Honoring Native Lands

Native Americans once lived across all the lands now known as Georgia. Those called Yamacraw, Creek, Cherokee, and many whose names we will never know created communities from the mountains to the Coastal Plain. They knew the land well, for it was their source of food, clothing, medicines, tools, and shelter.

To Native Americans, however, lands were more than resources. They were a part of collective memory, belief, and identity. No individual among them could sell or give land away. No individual owned land.

Europeans arrived in the 1500s with entirely different concepts: private rather than common property, individualism rather than community. These differences, and all that they represent about the way humans live, became manifest in conflicts between Indians and Europeans, and finally in Indian expulsion from the southeast. The state of Georgia played a unique role in that expulsion.

Native Americans survived the extraordinary upheaval of removal and their vibrant cultures continued to develop. Their lands left behind in Georgia remain singularly important in their cultural memory and identities. Their story is part of the history and identity of each of us.

--Courtesy Atlanta History Center, Native Lands Exhibition

The Cherokee Nations

In the 1700s

Cherokees emerged from the Mississippian collapse as a powerful and populous nation controlling a vast southeastern territory.

By the early 1700s, their homeland included portions of four present-day states and their hunting lands extended across four more. Approximately 9,500 Cherokees lived in fifty-nine independent towns and villages. In each settlement, women took responsibility for raising corn and other crops on large common fields. Men were the hunters and warriors, ranging far from home for game, captives, and honor. Towns were centers of governance, religious ceremony, and community celebration.

Linked to one another by heritage, kinship, and language, Cherokee called themselves Ani-yunwiya, the Real People.

Under the terms of the New Echota Treaty, Cherokees had two years to move west. However, they believed that chief John Ross would overturn the treaty and so made no provision to leave. In May 1838 approximately seven thousand troops established camps in the Cherokee Nation. By June, virtually all Cherokees had been evicted from their homes to holding stockades or trails to Indian Territory. In accord with the treaty, they were to be compensated for belongings left behind, provisioned during the journey, and subsidized for a year after arrival. No one – the federal government, the removal troops, nor the Cherokees – was prepared for the amount of illness, suffering, and death that accompanied the sojourners. Between four and eight thousand died as a result of the removal. Like the Creeks, Cherokees carried embers from town fires with them, a sign of cultural survival.

A year after the removal, a group of unidentified men fulfilled the Cherokee law prohibiting land cessions and executed The Ridge; his son, John; and his nephew Elias Boudinot. No charges were ever brought.

--Courtesy Atlanta History Center, Native Lands Exhibition