My grandmother used to tell me that we were related to Pocahontas. I believed her – after all she had dark hair, dark brown eyes, brownish skin, incredibly high cheekbones AND her grandmother’s last name was Youngblood. Unfortunately finding proof of that ancestry proved to be very difficult because so many records for Native Americans have been lost. Over the years I dug around a little bit but eventually gave up. I thought a press trip to the capital of the Cherokee Nation might be just the thing I would need to discover my true American heritage.
The Trail of Tears Museum has a room totally dedicated to ancestry. They will look up a name for you on the Dawes Roll and if that doesn’t work, they will give you some suggestions for finding the right information. They did this for me. I found out that Young Blood was also a Welsh name which means I have to do more digging!
But the ancestry search is just one part of the Trail of Tears Museum and not the part that will get kids excited. This photo will show you what will get kids excited. Some grade school kids who were touring the museum at the same time I was were literally stopped in their tracks. I heard a collective sharp intake of breath, silence and then ooohs and aahs as they became part of the story.
What to Do in Cherokee Nation
Will Rogers Memorial Museum The Cherokee Kid, Will Rogers, is still celebrated after 131 years in the small town of Claremont, Oklahoma, and rightly so. Way before it was cool, Will Rogers advocated for the Cherokee Nation (like his dad did). The Will Rogers’ birthplace is a historic site worth seeing but the Will Rogers’ Museum is a tribute to his advocacy, his humor and his extraordinary popularity. He comes alive with film clippings, pictures and his collection of saddles, Hollywood moments, and his uncanny talent with a rope which will keep kids interested. The entire basement is dedicated to little cowboys and cowgirls.
Cherokee Nation Heritage Center If your kids or teens have ever whined about not having enough stuff or complained about having too many chores, take them to the Ancient Village and the Trail of Tears Museum. Who doesn’t want to try to hit a target with a blow gun, play a little stickball, weave a basket, sit in a tribal “courthouse” or watch a ceremonial dance? It was a wonderful hands-on experience (and, I might add, my first blow gun shot was pretty close to the target).
I learned to say “See you again” in Cherokee (there is no word for goodbye) thanks to one of the many interactive games at the Heritage museum. If kids want to learn more, there is a MAC app that teaches the written and the phonetic way to speak Cherokee the language.
Gilcrease Museum A gem that hosts thousands of rare documents, Indian artwork, pots, baskets, and native dress all gorgeously curated. Three National Treasures shared their art: pottery, buffalo grass dolls, blankets and sculpture by 3 local women.
There are other historic homes like the Belvidere and the Murrell home if your kids can handle more museums. If they’ve had enough, head to the Illinois River instead and let them burn off some energy tubing or canoeing.
I knew I had met a great man when I was introduced to Principal Chief Chad Corntassle Smith on the press trip. He has continually rallied for his people and has instilled an intense pride in the Cherokee Nation that emanates from every guide, artist or docent we met. He was surrounded by long-term vision – a rare commodity in these quick delivery times.