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Muscogee Nation members to conduct teach-in; Emory community invited to Indigenous Language Path listening sessions

The closing days of October will offer the Emory community exciting opportunities for continued engagement with the Muscogee Nation. On Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, Kauffman & Associates, Inc. (KAI) will return to campus to facilitate listening sessions with the Emory community associated with the Indigenous Language Path Working Group. Then on Oct. 28, singers, storytellers and other artists from the Nation will conduct a teach-in on the Quadrangle.

Since Emory President Gregory L. Fenves issued the charge to the Indigenous Language Path Working Group in November 2021, connections between Emory and the Muscogee Nation have deepened in meaningful ways. 

Adding chapters to our shared history

The working group, co-chaired by Malinda Maynor Lowery (Lumbee), Cahoon Family Professor of American History, and Gregory W. McGonigle, dean of religious life and university chaplain, was activated when the Task Force on Untold Stories and Disenfranchised Populations, among its recommendations, asked that the university explore how to honor the Indigenous peoples who lived on land where Emory is now located. The recommendation included the development of “physical reminders and remembrance rituals on campus, such as a Muscogee (Creek) Language Path that highlights Muscogee language, culture, knowledge and relationships.”

The Emory Board of Trustees, in fall 2021, approved an official Land Acknowledgment Statement that “acknowledges the Muscogee (Creek) people who lived, worked, produced knowledge on and nurtured the land where Emory’s Oxford and Atlanta campuses are now located.” In 1821, 15 years before Emory’s founding, the Muscogee were forced to relinquish this land. 

The Land Acknowledgment Statement goes on to say: “We recognize the sustained oppression, land dispossession and involuntary removals of the Muscogee and Cherokee peoples from Georgia and the Southeast. Emory seeks to honor the Muscogee Nation and other Indigenous caretakers of this land by humbly seeking knowledge of their histories and committing to respectful stewardship of the land.”

During this year’s spring break, the Muscogee Nation invited a group of Emory faculty, staff and students to  journey to the Muscogee Nation lands in Oklahoma, to which they were forcibly removed by the Trail of Tears in 1836. During four days of educational gatherings, communal meals and gift exchanges, Muscogee citizens emphasized the shared values of education and health care as well as the preservation of language and land, which are inseparable from their identity.

Be part of the next phase

In April of this year, the working group engaged KAI — a Native-led and women-owned consulting firm — to lead sessions with Emory faculty, staff and students about how to envision  plans for the Indigenous Language Path. This month’s round of KAI-assisted dialogues will offer a chance to refine the concept of the language path based on the previous sessions and gives an even broader group of the Emory community, as well as members of the Muscogee Nation, a chance to provide input.

Thursday, Oct. 27, Oxford Campus
5:30-7:30 p.m.

Student, Faculty and Staff Dinner Listening Session, Dean’s Dining Room
RSVP for in-person here or Zoom here.

Friday, Oct. 28, Atlanta Campus
10-11:30 a.m.

Faculty and Staff Breakfast Listening Session, Convocation Hall
RSVP for in-person here or Zoom here.

Friday, Oct. 28, Atlanta Campus
12-1:30 p.m.

Student Lunch Listening Session, Convocation Hall
RSVP for in-person here or Zoom here.

Become a student of Muscogee culture

Emory is honored that members of the Muscogee Nation are joining for both days. Fenves will host a welcome reception for leaders of the Muscogee Nation, among them Second Chief Del Beaver and Monte Randall, president of the College of the Muscogee Nation. 

On the afternoon of Oct. 28, the lineup for the teach-in on the Atlanta campus Quad includes: 

  • Welcome and opening remarks by Second Chief Beaver and President Randall
  • Muscogee hymn singing
  • Cultural labs led by Britteny Cuevas — owner of Four LOCV, which specializes in Native American, Southeastern Indigenous arts — focused on Woven Game Ball, which is used in the stickball game, and Corn Husk People
  • Muscogee storytelling by Mvhayv Gracine Hicks and Mvhayv Rebecca Barnett
  • A stomp dance, led by Rev. Chebon Kernell

“The elements of the teach-in have historic importance, having been carried forward for many generations,” says Lowery. “But these are traditions equally relevant to the present and shared widely now.”

To contextualize what attendees will experience musically, Sterlin Harjo’s film “This May Be the Last Time” (2013) speaks to the way that hymns have united Native American communities in times of worship, joy, tragedy and hope. 

One of the oldest team sports on the continent, stickball has been a feature of the Southeastern tribes’ way of life for hundreds of years. It is a game widely shared but also played with many variations, and it has been useful in dispute resolution. Participants will learn how to make the woven leather ball used in stickball. 

Native Americans making corn husk people likely began more than a thousand years ago, timed with the beginnings of corn agriculture. Although corn husk dolls were considered a children’s toy, they were sometimes used during healing ceremonies to ward off evil dream spirits. Participants will be able to try their hand at making their own dolls. 

The storytellers — known as “mvhayvs,” or “teachers” — are language instructors in the Muscogee Nation’s Language Program, and they will share stories in Mvskoke and English.

Beth Michel (Tohono O’odham), senior associate dean of admission and the admission office’s lead for Native American affairs, worked with the Nation on the teach-in and views it “as an opportunity for the campus community to gather with members of the Nation and learn about how the first ways of teaching were shared on this land. It is also about passing on Muscogee knowledge to the next generation. The Emory community is being invited in by the Muscogee Nation to better understand the exchange of ideas, at the level of the natural world, that is familiar to this area.”

Tre’ Harp III 25C (Muscogee/Choctaw), who was part of the Emory visit to the Nation in Oklahoma, adds: “Teaching and learning have always been an essential part of our culture from our removal from our home until now. This teach-in marks not a return of our stories and knowledge back to the land but a remembrance of the lessons taught and understanding built upon through generations. It would not have been so long ago that a student like myself would have listened in this very spot to the same knowledge that we will share during the teach-in — knowledge we continue to pass on so that this campus may remember it as well.”

Inform the report of the working group

The listening sessions will enable community members to share their insights before the working group submits its report to the president on Nov. 15, outlining next steps and a conception of what the Indigenous Language Path could be. 

Lowery and McGonigle are encouraging broad participation from the Emory community in the coming events, recognizing how deeply Emory’s continuing engagement with Muscogee citizens aligns with the university mission. 

“It is absolutely vital for folks at Emory to hear directly from Muscogee people about how we can best fulfill the commitments included in the Land Acknowledgment Statement. Emory is respected all over the world for its leadership in producing knowledge that shapes our shared future. Without the Muscogee Nation, we are not fulfilling our mission. Respectful stewardship requires listening and learning, and we are happy and thankful to be on Muscogee homelands and in dialogue with the Nation’s elected leadership and its diverse community members,” says Lowery. 

Participate in an Indigenous Language Path listening session

Thursday, Oct. 27, Oxford Campus, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Student, Faculty and Staff Dinner Listening Session, Dean’s Dining Room

RSVP for in-person here or Zoom here.

Friday, Oct. 28, Atlanta Campus, 10-11:30 a.m.

Faculty and Staff Breakfast Listening Session, Convocation Hall

RSVP for in-person here or Zoom here.

Friday, Oct. 28, Atlanta Campus, 12-1:30 p.m.

Student Lunch Listening Session, Convocation Hall

RSVP for in-person here or Zoom here.

Join the teach-in

Friday, Oct. 28, Quadrangle, 2:30–5 p.m.

Members of the Muscogee Nation will conduct a teach-in.

(Rain location: Rita Anne Rollins Building, Room 102) 

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