Oklahoma: The Trail of Tears is Set to Become the Native American Story Once Again
The Top 10 Places to Visit to Learn About Native American Culture in Oklahoma
WORDS: MELANIE GREVIS-JAMES
People the world over are becoming more aware and more sensitive to the traditional rights of indigenous peoples. While this fight has typically been carried on by passionate advocates from within the various groups, that might be set to change. At least in the US.
In July, the US Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision ruling that almost half of Oklahoma was American Indian land. Three million acres of land in east Oklahoma was returned to the Muscogee Creek Nation, to conform to the original boundaries of the Nation set out under the Treaty of 1866.
This is a tremendous moral step forward. This decision shows that the country is recognising the fact that Oklahoma was the ultimate destination of almost 60,000 Native Americans during the mass migration of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek and Seminole nations along the journey that became known as the Trail of Tears. And that this part of the country has become truly Native American.
Returning the land to the Muscogee Creek Nation is a fantastic victory for a people who have been ravaged by coronavirus, yet still managed to find the strength to protest the US President’s visit to their ‘stolen lands’. We can’t travel yet, but when we can, Oklahoma, the Trail of Tears and the incredible, strong and unique Native American culture will be at the top of my list.
Here are the top 10 places to visit to learn more about the Native American culture in Oklahoma:
Top 10 Places to Learn More about Native Americans in Oklahoma
Cherokee Heritage Center, Tahlequah
The Cherokee Heritage Centre lets you experience how the Cherokee people lived over the last 300 years, including their history and vibrant heritage, as well as their migration to Oklahoma. Tour the displays arranged throughout the 44 wooded acres, included basketry, flint knapping and Cherokee stickball. You can also experience the horrors of the Trail of Tears with life-size sculptures depicting the emotional forced removal of the Cherokees from their indigenous territory.
Cherokee National History Museum, Tahlequah
Originally housing the tribe’s executive, legislative and judicial offices, the Cherokee
National History Museum is now dedicated to sharing the tribe’s history and culture, including modern Cherokee artist exhibits as well as historical artefacts.
Recreation Area and Chickasaw Cultural Centre, Sulphur
From the powerful ‘Removal Corridor’ to exhibits of traditional dwellings, the Chickasaw Cultural Centre lets you immerse yourself in the history and daily lives of the Chickasaw nation. Don’t miss the interactive exhibits and botanical displays as well, and join in the inner circle of the stomp dance to get a true taste of this incredible culture.
The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum is a wonderful place to be taken back in time to the American West. From Puebloan cliff dwellings to an interactive chuck wagon, you’ll experience everything the west was. You can even try your hand at grinding corn or weaving on a giant loom.
Red Earth Art Center, Oklahoma City
Set to open in September 2020, the Red Earth Art Center is undoubtedly the US’ greatest display of American Indian visual and performing arts. And during the Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival you can watch a celebratory parade of tribal spirit as representatives of more than 100 tribes overtake the streets of Oklahoma City in native regalia.
Sequoyah’s Cabin, Sallisaw
Sequoyah is a famous Cherokee silversmith who developed the written alphabet for the Cherokee language. He is memorialised at Sequoyah’s Cabin in Sallisaw which he built in 1829 and which you can tour today. Here you can see artefacts and learn the basics of Sequoyah’s working syllabary.
Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa
The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa is the home of the world’s most comprehensive collections of American Indian and Western art. Featuring everything from Navajo rugs and detailed jewellery, to breathtaking beadwork and intricate pottery, here you can feel the spirit and beauty of Oklahoma’s American Indian tribes through their art.
Standing Bear Park, Museum & Education Center, Ponca City
Standing Bear paved the way for native rights in the US. As a chief of the Ponca tribe, he’s famous for his landmark speech stating that all American Indians regardless of tribe deserved the same recognition and protection under the law as white men. If you can visit Standing Bear Park in September, you’ll get to see the awe-inspiring Standing Bear Powwow, and witness representatives from these tribes gather for intertribal dancing, singing and drumming.
Osage Nation Museum, Pawhuska
The Osage Nation Museum is the oldest tribally owned museum in the US. It has an
extensive photograph and art collection, as well as historical artefacts that focus on telling the story of the Osage people.
Five Civilized Tribes Museum, Muskogee
The Five Civilized Tribes Museum was the first Union Indian Agency building to house the Superintendence of the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek and Seminole). Because of this incredible history, it’s uniquely posed to convey the rich cultural history of the five tribes. But it’s also home to one-of-a-kind art and artefacts that showcase the painful American Indian journey.
Put Oklahoma on Your Travel List
Oklahoma has an incredible story to tell. It’s here where we can see the pain of the past begin to transform to a celebration for the future. And perhaps we can learn a little something about respecting indigenous peoples as well.
Images courtesy of Travel Oklahoma.
For more see the Travel Oklahoma website: www.travelok.com.
And for more about Oklahoma’s American Indian culture here:
Melanie is the editor and publisher of Our Planet Travel. She has travelled extensively throughout Australia since a young child – exploring and camping in many remote places. Her love of nature, photography and travelling continues to this day. She feels most at home in the desert and the wild open spaces of Outback Australia. Although she won’t say no to an eco 5-star hotel every now and then, too! Melanie also spent 18 months living on Oklahoma in the USA with her family, where her love of Indigenous culture was formed.
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