Native Americans join Mercer campers building app for Ocmulgee National Monument

lfabian@macon.comJune 20, 2014 

Taking the first steps on her ancestral land, Lainey Hill felt an internal peacefulness at the Ocmulgee National Monument.

“Your whole well-being just changes when you’re out there,” Hill said.

The 17-year-old high school senior from Wetumka, Oklahoma, and her cousin, 18-year-old Elisa Fields, from Owasso, Oklahoma, made their first trip to Macon this week to attend the Digital Media Camp at Mercer University.

Forty students from eight states are working on a downloadable app for the Indian Mounds property that was once home to the girls’ Muscogee (Creek) nation.

“It was emotional for me because that’s where we come from,” Fields said. “I had different feelings, good and bad.”

Both girls felt closer to their ancestors, who were forced westward.

“It’s almost like reconnecting because you see how they lived and stuff,” Hill said.

Now the girls and the other teens are striving to help visitors connect to the monument as they compile information for the digital application that will be an interactive tour.

“If you walk by a mound, it will prompt you,” said Tim Regan-Porter, director of the Center for Collaborative Journalism, which is a Knight Foundation-funded partnership of Mercer University’s journalism school, Georgia Public Broadcasting and The Telegraph. “It’s something that’s needed for the park. They have an audio tour, but they need more.”

The students, many who are interested in forging a career in journalism or digital media, have gotten exceptional access to the monument’s vault of artifacts and interviewed more than a half-dozen experts.

“There’s so much material, some that hasn’t been catalogued,” Regan-Porter said. “We’ll have material no one else has seen.”

Increasing the notoriety of Native Americans is what drew multimedia specialist Amanda Rutland of Mvskoke Media to the project.

Americans will travel to Mexico or Egypt to learn about ancient civilizations, but don’t know much about the people of their own land, said the Muscogee (Creek) journalist.

“You don’t really hear many people take an interest of where the five civilizations, tribes, come from,” said Rutland, who will be writing a newspaper story and producing a segment for television back home in Oklahoma, where the nation is about to hold its 40th annual festival.

“I hope it brings more awareness to the fact that we, as a people, still exist.”

Monument Superintendent Jim David sought an estimate on having a company produce a similar app, but it was too expensive for his budget.

“I was very excited when Mercer contacted me and told me what the plan was,” David said. “I was very impressed.”

Video clips, interviews and images at a vistor’s fingertips can enhance the experience.

Information about native plants on the property will also be included.

“With pictures and artifacts, it will be of great value to those in other parts of the country that have had an interest in Ocmulgee, but can’t get here,” David said.

During the week of camp that ended Friday, the students also have gotten a good taste of the many skills needed in hunting and gathering news for today’s consumers.

“Most of the professionals we talk to from outside news organizations, they started off doing one thing and their bosses expect them to do everything,” Regan-Porter said.

Hill and Fields both plan to pursue a career in nursing, but saw the camp as an opportunity to learn more about their heritage.

“I think it was really awesome,” said Hill, who was impressed by the park service’s accurate representation of her people.

She found one thing missing, a Creek Nation flag at the visitor’s center.

When she asked why they didn’t have one, she was told: “Nobody’s really thought of that.”

The girls’ great-uncle, who works in public relations for the tribe, will make sure one is shipped soon, they said.

While Rutland’s career involves documenting all aspects of her native culture, March marked her first visit to Macon’s monument.

She has been advising the campers about video and photography techniques as she works on her own stories.

The young Oklahomans’ reaction to the land resonates with Rutland.

“I think it’s a good experience for them, being young, to experience it now.”

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service