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Historians raise concerns over Native American statue in Atlanta

Muscogee (Creek) Nation faults Tomochichi depiction towering over Atlantic Station

ATLANTA — A statue due to be a centerpiece in a new Atlanta park is historically flawed, according to historians who have studied its subject: Chief Tomochichi.

Schoolchildren learn that Chief Tomochici welcomed James Oglethorpe, who founded the English colony of Georgia. But that story is flawed, Muscogee Nation historian RaeLynn Butler said. 

"We’re not even sure he really was a chief," Butler told 11Alive News. "That’s probably a self-titled name he gave himself after he got banished from the majority of the (Muscogee Creek) Nation."

Unlike the fit and youthful individual depicted in the statue – Butler said Tomochichi was a fringe character who was well into his eighties when he met Oglethorpe.

Across town from the statue, workers have cleared a spot for a pedestal that’s supposed to be the new home of the Tomochichi statue – in the vast Rodney Cook Sr. Peace Park built in Vine City. The park will have statues of civil rights figures, including Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis.

Tomochici's statue is due to be the tallest, according to the park’s plans. "We don’t typically put people on statues," Butler said.

Rodney Cook Jr., son of the park's namesake, commissioned the statue. He said Muscogee (Creek) representatives, in the last few days, have offered to vet it with him.

"Now they’re talking to us and we’re thrilled about it," Cook said Thursday.  Cook said he has tried to reach Muscogee Creek representatives for several years, with little success.

One of their issues is likely to surround the absence of clothing on the Tomochichi statue. Cook said it was modeled from a famous painting. But preservationists said the depiction isn’t right.

"He had access to clothing," Turner Hunt said, a UGA-educated archaeologist and historian with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. "To depict him as someone primitive and savage to wear clothes like that... that’s just inaccurate. That’s the best way I can say it."

Cook said he hopes to resolve the issue in March when he said representatives of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation will visit Atlanta and see the statue for themselves.

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