Julia Coates

Preconceived ideas about at-large Cherokees needs examination

BY Phoenix Archives
05/10/2012 09:56 AM
BY JULIA COATES
Tribal Councilor

The Cherokee Phoenix’s recent article about the work of the tribe’s Community Organization Training and Technical Assistance or COTTA Program with the at-large Cherokee satellite communities highlights the strong effort the program has made in the 4-1/2 years it has been doing such work. The attendance of at-large Cherokees at the 2011 COTTA conference was a highlight for many of the 35 people who participated, and I still hear many positive remarks about their experiences in making connections with other Cherokee communities.

However, the article also exhibited many common, preconceived notions of who at-large citizens are. As a scholar who has worked with at-large Cherokees for the past 15 years, I have conducted extensive interviews with at-large citizens as part of my dissertation and post-doctoral research. I have been involved in forming and analyzing at-large groups since 1999, and I developed the model that COTTA used in helping to organize the majority of the satellite organizations.

I would offer a different perspective on the at-large people from the rather homogenous descriptions that were provided in the article and strongly suggest to the new administration and the workers at COTTA, that they not overlook the real qualities of this particular segment of the Cherokee population.

The article emphasized the “disconnect” and the lack of cultural knowledge on the part of the at-large people. It was even stated that when one is “here,” i.e., the 14 counties, one “feels” and “understands” what it means to be Cherokee, but that when one leaves the area – poof! – that understanding and feeling is gone. One organizer stated “You can tell. When I go, I feel it.”

Corresponding statements stressed the cultural programs that have been brought to provide accurate information, which will then “bleed” into the at-large people, which they will then incorporate into their daily lives. As someone who studies and teaches community organizing and development, I am skeptical of the rather top-down, unidirectional nature of these statements. I’m not convinced that the flow of information is only valuable in one direction.

These preconceived beliefs about the at-large people are widespread among those in northeastern Oklahoma. For instance, in community meetings in Wichita, Kansas City and Denver several weeks ago, the new principal chief and new director of Community Leadership voiced many of the same expressions that the COTTA personnel stated in the article.

With a better knowledge of my constituents, when I walk into a meeting of at-large Cherokees, I actually don’t “feel” the differences as much as I understand the similarities. I wondered if the administration realized that in the crowds were not only those who are somewhat disconnected (just as there are in northeastern Oklahoma), but also at-large people whose grandchildren attend the Cherokee Immersion School, who were themselves members of ceremonial grounds, who create and promote Cherokee art, who work in Indian education nationally, who serve on state Indian commissions and boards and who work regularly in Indian Child Welfare, repatriation, opposing fraudulent groups and other legal issues.

While the focus of the administration and COTTA has been what kinds of cultural information they can transmit to the at-large people, several people in the groups asked, “What can we do for the Cherokee Nation?” to which the chief had no response. I suggest that answers to this question should be developed, for as much as the at-large desire to receive from the Nation, they also have things to offer the Nation. The “bridge” we are building needs to be a two-lane road based on real understandings of these citizens, not unexamined, preconceived ideas.

