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Saline Courthouse in Rose, Oklahoma

Looking along the porch.

In 1841, two years after the Cherokee in Oklahoma had adopted a new constitution, they organized into eight districts, and in 1856 a ninth was added. One of these was the Saline district, the center of which today is in Rose, Oklahoma: due east of Tulsa and north of Tahlequah. In 1883, the Cherokee government voted to build courthouses for all of its districts. Of the nine courthouses built, only the Saline district courthouse survives.

The Saline Courthouse closed in 1898 and passed into private ownership. It remained a private home (and sometimes a party pad) until the Cherokee Nation was able to purchase the structure and surrounding property sometime in the 1980s. The building was in serious disrepair at the time, and required some major rescue efforts from the Saline Preservation Association, Preservation Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Parks Department. Today the site is the Saline National Park.

I can’t think of a historical building in the country in a lovelier setting, though with all the gorgeous places in our amazing country, maybe there is a place that will give Saline a run for the title.

The spring house, just down the slope from the courthouse.

Beneath the front awning of the spring house, this inviting structure is built, to encourage you to take the water. It’s hard to tell, but the dark hole opens to two feet of crystal clear, cold springwater bubbling up.

The creek as it continues down the slope from the spring house.

A different view of the creek, as I made my way to the cemetery. One of our group pointed to the rocks and said, “This is limestone, and” he pointed out several spots revealing water bubbling right out of the rock on all sides of us, “This is limestone-filtered water. Any real Kentucky bourbon uses limestone-filtered water, just like this.” Since I’m a bourbon fan, this was of particular interest.

The courthouse, while not necessarily beautiful – since it was built for function not form – occupies an irresistibly green, sun-dappled place. It sits on a sloping hill above a generous spring that bursts from the ground nearby. There is a stone building built atop the spring, with sheltered access to the pristine and sparkling pure water from inside and outside the building. So much water gushes from the spring that it’s instantly a creek, that winds its way through trees, rock outcroppings, and the lovely Oklahoma hills till it reaches Snake Creek nearby.

The preservationists have addressed the courthouse itself, attending to the outside preservation first, by restoring the siding the roof and the vandalized window glass. Inside is gutted, but dry and clear and ready for the next step.

The kitchen area inside the courthouse.

Upstairs chimney restored.

At the top of the stairs.

Me, on the stairs in the courthouse.

There was no jail at the time this was used as a courthouse. None of them had a place to lock up criminals except the Tahlequah district, which had a jail. When criminals were on hand, they were chained to a tree or a wall and guarded until they could be taken to Tahlequah. Unfortunately, this is exactly what was occupying Sheriff Jesse Sunday when a storekeeper was shot September 20, 1897. He was far away, guarding prisoners when he got the news, and deputized someone nearby to take his place and headed back to Saline to see what was going on. By the end of the day Sheriff Sunday and the newly elected Sheriff Ridge had also been shot, in what people now call the Saline Courthouse Massacre. The murderer escaped from prison, but then then served a short tour in the Army and came back to Saline and lived the rest of his life in the community. Talk about a get out of jail free card.

I wandered in a wide arc around the area, along the creek, through the trees, and found myself at a cemetery. From the dates, you can see that these people lived here during the time this place was used as a courthouse, and was actually the center of a community.

A small cemetery sits beside the road, not far from the courthouse.

Next we went to see the Cherokee Nation Buffalo Herd. Our Chief is very excited about the buffalo and proud to tell us while we were in Tulsa that we would soon be able to see them. His excitement was contagious for many of the people attending the conference in Tulsa.

I was not appropriately impressed because buffalo herds are not that uncommon in the West. It seems like they would not be that uncommon in Oklahoma too, but perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve grown up seeing buffalo herds here and there, raised like cattle, and I’ve seen buffalo on the menu and in the meat counter. I’ve been close to buffalo herds multiple times in Yellowstone NP.

But still….buffalo are cool. And maybe here’s the difference: the Cherokee buffalo herd is out there just being buffalo. Not being fattened for market.

The sight was pretty spectacular, and I think you’ll agree.

One of the TV buffalo poses for me.

I wouldn’t mind being one of the Cherokee buffalo herd, if it meant living here.

Cherokee tourists.

On our way to the caretaker buildings, we spotted them from the road. The vans stopped and people exploded out into the gravel road with glee, stepping through thistles and nettles and cockleburs to lean up against the barbed wire fence to snap shots. The buffalo ignored us and we soon moved on.

When we arrived, we consolidated into only two vehicles and followed the caretaker (who lugged his year-old grandson on his hip the entire time – adorbs) as he drove us in a careful trek in a road defined only by the fact that you could tell cars had driven that route before. We crossed hills, forged valleys, and finally came out: on the other side of the buffalo! I was puzzled and frustrated about this. We weren’t allowed out of the vans and since I was squished in the back, and on the wrong side, I was not able to use my camera most of the time.

There are 92 buffalo in this herd, and they are living the life. I was glad to have seen them, their massive, massive bodies lumbering to get away from our vans, flowing over landscape changes like you see in movies. You know, that surge of giant bodies moving like a brown liquid into dry creekbeds and then up over mounds and splitting to flow around a tree.

Cherokee tourists now trapped in a van.

The “wild” buffalo. You can tell. Can’t you.

Looking back, as they make their escape from us.

Cherokee tourist beside buffalo sign.

Finally, when we had all returned and were talking in the shade, the caretaker explained that our buffalo have segregated themselves into two smaller herds. “The TV buffalo – those are the ones you saw when you came in,” he said, “and the others are what I call the wild buffalo.” The TV buffalo? Turns out, the group we saw beside the road don’t mind people, and tend to hang out by the road. When Oklahoma television crews come out to do a story on the buffalo, those are the ones they shoot because it’s such an easy shot. The other buffalo don’t like people, don’t go near the road, and don’t even mix with the TV buffalo. “I wanted you to see the wild buffalo,” he explained. “That’s why I took you out so far to see them.” Ok. All is forgiven.

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A gorgeous man’s shirt on display at the Gilcrease Museum.

