We’re serious about connecting readers with Native American stories, especially because there are some news events this year that can help raise awareness of Indian culture. (Yes, Indian leaders and writers tell us both terms are appropriate—“Native American” and “Indian.”)
The photos, today, come from the Ocmulgee National Monument near Macon, Georgia, which we highly recommend if you are traveling along the I-75 corridor this summer. The park is a very short drive from the main freeway. ReadTheSpirit editors David Crumm and Celeste Dykas were in Macon to attend the wedding of mutual friends and, as always this year, looked for nearby Indian culture we could highlight. Top Photo today was taken on the soaring wooden walkway that leads to the 55-foot-tall Great Temple Mound at the site, which historians say was for ceremonial and not burial purposes. The Great Temple Mound is unique because of its original winding ramp that led people to the top for ancient ceremonies. The second photo shows the park’s famously reconstructed Earthlodge. Historians believe that tribal leaders used this particular lodge. The pit lit with red lamps once was the lodge’s fire pit.
The Great Temple Mound was never used as a burial site, so it is appropriate to hike to the top and spend some time walking around this grassy plateau that spans American history at a glance. In one direction is a nature preserve where water, green growth and teeming wildlife show Georgia’s distant past. But, 180 degrees to the other side of the mound is the skyline of Macon, today, complete with church steeples and the Mercer University medical center. The experience is stirring as a real-life viewpoint on millennia of change across North America.
The entire site is a reminder of some of the first well-intentioned efforts to preserve Native American culture—after centuries of systematically destroying Indian populations. The people who once inhabited this remarkably sophisticated town were forced to march West like other Eastern Indians by soldiers who wound up killing a lot of the people through the brutality of slogging across thousands of miles on foot. Nevertheless, this entire site was reconstructed in heart of the deep South in the period before World War II and long before the civil rights movement. Historians, architects and builders elaborately reconstructed the central earth lodge. To this day, there’s an other-worldly aura as adults must crouch low and walk slowly down the sloping entryway into the lodge.
Note, if you plan to go: The National Park Service museum and introductory films can take up to an hour. Simply walking to all of the main mounds and ancient sites in the park can take a couple of hours—but the access points to the major mounds also are reachable by car, if you’re more interested in briefly stretching your legs at the key sites. Extensive nature trails, including a long walk along a swampy area (a portion of that lush and water landscape is behind us in the photo at top), are great choices for bird watchers.
WHY IS NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURE SO TIMELY IN 2012?
Kateri Tekakwitha, first Native American recognized as a Roman Catholic saint:
In April, we reported on the life of “Bl. Kateri” Tekakwitha (the Catholic way of designating “Blessed Kateri,” the current Vatican designation of her worthiness to be remembered and venerated). That same story in April reported on the Vatican’s progress toward canonizing her later this year as St. Kateri.
Jim Thorpe and the Centennial of the Decathlon:
In June, we reported on the upcoming Centennial of the Decathlon, already marked by some athletic groups and certainly a part of the 2012 summer Olympics. We urged people not to forget the famous Indian at the dawn of the decathlon—the world-famous athlete Jim Thorpe.
CARE TO READ MORE ABOUT NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURE?
ReadTheSpirit publishes the memoir of Native American elder and teacher Warren Petoskey, called Dancing My Dream. Warren is nationally known as an advocate and lecturer about the traumas suffered across the U.S. when federal policy removed Indian children from their families and forcibly placed them in abusive boarding schools. “Dancing My Dream” includes a section about this important chapter in Indian history that affects huge numbers of Indian families to this day.
Interested in discussing a Native American book in your church group? A large number of Native American people, today, are Christian and Warren talks about how his own Christianity meshes with his Indian culture. This makes his book, Dancing My Dream, an inspiring choice for small groups to discuss in their congregations.
Also, our very popular American Journey series in 2010 included some Native American stories.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.