This week the Ocmulgee Mounds Park and Preserve Establishment Act was introduced in both the US House and Senate. The legislation with wide bipartisan support is an important, long waited for step in creating the first ever National Park for the state of Georgia. 

The park would be centered on the already existing Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park but would extend many miles south on the Ocmulgee River to take in lands where at least two federally endangered plants are found and where one of three of the state’s populations of American Black Bear resides. 

But the centerpiece of the park would be the Ocmulgee Mounds themselves, great earthworks which made up a city at the edge of the Macon Plateau over a thousand years ago. 

The mounds are incredibly important to the tribes that make up the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma. What follows is a conversation with Muscogee citizen Tracie Revis who has had the job of advocating for the park for about two years. 



This conversation has been edited for clarity. 

Grant Blankenship: You are former chief of staff to Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill. You're a Muscogee citizen. Meanwhile, you've lived here in Macon for a few years as a part of the effort to create the national park. In the time you've lived here, what have you come to learn about what Georgians know about their connection to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation?

Tracie Revis: People here don't know who we are authentically. They don't know what happened, accurately, about when we were here and how we were removed. But even more so they don't know what happened to us when we left, what happened at the end of Removal, and the Trail of Tears when we made it into Oklahoma.

Grant Blankenship: What do you know about what people know about the connection of the Ocmulgee Mounds to Oklahoma?

Tracie Revis: You know, interestingly enough, our capital city in Oklahoma, where our tribal headquarters sits is Okmulgee, Oklahoma. And most people in middle Georgia were very unaware that the Ocmulgee River, the Ocmulgee Mounds, the park, this was a capital city. And so most people are unaware why we named our capital city in Oklahoma, Okmulgee. And so that's been one of the things that's been really interesting. But I think it's also knowing how we use the land, what the mound sites actually were for, how long we were in this region. All the words, how to say the names. The entire state of Georgia, I say this often, you cannot throw a rock in the state of Georgia and not hit cultural land. And it's our words and those same words translated into Oklahoma. So you will find the same words in Oklahoma that you find here in Georgia and Alabama and Florida.

Grant Blankenship: Yeah. And to be clear, I mean that history stretches back into what mainstream historians call prehistory. I mean, we know this about the tribal history of Georgia, right?

Tracie Revis: We know that we were here. What's difficult is that because the mounds and the park itself were built around the archeological dig from 1936, the history has been told from an archeological standpoint, as if we are the dinosaurs of the days that came from this land. And there is not context of who we were culturally and how long we were here before.

Tracie Revis was the first woman to serve as chief of staff to the principal chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and has led community outreach with the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative.

Tracie Revis was the first woman to serve as chief of staff to the principal chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and has led community outreach with the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative.

Credit: Grant Blankenship / GPB News

Grant Blankenship: So the Ocmulgee mounds, they've already been in the National Park system for years. When this bill passes, what's going to be different?

Tracie Revis: The National Park is going to be different from where we've been in that the Nation will actually have---the tribal nations, The Muscogee (Creek) Nation--- will serve as a full co-manager. Currently, there are four other parks in the National Park Service that have codified co-management provisions. What that means is, in law, they are required to have a management section, whether that is hunting and fishing rights that were treaty based, whether that is adjacent to their tribal land, to the reservation base, or that they have hunter gatherer [rights], or that they are the only ones who can tell the, cultural stories in those lands.

Of the 460 plus national parks in their system, there are only four that have those provisions. What we are doing with the Ocmulgee Mounds is that the nation, as [Ocmulgee] gets re-designated, will be sitting at the table to create the management plan for this new expanded National Park and Preserve that we will not only do the cultural piece, but we will do the land management, the species management. We will talk about direct hiring to allow our citizens to actually work, to be the storytellers of this land. We are going to look at the arts and crafts that are sold at the park to make sure that they are authentic Creek citizens, and that we aren't having replica pieces being sold as if they're ours. So it's really going to put a nation, a tribe, in a position to truly be partners with the National Park Service, to not only co steward these lands, but to co-manage these lands.

Grant Blankenship: We already touched on a little bit of this, but what aspects of the cultural and historical story do you imagine in the re-emphasized or newly emphasized as that management plan shapes up?

Tracie Revis: [So the park does a great job of talking about the archeological dig, that there were people here, and we know that we have carbon dating and they do that already. But where we really need to expand is the people. If somebody was to find your relics laying in the ground today, would they know who you were? They wouldn't. And so it's looking at the authentic piece of how did we actually form these mound sites? And what did that mean when we came to council here, when we had tribal towns up and down the river? And so when you look at this history, it gives you a context of how big these civilizations really, truly were. And we travel all over the globe to look at ancient civilizations, right? We have that here in our backyard, in these lands, and allowing the cultural piece to come in and tell these stories helps fill in those blanks.

Grant Blankenship: So sort of tucked in at the bottom of the bill is this provision to establish, what the bill calls Indian Country on 126 acres of land in the park footprint already owned by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Give me just a taste of the importance of that.

Tracie Revis: Well, this is absolutely one of my favorite provisions in the bill. And this is such a huge win for Indian Country.

So the Nation had to buy their own land back here in the homelands. And so it is 126 acres. It is culturally significant to us. It is within the Ocmulgee corridor. We know that up and down the Ocmulgee River, while the park itself only has eight mound sites in it, we know that there are additional mound sites up and down the river. So purchasing this land was important for us because we need to protect these cultural sites. We are not looking to dig them up. We want to keep everything preserved, protected in the land where it is.

I don't know that this is true for the entire state, but I can say this middle Georgia region, this community that I've worked with, for the last two and a half years, they are sincere in their efforts to want to welcome the Nation back, but not for us to be paraded down Main Street for us to come and say, “This is who we are. This is what we're asking of you, and let us do it our way.”

We survived this forced Removal. And this is truly an opportunity for us to reconcile this history, to come back into our lands. It's humbling. It's emotional. It is not something that can be wrapped up in a bow. And I am beyond honored to be able to serve in this role, to serve my family, to serve my community, and to really work alongside this community as we move forward to create Georgia's first national park and the next national park in the country.