The CCO Conference was open to all Cherokees, but there was a special trip planned afterward for At Large Cherokees. These are the Cherokees who live outside “the 14 counties” considered to be Cherokee country in Oklahoma.*

First thing Sunday morning we piled into vans and went to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, and arrived before they were open. This was because the Universe wanted to feed my soul. I had been inside a hotel for the greater part of three days and my nature-spirit was dying. The only thing to do while waiting for the doors to open was to visit the adjacent garden. I was also cold and needed to thaw out.

One thing I can never figure out about desert-dwellers is their love affair with air conditioning. And I’m not talking cool-things-off-a-bit AC, what I mean is let’s-recreate-the-arctic AC. If it’s 90 degrees outside, I think cooling things off to 70, maybe 68 is appropriate. But instead we get 54 degrees (maybe I’m exaggerating) and I need to wear boots and a jacket indoors when it’s summer. What a waste of resources. Anyhow, what I’m getting to is that my body needed some warmth. I flew in from a region with a heat deficit to begin with, and then was in a climate-controlled building. I was ready for summer weather!

Let me assure you, after 30 minutes of waiting for the museum to open, I turned into a much happier Crystal. Warm and filled with the quiet sounds and scenes of nature.

The garden has a walking path around a pond, where I tried to identify plants. Luckily I spotted the poison ivy before I walked through it, and also luckily another Cherokee near me pointed to a tree and named it. It was probably the first Redbud I have seen, and I thought of Laurie who is not shy about her love of the tree. The trail passed a demonstration Pre-Columbian garden with plants known to have been in those earliest gardens. Near that was a demonstration pioneer garden. I watched red birds flash through and could not get a photo. Then I listened to the most astonishing bird call that never repeated itself. Cheeps, trills, clicks, warbles – this bird had it all. I was in awe! I think it was a scissor-tailed flycatcher. Oh how I wish I could hear this Maestro every day. I spotted a frog and a turtle too. I’ve had a knack for seeing turtles lately. I didn’t tell you that I found one on my island in the pond at home before I left. But I did tell you about the turtle on the walking trail in Tulsa, and now a turtle at the Museum garden. Pretty good for a girl who has to wear glasses.

The museum has developed 23 acres into themed gardens. I walked through Stuart Park, which holds the Pre-Columbian and Pioneer Gardens.

Statue beside the pond in Stuart Park.

A turtle! One thing I did not expect to find in Oklahoma was so much water: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds…water is everywhere in this part of the state.

After my soul was filled up, I hiked back up the hill to the museum. I was in for a treat. The long name for the Gilcrease Museum is Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. It was founded by Gilcrease, a member of the Creek Nation. The collection today holds paintings and sculptures from famous artists of the American West, like Charles M Russell, Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Remington, Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe and John James Audubon. Our guide told us that the museum is famous for Southwestern Art, and since I’m from the West, that brings to mind a particular style of art. I was soon delighted to find that my assumption was wrong, and while the collection includes faves like original CM Russells (I’ve got a print on my wall at home), most of the art draws from creators across the Americas. Indigenous carvings and masks from Central and South America, a Tlingit totem pole from Alaska, a photographic collection of Indigenous people of the West, and another of landscapes. What I love the most, at nearly every museum, is the classic style of oil paintings of real world scenes that tell a story or beg me to escape into them. And portraits by masters. I could stare for hours at portraits.

The Gilcrease Museum leans heavily on Indian artists and Indian themes and Indian influence. It felt warm and validating to be there surrounded by Cherokee people, in a Cherokee part of the country, with Cherokee art on every side of me. I noticed the unfamiliar feeling of validation regarding this weak little Indian vein flowing through me and trying to get bigger. Wanting validation for being Indian is not something I think much about and did not realize I was craving it. Maybe it’s harder to be Indian when there is nothing Indian around me. But there in the museum, being Indian was practically cheered at me. It felt so good.

I think my jabbering will not add much to the experience, so I’ll just fill the rest with photos and captions. Please enjoy the ones I’ve chosen for you.

The Mourners by Joseph Henry

If I could hang Sierra Nevada Morning by Albert Bierstadt on a wall in my home, I’d never have to rent movies. I could just sit in front of this painting and disappear into it.

Blackhawk and His Son Whirling Thunder by John Wesley Jarvis

A painting of Mt. Hood! It was pretty fun to discover this one, while visiting as a representative of the Mt. Hood Cherokees.

I tend to love the paintings best in any museum, but this one had many other impressive displays, that were not of oil and canvas. Though we were not able to see it, there are documents here like an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. We saw less valuable but still exciting documents.

An actual cast of Abraham Lincoln’s face hovers above casts of his hands.

Our van driver, Kevin, gets a close-up shot of this amazing story created from string glued in place.

Close up

We spent a lot of time OOooo-ing and AAhhhh-ing over the Plains Indians displays of clothing, moccasins, and bags, with beadwork on everything. Some of the stitching and beading too intricate to be believed without seeing it yourself.

So many beautiful moccasins.

Dresses I would be proud to wear.

Indian toys.

Beaded tobacco bag.

Sequoyah

Plaque beneath the Sequoyah statue. Please click the image to be able to read it. Seqyoyah is the most famous Cherokee because, among other things, he invented our written language.

One of the At Large Cherokees gets a photo of the famous statue, found on many Oklahoma license plates.

*If you’re curious, this is from the Cherokee Nation website: The Cherokee Nation is not a reservation; it is a 7,000 square mile jurisdictional area covering all of eight counties and portions of six additional counties in Northeastern Oklahoma. As a federally-recognized Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation has both the opportunity and the sovereign right to exercise control and development over tribal assets which include 66,000 acres of land as well as 96 miles of the Arkansas Riverbed.

Back entrance to Tulsa’s Hard Rock Cherokee casino.

My feelings about casinos and American Indians are much like my feelings about potatoes and Idaho (I grew up in Idaho). With the numbers of truly remarkable, classy, academic, artistic, historic, record-breaking things to know about Idaho, not to mention the jaw-dropping natural wonders, it is sad and frustrating that people only know us for the potatoes. But then… if it weren’t for the potatoes, I think there are people who would forget Idaho exists.

Likewise casinos and Indians.

