Monday, March 17, 2008

Tahlequah Day 5

We woke up in the morning to discover that the supposedly purple dye actually left everyone's hair pink. Such is life.

Our first event of the day was rafting down the Illinois River. What started as a rather uneventful trip ended up quite interesting when about half way down the river we encountered a tree that had fallen across the river. Each of the three rafts took a different approach to getting past it. One portaged their raft around the tree. Another got over at a place where about an inch of water was running over the trunk. My raft got out, stood on the trunk, lifted the boat over the trunk, and piled back in. We reported the fallen tree when we got back to the raft rental and they sent some people out to clear it.

We went back to the community center in Four Corners to change and then went to lunch at Katfish Kitchen. Everyone was amazed at how much food was available. The people there were very friendly and happy to have a large group at lunch time. The hushpuppies were a particular favorite along with large glasses of sweet tea.

After lunch we headed to the Cherokee Nation Courthouse to talk with the Assistant District Attorney and some others about legal issues the Cherokee face. The three biggest issues involve land, substance abuse, and membership. The land issue revolves around the fact that while Cherokee were guaranteed 110 acres of land when they moved to Oklahoma from Georgia and so some people have land scattered about at great distances. Substance abuse includes alcohol, marijuana and crystal meth. It is especially problematic amongst young people. The good news is that the Cherokee are finding effective ways of addressing these issues out of their cultural heritage.

The issue of membership in Cherokee Nation is especially prominent at the moment. There is a CA congresswoman who is attempting to take federal funds from Cherokee Nation because they are not including freedmen, slaves who were freed by the Cherokee during the Civil War before the US freed its slaves, on the grounds that they do not have Cherokee blood. The Cherokee feel that they have been grossly misrepresented in the press on this issue and are deeply concerned to preserve one of the only rights left to the Cherokee as a people, the right to self-determination.

Next we visited the Cherokee Heritage Center where they have a full scale Cherokee villiage set up as it would have been during the 15th century prior to Columbus getting lost on his way to India. As part of the tour we were shown how to use a blow gun. I was asked to demonstrate. I missed, but only just! Then we were shown how to play stick ball. This is a really interesting game because it was how the tribes resolved conflicts without going to war. The idea is that the winner of the game probably would have won the war anyway! The game is played by taking two sticks with baskets on each end and using them to hurl a small stone at a plaque hoisted about four stories up in the air on the end of a pole. There is a really interesting catch to this game though. Men, women and children all play, but only men get sticks. Women get to use their hands to throw the ball. Women also get to hit, kick, scratch and bite the men, but the men cannot strike the women. I was asked to try to hit the fish using the sticks to throw the stone. I missed. By a long shot. And I didn't even have a hundred other people trying to stop me! It's a fantastic model for resolving conflict. Wouldn't the world be a much more peaceful place if the Olympics determined disputes as opposed to going to war?

After stopping at the gift shop, we went to do our last bit of service for a woman named Lisa who is disabled. We cleaned up her yard and washed down the front of her house, which was quite a mess but was the off-white color it was supposed to be when we finished.

When we got back to Four Corners, we made and ate dinner and then spent a long time debriefing the week. There was general agreement that we have formed long-lasting friendships. I am deeply grateful to the ASB-Tahlequah team for letting me be a part of their week, both the service and the fellowship.

On the van-ride back to Boston, we stopped for breakfast on Sunday morning in Seneca Falls. My dear friend, mentor and colleague Allison hosted us at the Women's Interfaith Institute. As the team ate, Allison gave a brief overview of the history of Seneca Falls, womens' rights, and the work of her institute. The team was very receptive and glad to see some of the historic landmarks in Seneca Falls. I am extremely happy that my connection with Allison allowed this to come about.

Apologies for this last post being so late. On Monday night, the day after we returned, I came down with the flu and am just today returning to something resembling normal life. I also have sun burns and poison ivy to show for our efforts on the trip. Nevertheless, pictures are forthcoming in the next few days. In the mean time, have a blessed Triduum and a happy Easter.

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