Oklahoma Vacation

On the way into Denver, my view looked like this.
On my way into Tulsa, my view looked like this.

I’m in Oklahoma. Before today I had never been here on purpose, though I did drive through a few times on the Interstate.

Monday, a co-worker asked me the purpose for the visit. “Dream vacation!” I quipped. He replied, “Your idea of a dream vacation is different than mine.”

My little joke sat in my head that day.  Oklahoma seems to be perpetually the butt of jokes. Another co-worker recommended I watch a stand-up comedy routine disparaging Oklahoma. My dental hygienist remarked that her father was from Oklahoma, and someone asked once if he ever missed it, after he moved to Oregon. The man laughed.

And isn’t that exactly the point? In fact, it’s uncomfortable for me to think about it. The terminus of the Trail of Tears continues to this day a place that many people don’t value. It is the reason why east-coast Indians are here. I am hoping to improve my perception of Oklahoma before I go.

I have mentioned before that I belong to an Oregon group called the Mt. Hood Cherokees. We are one of 22 official satellite groups recognized by the Cherokee Nation. We call ourselves “At Large” Cherokees.

Years ago, our modern Cherokee Nation became concerned at the large number of individuals and groups with very little real training or experience who were claiming to be able to pass on genuine Cherokee knowledge and traditions. At the same time, many Cherokees, or people believing themselves to be Cherokees, sought out these groups and the information they held, sometimes even paying for the erroneous information, hoping to make a better connection to their ancestry. Unfortunately, wrong information was widely spread as genuine Cherokee knowledge.

The losers in this scenario were not just the duped hopefuls, but also the Cherokee Nation, already a fringe society in the United States, but now actively undermined as people began studying information that was not authentic to the Cherokee way of life. The Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, created Community & Cultural Outreach (CCO) and Community Organizing Training and Technical Assistance (COTTA). From the Nation’s website: “The CCO-COTTA program’s mission is to assist community organizations ability to increase their effectiveness; enhance essential services to those most in need, and build upon the organizational capacity of each community, diversify resources, and create collaborations to serve those in Cherokee Communities.”

When an At Large group meets the Nation’s requirements, it is officially recognized. Once recognized, the Nation then proactively supports the group by periodically sending employees who are experts in different fields of the arts, histories, language, government, and traditions.

Another step the Nation took was to create an Annual Conference of Community Leaders that is designed to teach visiting At Large Cherokees more about life close to the heart of the Cherokee Nation. The conference also provides workshops with tools the satellite groups can use, like how to manage (or get!) donations or how to manage our social media presence. The At Large groups each have a council, and the council votes on a representative. Once the selection is approved, the Nation provides resources to assist the traveler.

In 2017, the council selected ME! I am so excited.

Canada Geese mildly annoyed by my interest.
Yellow-crowned night herons equally tolerant as I approached, pointing my phone at them.

I started this post talking about how Oklahoma gets picked on. Through the Cherokee Nation visitors I’ve met over the years, I’ve come to see there is a great love of the land of Oklahoma among Cherokee people. I’m hoping to learn more about that love.

I did not expect to find a trail within easy walking distance of my hotel.

Stuck for hours in a slow part of Tulsa with no car, I went for a walk and stumbled quite unexpectedly upon a path beside Mingo Creek that begins about two blocks from my hotel. I followed the path, sharing it with a fisherman, some joggers, some dog walkers, some kids, and eventually came to a park. I explored the park, then wandered back, admiring the homes that some people are lucky enough to have right on the edge of this green space. The entire walk was through green grassy fields with huge trees all around me. I found birds and a turtle!

I have only been in Oklahoma a few hours, but I think I’m already on the right track.

11 thoughts on “Oklahoma Vacation

  1. Wish I had known you were going to Oklahoma. Hope you didn’t get caught outdoors during some of the stormy weather. If you go to Warner try to visit the old Bennett Cemetery west of the Connors State College campus built on one of my grandparents’ allotments. The cemetery contains graves of many of my forebears among the Mulkeys and Fraziers. Hope you enjoy your visit. The Illinois River is great for kayaking if you like that kind of thing. Also try to attend a Stomp Dance, preferably at the Stoke Smith grounds near Vian on second and fourth Saturdays. Enjoy!

    1. Hi Frank! Sorry you didn’t realize I was going. I assumed I chatted about it last time I saw you. My schedule is pretty jammed with workshops and speakers, but I’ll definitely keep an eye open for a chance to do more. Sunday we head to Tahlequah, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m pretty sure they have a Stomp Dance demonstration scheduled for us, but I don’t expect to attend a real Stomp Dance. I’ll save that for my next visit.

  2. How wonderful that this opportunity popped up for you just now. A great break from the routine of the work world. Been thinking of you quite a bit since your last visit. Tech Support was asking how you were yesterday. He’s here for a week and then off again. I had family from there and have been several times. It’s just like all the other mid-west states. They do get so many storms though. Enjoy every minute. Hugs.

    1. I am glad for the trip as well. Seems like the Universe loves to help me out with the timing of things. I am truly blessed (for an atheist, ha ha!) and fortunate to have so many beautiful, advantageous, lucky things happen to me in my life. Now, I have to pay it back by getting as much out of this as I can.

      I was blown away by today’s lessons (4 workshops). Yipes, I want a week just to process it all, but tomorrow there will be 5 more workshops. Wow! What an opportunity-packed event. It’s a bit hard on me mentally, being jammed in with people (apparently 500 attendees, plus staff of the event, and local organizations promoting their services, plus hotel staff assisting at all times). I have been bumping into people, squeezing between a crush of chairs in too-full conference rooms, saying “excuse me” all day long. *sigh* It’s an adjustment, when I can go almost a week sometimes without seeing another human.

      I could use a glass of wine. I’m in the mood for white. I’ll be right over. 😉

      1. I’ll get another bottle of white chilled right away. I somehow have not been getting notifications or comments right away. There has been a small glitch. More later.

    1. Thank you Derrick! My first full day is nearly over and it has already been so educational, and eye-opening. I’ve been adopted by a women’s group, and they are only slightly more embracing than everyone else. I have met a couple of people for the first time and received actual hugs! Everyone is excited to meet another Cherokee and learn something new about each other. The workshops are incredibly high-quality and I am already so impressed with my first exposure to Cherokee country. You will hear more, for certain.

  3. NOW I get it!
    How cool that you were elected to be the representative, and since I’ve gone backwards, I now know what an incredible experience you had.

    1. ha ha ha! Glad the mystery was revealed!

      It was a wonderful experience, and I am so grateful to my local Tribal Council for voting for me to be able to go. I’m honored that they gave me this gift, which has really enriched my life, and how I understand myself.

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