A few friends saw my trip to Cherokee country in terms of casinos. Before and during the trip, they asked if I went to a casino, or how many casinos, or recommended a casino. I debated whether I should intentionally avoid mentioning casinos in my blog and on facebook, in case I contribute to this skewed perception of Indians. I decided that I can’t change anyone’s perception. I’ll just write my blog for me. That’s how I usually do it.

Inside the casino.

I brought Bone with me, and you can see him as he contemplates his odds here at the slots on the left of the photo.

A fellow blogger at Wandering Through Time and Place introduced me to Bone, the travelling bone, who hitched a ride to Oklahoma with me.

I’ve got some neat stuff to share in the next several posts. The first half of the week was a conference at a hotel in Tulsa. You can get a snapshot of it if you read my previous blog post. The second half of the week was touring Cherokee historical sites, landmarks, museums, memorials, and administrative centers. We also had a class to learn some of the Cherokee language.

The Mt. Hood Cherokees in Portland have a sister community in Stilwell, Oklahoma. Our two groups were paired with each other by the Cherokee Nation in hopes that it would foster relationships and improve shared resources and ideas among regular people. This is to teach us to rely on each other as well as on our government because a critical part of Cherokee tradition is community, shared resources, and gadugi – working together for the common good. A few members of my sister group, Stilwell Public Library Friends were at the conference and they actively sought me out and made it a point to be at my service.

Dennis, me, and Regina

An 80s cover band, sorry I didn’t catch their name.

Even though a casino trip was not a part of the conference, a couple of the locals I spoke with told me that the nearby Hard Rock casino in Tulsa is a beautiful Cherokee facility with Indian arts and artifacts displayed and definitely worth seeing. I mentioned casually to Regina and Dennis from Stilwell that I tried to get a hotel shuttle to see the casino my first day here, but the hotel shuttle was booked. I was not asking for a ride, but they were powerless to resist the urge to help a nice lady stranded at the hotel. Saturday night after the awards ceremony, we headed right over.

A Dave Matthews display

Saxophone chandelier

Agreed: it’s worth a visit, and I used to live in Nevada, so I’d like to believe I can recognize a quality casino. The place is beautifully designed inside and since it’s a Hard Rock facility, there is wonderful music memorabilia on display. We took the time to wander throughout the entire casino and look at every display we could find. There were guitars and performance costumes and records of famous musicians. There were large collections of Elvis and Beatles memorabilia (Beatles shampoo – who knew?) The second floor holds some exceptional and tastefully displayed artifacts and sculpture. It was sort of a punch in the gut to see that the information plates do not advertise the artist’s name, but instead say something like, “Cherokee woven basket,” or “Cherokee Native beadwork.” Imagine going to a museum and reading the information plate and it says, “Oregonian oil painting.” It homogenizes anyone who lives in Oregon, and it diminishes the piece itself, and the artist. Clever artists put their names where the curious could find them. A couple pieces were signed. Dennis discovered that if you stand on tiptoes and look inside a clay bowl, for example, you will find the artist’s business card. Regina and Dennis recognized the style of several pieces, and guessed the artist for me. More than once, Regina sighed with disappointment, “But I want to know who made this.”

Detail from the Dave Matthews guitar. It looks like a friend probably took a sharpie to his guitar one night…

One of the displays is turtle shell rattles that women wear on their legs in a stomp dance. I have been told they’re quite heavy and it takes some strength and stamina to keep time with the dancers all night long.

In the conference room area, the hallways are adorned with some stunning pieces, and in this section, the artists are all properly identified. There is a satisfying variety of mediums, subjects, and styles. My favourite piece was Uktena with Crystal, by Jane Osti. I collect dragons and Uktena is the closest thing to a dragon I can find in Cherokee tradition. Cherokees know that Uktena’s power is in the crystal on it’s head, so that’s what the title refers to. But for a few minutes, Uktena was with another Crystal. I encourage you to do what we did if you find yourself in this casino: wander and soak it up!

And the place is a casino, too! What fun it was to walk through the jingling sounds, the machine noises so familiar to me from years ago and spending a lot of time in casinos. The lights are a riot of colours, blinking, strobes and mood-inducing illumination. The carpets are wild! The chrome polished slot machines and golden chandeliers reflected everything back at itself. People laughed, groaned, and whooped! We passed a live band, and each time they launched into a new cover of an 80s hit, the audience gleefully cheered. Gamblers, dancers, and nearby employees were all singing along and grinning.

Conjuration, by Fishinghawk

By this time it was too late to gamble, though we all would have been game for it if it was not so late and/or I did not have to get up at 6am (Regina and Dennis were driving home the next day and could set their own schedule). So after we had seen all that we could see, we left and went back to the hotel.

The next day I was surprised to find that our Cherokee group did go on a planned trip to the Hard Rock casino. Our itinerary just said “lunch,” so that’s how I missed the news. No time to gamble though, which is good, because I had not purchased any gifts yet and needed to save my money. We stopped by for lunch, and so we hit the one thing I had missed the night before: sampling the restaurants. We ate at the buffet and it was excellent! One of the best meals of the entire trip. It is often the case that casino food is out of this world, and I was absolutely satisfied with this meal. More than satisfied. By the time I got to pecan pie with whipped cream and ice cream, I was pushing maximum density.

Then we hit the highway and headed out of Tulsa on our way to Tahlequah.

The name of this piece is Uktena with Crystal, by Jane Osti, Cherokee National Treasure. Bone likes this one.

This scene is familiar to many of you, I’m sure. An expert speaker, a slideshow, a conference room. But the topics… now that is what made this weekend exceptional. Here, Scott McLeroy talks about humility’s role in leadership.

I have spent entirely enough time in conference rooms lately. A Cherokee Leadership conference (CCO=Community & Cultural Outreach) is exciting, yes, but also such a change from my regular life. Those clucking hussies, the hummingbirds, and my evening deer and coyotes seem so far away from me right now. And what I wouldn’t give to have my kitty curl up on me at night in this hotel bed.

Janelle Adair’s storytelling had me in tears. This is an ancient form of leadership teaching, and the effect, perfected over thousands of years, has an undeniable impact on the audience. I think all corporations should bring in storytellers.

