Thursday, October 2, 2008
Chickasaw nation reunites
By SUE WATSON
Tuscumbia, Ala., is rapidly becoming a place where Indian Nations are reconnecting their roots after years of separation following “The Trail of Tears.” It saw five Indian nations leave the Southeast between 1832 and 1850 to move westward to their new homes in Indian Territory (now the State of Oklahoma).
The Tuscumbia Festival, held the second weekend in September each year, has become a forum whereby Indians are making this reconnection with long-lost cousins, according to Robert Perry, elder to the Chickasaw Council in Ada, Okla. For five years the Oklahoma Chickasaw Nation’s Dance Troupe has participated in the Tuscumbia Festival and Perry, for four years, has represented the Chickasaw as a member of the Chickasaw Historical Society.
With Perry this year on his way to Tuscumbia was his replacement on the Historical Society board, Dr. Timothy Baugh, an archaeologist who works for the Oklahoma Chickasaw and is responsible for the cultural collection in Ada.
Last year Perry stopped in Holly Springs to speak to students at Holly Springs Middle School and at Marshall Academy.
Perry said now that the Oklahoma Chickasaw have established a reconnection to their family roots in Tuscumbia (near Muscle Shoals, Ala.) the Chickasaw Nation wants to maintain that continuity and momentum. Several events are held at the Tuscumbia Festival that help reunite the Oklahoma Chickasaw with the Alabama Chickasaw in a number of ways.
“To add to the legitimacy of the Tuscumbia Festival, the committee invites card-carrying Indians from all the Indian tribes of the Southeast,” Perry said.
“Tuscumbia Landing wants to be included in the National Historic Parks System of the ‘Trail of Tears’ and has a grant for ground penetrating radar to do archaeological work there.”
The festival includes a tour of the landing where a boat full of Chickasaw went up the river to their new home in Oklahoma. Festivities include a memorial river walk of 2.3 miles from the landing, he said.
A fifth activity is the Colbert Family Reunion. George Colbert was an influential member of the Chickasaw in Alabama circa 1800. A website has been established for all Colbert descendants and about 100 people came to the family reunion last year, Perry said. The reunion helps long-lost cousins reconnect with their families and reestablish common ancestors.
Baugh received his PhD in archeology from the University of Oklahoma, taught at the University of Colorado and Boston University and for the last three years has worked with the archaeological collections in Ada.
In 1989, Congress passed the Museum of the American Indian Act to establish the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington, D.C. As part of this law, the repatriation of human remains to the Indian Nations throughout the United States was required, Baugh said. During the 1800s, some human skulls from known individuals had been collected by the military and were stored in the Army Medical Museum for study of physical characteristics of the Indians, he said.
In the mid-1800s, the U.S. Surgeon General wanted to study the physical characteristics of skulls left on battle grounds. Eventually, the collection was transferred from Walter Reed Hospital to the Smithsonian Institute, and the Museum of the American Indian Act passed by Congress allowed these remains to be returned to their descendents as represented by the Indian tribes.
“The first task was to research the background of who they were and to contact their descendants and arrange for the return of the remains to their relatives,” Baugh said. “Repatriation for all museums was formally started in 1991 with the passage of the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act.”
Included in the collection at the Smithsonian were the remains of several Cheyenne under the leadership of Black Kettle, whose peaceful people were attacked and killed at Sand Creek in southeast Colorado. Although escaping with his life from Sand Creek, Black Kettle was later killed in the Battle of the Washita River by General Custer and the Seventh Cavalry in Oklahoma. The Cheyenne individuals in the Smithsonian were returned to the Sand Creek descendants in the early 1990s.
Perry, a retired chemical engineer, writer and glass blower, just completed a new book, “The Turkey Feather Cape,” to be published by iUniverse.com
“I was challenged by the director of the Chickasaw Cultural Center (under construction in Sulphur, Okla.) to make one,” Perry said.
Perry researched the historical record for information about Chief Tuscaloosa who met the Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto in 1540 in the town of Maubila in territory that some historians believe to be in the State of Alabama.
“Then I explored the archaeological record back to A.D. 1000 during the Mississippian era (A.D. 1000-1450) to better understand the Spanish Expedition,” Perry said.
On October 12, 1540, Chief Tuscaloosa met Soto and the records describe the chief as a man of unusual height and wearing a turkey feather cape.
“He was a striking and powerful image for Soto,” said Perry, adding that a portrait of the Chief Tuscaloosa and Soto dated in the 1920s hangs in the capitol rotunda in Alabama.
Another area of interest for Baugh and Perry is the Chucalissa Museum in Memphis, Tenn. Artifacts are being preserved that were excavated from this Mississippian-era mound site in Tennessee and both the Choctaw and Chickasaw prepared exhibits for the museum, located near the Chucalissa Indian Mounds. In August each year, the Chucalissa Indian Festival is held in Memphis.
While in Holly Springs, Perry and Baugh visited with David Person and with Madge Lindsay at Strawberry Plains Audubon to discuss future plans of the 2,500-acre preserve.
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