Some Cherokee Phoenix readers may have seen the “Remember the Removal” bicycle riders out on local roads the past two months training for the upcoming ride from New Echota, Georgia, to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, through seven states. I am one of 14 riders from the Cherokee Nation who will take part in this year’s ride.
For those of you not familiar with the ride, it is done annually to commemorate the forced removal of our Cherokee ancestors from their homelands in 1838-39. Most of our people left in the fall of 1838 in 13 organized detachments and endured a harsh winter in 1839 before reaching Indian Territory.
I was part of the group that did the first 1,000-mile ride in 1984, which was meant to educate people along the route about the forced removal and give students like me hands-on experiences that would foster leadership qualities, instill confidence and improve our self-esteem. A man named Michael Morris thought a bike ride from the old Cherokee homelands would be a good way to give us those experiences. He was right.
Because the ride was grueling and had never been attempted before, the 19 riders formed bonds that are still strong today. We survived two-lane mountain roads in North Carolina and Tennessee where some large trucks did not like sharing the road with us. I rode my bike into some weeds and bushes before a dump truck could nudge me into them on a mountain in Tennessee. We survived racism in Illinois and the patchy and hilly roads of Missouri before riding into northern Arkansas and taking on the Ozark Mountains. By then we were stronger. Our thighs were noticeably larger and much darker than that had been three weeks earlier, and we were confident we were going to finish strong.
I remember during the trip being excited about what view was over the next hill while riding with my small group of four riders nicknamed the “Coaster-Barelies” because we weren’t the fastest group, and we may have coasted a little too much going down hills when we had the opportunity. Jeff, Clayton and Marvin were like brothers to me when we finished, and it was hard to finish and go our separate ways.
For me the trip gave me confidence, and it showed me I am capable of a lot mentally and physically. It also gave me a hunger to seek out adventures, which has lasted to this day.
So, when I was asked last January if I would be the first official CN “Mentor Rider,” my sense of adventure wrestled with my common sense. I am now 50 and being around the bike ride the past few years I know the training is tough even for a 20-year-old. I thought about it for a couple of days and believed I could do it. My mind was going to drag my body along on another adventure. It has been great and tough as I imagined it would be. My legs seemed to remember what it is like to ride a bike for most of a day, but my left shoulder has been less cooperative. So, I keep a container of Icy Hot handy and hope the aroma of the liniment isn’t too strong for the other cyclists.
I’ve also had the pleasure of training with a good group of young people. These people from throughout the CN volunteered to take part in this ride, to put themselves through the pain riding a bicycle an average of 60 miles a day. They have already grown and changed during training, but they will grow and change even more before the ride is over. It happens every year. They might have varied reasons for doing the ride, but they all understand the most important reason is to honor our ancestors. Our tenacious ancestors. They would not give up on the trail and when they arrived here 178 years ago to rebuild.
Every year the riders are told they will not make this trip on their own. No matter how strong they are they will need the support of their fellow riders. It’s true, and we also need the support of the Cherokee people, so keep us in your thoughts and prayers.
I feel fortunate that I get to travel the trail again with some good people, and even though I’ve been down it before, I get to see what’s over the next hill with older and different eyes.
Cherokee Nation has a strong Indian Child Welfare program, and we have always emphasized the importance of protecting our children. It is important for us to highlight the work of our tribe’s child welfare workers and our many caring Cherokee foster parents. Currently, our ICW team is working cases on approximately 1,612 children here in Oklahoma and throughout the United States. We have almost as many cases here in our jurisdiction as we do outside it---716 children inside the 14-county jurisdiction and 896 outside the jurisdiction. Our tribal citizenship is the largest in America, and those numbers are reflected in the high number of Cherokee children in need.
Although we have had a slow and steady increase in foster homes, it is still not near enough to have every one of our Cherokee youth in a Native home. Two years ago we only had 17 regular foster homes, and today we now have 46 who regularly step up to foster Cherokee children in need. However, we need more homes. A decent number of our children are placed with relatives, and a high percentage of those children are in non-Native foster homes.
Those kids in non-Native homes who do not reunify with their family or are placed with another Native family become eligible to be adopted by the family they are placed with. To put that into perspective, if 400 Cherokee children are in non-Native homes this year and a non -Native family adopts them, we lose 400 children. If you magnify that even more, in a 10-year span, we risk losing 4,000 Cherokee children.
