Emory University is located on Muscogee (Creek) land. Emory University was founded in 1836, during a period of sustained oppression, land dispossession, and forced removals of Muscogee (Creek) and Ani’yunwi’ya (Cherokee) peoples from Georgia and the Southeast. In the First Treaty of Indian Springs (January 8th, 1821), signed by the US government and the Muscogee Creek Nation, the Muscogee Creek were forced to relinquish the land which is now present-day DeKalb County and the home of Emory’s first campus, Oxford College, as well as the main campus on Clifton Road.
By all accounts, this was a coerced treaty. At the treaty’s signing, this tract of ceded land (included within 116 on map) became part of the State of Georgia. In 1822, parts of the land ceded in the 1821 treaty area were incorporated as DeKalb County; this includes the land where Emory University’s main campus (established 1917) is located. The town of Covington (founded 1822) also falls within the 1821 treaty area, and is the home of Emory’s Oxford College (founded 1836). Muscogee Creeks who chose to remain in the southeast were forced to move west into the Upper Creek towns in Alabama after their land was ceded. Many Lower Creeks living in the ceded area left Georgia and relocated in or near Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma).
It is significant that Emory University was founded in 1836, fifteen years after this First Treaty of Indian Springs, as the sons of the new settlers were beginning to reach college age. The 1821 treaty and others during this period led to massive land dispossession from Indigenous nations, and allowed for continued expansion of the Southeastern plantation economy and enslavement of Africans and their descendants. These facts also form part of the background to the horrific forced removal of over 20,000 Muscogee Creek people from Alabama that occurred in 1836-1837 and through which approximately 3,500 Muscogee Creek people died en route.
The Muscogee Creek Nation (OK) is currently the fourth largest Tribal Nation with approximately 80,000 citizens. The Poarch Creek Indians (AL) is the only federally recognized Tribal Nation in Alabama, and has approximately 3,000 citizens. In addition, there are several other governments and communities throughout the south and southeast that identify as Muscogee (Creek).
We are looking forward to seeing Emory University begin to reckon with this history and its enduring consequences, and begin to commit to reparative actions.
*The traditional spelling is “Mvskoke.” Current Tribal Nations use the spelling “Muscogee.”
*A number of recent discussions highlight the importance of connecting land acknowledgement statements to meaningful actions and resources, especially ones that do not reinscribe “settler-colonial” logics. (Also see here, here and here.)
*See: Native Land, a searchable map of Indigenous territories worldwide.
This statement was developed by Emory faculty Professor Craig Womack and Professor Debra Vidali, through consultation with leading historians of this region, including Historian of Emory University Professor Gary Hauk. Emory University has not yet adopted an official land acknowledgement. Please check back later this Spring for additional statements, in different voices, regarding what it means to recognize, experience, and acknowledge a relationship to the land that we are on and what it means to acknowledge and connect with the histories of this land and its peoples.
1. A Community for All: Indigenous Student Committee Initiative Statement.
2. Original handwritten treaty, First Treaty of Indian Springs, January 8th, 1821 (US National Archives).
3. Print version of 1821 treaty, First Treaty of Indian Springs, January 8th, 1821.
4. Muscogee Creek Nation (OK).
5. Poarch Creek Indians (AL)
6. Encyclopedia of Alabama, First Treaty of Indian Springs, 1821.
7. Map of Muscogee and Cherokee land cessations in Georgia (from Indian Land Cessions in the United States, by Charles C. Royce).
8. Nancy Seideman, “Lullwater and the Greening of America,” in Where Courageous Inquiry Leads–The Emerging Life of Emory University, edited by Gary S. Hauk and Sally Wolff King (2010), page 72.
9. Interactive map of history of Georgia’s counties and their boundaries. [Note, after the Jan 8th 1821 treaty, the ceded area became Henry County (May 1821). In Dec 1821, a slice of Henry County was carved up to form Newton County (Dec 1821), which is the county where Emory’s Oxford campus is. In Dec 1822, DeKalb County was created from various pieces of Henry, Fayette, and Gwinnett Counties.]
10. Interactive map of land cessations across colonial US and US by Prof. Claudio Saunt.
11. One of the first white settler homes built within present day Atlanta (1823).
12. Task Force on Untold Stories and Disenfranchised Populations (Emory University, Office of the President).
13. Christopher Haverman, Rivers of Sand: Creek Indian Emigration, Relocation, and Ethnic Cleansing in the American South (2016) and Bending Their Way Onward: Creek Indian Removal in Documents (2018).
14. Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory (2020) and A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians (1999).
15. Robbie Etheridge, Creek Country: The Creek Indians and Their World (2003).
16. Blog by Historian of Emory University, Professor Gary Hauk.