Reconnecting with family and friends was just one of the many purposes of our trek around the U.S. So when the Martin side of my family scheduled a reunion, we parked the Escape Mobile in Seattle and hopped on a plane bound for Oklahoma.
Martin isn’t originally my family’s name, but rather the result of the U.S. government’s forced assimilation practices on America’s native people. The name change came when my Cherokee great-great grandfather, Tsunigutlâhiduñ, or Tsu-ni-gu-hi-ga, attended the Choctaw Academy in Kentucky.
I read that he chose “Martin” because it was a friend’s name, but my dad’s story was that he chose the name after the Martin bird.
Regardless, Tsu-ni-gu-hi-ga, which translates to Terrapin, became Hercules Terrapin Martin and thereafter his descendants were Martins.
When we have them, the Martin Reunions are scheduled to coincide with the Cherokee National Holiday, which falls over Labor Day weekend and celebrates the 1839 signing of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s Constitution.
The highlight of the weekend’s events is an intertribal powwow. We missed the powwow on this trip, but here’s some pics from a later visit:
Northeastern Oklahoma is the birthplace of my parents. My dad was raised near Tahlequah and mom in Tulsa. Loads of childhood memories took place in and around these communities.
Like the back of his hand, my dad knew the unmarked backroads surrounding Tahlequah, while Trey and I constantly relied on GPS to navigate between public landmarks…a painful reminder of regrets, squandered time, and unspoken words.
The trip’s first connections to family roots came outside of Atlanta when we visited New Echota and in Cherokee, North Carolina. However, the roots in Northeastern Oklahoma are closer to the surface.
And they’re roots we can engage.
The Martin reunion was an opportunity to reconnect with my mom’s side of the family as well.
We loved touring Tulsa — visiting my mother’s old haunts…
its awe-inspiring Art Deco architecture…
and recalling its significance in our country’s history.
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