Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Okie from Muskogee?

Remember the old Merle Haggard tune "Okie from Muskogee"?  Being this close (30 miles), of course I had to go see what the hoopla was about Muskogee, Oklahoma.   Besides being alluded to in "Friends" (tv series) and "Twister" (1996 movie), it is celebrated as the most diverse city in Oklahoma.  I personally found little to make me want to linger there, but we did manage a museum and a park on our day there.

The 5 Five Civilized Tribes Museum is a small, but important museum to visit if your're ever in the area. The Five Civilized Tribes consist of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians. They came to be called that because they were the Indians encountered by European settlers that adopted the colonists' culture, thus appearing "civilized."  Even so, they were still forced west by the white man's greed for their land on the "Trail of Tears."

The museum is housed in the Union Indian Agency Building, sitting on, not surprisingly, Agency Hill. Overlooking the city and 3 miles outside Muskogee when it was built in the 1870s, it's now in Honor Heights Park on the west side of Muskogee.

Union Indian Agency Building

The building is made of large blocks of hand carved sandstone that were hauled up the hill on wagons.  Used as the residence and  offices of the Indian Agency Superintendent and his family, it was initially owned by the Creek Nation.  After changing ownership multiple times and being used as a school, orphanage and even a dance hall, it was acquired by the government in 1944 and now is neighbored by a Veterans Hospital.

Displayed inside is a collection of fine art by artists of the 5 Civilized Tribes, as well as pictures of numerous Indian boarding schools.  These schools were, in my opinion, an ill-conceived attempt to "civilize" Indians by removing children from their parents to "educate" them in white man ways.  It was not until the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 that Native American parents were allowed to deny the government the ability to place their children in non-reservation schools.  The sheer numbers of children displayed in these photographs stunned me and, as a mother, made me want to weep for those mothers whose children were ripped from their families and denied the right to their own culture.

Cases with artifacts specific to each tribe rounded out the first floor and the second floor was dedicated to the Art Under the Oaks exhibition, original handmade items by five tribes artists.

A museum well worth the time spent touring it, when we finished we drove further into the park that surrounds the building.  The Honor Heights Park is a public park operated by the city of Muskogee and is known for its botanical gardens, arboretum and azaleas.  Luckily, their Azalea Festival takes place in April, so the  dogwood and azaleas were in full bloom!

Flowers, flowers and more flowers in Honor Heights Park

The park is 40 acres and we spent an hour driving around it.  I wish I was a better photographer because these pictures in no way do justice to the beauty that we saw.  This was the prettiest part of Muskogee and I would have loved to have been there on a sunny day but it rained almost every day that we spent in the area!

Until next time...

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