Mapping the Creek Indian World of Spirits in the Long Nineteenth Century

Sunday, January 4, 2015
2nd Floor Promenade (New York Hilton)
Steven Peach, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
This poster project will map those sacred spaces and spiritual networks which Creek Indian peoples etched into and forged across the landscape of the multiracial American South between 1790 and 1910.

This project moves beyond the political borders of the individual states of the U.S. South and of the towns of the Alabama and Oklahoma Creeks by pinpointing exact locations of popular dance grounds, ceremonial sites, graveyards, consecrated and desecrated spaces along the Creek “Trail of Tears,” and other spaces that commoners and elites, including black Creeks, regarded with spiritual animus. I argue that those spaces were linked, shattered, and reformed through everday stories, sacred oral traditions, the shared trauma of Removal, and, most particularly, the allotment and privatization of the Creek domain into fee simple land, which challenged the communal, clan-centered basis of Creek religion. Religious spaces and networks equipped chiefs, war captains, medicine women and medicine men, and common clanspeople with an ideological toolkit to resist Euro-American intrusion.

The data of the poster derive from multiple chapters of the dissertation, which makes two interventions in both United States and Native American social and cultural history. First, it historicizes the Creek spiritual system by demonstrating that religious ideology, practices, networks, and spaces were thrusts for change in the Creek Indian cosmos. Second, it reframes the vast literature on Native American revitalization movements by shifting scholarly emphasis away from prophets and toward the everyday spiritual dialogue between spiritual leaders and commoners, whose religious loyalties resided with clan members and vernacular spaces.

The centerpiece of the poster is a large political and cultural map of the Native South. It will contain the traditional borders of states and towns, so that viewers may quickly orient themselves to familiar polities. Yet the Creek spaces and networks, each with unique colors, cut across those borders in order to disorient the viewer and to bring into sharp relief the cosmological lenses through which Creek peoples viewed their world across decades of time. It is in these disorienting religious spaces where I hope to prompt multiple lines of inquiry from my viewers. In the right-hand column of the poster, I will list a brief description of the spaces and networks that have been mapped, so as to initiate dialogue and to answer fact-based questions.  Aside from an introduction, the left-hand column will contain a synopsis of the methodology and historiography, listing roughly four of the most important ethnohistorians and anthropologists whose scholarship on Creek religion, culture, and politics influences my dissertation.

See more of: Poster Session #1
See more of: AHA Sessions