MUSKOGEE – Under the direction of a Cherokee Nation citizen from Arkansas, a group of largely youth spent time in July assisting the Murrow Indian Children’s Home with outside chores and other projects.
Randall Curtis, youth minister for the Arkansas Episcopal Church, had planned the cultural mission trip to the Muskogee home for a year. A total of nine youth, including three Cherokee citizens, took part, along with four adults.
“We raised funds,” said Curtis, who grew up in Muskogee. “We went and did the work. We designed their libraries. We’ve put in two raised garden beds and did a whole lot of landscaping and maintenance for them.”
Children’s home executive director Betty Martin said she was grateful for the help.
“Any time we can get a mission team to come, it’s great because we always have so many projects that need to be completed,” she said. “I think the kids did a very good job. They did a lot of lawn and yard maintenance, which was good because we don’t have a groundskeeper or anything like that. We were very fortunate to have them.”
The Murrow Indian Children’s Home in Muskogee cares for Native children removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. There are currently 15 children and young adults, including Cherokees, at the home.
“We don’t have very many right now,” Martin said. “The first year of COVID, we got down to six children because some of the case workers wanted to go ahead and send kids to family placement or they were able to get them back home. We were that way for maybe five or six months. We’re still not where we have been in the past. We’ve had 28-30 children.”
Curtis caught COVID-19 just before his long-planned trip. Although he was unable to attend, his wife, Sandra, stepped in to lead. In addition to the helping hands, Curtis wanted the church youth to be immersed in the Cherokee culture. During the week, they visited significant sites like the Cherokee National History Museum, and met with Cherokee National Treasures Robert Lewis and Jane Osti to hear traditional tales and learn how to create pottery.
“Jane Osti is amazing,” Curtis said. “She really talked about what pottery has meant to Cherokee people, as well as helping them do some really neat pieces. I think this will become an annual trip for us, an annual experience.”
Curtis says the successful mission trip helped lay a foundation for a future all-ages Arkansas Trail of Tears pilgrimage he is planning through the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas.
“Even though the Cherokee didn’t stop in Arkansas, almost all the Trail of Tears went through the state,” he said. “I’m working on a Trail of Tears pilgrimage over about three days to go from Memphis to Tahlequah with stops along the way for significant points of the Trail of Tears in the state of Arkansas. I have felt – and a lot of people in my church have felt – that Arkansas doesn’t seem to really acknowledge or own up to a lot of its Indigenous heritage.”
For more information, visit murrowindianchildrenshome.org and episcopalarkansas.org.