julia-coates@cherokee.org


918-772-0288

Opinion

BY JAMI MURPHY
05/05/2014 11:18 AM
Who says you can’t have it all? Lately my reality has been just that. However, I haven’t been doing it alone. During the past year I have experienced several changes. All of which have changed not only my life, but my family’s, too. In March 2013, I had the opportunity to finally purchase my own car, a new model. That was exciting. I had been having trouble with mine and I badly wanted to purchase a new car. I never thought I could, but I did and that was a fantastic blessing. Two months later, my family and I moved into a new house built by the Housing Authority of Cherokee Nation under the tribes’ new home construction program. My in-laws allowed us to purchase a small piece of property from them north of Tahlequah for the home to be built upon. I filed for the program the week of its inception in April 2012, and a year later we moved into our first new home. That was a dream come true. Without that program I’m afraid it would have been far longer for me to buy a home, a new home at that. In June, my then-partner Mike Murphy and I discovered we were expecting our second child. So together we have four children. This news was quite surprising, but great. We thought having another child wasn’t a possibility any longer considering we’d tried for nearly two years, but we were blessed with another boy. I thought I had my hands full with one in the home (the other two live outside the home). So on Jan. 27, we welcomed the newest Murphy, Austin. So after all these changes and the welcomed surprise why not go ahead and throw another one in the mix. Mike and I finally got married. I had taken my maternity leave a week before going into labor. So my last week of my leave we planned a small, nice ceremony on the Cherokee Nation Courthouse grounds beneath a beautiful magnolia tree. And the ceremony was just that, beautiful. CN citizen David Comingdeer officiated. So on April 8 at 4:08 p.m. on the grounds of the historic courthouse, David gave the prayer and welcome in both Cherokee and English and proceeded with the marriage ceremony. I have waited nearly seven years to marry Mike and for whatever reason in the past it just wasn’t the right time. So on that day I walked to a floral archway where Mike stood as Jami Custer and we left that ceremony as Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murphy. Now I’ve returned to work, a much-awaited return in my eyes. I have missed the past three months without writing for the Cherokee Phoenix and contributing to what I feel is a much-needed news outlet for our Cherokee people. It feels great to be back working again. Even though we’ve spent the past seven years as a couple, I want to try and be as a good of a mother and wife as I can. Why wouldn’t I? But life is a lot of work. In today’s society, many women and men attempt to do it all. They want to work, bring up babies, have personal relationships and still try to find the time for themselves. I tell you, it’s not easy. It can be done, but there’s a lot of help behind the scenes that many don’t see. For example, purchasing my new car couldn’t have been achieved without my employment with the Cherokee Phoenix. Working for the past seven years has allowed me the opportunity to establish better credit and work steadily and that afforded me the opportunity for the new car. My home would not have been possible without the help of CN citizens William and Deborah Smoke. They have helped us more than words can express. And finally, the old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” I think can be linked to our relationships. Many people have had a hand in my and Mike’s seven-year courtship, both good and bad, but either way all leading us where we are today, married. We can have it all. But when you look at it, really look at what you’re accomplishing, I don’t think you’re doing it alone. Many people are there helping, some we can’t even see. Thanks friends, family and extended family for all you’ve done behind the scenes.
BY Phoenix Archives
12/03/2013 11:36 AM
BY BILL JOHN BAKER Principal Chief The Christmas season is here and it reminds me to think about what truly matters to all of us. Some people worry the Christmas holiday has become more and more commercial, and each year we get a little further away from the essence of what makes it important. I hope this season we all feel the warmth of love and kinship, the realization of our noble wishes and see the true possibilities and purpose of the Holy Spirit. When the holidays come around every year, our lives suddenly take on a larger meaning than simply living for ourselves. We think of our loved ones, our extended families, our long-lost friends and our neighbors. As chief of the Cherokee Nation, I think of our 320,000-plus citizens and want the best for each and every one. One of the lessons I reflect on every Christmas is how much more important it is to do for others than to do for yourself. Somebody recently asked me to relay my favorite Christmas memory. I have a lifetime of wonderful stories and memories, but one recollection stands out. One of my favorite Christmas memories revolves around my Grandmother Audie Baker. She was a school teacher at Briggs and every Christmas season was a special time for this rural Cherokee County community. Every year the holidays began with a community pie supper to raise money for presents for the school’s students. It was the kind of pie supper where the person who bought the pie, got to eat it and enjoy it with the person who baked it. Grandmother always gave me money to buy a pie. The money was then used to buy gifts for the kids in my grandmother’s room, which consisted of fourth through sixth graders. She would divide the money up evenly and we would gather around the catalogs from OTASCO and Western Auto down at my granddad’s barbershop. We would look through them and she would ask my advice on what to get the boys. It was usually 500 .22 shells or 25 .410 shells or a nice hunting knife. But she always knew what each boy owned and what would make the right gift for them. That was just the life of a rural school teacher back then. Being a rural school, Briggs usually started before we did at Tahlequah Public Schools so I’d go with my grandmother and I got to know all her students. Also during the Christmas season, I helped my dad make huge pans of peanut brittle. We would fill sacks with hard candy, apples, oranges and peanut brittle and deliver them with the other gifts at grandmother’s school. These memories are lasting to me because it was so great to see the children light up with joy over the gifts we picked out. It’s amazing what just a few dollars will buy. As a child, it was also special because my grandmother valued my opinion on what her students would like best. It taught me the ultimate lesson: that it truly is better to give than receive. As a boy, I learned this universal truth from my grandmother: when you give to others, you emerge with a renewed sense of hope for yourself and for the world. To me, that is the spirit and essence of the Christmas season and that is a value that guides me every day. From my family and the family of Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, I want to wish you a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year. <p><i><center><a href="mailto:bill-baker@cherokee.org">bill-baker@cherokee.org</a></center></i></p> <p><i><center>918-453-5618</center></i></p>
