When Tracy Revis climbs the Great Temple Mound, which rises nine stories above the Okmulgee River in central Georgia, she is following in the footsteps of her Muskogee ancestors, who were forcibly brought to Oklahoma 200 years ago.
“It’s a lush, beautiful land,” Revis said recently, looking at the trees on the distant green horizon, broken by the silhouette of Macon across the river. “We think those ancestors are still here, their songs are still here, their words are still here, their tears are still here. And we talk to them. We still honor those who passed away. Has gone.”
If approved by the U.S. Congress after three years of federal review, ends this fall, the mounds at Macon will serve as the gateway to a new Okmulgee National Park and Preserve, a 54-mile stretch of river and land. (86 kilometres). Areas in which about 900 sites of cultural and historical importance have been identified.
Efforts to expand an existing park at the site of the mound fall under Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland’s “Tribal Land Initiative”, which supports fundraising to purchase the land and to apply for Indigenous knowledge about the resources. Federal administrators are required for this.
“This type of land acquisition best represents our conservation efforts: collaborative, inclusive, locally led, and in support of the priorities of our nation’s Aboriginal nations,” Haaland said at the weekend’s 30th annual celebration of Indigenous Told. Okmulgi.
In an era when some cultural warriors view the government as the enemy, years of coalition building have eliminated any significant opposition from a Republican state to a traditionally Republican-focused federal administration. Hunting will be allowed, even encouraged, to prevent wild boars from destroying the ecosystem. Georgia’s congressional delegation supports the plan and the nation of Muskogee (Creek) has been hailed as an essential partner.
“Our voice, our position, has been in the process for a long time,” said Revis, a Muskogee and Yuchi attorney who was convened this year to join pro tempore Seth Clark, Mayor of Macon in Georgia. The Park Service is the primary authority over the center of its people’s ancestral land, which once spanned Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama.
Integrating a range of state and federally managed lands could help attract an additional million visitors each year, which will cost the site an estimated $187 million as they hike, canoe, hunt, fish and learn about history. I learn. Indigenous and generating 30 million dollars in taxes, in addition to retaining 3,000 jobs, concluded an economic impact study.
“This is a huge positive change for the region,” Clark said. “Redefining our economic vitality with the spirit of ecotourism is something that I think is huge for this community.”
Gliding on the surface of the Ocmulgee, the kayakers are surrounded by forest and wildlife, sometimes interrupted by a bridge. Little do they know that 14 unexplored and unsafe ceremonial mounds rise from nearby swamps.
The plan is to leave nature as untouched as possible while creating trails and access ramps. No land will be acquired.
Instead, the Park Service’s oversight will make it easier to raise funds to expand borders and increase public hunting lands by purchasing private wetlands.
The tribal government in Okmulgee, Oklahoma also purchased 130 areas (52.6 ha) of lowland that would be surrounded by the park. Chief David Hill said there are no plans to build there, they want to preserve the land so that its 97,000 citizens always have their own places to keep their culture.
“Our story is here. Our ancestors are here. Our stories started here. And we are dedicated to making sure this beloved site is safe,” Hill said.
The Muskogee people say that the story is full of trauma, but at the same time enriched by the way they now survive the trail of misery, as the Muskogee Trail of Tears calls it. Congress ordered a forced march in the 19th century that expelled 80,000 Indians from the eastern United States. Many died of disease, starvation or abuse when the federal government reneged on promises to take care of them in exchange for their land.
White settlers made their lives impossible with relentless “expulsion or extermination” campaigns in the 1820s and 1830s. And as the Muskogee, Seminole, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and other Indian tribes left the South, they were replaced by hundreds of thousands. Acquired a number of slaves from their northern owners to free up land for cotton cultivation.
The colonists retained the names of these places without knowing what they meant in the indigenous languages.
The desecration soon took place in the Okmulgee Mounds, the spiritual, legislative and economic heart of the Creek Union. The primary forests were cleared for the slave labor camp. A huge burial mound was destroyed to route a railroad to transport cotton. Later civil war battles damaged their farms.
The 283 hectares (700 acres) surrounding Seven Mounds was declared a National Monument in 1936, but that hasn’t stopped archaeologists from unearthing 2.5 million artifacts depicting 17,000 years of uninterrupted human habitation. Most remain unpublished in the archives of the Smithsonian, Park Service, and universities.
For decades, the park was promoted with postcards showing an exposed skeleton. It turned out to be the skull of one person and the bones of another, said Relin Butler, the Aboriginal Nation’s Administrator for Historical and Cultural Preservation. “They didn’t treat us like people,” he said.
The reality of genocide and existence began to emerge in the 1970s when Revis’s Aunt Eddie and other tribal leaders traveled to Georgia to lead cultural discussions. “That’s where the first idea came in at the festival, that we have to change the narrative,” Revis said.
Twenty years of arduous collaboration allowed the tribal nation to collect and reassemble the remains of 114 people at the mound in 2017. And this February, nearly 1,000 acres (404 ha) of consecrated land were purchased by the Land Conservation Fund. and water at no cost to the taxpayer, Haaland said. Extended and protected into a park can protect 85,000 acres (34,400 ha) downstream.
“They ask us all the time, ‘This is such a beautiful land, why did they leave?’ They didn’t ask us to do it, they forced us to do it,” Hill said. “And that’s what we want to prevent in the future, the things we do now are for our future generations. I don’t want them to go through this. Oklahoma is our home, but it’s still our original home.”