The importance of placing Cherokee children in Cherokee fosters homes is vital. Children deserve the right to grow up in a safe, loving environment, and they deserve the right to maintain their tribal ties to Cherokee values and lifeways.
Our goal is to have more foster homes waiting on children than we have children waiting on homes. Unfortunately, I do not see our Indian Child Welfare department ever working themselves out of a job. We have a long way to go, but I can see progress happening in this area, especially in the past decade. We have worked aggressively with state agencies and continue to collaborate with the faith community to address this need.
Taking it a step further, Cherokee Nation employees will soon be able to use family leave time when accepting an ICW foster placement. A lack of workplace support should not be a reason families close their homes to foster children. Cherokee Nation is one of the only employers in Oklahoma and across Indian Country to enact a progressive policy enabling a family to address the unique issues with foster care: the required doctor appointments, school transfers or daycare placements, and essential bonding time. If the foster parents are unable to take time off, it compromises our employees’ personal leave and paycheck and compromises our Cherokee children receiving the best care.
Cherokee culture and values teach us that we belong to each other, and we have a responsibility to take care of our children and support the adults who are caring for them. Our children deserve a permanent, safe home life. Cherokee Nation’s ICW team works to create that for our children, and foster parenting must be supported in the workplace.
The very best thing for our children is reunification with their parents or placed with family. If family is not possible, then it is our duty and privilege as a tribal family to step forward and care for our Cherokee children. We all come from one fire. Our ancestors often did this without hesitation when children lost their family during the Trail of Tears and the rebuilding of our tribal society here in Oklahoma. One fact is true then and true today: Children are sacred, and their care is a shared responsibility.
If you have ever considered the path of foster care or are interested in helping in other ways, please contact Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare at 918-458-6900 or visit <a href="http://www.cherokeekids.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeekids.org</a>.
At President Donald Trump’s request, a portrait of former President Andrew Jackson now hangs in the Oval Office. Commentators have cast Trump’s populist appeal and inaugural address as “Jacksonian,” while others have tried to emphasize their differences. One writer lauded Jackson as “the president who, more than any other, secured the future of democracy in America.”
However, these comparisons overlook experiences of marginalized people while defining history in terms of the ideologies of progress and American exceptionalism.
Jackson’s intolerant attitudes and harsh treatment of African-American and Native American peoples have not gone without mention. They are indeed inescapable. As a scholar who has written about Native American history and literature, I am aware of how often the perspectives of Native people are neglected in conventional historical discourse.
The criticisms Trump has directed against Indian casinos in the 1990s, along with his insult of calling Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” casts his veneration of Jackson in a particularly disturbing light.
Jackson was a staunch supporter of slavery and policies that forcibly removed Indians from their lands. The passage of the 1830 Indian Removal Act was aimed at isolating Native peoples to prevent conflict over territory and allow increased settlement.
The solution, originally conceived by Thomas Jefferson, was to empower the government to evict Native peoples living east of the Mississippi River from their lands. Those subjected to removal would be moved “beyond the white settlements” to distant reservations in the West, known at the time as “Indian Territory.” It was a form of segregation.
In 1832, the Supreme Court struck down Georgia laws aimed at depriving the Cherokee people of their rights and property in Worchester v. Georgia. The court affirmed a degree of Native political sovereignty and annulled state jurisdiction over Native lands. It was the final case of the so-called Marshall trilogy, named for Chief Justice John Marshall – the author of the majority decisions – and established major precedents of federal Indian law.
The immediate effect of the decision was to grant protections to the Cherokee Nation, and by extension to other tribes. It could have prevented forced removals, but Jackson was reportedly indignant at the result. According to the famed journalist Horace Greeley, Jackson was said to have responded, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”
Whether Jackson spoke those words has been contested by historians ever since. But his strong support for removal policy and subsequent refusal to enforce the court’s decision made his position clear. The response was a stern rebuke of the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, the doctrine of the separation of powers, the rule of law and ultimately the Constitution.
The result was the Trail of Tears, in which Cherokee and other Native peoples of the Southeast were forced at gunpoint to march 1,200 miles to “Indian territory.” Thousands of Cherokee died during the passage, while many who survived the trek lost their homes and most of their property. Ironically, much of the land on which the Cherokee and other removed tribes were settled was opened to homesteading and became Oklahoma some 60 years later.
Yet, the violent manner by which removal was carried out had been ruled illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Worchester case.
