoe and camping supply shops sprang up over night. By 1973, asking a young lady to go hiking at Vogel State Park would become the coolest thing a young man could do. Man . . . he was groovy!
The “Back to the Wilderness” craze spawned the “Back to Nature” movement. I joined thousands of young college graduates and headed to the mountains to live off the land and enjoy a more spiritual life. Native American values suddenly became “cool.” Around the Southeast dozens of state recognized tribes were formed. Then Mother Earth News was founded and soon moved to the Western North Carolina Mountains. A social change became an industry.
Overview of Part Two
In Part Two, POOF will discuss Native American politics during the 1970s. There will be many surprises that will make you challenge what you thought was history.
The resurrection of the Southeastern Native American Peoples occurred first in southern Alabama, southwest Georgia and the Florida Panhandle . . . not in Oklahoma. For almost a decade, Creek mikko’s, Calvin W. McGhee, Robert “Bearheart” Johns and Neil McCormick worked diligently toward creation of a National Creek Confederacy, which would reunite all the bands of Creeks and Seminoles around the United States, plus include the many thousands of Muskogeans in the Southeast, whose ancestors avoided the Trail of Tears. It would be, by far, the largest Indian tribe in the United States. However, in Oklahoma there were too many long time feuds between various branches and tribes to bring everyone together. It never happened, but ultimately resulted in the creation of several state-recognized tribes in the Southeast then ultimately, the federal recognition of the Muscogee-Creek Nation, Seminole Nation and Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Meanwhile, the federal government created the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma to gobble up the Keetoowah Band of Cherokees. So, why did the United States Government suddenly reverse a century old policy aimed at elimination of all American Indian tribes? Why did state recognized tribes suddenly appear in the lower Southeastern United States?
For a few years in this critical era, I sat on the front seat of the audience to history or even appeared on stage some times. The story is full of ironies. For example, for about ten years a self-described Georgia Cherokee has been periodically sending me hate mail. He obviously does not remember me, but I recently realized that Governor Carter’s Executive Assistant, Ham Jordan, dispatched me to Dahlonega to meet a man with his name. Perhaps it was the hate-mailer’s father.
This Georgia Cherokee had petitioned the governor to create a Cherokee reservation near Dahlonega. At the time there were no formal Indian tribes in Georgia. Governor Carter wanted to know if this man was a “real Indian.” I drove up to Dahlonega and had lunch with the man at the Smith House. He looked like actor Ed Ames, complete with shoulder length hair. We drove around the Dahlonega area to look at potential reservation sites then I returned back to the Capital. I reported to Ham Jordan that the man looked like Mingo on Daniel Boone, so he must be a real Indian. Such were the times. LOL
And now for some entertainment and the bringing back of warm memories . . .
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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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