BY Phoenix Archives
10/01/2013 08:37 AM
BY BILL JOHN BAKER Principal Chief The Cherokee Nation, with more than 320,000 citizens, is the largest sovereign tribal nation in the United States and the economic engine that drives growth in northeast Oklahoma. The power of tribal governments and tribally owned businesses fuel economic development in the region. I am proud to announce the Cherokee Nation made a $1.3 billion economic impact on our state last year. During my time in office, the Cherokee Nation and its businesses have made significant investments in roads, schools, law enforcement, health care, education and infrastructure that benefit all Oklahomans, whether you’re Cherokee or not. In the past year, we played a role in multiple business expansions, startups and relocations into the Cherokee Nation jurisdiction. We strive to continually raise the level of hope in Oklahoma – hope for a better and brighter future. The Cherokee Nation plays a critical role in ensuring Oklahoma remains a great place to live and raise a family. We proudly reinvest our business profits in people, services and facilities to build a better and brighter future for today, tomorrow and the next seven generations. The Cherokee Nation and its businesses directly employ more than 9,000 people. Due to our operational and economic successes, we support an additional 5,000 jobs indirectly. And we have a concrete plan to bring even more jobs to northeast Oklahoma. Today, we have more Cherokee Nation citizens working for our government and businesses than ever in the history of our Nation. The Cherokee Nation’s economic portfolio is much broader than gaming, operating in a number of diverse industries. We have successful business interests in the construction, telecommunications, aerospace, defense, advanced manufacturing, technology, real estate and health care fields. This business portfolio continues to broaden as our economic success thrives. Last year, Cherokee Nation Businesses had its most successful contracting year winning nearly $375 million in federal and commercial contracts contributing to an overall 9.5 percent revenue increase. We have broken all records this year in production output, dividends and number of employees resulting in more money to deliver services to Cherokee Nation citizens and all Oklahomans. Oklahoma is our home and our success is the state’s success. We are proud partners with the state of Oklahoma and hundreds of county and municipal governments. A strong Cherokee Nation means a strong Oklahoma. A thriving Cherokee Nation means more prosperity and jobs in communities within the tribe’s boundaries and all across this great state. And we’re not going anywhere. To put it simply, we are a corporate headquarters that is never leaving this state. We want to bring jobs to Oklahoma, not send them out of state. We are the Cherokee Nation and while we were once forced to leave our homelands, no one will ever force us to leave Oklahoma. We are here to stay. The success of Oklahoma – in job creation, preserving our quality of life – takes all of us working together, and we are proud to continue that legacy. <p><i><center><a href="mailto:bill-baker@cherokee.org">bill-baker@cherokee.org</a></center></i></p> <p><i><center>918-453-5618</center></i></p>
BY Phoenix Archives
09/03/2013 01:57 PM
BY BILL JOHN BAKER Principal Chief Cherokee Nation citizens living in all 77 Oklahoma counties can now buy a Cherokee Nation license plate. With a recently signed compact in place, all CN citizens will soon have the opportunity to display Cherokee tags on their cars or recreational vehicles. The CN is the first tribe to sign a compact with the state of Oklahoma that will offer car tags to its citizens statewide. This is an historic agreement between the state and Nation and a testament to our sovereign government-to-government relationship. Gov. Mary Fallin is right when she said, “Local schools, county roads and other important priorities will benefit from this agreement.” Revenues from CN car tags are split between the Nation and state and local governments. Nearly 40 cents of every dollar in CN car tag sales goes to public education. Within the Nation’s 14-county jurisdiction, 38 percent of tax revenues from the sale of tribal car tags is distributed to about 90 public school districts each year. In April, we awarded those schools $3.2 million. The new compact will do the same for even more districts that border the CN, but are technically outside our jurisdiction. Schools in Wagoner, Tulsa, Muskogee, Rogers and Mayes counties all stand to benefit in the same way as neighboring schools. Outside the 14-county jurisdiction, revenue from the sale of vehicle tags will be distributed to schools and local and county governments in the same manner as state tags. At-Large CN citizens residing in Wagoner, Tulsa, Muskogee, Rogers and Mayes counties will be able to purchase a tribal car tag by the end of the year. Statewide car tag sales start in June 2014, and can be purchased from any of the five CN tag offices. Like our tribal photo identification cards, the car tags are a source of Cherokee pride. But the benefits are deeply felt across the CN. So far this fiscal year, more than 100,000 vehicle tags have been issued. Through our partnerships, we are strengthening our sovereignty, creating more jobs, lowering the costs of car tags for thousands of Cherokees and providing even more resources to public schools for our children. The Cherokee people are the heart of everything we do, and I made a commitment to do more for them, regardless of where they live in Oklahoma. Cherokees living outside of our jurisdictional boundaries have asked for tribal license plates for years, and we are finally able to make good on those wishes. It’s another