The exchange is worth it, however. I am learning as much in this weekend of workshops about my Cherokee people than in the years I’ve been attending Cherokee meetings.  I was hoping this would happen when I had some immersion. For example, I walk the hallways between breakout sessions, and overhear groups of people talking in Cherokee. An unhesitating give-and-take the way people really speak a language (not the way they demonstrate, or practice a language, if that makes sense), with building or falling intensities and spontaneous laughter from everyone listening. (We’re Cherokee, and that means there are jokes being told.) It’s precious, you know, being able to hear your language spoken. I only realized that truth once I spent time in other countries, and then felt the relief of hearing recognizable sounds again, once I came back. Just imagine being a people whose language was dying out. It’s a scary thought. Luckily, the Cherokees are aggressively working to keep the language viable.

It’s hard to summarize what I’ve learned in a single blog post, because I’ve attended so many sessions on so many topics. What I have noticed, however, is that there are common lessons that come through over and over. That’s how I’m learning this culture. (My degrees are in anthropology, so that’s how I frame things in my mind.)

Dr. Tiffanie Harbarger talks about Cherokee relationships to land and water.

Every speaker is a Cherokee and/or Cherokee expert, and they keep saying things to reinforce our culture. Like I said above, “We’re Cherokee, and that means there are jokes being told.” I learned this to be true by spending time with Cherokees, and seeing it demonstrated, but also hearing people tell me the lesson over and over: Cherokees are always kidding around.

Earnie Frost told us about his journey to self-awareness, and how he turned his lessons into ideas for how to revitalize the Cherokee community.

In this way, I’m also learning what a matriarchal society is. Of course, I studied it in my anthropology classes, so I know what it is. But book learning doesn’t lay out in real-world examples what it actually means to be a matriarchal culture. Traditionally Cherokee men moved in with their wives’ families, and the children and possessions and home belonged to  the wife. At any point, for any reason, the wife could divorce the man by placing his belongings outside the home. Women had a lot of power, but a lot of responsibility, and the weight of keeping the family together rested on the shoulders of the women. One man told a story about trying to build a re-integration program for Arizona Indians, and met with failure until his female secretary berated him for not involving the women, and following their direction. Several people talked about going to Standing Rock, and talked about how women were/are instrumental in that movement. I hadn’t even thought of it before, unconsciously mentally erasing women from power and action, when it turns out they were the source of power.

cultures confusing each other

One speaker explained that when treaties were being discussed, the Europeans didn’t trust the Cherokees who included women in their business talks, and the Cherokees didn’t trust the Europeans who never brought their women. They didn’t bring their women, they wondered, what are they trying to hide from us? I heard about the pensions offered to wounded Indians who fought in battles for the US Government, and how the Indians were confused about the idea of widows and orphans being offered pensions for men who died in battle. They did not grasp the concept of women being victims when a man died. They did not understand the concept of orphan, because the children belong to the mother’s clan. Even if both parents were not living, the child belonged to the clan, and was not an orphan. Thus, when the pensions were offered anyway, and women went to collect for themselves and the children of their clan, their petitions were often denied. US officials sometimes knew very well that the woman herself did not birth a particular child, so how could she be so audacious as to try and claim a pension for the child’s fallen father, a member of the clan? Likewise, a man would go to do his duty to his wife’s clan, and seek to collect a pension for a fallen brother, related by clan, not by blood, and the federal officials were again confused.

My favourite speaker of them all was Anita Finger-Smith, who talked in great detail about the circumstances that resulted in the Eastern Band Cherokees remaining in their homeland when so many others were removed to Oklahoma.

I am learning this culture through the repetition of so many speakers saying things like, “As Cherokees, we understand community ownership, not individual ownership. When my mother used to make dinner, she would cook enough for an army. I’d ask, ‘Why are you making so much food?’ and she would say, ‘Maybe someone will show up.’ And sure enough, by suppertime, the house would be full.”

Many speakers talk about water. “As Cherokees, we consider our water to be sacred. It’s not just what we use to clean ourselves, but we drink it, we grow crops with it, we cook with it. Water is in every part of our life and makes up who we are.” Now, these things are true for every human. But when it’s said to you like that: “As Cherokees, we value water…” then you can’t help but assign a greater significance to the things you’ve been doing with water since you were born.

Joseph Erb, my new favourite Indian artist.

Rob Daugherty introduces Chris Welch.

Our keynote presenter was Tracy Spears, author, co-founder of a leadership organization, and softball player.

I don’t think I’ve made my point as clearly as I wanted to, but I hope with these examples you get the idea. I am learning so much good stuff about this important part of who I am. I am sad that I wasn’t raised with this teaching, but I am so grateful to belong to a Nation that works so hard to provide me the opportunity to learn, now that I have decided to educate myself.

Today we are leaving Tulsa and heading off for some touring! We’ll visit museums, cultural centers, and points of significance for Cherokees. We’re finally heading to Tahlequah, and the center of Cherokee government. I finally get to see some of Oklahoma besides this city block in Tulsa. I promise to take photos and post when I can.

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.

Litefoot graciously acquiesces a selfie with one of the group.

Litefoot is Gary Davis. And Gary Davis is a man with a mission. That mission is to inspire people to get up off the couch and take action.

At the last Mt. Hood Cherokee meeting, our new friend Gary Davis stopped by to share a few words. An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, Davis spoke about his interesting life story, but the story paled when he drove home a message at the end of his talk, about hope, tenacity, longevity, purpose, action, and faith.

He grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma but fell in love with a woman who lived in Seattle. She turned out to be smart and capable, as well as beautiful, and Davis knew that there was something for him in the Pacific Northwest. It helped that he’s a huge Steve Largent (Seahawks) fan. He’s lived in Seattle with his beautiful family (they all came to the meeting too!) since 1997.

Litefoot was gracious and generous with all of us.

Davis took the stage name of Litefoot and began rapping for his friends on the reservation as a teenager. His first rap album was produced in 1992. His music touched a nerve for some and resounded for others, bringing up painful or powerful topics from an Indian’s perspective, in contemporary music. He reached even more people with his first movie in 1995 when he was The Indian in the Cupboard.  He added television roles to his movie roles. And all the while he kept making music.

Back in the early days, Davis said, he knew what he wanted to do and he had a meeting with Chief Wilma Mankiller and told her about it. “I knew Oklahoma was not the rap  or hip hop capital of the world. What I wanted to do was bring a message to the people. People were hanging their heads. Other people recognize what we have to be proud about that we don’t even realize.” The Chief could have reacted in any number of ways to a young punk making modern music, and she chose to ask him to sing at a function for her. “But there’s one thing,” Mankiller said to him, “I want you to speak.” Davis said he thought he was nobody and had nothing to say, but he did as she asked.

The messages of positive action poured out of him.

It wasn’t that there was nothing on his mind, but more like too much on his mind. “Things have gone on for so long that people can’t even find a beginning point in order to find something to say. I prayed for the right words and 15 minutes later I stopped talking and people started clapping.” He knew speaking was for him. The high only lasted until the end of a show when a girl met him and demanded, “What did those Pilgrims do to you?” Davis said he thought to himself, “Brother, you have a long way to go. You have people with privilege who don’t even know they’re privileged.”

Since then he rapped in Kodiak, Alaska all the way across the continent to North Dakota and Maine. He was invited to perform in Rome. In 2005, he and his wife Carmen Davis started the Reach the Rez tour, to bring a positive voice to native people. To “get out ahead of drugs and suicide” he told us, “not once something has already taken place.”

Davis is every bit as active as he says people should be. I mean, he walks the talk. His message resonates with me personally. I can get a little uneasy among my Cherokee brothers and sisters, and I begin to feel like an outsider when I don’t find people who think about our heritage the way I do. So many Indians are about spirituality and artistic expression to connect to their indigenous heritage or to send a message. But that mooshy stuff simply doesn’t really resonate with me. I totally get that there is a power in activism through radiating your positive energy into the world. I totally believe that people’s lives are changed through creating or experiencing artwork. But…uhh…it makes no sense at all to me. Listening to Davis made me feel like I belonged again. Here is another one of us, and this man is about practicality and action. I am that kind of Indian.

Davis gives us his perspective on how things get done in Indian Country.

Members of the Mt. Hood Cherokee group listened as Davis inspired us.

He told us that someone once gave him a critical message: “No one cares.” We can moan about how poorly our ancestors were treated, or about how hard it is to get ahead now, and how racism and how cultural appropriation weakens our power, but it will not get us anywhere. People have too much going on in their lives to give us their effort and attention, and there are competing stories of need. “I care, because I am one of you,” Davis said. “But in general, people just don’t care.”

The answer is to become your own change. Do something. Volunteer, help build a home, help get legislation passed so that kids have access to better education. “I’m willing to think outside the box. It may not be the most comfortable for me, but I do what has to be done, in order to make it happen. People sometimes only see you for how they see themselves. They’ll say ‘We’ve tried that and it didn’t work.’ or ‘Nobody has done that.’ But don’t let their words limit you.”

Davis grew more animated as his message became animated.

“If it doesn’t speak to you; if it doesn’t resonate with you like you’re on fire, then get out of there! What is it that you’ve been born for? I love education, but it’s not the be-all end-all for everybody. What’s your thing? We need to know our own value. We need to know how brilliant we are.

“So many of us, so many Indians, have important things to do and we need to get out of our own way. Sometimes people live their lives as though on accident. Ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ If it is just about checking the box, it’s not the right reason. We are who we’ve been waiting for. There’s nobody coming, man. It’s up to us. We’re good enough to do this. We’re capable enough.

“We weren’t still supposed to be here in 2017. We were supposed to shrivel up and go away and die. Most of America doesn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning and see that we are still here. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Are we gonna sit here and talk about what they don’t do for hundreds and hundreds more years, or are we gonna do something?

“You can make excuses, or make a way. Just start. Take a step.”

Litefoot is working on his 12th album, scheduled to be released June 27th on the birthday of Warrior Kai McAlpin. This sweet little Cherokee tyke was sick with cancer on the day Davis spoke to us, and died three days later. It allowed us to hear Davis say “Kai is…” and we thought of Kai that day, alive and loved in Oklahoma.

A silver and orange moon floats just outside a gas cloud in the galaxy

A silver and orange moon floats just outside a gas cloud in a galaxy far, far away.

A friend of mine had a booth at the gem and mineral show this weekend, and invited me to stop by.

I parked and walked toward the Hillsboro Fairgrounds building, and passed several nerds with big grins, clutching recent aquisitions. It was then I knew I was going to be among my people!

My reason for going to was to visit my friend Joe whom I had only seen twice before, and then only for 5 minutes each time. Once at a Mt. Hood Cherokees monthly meeting, and once at our summer Cherokee Event. Through a telephone interview and several emails over the past year, we knew instinctively we’d have things to talk about, but until now the planets had not aligned to put us into each others’ path. Interestingly, that morning I told him I probably couldn’t make it because I was going to a picnic at a park in town, and was hoping to play Cherokee marbles in the rain with other Indians from our group. I walked around the park in the rain, watching children on the jungle gym and middle school girls play some pretty impressive soccer, but no one I knew showed up. Finally I discovered (via facebook on my phone – just love technology) that the picnic had been canceled and viola! The planets had aligned for once, and there was time enough to visit.

(Since there would be no potluck, I brought the fresh baked walnut-apple crisp home for myself. Score!)

Gem Show - perfect choice for a wet day!

Gem Show – perfect choice for a wet day!

These were the shiny jewelry-looking pieces, but I preferred the regular rocks.

These were the shiny jewelry-looking pieces, but I preferred the regular rocks.

My best friend just bought a house and I am convinced she needs this remarkable switch plate. How clever and beautiful it is!

My best friend just bought a house and I am convinced she needs this remarkable switch plate. How clever and beautiful it is!

We had a great visit, and things were slow enough that my friend took a break from his booth at one point to walk through all the booths with me. This was bad news. I am smitten with lovely things. And I do think rocks are lovely. Soon I was clutching several irresistible slices of stone. My friend selected an agate from the table of a lovely woman from Oklahoma (who, yes, also turned out to be Cherokee), and she handed me a tool I had never used before.

