TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma – Tahlequah, the seat of the Cherokee Nation, marked a stop Thursday, Feb. 27, on an 18-day field trip for seven middle-schoolers from a small school in Burnsville, North Carolina.
The theme is "forced migrations," and one of the leaders, Brad Archer, is a graduate of Sequoyah High School and Northeastern State University, both in Tahlequah. Archer teaches social studies at Arthur Morgan School, a Quaker institution in the international Celo Community, formed in 1937 by Arthur Ernest Morgan. The school has 22 students in grades 7-9, and while it's a boarding school, some students live in the nearby community. Archer founded both while looking for a unique place with political leanings similar to his.
The Montessori-style curriculum includes the annual 18-day themed trips. The youngsters choose the topics to explore, then the staff narrowed it down to three. The groups travel on shoestring budgets, which students help plan and fundraise for.
Jibril Bachu, 13, went on an 18-day trip last year that dealt with robotics and technology. Another trip focused on LGBTQ history. Themes this year are philosophy, health care, and forced migrations, which is what brought this group to Tahlequah.
"My primary objective, as an educator, is to plant seeds of ending white supremacy. You have to be dedicated to being honest. The history of the U.S. is white supremacy. Until the nation comes to terms with the fact that we are a white supremacy nation, we won't move forward," said Archer.
The group will focus on push-pull factors that have driven three mass movements of people: the Trail of Tears; the post-Reconstruction "Great Migration" of Black Americans; and today's humanitarian crisis centered on the U.S. southern border.
"It's cool to see how the three things we're doing are somewhat similar," said Oscar Rause, 13.
This led students to discuss how those who migrated encountered different types of violence, including riots, in the northern urban cities.
"I jumped on this trip," said James Haley, 13. "I've been quite interested in politics. One of my weaker areas is immigration."
The group started by traveling about two hours to Cherokee, North Carolina. There they toured the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and walked part of the Trail of Tears. After a couple of days of travel, they arrived in Tahlequah Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 26.
Dr. Farina King, NSU history professor, gave a presentation to the group. She talked about the boarding school movement, and Archer hoped the students learned about the long-term effects of forced removal, and the modern response to white supremacy and what's happening in Native America.
The middle-schoolers had looked at the map in the museum of the Trail of Tears routes, and found where their journey started. They considered how the forced march would have been for the Cherokee people.
"It's not like walking our maintained roads. It was several months of snow. The ground was too tough to bury their dead," said Jibril. "Now, in theory, we could walk it. There are so many resources they didn't have."
Drawing from words and topics King talked to them about Wednesday, the students were to think about "survivance" and the evidence of surviving, as well as the Confederate monuments at the Cherokee square.
"Coming from North Carolina, where Confederate monuments are a big thing in our neck of the woods, think of the juxtaposition here," said Archer. "There is a monument to Stand Watie. For the Cherokee Nation, he was a hero. Think of the conflict that may create for values in the Cherokee who were suppressed to almost extinction."