New assault on native rights?
The new administration is showing similar malice toward the legal status and rights of Native peoples secured in American law. For example, Trump recently lifted President Obama’s injunction halting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The eviction of pipeline opponents from Sacred Stone Camp, led by the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, under threats of arrest has led to renewed uncertainty about Native rights.
Statements by Trump’s advisers and government officials calling for the privatization of Native lands guaranteed by treaties to seize natural resources have only heightened these concerns.
This rhetoric echos policies that oppressed Native people in the past. These include allotment, extending from 1887 to the 1930s, which eliminated communal ownership and led to the taking of millions of acres of Native land. This was followed by termination and relocation of the 1950s, aimed at eliminating the legal status of Native people while sending individuals from reservations to urban areas, further depriving Native peoples of their lands, liberty and culture.
Native treaties are unequivocally assured in Article 6, the Supremacy Clause, of the U.S. Constitution. It states: “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land…”
Tribal leaders negotiated treaties in good faith to reserve what amounts to a fraction of their original lands, with all attendant rights. Privatizing tribal lands would be a violation of these treaties.
The casual rejection of these covenants heighten the insecurity among Native people evoked by Trump. His esteem for Jackson and their shared attitudes toward their legal rights and status should give us pause. That journalists and historians continue to offer positive views of Jackson’s presidency in light of this legacy underscores how the suffering of Native people continues to be ignored.
Oklahoma’s core is firmly rooted in its 38 federally recognized tribes. Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma have a unique history based on our shared identity and heritage. According to a new study commissioned to the Oklahoma-based Economic Impact Group, our tribe and its businesses are responsible for more than a $2 billion impact annually on the Oklahoma economy.
Today, more than ever, the Cherokee Nation is an essential part of the economic fabric of our great state. As the largest tribal government in Oklahoma, there is no doubt Cherokee Nation makes undeniable and positive impacts on the state.
Cherokee Nation supports more than 17,000 jobs, and more than 11,000 of those jobs are through direct employment with our tribal government or one of the tribe’s businesses. We have more Cherokees working for the tribe than ever before, and we are proud of that. During the past year, we invested millions of dollars in expanding our economic footprint in northeast Oklahoma, which is essential to developing stronger and safer communities across Cherokee Nation’s 14-county jurisdiction.
The success we are experiencing today will have a positive impact for years to come. As a sovereign tribal government, Cherokee Nation makes positive differences in the lives of our citizens, which helps alleviate the burden on state finances and resources.
Cherokee Nation Businesses, the tribe’s corporate holding company, generated a record-setting $1.02 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2016, the year studied by economists. The profits allow the tribe to continue to expand essential services to the Cherokee people.
Oklahoma is our home, and we are proud to be a partner in its success. We invest in roads – 77 miles in our 14 counties; public schools – $5 million to 107 public school districts; health care – more than 1.1 million patient visits annually to Cherokee Health Centers; higher education – more than $13 million for academic scholarships this year; and infrastructure – public water line repairs and installations.
During my time as Principal Chief, I’ve seen firsthand the changes we are making in families and communities throughout northeast Oklahoma. Just some of the examples include:
• In Delaware County, we invested $30 million in a new casino that created 175 new jobs. In South Coffeyville, we collaborated with the state to attract Star Pipe, a manufacturing company, creating another 75 quality jobs.
• In Tulsa County, our Career Services Department continues to help Macy’s fulfillment center with staff recruiting and training.
• In Cherokee County, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, we attracted several new businesses, announced the construction of a $200 million health facility, preserved our iconic capitol building and expanded the Cherokee Nation Tribal Complex.
Those activities don’t just benefit Cherokees; they represent an investment in our home, Oklahoma. A strong Cherokee Nation equals a strong Oklahoma. Our success is the state’s success. Cherokee Nation remains strategically positioned to lead Oklahoma into a brighter and better future. As we prosper and create jobs, we play an essential role in keeping Oklahoma strong and vibrant, ensuring it remains the best place to live, work and raise a family.
That symbiotic spirit improves the lives of everyone throughout northeast Oklahoma. We are expanding our businesses and increasing our profits to do more, help more citizens improve their lives and make more of a difference from one generation to the next.
Historically, the Cherokee Nation has been a matriarchal society and has always looked to strong women for guidance and leadership. Cherokee women are proud and powerful and fuel our success as a tribe. This fact is as true today as ever. We are honor and celebrate the enormous contributions Cherokee women have made throughout our history and in our modern government and business endeavors.
