Megan O’Neil Lecture: “The Ancient Maya: (Not A) Lost Civilization”

In a virtual lecture hosted by the Carlos Museum and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative (NAISI) on January 19, 2023, Professor Megan O’Neil, Assistant Professor of Art History at Emory University and Faculty Curator of the Art of the Americas, delved into the complex and often misunderstood history of the Mayan Civilization. Titled “The Maya: (Not A) Lost Civilization,” Dr. O’Neil’s lecture aimed to challenge the misconceptions and biases that have long clouded our understanding of the ancient civilization, and instead center the voices of the Mayan people themselves in the telling of their history.

Dr. O’Neil began by providing context for the lecture, outlining the geographic location and major architectural achievements of the Mayans, as well as their relationships with other Indigenous communities in Mesoamerica. She then delved into the colonial attempts to explain the Mayans through a Euro-American lens, which erased enduring histories of Mayan presence and cultural continuity in their homeland. These erasures and colonial mythologies have had lasting ramifications to this day– from wild conspiracy theories of “ancient aliens” to the destruction of Mayan cultural heritage sites.

Along with a new generation of researchers, linguists, and Mayan script writers, Dr. O’Neil is dismantling misconceptions with a return to Mayan history told through encoded literature, oral tradition, and temple inscriptions. Together, they are deciphering ancient Mayan scripts which reveal the daily lives of everyday Mayans, legacies of powerful rulers, and artistic styling of Mayan inscriptions. Knowledge encoded as riddles within monastic manuscripts produced during the first waves of colonial Christianization the Mayan people are reemerging traditional records and regional dialects. Previous generations of scholars projected their patriarchal views onto Mayan art, but now, modern reexaminations reveal the egalitarian relationship between men and women in all aspects of Mayan societies. 

Professor O’Neil ended the lecture spotlighting the works of many contemporary Mayan artists who strive to reclaim Mayan culture such as Walter Paz Joj, a Mayan scribe who create new scripts inspired by ancient Mayan inscriptions, and Balam Ajpu, a Mayan hip-hop group who creates music to reclaim Mayan expression. She also highlights the work of numerous activists,like Victor Montejo, Demetrio Cojti Cuxil, and Avexnim Cojti Ren, who secure Mayan representation in research, access to their cultural spaces, and rights for Mayans to tell their own story on their own terms.

Professor Megan O’Neil’s The Maya: Lost Civilization is available at the Carlos Museum bookstore. Look forward to her upcoming projects and new exhibition at the Carlos Museum (2024) as well. To read more of Dr. O’Neil’s work, click here.

Matowacipi Horse (24C) Presents Her Flourishing at “Emory Explores the Future: Student Flourishing” in DC

On October 24, 2022, Matowacipi Horse (24C), participated in Emory Explores the Future: Student Flourishing in DC, joining President Fenves and other deans of Emory University to in a celebration of student success at Emory.

Matowacipi recounts that her experience in Washington was “absolutely fantastic.” It was her first time traveling to the nation’s capital, where she encountered numerous historical and political significant places. As a Native American, these places held meanings that she has considered herself separated from before being welcomed in during her visit to Washington.

Emory’s office of Advancement and Alumni Engagement invited Matowacipi as a featured speaker at the event. Matowacipi delivered a five-minute speech on her experiences at Emory and the resources and programs she used or was a part of, and then introduced the panelist of the talk who discussed what the university was doing to support students. At the end of the panel,

Matowacipi had meetings with notable Emory parents, deans, and alumni in DC, including John Troutman (95C), Curator of American Music at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. During their discussions, she learned that he works closely with Dr. Malinda Lowery and that she is opening an exhibit in December. He also offered advice for graduate school and pursuing one’s interest. Her overall experience was positive.

Matowacipi ended the interview with this important takeaway for students, “If there’s any struggle you are going through at Emory, whether that be community, identity, financial, mental health, how to look for an internship, get a job, how to write a resume, there is someone there that can help you, you just need to ask. Your work and experience at Emory is important, people are going to do whatever they can to help you thrive, and that you have the self-advocacy to ask for support.”

Indigenizing Emory: University Welcomes Muscogee People for Indigenous Language Path Listening Sessions

Emory University hosted its second series of Indigenous Language Path listening sessions on October 27th and 28th at Emory’s Oxford and Atlanta campuses. The events culminated with the Muscogee Teach-In on the academic quad.

Elected officials, spiritual leaders, teachers, and citizens of Mvskoke Etvlwv (Muscogee Nation) who flew from Oklahoma to their ancestral homeland in present-day Georgia for the listening sessions and teach-in.  This process of community consultation and relational accountability guides the Indigenous Language Path Working Group as it  takes next steps in its efforts to  assimilate Emory to Muscogee knowledge through the original language of the land.

Dr. Iris PrettyPaint (Blackfeet), from the Native-led consulting firm KAI, facilitated the listening sessions at the Oxford and Atlanta campuses. The sessions began with a welcome and an acknowledgement of Emory’s history of Native removal and slavery from Dr. Greg McGongle, Dean of Religious Life and University Chaplain This segued into the purpose of the Listening Pathway Session: to create physical, visual, and digital reminders of Muscogee present, past, and future. The mission is to correct the “past tense” histories of Native people commonly taught in schools. This session continues the work started November 2021 to engage Emory’s campus in open dialogue and furthering the commitments of the land acknowledgement. During the Listening Sessions, leaders of Emory University asked students to provide input on how the Language Path can be refined to meaningfully honor Indigenous presence on campus. Reverend Chebon Kernell, a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and of Muscogee Creek ancestry, spoke of our responsibility to respect and honor the earth just the earth provides for us.