“You’ll need a loupe for that,” she said.

“A whatsit?”

The professional rock hound taught me how to use it, and I gasped with astonishment at the magnified Moroccan berber agate in my hand. I gasped in exactly that way the first time I looked through a telescope powerful enough to show me Saturn’s butter-coloured rings.

“There’s a cluster of stars here,” I told them excitedly, pointing at the rock. “And this is a whole galaxy! With a cloud nebula off on this side, see it?”

Joe chuckled and took the stone from me and said he was going to photograph it.

That’s why he was there at the show: to exhibit his art. This guy has fixed a magnifying piece to his beautiful old lens that he used to capture east Asia after he fought in the Vietnam war. The lens has served him well, and now it has a new life. At his booth he had a 17-inch computer screen set up for visitors, and his camera, screen, lights and computer in the back. For most people he explained what they were looking at, and how he made the images, but for some who eagerly handed over their treasures, he photographed their rocks.

The results are magical.

Two of the pieces I bought. The piece on the right came from McDermitt, Nevada. The piece on the left is my agate from Morocco.

Two of the pieces I bought. The piece on the right came from McDermitt, Nevada. The piece on the left is my agate from Morocco.

This is only one magical outcome of the rocks my friend photographs. Can you find this portion in my photo of the same stone above?

This is only one magical outcome of the rocks my friend photographs. Can you find this portion in my photo of the same stone above?

A different perspective at the same place on the stone.

A different perspective at the same place on the stone.

I sent a text to another friend and mentioned that the gem and mineral show was near his house. The next day I got a text back. He and his wife had gone to the gem show, and he bought a rock too!

Smoky crystals on my friend's rock.

Smoky crystals on my friend’s rock.

I am still curious about the Cherokee connection, right? The punch line doesn’t seem to include any Indians, but they were all over the story in the beginning. My friend who went the next day is from east Asia, and his wife is not indigenous American as far as I know.

I found the connection in an old email in which Joe talked about his upcoming residency at the Crow’s Shadow Institute on the Umatilla Reservation outside Pendleton, Oregon. He told me that in his art the Cherokee component is necessary. In his work he tries, in the Cherokee tradition, to see clearly and understand what is around us right now, and in that way make links to what has happened over time. One example of that is when he showed me photos of petrified wood, and I could see the cells! Cells in rock. Fascinating, don’t you think?

Whenever I open myself up to what’s out there in the world, I have the best adventures. Joe gave me permission to share more of his images, so I’ll leave you with them. Click to enlarge. Look for unexpected landscapes.

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New flag hanging at the house.

New flag hanging at the house.

Time for a catch-up post! It has been wet and chilly lately: unusually early for these parts, but I suppose that balances the remarkably early hot and dry weather we had the end of May and during June. The weather this week is unmistakably Autumnal.

And that makes me panic a little: wait! Summer can’t be gone already! I’m barely getting my mind wrapped around this new house and I haven’t spent enough time sitting back and enjoying it. Yet, if I think about it, I realize there has been much afoot, because I am Crystal and Crystal cannot sit still.

In different light, and in different weather, the landscape reveals itself to me. Typically the pond is so camouflaged that people don't even know it's there. But one morning it was all I could see out there.

In different light, and in different weather, the landscape reveals itself to me. Typically the pond is so camouflaged that people don’t even know it’s there. But one morning it was all I could see out there.

The pond on another day. Though it's in the center of the photo, it's hard to know I am looking at a pond.

The pond on another day. Though it’s in the center of the photo, it’s hard to know I am looking at a pond.

I had a housewarming party. For me this is a complicated negotiation of life goals and stepping outside my comfort zone. My Internet personality may not show it, and my real life personality certainly masks it, but I am a solid introvert. I find that being around a gathering of people is often so mentally exhausting for me that I usually prefer to avoid them. So planning a party? I was a dervish that week, spinning 14 hula hoops in different directions. Afterward – I am not kidding you – I spent two days not talking to anyone, not cooking or cleaning or doing anything that needed doing, and playing video games in my slow recovery.

Don't I know it!

Don’t I know it!

The background to that plan is that this summer my friend G came to see the property, and announced, “Crystal, you MUST host many parties. This place is made for parties.” I thought seriously about that. I’ve been pretty lonesome ever since Arno and I broke up, and I am adamant that I will not fall in love again until I am comfortable being without a partner. Parties would force my introvert self to make friends. 🙂

Also! I can take that risk as long as G helps me. In her I have finally found one of those friends that everyone should have. We have dozens of things in common, are delighted by all the same exact non-typical things, she’s as odd as me, she’s as mentally and emotionally unpredictable as me. So, while I have a lot of mainstream and socially acceptable interests and talents, now there is at least one person around whom I can fall apart into eccentric quirkiness, and she won’t bat an eye.

With her encouragement, I invited everyone I could think of to the potluck. I even walked to the house of the neighbor I hadn’t met, in order to invite her, and we had a great conversation. My Uncle showed up, my brother and his girlfriend from Seattle, people from work, a group of Tara’s friends, and the leader of my Cherokee group came out with her dogs. Friends that I’ve only known a couple months came out here. The weather was perfect, the food turned out amazing (a recipe for pulled pork I had never tried before, and some gluten-free enchiladas).

For all the hours that people were at the housewarming party, I never thought to bring out a camera, till we spotted the sun setting through smoky forest fire skies.

For all the hours that people were at the housewarming party, I never thought to bring out a camera, till we spotted the sun setting through smoky forest fire skies.

Tara is less afraid of heights than I am.

Tara is less afraid of heights than I am.

The housewarming party was a great success and I am riding that wave to the next one: a Samhain bonfire party, which must wait till the forest gets a good soaking.

Part of getting ready for the party involved painting the two living rooms, finished WHILE the first people arrived, ha ha. The house was a series of shades of white, but now we’ve got green, blue, and *purple* walls. I love the purple fireplace room – can’t wait to get a good shot to show you.

I’ve had an electrician come out, a fireplace inspector, a well and pump specialist…so much work to be done here, and so many things to learn. Appointments are all set for the experts to do their magic and get this place ship shape.

