Entrance to the Earth Lodge at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

Entrance to the Earth Lodge at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

The Muscogee Creek people were removed from Georgia in 1834. In 2019, members of the Muscogee Creek Nation Youth Council came back to their homeland for the first time.

“For me, and for my youth council, and our tribe, it’s very important to just take a step back and recognize where we come from and take time to honor all the sacrifices that (our ancestors) made for us to be here,” Claudia McHenry said. McHenry is a representative for the Native American population at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Nancy Mason helped coordinate the trip to Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. She said that this pilgrimage from Oklahoma to Ocmulgee was the first time Muscogee Youth Council members like McHenry had been back to where their ancestors lived.

“The Muscogee Creek people were moved from this area and they’re all Muscogee Creek citizens, so it’s more coming back to where their ancestors began, really kind of paying respects to the land here, the dead who, you know, weren’t able to go on that journey to Oklahoma,” Mason said.

Muscogee officials who oversee the youth council have been working together with park rangers to make this event an annual experience. Part of their visit will include learning about a native plant grown by the Muscogee for generations.

“Our youth will come out next spring to focus more on harvesting the river cane and sort of learning about the process of how it’s used,” Mason said.

The river cane is a bamboo-like grass that grows in the southern wetlands. Ocmulgee's Alan Huckabee has been working for years to remove the invasive privet plant that crowds out the native river cane at the park.

“The Native Americans used river cane in very many of their projects, they used it to make blow guns, to make their houses, to make nets, baskets, and a variety of things besides that,” Huckabee said.

John Brown, special projects coordinator of the Muscogee Creek Nation, still uses river cane for everything his ancestors did.

“Back home I teach a lot of the arrow-making, the atlatals, because it’s really important to the Muscogee Creek people, you know, we’ve used it for so many things; our houses, our weaponry, our baskets, so many different things,” Brown said.

The plan is to involve Muscogee youth in Huckabee’s river cane cultivation. Next year, they hope to harvest some of the Ocmulgee river cane to grow back in Oklahoma, so community leaders like Brown can continue to use it for preserving Muscogee traditions. 

“Everything that I do and everything that I teach is a way to keep our traditions going,” Brown said. “I was in my late forties before I ever got to come back here to see some of this, so for our kids to see this at such a young age, you know, they’re our future and they need to see this. They need to know about this so this part of it doesn’t die away either.”

Next year, the Muscogee youth council plans to harvest Ocmulgee river cane and take it back to Oklahoma — bringing a piece of their ancestral homeland back to their home.