The Muscogee Teach-In began with welcome and opening remarks by leaders from both. This segued to traditional Mvskoke hymns by Muscogee elders. The language teachers shared traditional stories, such as why the opossum has a bare tail or how the animals divided the day and night. Each was told in Mvskoke with English translation in Mvskoke Language Preservation Program. This was followed by the Mvskoke Cultural Lab & Stories sponsored by Brittney Cuevas (owner of Four LOCV) and Denise Barnett (assistant for Four LOCV) where participants created corn husk people. The event ended with a Stomp Dance led by Rev. Chebon Kernell. Students and faculty were invited to join the Muscogee dancers in the final social dances.

This Indigenous Language Path is one of several efforts at Emory to indigenize the campus in ways that honor and respect Indigenous peoples and their rights within their ancestral homelands

Support Brittney Cuevas and Indigenous craftsmanship here.

Emory Hosts Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Muscogee Delegations for Historic Stickball Summit

The Southeast Woodlands Stickball Summit Exhibition Game took place on October 15th at the Historic Fourth Ward Activities field along the Atlanta Beltline. Related to the modern game of lacrosse, Native American stickball (toli) is one of the oldest sports in North America.

Visitors to the Activities Field were greeted by the newly installed sculpture of two Chickasaw toli sticks created by event co-organizer Addison Karl entitled Itti’ Kapochcha To’li’.

The October 15 Stickball Summit brought together Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Muscogee communities to play their traditional sport on Muscogee land for the first time in two centuries. The first game played was the Chickasaw version of stickball. The object of the game was to hit a fish on the top of a pole in the center of the field. It is a social game: players were broken into men and women teams of which anyone could join to play. Teams encircled a 15-foot pole to throw the ball up to turn the fish. Second was the Choctaw version.  In this variation, each team has a goalie to defend their side’s pole and the offense players attempt to hit the top of the 10-foot pole of the other team. Players threw the ball over longer distances to cross the field while others centered around their pole to protect it. The last game played followed Cherokee rules. Their version was in set teams of nine and the first team to twelve points (passing the goal line) won. This game consisted only of men, and they play barefoot wearing only athletic shorts so their full body is connected to the earth. Wrestling is important in this version as this was the most tactile form to release aggression built over disputes. At the end of the game, all players purified themselves with water to wash away their dispute and resume peace.

Later the same day, the Carlos Museum at Emory University hosted a panel discussion. It began with a documentary of women reclaiming stickball within the Cherokee community. Afterwards, a youth delegation from the Boys and Girls Club of the Mississippi Band of Choctaws performed the Snake Dance in full regalia. This led into the discussion led by Dr. Natalie M. Welch, Ph.D. (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians), Addison Karl (Chickasaw/Choctaw), Casey Bigpond (Mississippi Band of Choctaw), Ace Greenwood (Chickasaw/Cherokee), Tosh Welch (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians), and Dr. Monte Randall (Muscogee Nation). They spoke of their connection to stickball and how impactful it was to play with each other in brotherhood. It ended with wisdom and strengths each panelist gained through stickball and how they pass it onward to future generations.

Atlanta Beltline sponsored the 2022 Stickball Exhibition with the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative and the Carlos Museum.

LeAnne Howe (Choctaw) Discusses Native Resilience Through Stories and Sports

How do we learn? Who do we learn from? How do we carry their lessons? These are some of the thought-provoking questions Dr. LeAnne Howe asked the group of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates gathered for her recent talk at Emory, “Embodied Tribalography in Fictional Characters and in Native History” on October 12. Dr. Howe is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation and the Eidson Distinguished Professor at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Howe’s talk began with an acknowledgment of Emory’s occupation of Muscogee land and  reaffirmed Emory’s commitment to build relations with the original caretakers of this land.   She then read selections from her new novel, 1918 Union Valley Road. Weaving evocative imagery of their family’s farm in Ada, Oklahoma, Dr. Howe recounts her grandmother’s stories life, love, and the lessons the birds taught her during the 1918 flu pandemic. Through a dramatic reading of the text, Howe connected directly with her grandmother’s anguish on the night her first husband succumbed to the deadly influenza.

Afterward, Dr. Howe spoke about embedded historical and spiritual knowledge in Choctaw games, particularly “base and ball.” She narrated a traditional Choctaw story about a dispute between the animals and the birds at the Nanih Waiya Mound. In this origins story, the central themes of hospitality, sportsmanship, and consensus formed the basis of Choctaw cultural identity.  At the pivotal point in the story, the birds were short a player. Eagle granted squirrel wings, and the flying squirrel played for his adopted team with as much dedication as his own. This story is embodied in the position of the Fani Mingo/Miko (squirrel chief) within traditional tribal governance, as this office served as an advocate for other communities outside the Choctaw Nation. In this way, sportsmanship ensured all views had representation in council discussions.  These values enabled the Choctaws to persist through the traumas of colonization and removal. Dr. Howe concluded by noting how these embodied stories enable resurgence and return of Indigenous peoples to their homelands through these ancient yet enduring ball games.

Dr. Howe’s talk kicked off the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative’s week celebrating Indigenous sports and was made possible through the generous co-sponsorship of the Hightower Fund, the Department of English, the Program in Creative Writing, and the Department of History.

View more of Dr. LeAnne Howe’s work:


Rose and Woodruff Libraries Acquire New Indigenous Digital Collections

On Oct 4, the Rose and Woodruff Libraries acquired more than 100,000 pages of North Native American primary sources. The North American Indian Thought and Culture project consolidated sources on People, Places, Historical Events, and much more. This is one of many new collections now offered by the Rose and Woodruff Libraries. Learn more about the new digital collection here.