Seafaring robots dressed for the party.

Seafaring robots dressed for the party.

We attended a Tiki party at the home of Arno’s brother and sister-in-law, and I learned a little about being a gracious host. The gathering was relaxed and comfortably whimsical, because the couple fills their home and lawn not only with the best kind of people, but also with fabulous thrift-shop finds and creative inventions. Structures around the place included Tiki gods with fires, Tiki gods blowing bubbles and spewing steam, a monkey dangling from a vine, hula dancers shimmying, and a 12-foot volcano that erupted frothing bubbles. So much fun.

Left to right: they are Jamie, Tawny, Lacey, and Phil all misbehaving and getting ready to poop on the deck where they are not welcome!

Left to right: they are Jamie, Tawny, Lacey, and Phil all misbehaving and getting ready to poop on the deck where they are not welcome!

The Jeep is baptized in straw.

The Jeep is baptized in straw.

Learning includes taking care of the growing birds. My chickies are now practically hen-sized and hen-shaped, but no eggs yet. They are big enough to intimidate the neighborhood cats, so I let them roam free around the acreage during the day. They are getting saucy and healthy on grass and bugs, and they have claimed the place as their own. I have the worst time trying to keep them off the deck. One day I had the sliders open and I caught them in the house! I purchased my first bale of hay, and my first 40-pound bag of chicken feed. “What kind do you need?” asked the woman at the counter. “uhhh….” was my eloquent reply. Next time I’ll have an answer.

Robert Lewis tells a story with the help of audience members. Tara is on the right.

Robert Lewis tells a story with the help of audience members. Tara is on the right.

Tara's reed basket.

Tara’s reed basket.

Showing the colours

Showing the colours

Tara and I managed to get to only one Cherokee gathering this summer, but it was a good one. We went to Eugene for a combined potluck with both the Tsa-La-Gi group and the Mt. Hood Cherokees, for announcements by visitors from the Nation in Oklahoma, and awards and gifts presented by Chief Baker. Tara went directly to our friend Robert, who was working at the basket-weaving station, and made a gorgeous basket. Robert later told us some stories about our favourite clever hero: Jistu (Rabbit). We also got our full-color picture ID cards for the Nation, so fancy compared to the old paper ones.

Families sit on the beach in the evening, with a view of Longview, Washington.

Families sit on the beach in the evening, with a view of Longview, Washington.

A puff of steam from a factory looks ominous in the otherwise romantic evening.

A puff of steam from a mill looks ominous in the otherwise romantic evening.

We joined the local annual festival here in tiny Rainier, and gathered at a pretty park right on the Columbia River with hundreds of others as the sun went down. The Washington side of the river hosts a seaport, with barges and tugs, lumber and pulp mills and their narrow towers reaching to the sky and covered in lights. It’s not at all pristine, but I’m growing to love those sparkling towers at night. I can find beauty anywhere.

My new home office

My new home office

At work two announcements came that have captured my interest: first, a job opening for a new position that I am applying for. It’s still with VA, and in the same office, but on a different team. I’ve got 8 years yet before I hit my 30 and can qualify for a pension, and rather than 8 years of doing the same thing I’ve been doing for the past 8 years…I may as well try to learn a new job and keep my brain fired up! So cross fingers for me. The other announcement came this week: no more mandatory overtime! Thank the gods! I cannot even express to you how wiped out I am from 4 years of mandatory overtime. Who knows when VA will find more money and set us back at it again…but for now, I am going to revel in the luxury of a regular 40-hour work week.

That is enough news for now. I’ve jabbered long enough. I’ll leave you with a couple more deer photos. I know it’s old news, but I still love to see them.

The most I have ever seen on the land at one time.

The most I have ever seen on the land at one time.

Look at how pretty this Black-tailed deer is.

Look at this pretty Black-tailed deer.

A view of Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden from the entrance.

A view of Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden from the entrance.

On Wednesday, my regular day off, I wrapped up a draft of the Mt. Hood Cherokee quarterly newsletter much earlier than I expected to. I sent it off for review by another Cherokee in my group, and then I had a whole day in front of me.

It would have been a good time to vote. I’ve got the ballot sitting on the table, and it must be received in Tahlequah by June 27, 2105. I know exactly who I want for Chief, and I’ve known for at least a year. I know who I want for Deputy Chief. The holdup is because there is also an At-Large Councilor position open, and ten candidates for it.

The Cherokee Tribal Council includes 15 members representing citizens in local districts (local being the northeast corner of Oklahoma), and two additional representatives representing Cherokees who live elsewhere. You guessed it, I’m one of those “elsewhere” Cherokees, so electing the At Large Councilor is actually something I really care about. We are rather excluded way out here, and I’d like to have a representative who keeps us in the loop.

The Cherokee Phoenix has posted interviews with all the candidates online. I have resolved to read every one of them before I make my choice. I’m saving it for another day, however, because for the first time in weeks I had a break to go do something unproductive, and I wasn’t in the mood to stay indoors and study election interviews.

One of the few new blossoms

One of the few new blossoms

The woman at the ticket counter came outside to feed "her pets," as she called them. See the rhodie behind them? That is what most of the flowers looked like this day: brown and wilted.

The woman at the ticket counter came outside to feed “her pets,” as she called them. See the rhodie behind them? That is what most of the flowers looked like this day: brown and wilted.

Flowers hover above us.

Flowers hover above us.

A friend of mine was free to join me, but only for 2 hours, so I pulled up a map of Portland and scanned for nearby city parks I haven’t explored yet. I found something I had never before seen in Portland: a rhododendron garden. It was meant to be, since I had just been raving at the photos from a rhododendron garden posted by my former University Advisor who lives in Boston. It’s late in the season here, but I thought it might be worth a try, in hopes of finding late bloomers.

The garden is also named after me, so that is another reason to go! Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden is next to the Willamette River on the east side, where I am. It was only a 20 minute drive. It had been raining all morning and we practically had the park to ourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I was reminded of when M and I visited The Butchart Gardens.

