ATLANTA – Atlanta’s leaders are rethinking plans to install a statue representing a Native American man lauded as a “co-founder of Georgia" following a report on the project by The Associated Press.
The Chief Tomochichi statue was conceived as the centerpiece of a park celebrating civil rights-era heroes. Its placement is being reconsidered, however, now that city council members have a fuller understanding of historical facts about the Muscogee man who signed a 1733 treaty launching the Georgia colony, Councilman Michael Julian Bond told the AP.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation, whose 93,000 citizens are descended from Georgia's original inhabitants, wasn't consulted before the $300,000 statue was unveiled pending a move to Atlanta's new Peace Park. Tribal historians were dismayed, calling it inappropriate and disrespectful.
“I don’t believe the city wants to be in a position where we are offending the Muscogee people, but we don’t own the statue now," Bond said Thursday. "We have not accepted the statue, which is being donated to us, as yet.”
The council's 2020 ordinance approving the park empowered an oversight committee to review every proposed element for historical “accuracy and authenticity,” but Bond said the city’s law department discovered last week, after inquiries from the AP, that its members never officially met in this capacity.
A review of scholarly works on the Muskogean-speaking Creek Indians would reveal that Chief Tomochichi had been banished by his people, lacked authority to give away land, and was known for delivering Native American enemies into human bondage. Tomochichi's promise to capture runaway African slaves and trade them to the British alive or dead is immortalized in Article Six of Georgia's founding treaty.
“They didn’t really discuss that at all. They were like boosters for the park,” said Bond.
Bond expressed frustration that he and other graduates of Georgia's public schools weren't taught a fuller story about the state's origins. The state's Standards of Excellence curriculum requires second-graders to be taught about Tomochichi's “positive citizenship traits " such as honesty, good sportsmanship and compassion.
"This is an opportunity for a greater lesson for all of us. Because what I learned about Tomochichi in school was very positive," Bond said. “But, you know, facts are stubborn things. Because when we are confronted with all of the facts of his life, although the (National Monuments) Foundation has made the investment in this statue, it probably is time to reconsider it."
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens' office didn't respond to interview requests sent by texts and email. Other council members deferred to Bond, who wants the city to move fast on fixes.
"We have some matters pending before the council to kind of clean all this up ... like making sure we have somebody who’s a real historian, that’s something we need to do,” Bond said.
Bond said he would contact the Muscogee Nation on behalf of the city, to invite its full participation while the statue's fate remains unresolved.
“There still should be an accurate and appropriate representation of the Muscogee people in this park," Bond said. "I think that gives us an impetus to make sure we have the right representation and we tell the real history of these people, that they are accurately reflected in the park, with their input.”
National Monuments Foundation president Rodney Mims Cook Jr., also has begun trying to arrange a meeting with Muscogee leaders.
“We need to come to grips with all of this in a way that everyone can handle because it’s potentially a really beautiful story if it’s interpreted properly,” Cook told the AP.