As Principal Chief, I strive to place talented women in leadership roles within this administration and at Cherokee Nation Businesses. In fact, there are more women in management at CNB and Cherokee Nation than ever before. Many of our tribal programs and departments are led by women and our tribal government’s workforce is dominated by women. Of the 3,665 employees we have at Cherokee Nation, 2,597 are female. That represents more than 71 percent of our staff.
We have created a more female-friendly work environment at Cherokee Nation by establishing a fully paid, eight-week maternity leave policy for expectant mothers who work for the Cherokee Nation and by raising the minimum wage for all employees, allowing our employees to continue working for the Cherokee people while meeting their family obligations.
The tribe’s legislative body, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, is shaped, in part, by Deputy Speaker Victoria Vazquez and Councilors Frankie Hargis, Janees Taylor and Wanda Hatfield. Their leadership and vision are helping drive the Cherokee Nation into a brighter future.
Recently, we also recognized the fourth anniversary of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. At Cherokee Nation, we remain committed to protecting women and children from the epidemic of domestic violence. We created the ONE FIRE Victim Services office to be a beacon of hope and safety for women and families within our tribal jurisdiction.
I'm going to share some “feels” with you. I'm not going to weep all over the page, but I will share with you what this job has meant to me, what it’s done for me and how I come to spend nearly 10 years doing it.
This job has shaped not only my career but also my life. I wasn’t one of those kids who had their tribal heritage shared with them as they grew up. I mean my story isn't that different from a lot of people. I was Cherokee. I knew that, but I missed out on the cultural aspect of being a tribal citizen. This job gave me the opportunity to not only grow and establish a career, but I grew to understand my culture, where I came from and what the Cherokee people have overcome. I learned of a tumultuous history that my ancestors faced as well as a personal history regarding my direct ancestor, Anderson Springston. I even wrote a column about it explaining the roles my people played in the killing of three prominent Cherokees: Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot. I also learned of the connection the son of that ancestor, John Leak Springston, had with the Cherokee Phoenix. He was known to be an Indian activist, an interpreter, newspaper editor, attorney and Keetoowah revivalist.
There have been so many stories that have left a mark on me. I’ve covered countless meetings, several tribal elections, as well as your basic health, education, cultural and people stories, and they all served a purpose of educating, entertaining and informing the Cherokee people.
It’s been nearly 10 years since I started here, and I have loved having the opportunity to work for such a historic newspaper. I’ve met some great people and made lasting relationships, but my most favorite aspect of working in this capacity has ultimately been helping people by both informing them of what their government is doing, as well as giving our Cherokee people a voice - something that has been taken from them time and again.
My concern for the Cherokee people and their involvement in the goings-on within their government is something that during the past several years I’ve noticed is most important. So I’ve tried to do that. It’s important to become educated in your government. You should want to have a say in what happens within your tribe. We’ve seen in our history what happens when we allow others to decide for us, and we’re a stronger people than that. I personally missed out on being involved with my tribe while growing up, but that will not be the case any longer and neither will it be for my children.
I buried the lede with this one friends, but on purpose, because once I’ve written it and once you’ve read it, it’s real. I have tendered my resignation from the Cherokee Phoenix effective April 8. I have accepted a job with the city of Tahlequah. Although I’m sad, scared and nervous for what is coming I know this is the best move for me.
This change will afford me the chance to reach for goals that working for the tribe will not allow. Although those goals may be far down the road, I need to give myself a true shot at accomplishing them. But new is always scary.
I hope the Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper that has been at the forefront and example for excellent tribal journalism, will continue to be what it was created to be, what it should be – a true voice of the Cherokee people. One that stands up for what is right by its citizens and one that the Cherokee people can count on to be a real representation of the what happens within our tribe, not just what you need to know.
You are the Cherokee Nation. No voice is too big or small and at the end of the day the Cherokee Nation is not a thing, it’s a people and those people should be treated with respect and love like all people.
I wish all my fellow staffers, current and former, the best. You made me better, smarter and definitely more quick-witted.
So with that said, I bid you a fond farewell. Much love to anyone who played a part in the stories I’ve told over the years. This isn’t goodbye. If I can be of any help to someone in the future, you can email me at <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>. Do-na-da-go-hv-i.