Human Rights Alternative Break to Oklahoma: By Undergraduate Mary Mackie
My name is Mary Mackie and I was the Trip Director for the Human Rights Alternative Spring Break 2014, which was focused on Native American issues. Alternative Breaks are run through Community Outreach, and this year, students at UConn traveled all over the country doing volunteer service trips focused on different social issues. I traveled with 11 students and one staff member to the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. We stayed in Chewey, Oklahoma, a town with a population of 135, which is located outside the Cherokee capital of Tahlequah. We did several home improvement projects for local elders. In the course of our week there, we replaced a deck, fixed a wheelchair ramp, and painted a house.
Tearing out the old deck
Building the new deck
Students and homeowner after the completed project
We got the chance to learn about past and current human rights issues from various local leaders. We spent an afternoon at the Cherokee Heritage Museum, which had a fascinating exhibit on the Trail of Tears and its effects on the Cherokee people. The Trail of Tears was the route taken to Oklahoma when the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw tribes were forcefully removed from their homelands in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, after the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Approximately 46,000 Native Americans were removed, and many died from starvation and disease along the route.
We also had the chance to experience several cultural activities. We were taught basket weaving, listened to a storyteller and a flute player, and were prepared a delicious traditional meal- including tacos made from fry bread.
Learning basket weaving
On one of our last nights, we attended the grand opening for the community center we were staying in. We enjoyed a traditional Southern meal and were able to meet numerous locals and tribal members, including the current chief of the Cherokee Nation (pictured below).