Panel of experts on the Indigenous Southeast speaks on Ocmulgee Mounds, history of forced removal


Tracie Revis (far left) speaks to the audience at the “Reclaiming the Native South” Humanities Panel hosted by Middle Georgia State University’s School of Arts and Letters on March 29, 2023 in Macon, Ga. (Photo by McKenna Kaufman)

Experts on Indigenous history and culture from across the southeastern United States met for a Humanities Panel Wednesday evening hosted by Middle Georgia State University’s (MGA) School of Arts and Letters. The panel was one of the first events in the university’s 2023 Arts Festival, built around the theme “Reclaiming the Native South.”

The panel began with MGA history professor Dr. Matt Jennings reading Macon-Bibb County’s land acknowledgment, a statement that recognizes the Muscogee (Creek) and Yuchi people, who “lived, worked, produced knowledge on, and nurtured the land now known as Macon-Bibb County,” Jennings said.

Moderated by Jennings, the panelists addressed topics ranging from the advocacy initiatives surrounding the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park in Macon, Ga. to scholarly trends in the field of Native Studies. Tracie Revis, director of advocacy for the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative (ONPPI), spoke about the organization’s ongoing efforts to establish the site as the state’s first National Park.

“Where we’re at right now, it does take an act of Congress to create National Park. We have a bill being drafted right now, one in the House and one in the Senate,” Revis said. “Senator Ossoff, Senator Warnock (are) huge champions for us and in this district specifically, Congressman Bishop and Congressman Scott are both supporters, so we do have bipartisan support.”

In addition to Revis, the panel included Dr. Jace Weaver, a religion, literature and law scholar and the founding director of the Institute of Native American Studies at the University of Georgia; Dr. Robbie Ethridge, a historical and environmental anthropologist with the University of Mississippi; and Beau Carroll, an archeologist with the East Band Cherokee Indians (EBCI) Historic Preservation Office and a Ph.D. student in anthropology at the University of Tennessee.

Weaver and Ethridge, both university professors, spoke about their careers studying native tribes from the southeast. They also shared their efforts to increase students’ knowledge of southeastern Indigenous groups as well as address recurring misconceptions.

“I really think we need to talk about Indian removal more clearly. It’s oftentimes portrayed as this sort of tragic event, or this tragic outcome of progress and civilization,” Ethridge said. “Indian removal was in fact a cold and calculated land grab financed by international corporate entities and underwritten by racism.”

Revis and Carroll spoke about their experience as Indigenous people working to preserve cultural sites and artifacts across the region. One of the consistent challenges to land preservation is working to acquire the land from private landowners, Carroll said. Both emphasized the importance of Indigenous groups being involved in local projects and research on their ancestral lands as collaborators, rather than just consultants.

“That is the focus of my work is I want to show that if you included indigenous people within your studies, that you get a fuller picture of what’s going on,” Carroll said.

ONPPI aims for the future Ocmulgee Mounds National Park to be comanaged by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the National Park Service, making them the first tribe seeking comanagement of their ancestral lands as a removed tribe, Revis said.

“We’re hoping to raise the voice of the (Muscogee) nation to make sure that our story is always a part of this land with the new and current stewards who live here,” Revis said. “All of you folks that live in this region and have been out there know how important this land is and how sacred it is.”

MGA’s 2023 Arts Festival takes place until April 14 and includes film screenings, art exhibitions and lectures celebrating southeastern Indigenous history and culture. Community members interested in attending an upcoming event can visit MGA’s website for more information.