Wednesday, July 12th 2023, 9:01 pm
The Capitol of the Muscogee-Creek Nation is Okmulgee, Oklahoma now. But for hundreds of years, before removal, the center of Creek Nation was in middle Georgia.
There's a a new effort to make the historical center of Creek life a new national park, with the Nation involved in managing it.
A milestone came in the last year, when the flag of the Muscogee Creek Nation was raised in front of City Hall, in Macon, Georgia.
Macon is on the banks of the Ocmulgee River, on the fertile land where Creek Indians established a thriving capital, now identified mainly by the mounds left behind, including places where generations of their ancestors are buried.
Creek citizen Tracie Revis moved from Oklahoma 18 months ago to help reconnect the nation with its historic land.
"This land is such a sacred piece of land. Every treaty that was signed - this land was never to be deeded over," Revis said.
Revis now serves as Director of Advocacy in the effort to reconnect the tribe with it's historical site.
"I serve as a liason between the Macon community in Georgia, and the Nation, back at home," she said.
The site is now the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. Until their removal, Creeks were building there for well over 1,000 years, on land continuously inhabited by humans for many thousands of years.
The Creeks want to be as much a part of the future here, as they were of the past. That includes building their own cultural center and helping manage the site, a unit of the National Park Service, but not currently a full National Park.
"This is their ancestral homeland and they're our greatest and most important partner in the expansion and preservation efforts of this park," said Seth Clark, the Vice-Mayor of Macon, and Director of the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative, a group helping protect the park as they lobby for the enhanced designation as a National Park.
The modern preservation effort comes long after discoveries in the 1930's started the largest archeological in the U.S., with the excavation of 2.5 million artifacts, most of which were removed from the site for storage elsewhere, many at the Southeast Archeological Center in Tallahassee, Florida.
The Initiative is working to expand the size of the park, and helped secure 1,000 threatened by the expansion of a nearby airport. The County government donated another 250 acres within the authorized boundary for the park. Other commercial developments, an Interstate and other highway work adds pressure at the edges of the site. The Initiative estimates 30,000 acres around the Ocmulgee River could be significant and related to the site.The excavations and development around the park have caused some permanent damage, such as the removal of half of a large funeral mound and the bodies within it, so a railroad could go through. The expansion of a nearby interstate changed the movement of water around the site.
Today the park draws school groups and tourists who can walk to the eight mounds, and climb to the top of several, for views of downtown Macon.
An earth lodge is a modern but inaccurate reproduction, built over an ancient, original floor. 150,000 people visit the park each year, including excursions from Oklahoma of Creeks who haven't seen their true native land.
The Ocmulgee Initiative is working to secure for the Creeks a permanent and significant role in preserving the expanding the site, including building a new cultural center with Creeks telling their own story.
Revis said while other tribes work with the National Park Service in consultation on some sites, they are first removed tribe seeking a co-management role.
"These are stories of people who have been erased from history, but our people are buried here. To honor who they were and that their lives were important, it's important to protect this land, to protect their stories, to make sure our people back home know those stories, and they can come back and speak into this land," she said.
The next milestone could be the elevation of Ocmulgee Mounds to full National Park status - "the most vaulted land status in the country," according to Clark. The higher designation would attract far more visitors, and draw more government resources to the effort to preserve this unique site.
Today the Creek nation has re-established itself in Oklahoma, rebuilding first a capitol and then a tribal complex that mirrors their ancient mounds back in Georgia.
Though the fires of the nation have permanently moved west, the Creeks are looking back to the East to save their history, and keep building on their ancient culture.
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