Oakland Cemetery occupies the stolen territory of the Mvskoke (Muscogee/Creek) Nation. These people were forcibly removed from the land and as beneficiaries of such atrocities, it is our responsibility to recognize the history of these tribes and to commit to actively condemning the ongoing oppression of Indigenous people in our organizational, interpretative, and programming focuses.
History of the Mvskoke (Muscogee/Creek) Nation
The Muscogee Creek Nation is the fourth largest Tribal Nation in the United States with 86,100 citizens. The Muscogee are the descendants of the ancient residents of the Mississippian culture which developed in Mississippi and the Tennessee River Valleys. Prior to 1500 AD, the Mississippians lived in the entire Southeastern region of the United States, residing in the present states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. The predecessors of the Muscogee were known as Mound Builders, as they constructed ceremonial complexes composed of earthen pyramids built on river valleys. This group was also characterized by their artisanship and metalwork, advanced agricultural systems, and the establishment of chiefdoms and urban towns.
By the period of European contact (1732-1750), the Muscogee were a union of tribes, evolving into a confederacy with tribal towns in which each town maintained land holdings and jurisdiction. The network of towns was the result of a 900-year history of developing complex and efficient farming and town layouts. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the Muscogee confederacy expanded by accepting other tribes devastated by European powers throughout the United States.
On January 8, 1821, the First Treaty of Indian Springs, formally known as the Treaty with the Creeks, resulted in the cession1 of all tribal lands east of the Flint River in Georgia. The treaty was signed by the United States government and the Muscogee Creek Nation, but by all historical accounts, the treaty was coerced, and the Muscogee were forced to relinquish lands. The Creeks who remained in the Southeast relocated to Upper Creek towns in Alabama and Lower Creeks, residing on the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers, moved to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. The treaty resulted in the 1836-1837 removal of over 20,000 Muscogee Creek people from Alabama in which 3,500 Muscogee Creek people died en route. This removal occurred as part of the Trail of Tears, a series of forced evictions between 1830 and 1850 resulting in the deaths of over 60,000 Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Muscogee people.
The removal of the Muscogee Creek Nation allowed for the expansion of the enslavement and oppression of Africans and those of African descent. After Indigenous Americans were forcibly removed from their lands, the state of Georgia conducted eight land lotteries between 1805 and 1833. These lotteries were open to any white US citizen over the age of 21 years old who resided in Georgia for one or more years.2 Low and middle-class white families took advantage of the inexpensive fertile land, increasing their slave holdings as well as cotton cultivation across the state. By 1840, more than 280,000 enslaved people lived in Georgia, comprising 40% of the state’s population.
By the end of the 19th century, the Muscogee Nation was still fighting for their right to exist in their new territory of Oklahoma. In 1898, the United States Congress passed the Curtis Act which allowed for the dissolution of tribal governments and communal lands in Indian Territory. The act resulted in the loss of control of 90 million acres of land and the removal of tribal rights in determining tribal membership. This allowed the United States government to manipulate tribal numbers and subsequently admit Oklahoma as a US state in 1907.
The government of the Muscogee Nation was never completely dismantled and they maintained a Principal Chief. In 1971, the Muscogee people freely elected a Principal Chief without Presidential approval for the first time since the 1836-1837 removal. Shortly after, the Muscogee Nation drafted and adopted a new constitution in which the US Supreme Court affirmed their right to maintain a court system and levy taxes. The Muscogee and United States courts have continually worked to reaffirm the Muscogee Creek Nation’s freedom from state jurisdiction.
The Muscogee Creek Nation is currently a self-governed Indigenous American tribe with tribal territories in Louisiana, Texas, and Alabama, as well as headquarters in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. The government section is made up of an executive branch, a legislative body, and a tribal court system. The Muscogee Creek Nation engages in the diverse enterprises of higher learning, businesses, cultural tourism, and gaming. The Muscogee are actively working to expand public understanding of their significant historical and cultural inheritance. As of July 2020, through the United States Supreme Court ruling for McGirt v. Oklahoma, a large part of eastern Oklahoma was recognized as a part of the Muscogee Creek Nation reservation.
Oakland Cemetery occupies the stolen territory of the Mvskoke (Muscogee/Creek) Nation. These people were forcibly removed from the land and as beneficiaries of such atrocities, it is our responsibility to recognize the history of these tribes and to commit to actively condemning the ongoing oppression of Indigenous people in our organizational, interpretative and programming focuses.
Historic Oakland Foundation is committed to illuminating the diverse histories of our residents and the city of Atlanta. We understand that only a recognition of the mistreatments of the past will allow us to move forward collectively and equitably. We are dedicated to representing and reflecting on Indigenous perspectives as we grow as an organization and through expanding the lens of our interpretative programming.
This land acknowledgment is only one part of supporting Indigenous communities. We hope our land acknowledgment inspires others to stand with us in solidarity with Indigenous nations. Solidarity can look like
- Donating time and money to Indigenous-led organizations.
- Amplifying the voices of Indigenous people leading grassroots-change movements.
- Returning land.
How you can help
- Donate to the Muscogee Creek Nation Scholarship Foundation Program
- Donate to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs
- Land Reparations & Indigenous Solidarity Toolkit
- Muscogee (Creek) Nation History
- Georgia Council on American Indian Concerns
- Land Lottery Records
- LOC Establishing the Georgia Colony
- Creek Indian History by George Stiggins
- How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems 1975-2002 by Joy Harjo
- Spiral to the Stars: Mvskoke Tools of Futurity by Laura Harjo
1 Cession: the formal giving up of rights, property, or territory by a state
2 See georgiaencyclopedia.org for more information on the Georgia Land Lotteries of 1805-1833.