You will almost certainly have seen rhododendrons because they grow all over the world, in different habitats and elevations. I grew up thinking it was an Oregon native, since it grows wild and profusely in the forests here. This showy plant is indigenous to Asia, and is the Nepal national flower. It likes mild climates and lots of rain – hello UK!

Most of the flowers at the garden had browned, wilted, and dropped, because of the season. But as the photos show, there remained plenty of colour to gaze at. We were also distracted by the many ducks and geese. The woman who sold us tickets to enter (only $4) said that people in the neighborhoods drop off their domestic ducks when they get tired of them. (I have heard that people also do this in Laurelhurst Park, in another part of town.)

Towering flowers

Towering flowers

one of the waterfalls

one of the waterfalls

 

 

 

 

Dogwoods were blooming too!

Dogwoods were blooming too!

The pink is lovely against the tree trunk.

The pink is lovely against the tree trunk.

Purple!

Purple!

Water droplets make the salmon blossoms seem even more succulent.

Water droplets on salmon blossoms.

This shade of pink seems to be the most common, and is the colour I most frequently find in the wild.

This shade of pink seems to be the most common, and is the colour I most frequently find in the wild.

This lawn is used for events such as weddings.

Events, such as weddings, are held in this space.

I know this photo doesn't look like much, but they were otters! I am excited to show you a pair of otters.(You'll have to trust me.)

I know this photo doesn’t look like much, but they were otters! I am excited to show you a pair of otters.(You’ll have to trust me.)

It was raining when we left the car, but the weather slowly changed as we walked the grounds, turning warm and muggy – but no longer wet. Is that better weather? I’m not sure.

It was a nice stroll. We didn’t get very wet, and there were a surprising number of rhodies still blooming. Then I returned home and filled a couple more boxes with stuff, getting ready for my move.

Tara came home from their last day of school. Last day of high school and last day of that chapter of life. In celebration we went out to eat and properly stuffed ourselves at Olive Garden.

A wood duck tucks his bill into his feathers.

A wood duck tucks his bill into his feathers.

A Mallard copies the pose of the wood duck.

A Mallard copies the pose of the wood duck.

I love this photo. He seems so curious and open.

I love this photo. He seems so curious and open.

I am not familiar with this duck and will have to look it up.

I am not familiar with this duck and will have to look it up.

This one must be domestic. What a pretty brown colour.

This one must be domestic. What a pretty brown colour.

Babies!! They came bobbling after us, hoping for treats. Mom and dad Mallard hovered nearby.

Babies!! They came bobbling after us, hoping for treats. Mom and dad Mallard hovered nearby.

Here, it's so damp that even the tree trunks grow moss.

Here, it’s so damp that even the tree trunks grow moss.

On of the funnest things about rhododendrons is that they can grow into tree-sized bushes. I like the effect of flowers over my head.

On of the funnest things about rhododendrons is that they can grow into tree-sized bushes. I like the effect of flowers over my head.

One of the bridges in the garden.

One of the bridges in the garden.

The ostentatious blossoms are individually gorgeous, and when grown in bunches, inspiring.

The ostentatious blossoms are individually gorgeous, and typically in bunches, so multiple beauties packed together.

This scene reminds me of turn of the century landscape paintings

This scene reminds me of turn of the century landscape paintings

I am standing with Chief Baker as he presents the Cherokee Warrior Award.

I am standing with Chief Baker as he presents the Cherokee Warrior Award.

Who is this great warrior? Me!

Cherokee Warrior Award

Cherokee Warrior Award

I admit it is awkward and unusual to think of myself as an Indian warrior. But if the Cherokee Principal Chief is comfortable with it, then there is no reason for me to hesitate.

I was given the tremendous honor of being nominated by the board members of the Mt. Hood Cherokees. I am particularly grateful to our leader, David, who talked me into putting my name forward, when the idea of representing the group seemed like more of an honor than I deserved.

My Tara willingly gave up a dress rehearsal for her evening performance so that she could be there with me.

My Uncle Dwight and Aunt Joyce came up from Lebanon, Oregon and were able to see the ceremony.

Chief Bill John Baker presented me with a gorgeous framed certificate showing the Cherokee Warrior’s Memorial in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, as well as a medal he pinned to my blouse. Before I knew what was happening, he popped a microphone into my hand and said, “Do you want to speak?” Answering his question honestly, I answered, “No,” with a smile. “But since I have a microphone in my hand, I will.” And I thanked my Mt. Hood Cherokees for nominating me, and I said how much of an honor it was.

"No, in answer to your question, I do not want to speak to the crowd."

“No, in answer to your question, I do not want to speak to the crowd.”

Chief Baker said to me as I approached him, “Finally, a woman!” And I thanked him for saying that. It may be obvious by my own comment above that even *I* have fallen into accepting the incorrect social stereotype that a warrior is not a woman. And that an honored veteran is not a woman. My own At Large satellite group is sending a message that we aren’t trapped by stereotypes, and I am happy to be the face of that message.

It was a great day for a Cherokee picnic. Many of our Oklahoma Cherokees came out to share information about Indian education and student scholarships, basket-weaving, and voter registration. They were assigning photo ID cards for Cherokee citizens (which I never signed up for: too much going on that day!). We had music from two traditional flutists.

And storytelling.

Me, Robert, Tara

Me, Robert, Tara

Robert tells us a story about clever Jistu (Rabbit)

Robert tells us a story about clever Jistu (Rabbit)

I can’t say which was the best part of the picnic: receiving the warrior award, or seeing our storytelling friend, Robert, again. Both could have made my whole day on their own, together they just buoyed me beyond belief.

I’ve blogged about Robert Lewis in the past. His personal style of telling the tales of Cherokee history is to bring up audience members to tell the story with him. It’s engaging and funny and educational. Robert’s got a huge love of people and joyfulness, and his energy is irresistible. He’s an art teacher at Northeastern State University and has to miss the first day of school on Monday because of this trip to Portland and Seattle. I’m sure he’ll ease right into the school year with grace later on this week.

Then, we ran around and said goodbye to old friends and new friends and my Aunt & Uncle and off we went for the next big even of the day: Tara’s ballet performance at Washington Park! That post will come next.DSC_0884

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