Tahlequah was 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.
With degrees in social studies education and peace and global affairs, Archer teaches social studies at Arthur Morgan School, a Quaker institution in the international Celo Community, founded in 1937 by Arthur Ernest Morgan. The school has 22 students in grades 7-9. Another trip leader, Izzy Miller, said the school is Quaker, but "pretty nonreligious."
While Arthur Morgan is a boarding school, some of the students live in the nearby community. Archer found the community and school while looking for a unique place with political leanings similar to his.
"The climate is more suitable, too. It's a special place," he said.
The Montessori-style curriculum includes the annual 18-day trips. The school was split into thirds for the three themed trips students began earlier this week. The youngsters choose the topics to explore, then the staff narrowed it down to three for the trips.
Miller, who has a Bachelor of Art degree in art and archaeology from Princeton University, has been at Arthur Morgan for five years and has been on three 18-day trips.
"I especially appreciate that students talk to people out in the world. A lot of times, students have first contact with organizations or churches in the planning stage, and get to have adult conversations," said Miller.
The groups travel on shoestring budgets, which students help plan and fundraise for.
"It's a cool thing to know you can travel the world and get by and see some things without paying a lot," said Miller. "You definitely learn more by visiting places than sitting in desks all day."
Jibril Bachu, 13, went on an 18-day trip last year that dealt with robotics and technology. Another trip focused on LGBTQ history, and it took students to Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia.
The 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. "We have a limited time to make change. It'll be up to their generation to change it."
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.
"I'm ready to hear from the first-hand legacy of these massacres and their first-hand experience and their stories," said Eva Soto, 12.
The students had a five-week unit about the topics before departing.
"It's cool to see how the three things we're doing are somewhat similar," said Oscar Rause, 13.
Oscar said some of the things they have learned were surprising to him.
"The Great Migration was not south to north; it was rural to city," he said.
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.
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 group was invited to stay at the home of David Nagle, who leads the Tahlequah Friends Fellowship.
On Thursday afternoon, the group toured Cherokee Nation museums in downtown Tahlequah. Eva said the information at the Cherokee National History Museum didn't surprise her.
"When we were learning about it, there were some shocking moments," said Eva.
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."
After the History Museum, and before the Prison Museum, Archer gave the students prompts to consider for discussion later.
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."
From Tahlequah, the group heads to Tulsa to learn about the Greenwood District and Tulsa Race Riots; to the Fort Sill area for the migrant concentration camp discussion; and to Austin, Texas, to meet migrants, activists and do community service. Archer hopes to swing through New Orleans before the group heads to Montgomery and Huntsville, Alabama, and then home.
For information about Arthur Morgan School, visit www.arthurmorganschool.org.