Just yesterday I had picked up a copy of the 19th Bureau of Ethnology's Annual Report to Congress for 1897-98. The large green cloth bound volume was a throw-away from the Miami Public Library, found in their dumpster in the late 1990's and given to me by the fellow who jumped in and retrieved it.
Inside the book are the Myths of the Cherokee by James Mooney with photographs he had taken of places most Oklahoma Cherokees have never seen, not since our ancestors nearly 200 years ago had to leave experiencing the "enforced deportation" as that author described our removal. For me this occurred only four generations ago.
So while sitting with those Ottawa County tribal leaders, I was reflecting on all we collectively have embedded in our DNA, those experiences that brought each of our ancestors to be there together now and the resilience we must be demonstrating to the world by our continued existence. The three chiefs visible had relations who came to then Indian Territory as the Modoc from the state of California, having survived a War of Extermination, taken to first Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and finally found a sliver of land with the Eastern Shawnee. The Ottawa from northern states then to Kansas and finally home with less than 14,000 acres. The Miami from the vowel states Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, deported to Kansas then again to Indian Territory to stay on 1,400 acres.
Great Nations. Peoples who had thrived for thousands of years were thrust together in this little county and have surprised the historians, the Indian Agents of the past and have thrived and rebuilt and have come to find the pride our very government tried to deport out of them.
My humble asks were for approval of the University of Arizona's Institutional Review Board for their student's work with LEAD Agency on collecting oral history we are calling Water and Work Stories.
The other subject was to alert them about the American Rivers' Endangered River status Tar Creek gained this month and the asks that are associated with that: the MOU we want GRDA, FERC and EPA to get them talking to each other to solve the big problems here; asking Congress to reauthorize the Polluters Pay feature of Superfund and to ask EPA to go back to the table and come up with the big fix for this site. I asked for them to ASK for these actions.
The words from Woody Guthrie's lyrics Deportees was inspired by a plane crash in the desert near Fresno, California that killed 28 farm workers being sent back to Mexico.
"All they will call you will be deportees"
Throughout my life, perhaps yours, we have been told we traveled, we experienced a Trail of Tears, we were relocated, but every one of the tribal leaders in the room I was not present in had relations who experienced forced deportations. We all had relatives who did not want to come to Indian Territory. We were forced and not one of us experienced that ourselves, but connect with it and relate to those Trail of Tears Stories.
But we were forcibly deported from homes, gardens, graves of our fathers, and from the mountain sites in the photos James Mooney took himself in 1888 standing in places our ancestors knew to be sacred, places we have never viewed ourselves.
We were never called deportees, but as I listen to the news this evening and tomorrow and the tomorrows that follow, the deportees in those stories, they look a lot like our people, our tribal people, lost in a strange land, just as our great greats must have felt, hearing unfamiliar language.
They are us. We are them. We just were never called deportees in the local newspapers or in the songs of that day.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim