"One's destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things."
The forced replacement of Cherokee Indians from Georgia to Oklahoma was aptly named The Trail of Tears. Not just for those who made the trek, but also for those hearts that break a hundred years later upon hearing the story. In my opinion there is no better place to live than the US of A. That said it doesn't take away some of the black spots in the history of our great country. It is estimated that over 4000 of the 15000 Cherokee who were transplanted to what was called Indian Territory (in the present day state of Oklahoma) died on the march. Standing on/near the spot where so many Native American people ended their tearful journey made me weep with shame.
"I fought through the War Between the States and have seen many men shot,
but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew."
~ Georgia soldier who participated in the removal
On Wednesday (Oct. 12) of our trip, the Good Goers team spent the day at the Cherokee National Museum. We were ushered through a typical Cherokee village and a museum full of artifacts, art, traditional crafts and historic records.
When I walked in the door of the museum a wooden sculpture by Willard Stone took my breath away. Exodus is part of a trilogy of sculptures. Although it depicts a Native American mother with a baby on her back, I immediately thought of Mary, the mother of Jesus and how she must have had her own trail of tears as she followed him to the cross.
Near the same area of the museum entrance there was a cross section of a tree that was just a sapling when the Cherokee arrived in Oklahoma. The tree fell down a couple of years ago in an ice storm. Dates and important events were marked on the age rings of the tree. Apart from the rest of the group who were looking at native-made souvenirs, I stood next to the tree and prayed. With my hand gently caressing each ring, I felt as if it was speaking to me. Not so much in words as in feelings. I imagined a cross-section of my own heart. Concentric circles representing good times, others when it felt wounded. Yet, in the stillness of the moment I had a knowing that the Creator always walks with me, like the wind and rain and sun on the tree. It feels especially true this year as my personal trail of tears leads me from my past to my future. I'm aware of the hands of the Divine Comforter wrapped around me, holding me close.
The Cherokee were part of the 5 tribes (Cherokee, Muscogee Creek, Seminole, Chicasaw, Choctaw) that were known as the "civilized." They lived in permanent structures often inside palisades to keep out raiders. Our guide said most people are surprised to see they didn't live in tee pees.
We watched a man make arrowheads from a piece of rock with nothing more than an antler, and another showed us how his bows and arrows were formed. Demonstrating his talent for accuracy, his arrows flew straight and fast into a target across the compound that I could barely see.
Women made baskets for cooking and carrying. Like the sea-grass baskets we saw in Charleston, each were intricately made for both functionality and beauty. We sat inside a large lodge where community decisions were made, tried to imagine scoring goals at the top of a pretty tall pole on the stickball field and stood outside a church - a large circle with a fire pit in the middle. This is where stomp dances were held. Men and women (with turtle shell rattles on their legs that weighed several pounds) danced and prayed around the fire from sundown to sunup. Their prayers floated to heaven on the rising smoke. We also walked through a more modern village that depicted what it life might have been like after the Cherokee settled in Oklahoma.
After eating an al fresco lunch of ham sandwiches and scarfing down chips and homemade cookies, we packed back in the van and headed for the 5 Civilized Tribes Art Gallery and Museum in Muskogee. It was hard not to sit and stare and be awed by the talent represented there. Although I came away without emptying my wallet, I fell in love with a picture by Native American artist Troy Anderson called "Daughter of the Sun" - a young Indian maiden surrounded by red birds. Whenever I see redbirds, I think of my grandmother. Since the day was spent looking back, I felt like the painting was a reminder to me of the people in my life who are no longer here.
I think this post is longer than a boring slide show. I'm not sure how to wrap it all up. In many ways the day linked together the past history and present day life of the mission children. Many of them have been abused and broken through no fault of their own. Their stories are full of tears and heartache. But at night, after dinner when I sat on a picnic bench and watched them run and play and laugh, I began to understand how important the work of the mission is. Started by Moravian missionaries who traveled from Georgia with the Cherokee then passed through the hands of the Lutheran church, the Oaks Indian Mission is now a private entity and has to raise all it's own funding. To say it is a daunting task would be an understatement. The work we did was nothing special, a coat of paint here, some weed whacking there, but it humbled each of us on the team. For five days we lived Mother Teresa's words ...
"Let us not be satisfied with just giving money.
Money is not enough, money can be got,
but they need your hearts to love them.
So spread your love everywhere you go."
... and it easily did as much for us as it did for those we served.
Today I'm grateful for reminders of things past and hope for things to come.
P.S. Not sure how I neglected to mention one of the best parts of the day. For people who were 3 days into fast food withdrawal, a stop at Cherry Berry, a self-serve frozen yogurt store, was a particular delight. I'm from the school of thought that says if you're going to eat something cold and covered in sprinkles, you might as well go all the way with real cream and sugar and "just say no" to the yogurt. However this stuff was so good, I was fooled into thinking I was eating something decadent. With so many choices of flavors and toppings, it was no surprise that there was a steady stream of customers coming in the door and the Good Goers returned to the mission refreshed.