goal we have achieved for the Cherokee people. The new compact was successfully negotiated with the governor’s office by CN Attorney General Todd Hembree. I thank him for leading the way for us in these complicated issues. The Nation is stronger today for the work he has done in creating a compact that will benefit not just Cherokees, but all Oklahomans in the coming years. The CN values our government-to-government relationship with the state of Oklahoma, and contributes in other ways as well. We also hold gaming, tobacco and intergovernmental compacts with the governor’s office. In addition to this latest compact, we’ve expanded health care and housing programs, pumped record amounts into college scholarship programs and created new ways to help our elders. We are building a stronger Nation, and our car tag program allows us the capacity to keep doing more for our people, and for the people of our great state. <p><i><center><a href="mailto:bill-baker@cherokee.org">bill-baker@cherokee.org</a></center></i></p> <p><i><center>918-453-5618</center></i></p>
BY Phoenix Archives
08/06/2013 01:04 PM
BY BILL JOHN BAEKR Principal Chief When I was elected principal chief, I promised I would do everything in my power to improve the lives of Cherokee youth. We have enjoyed many successes, including more monies for education and expanded health care coverage. However, we are still in dire need in one area – foster and adoptive families for our Indian Child Welfare Program. As you know our children ensure the continued existence of our tribe. They are our future. As Cherokee people, we all come from one fire and the Cherokee Nation belongs to our children. I hope strong Cherokee citizens and families can find a place in their hearts and in their homes for our beautiful children who badly need a safe nurturing environment. This is an issue that is deeply personal to me. We talk about taking care of our people, being a shoulder in a time of need and putting our Cherokee children first. Now I am asking CN citizens to step forward and accept this huge responsibility. You can become a resource for our children. Within the past five years, our Cherokee ICW office has had court involvement with 1,200 to 1,600 Cherokee children annually. The caseload increases each year and no decline is in sight. Approximately one-third of these cases are children needing Cherokee homes. Currently, we have about 140 certified resource homes – 100 adoptive and 40 foster. The numbers of homes available for placement of our children has decreased drastically in the past five years, due in large part to issues related to the economy. Out of the 100 adoptive homes available, most request to adopt one child only in the range of 0 to 2 years of age. Most of the foster homes request only children from infancy to six years and generally do not want placement of more than two siblings. We have no homes willing to accept the placement of teenagers. Our greatest needs do not line up with our available resources. We need foster homes for children over the age of 6 that are typically part of a sibling group and we need adoptive homes for children over the age of 2 that also have siblings. We need homes within our jurisdictional boundaries and throughout Oklahoma and in the communities where high numbers of Cherokees live – Texas, Arkansas, California, New Mexico and elsewhere. When we do not have safe homes to offer, we run the risk of our Cherokee children being placed in non-Native homes. This goes against our basic Cherokee values and everything the federal Indian Child Welfare Act represents and can make the battle difficult for CN ICW workers, who not only have to advocate for the best interest of the child and the Nation, but also many times must educate local and state court systems on the importance of ICWA. Some people are unsure of whether or not they even qualify to foster or adopt. I encourage you to inquire if you have any capacity in your life and in in your home to help a Cherokee child. My hope is this message will resonate with families who have love to offer and are willing to accept the responsibility of providing a foster or adoptive home. Remember, while each of us is only one person in the world, we can be the world to a child. Visit <a href="http://www.cherokeekids.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeekids.org</a> or call 918-458-6900 to be part of the solution. <p><i><center><a href="mailto:bill-baker@cherokee.org">bill-baker@cherokee.org</a></center></i></p> <p><i><center>918-453-5618</center></i></p>
BY Phoenix Archives
07/01/2013 11:44 AM
BY Bill john baker Principal Chief I am proud to announce that the Cherokee Heritage Center recently opened Diligwa, a new Cherokee village based on life in the 1700s. Utilizing extensive in-depth research, the new village is a better representation of our past, more accurately depicting how our Cherokee ancestors lived 300 years ago. This is a world-class venue that gives users a close up and personal look into the Cherokee Nation’s culture and traditional life ways. In addition to the traditional housing structures, there are areas for stickball, marbles and 14 interpretive stations, where crafts like basket weaving and arrow making will be demonstrated. Very simply, it is a unique opportunity to step into a living history lesson and immerse yourself in how the Cherokee people once lived. The new village, which opened next to the original village built in1967, will be an authentic educational experience for Cherokees and non-Cherokees alike. This setting will promote the tribe’s history and ensure our cultural tourism efforts remain second to none. Today, much like the original one 50 years ago, this village helps honor our past while we use it to educate our future generations. The setting of the village depicts Cherokee life more than 100 years before our forced removal to Indian Territory in 1838. This depiction comes directly from the research and study of an early Cherokee village that was discovered and unearthed when the Eastern Band of Cherokees were building a new school. When the original Tsa La Gi village was designed and constructed, it was based on verbal accounts of what Cherokee life was like prior to contact. Today, with extensive research from archaeologists and tribal historians, we have a more accurate representation of that time. We are now telling our story accurately and in its proper historical context. We knew we could improve and it was our dream to make it right so the Heritage Center offers the most authentic Cherokee experience in the world. For example, we learned that Cherokee families in the 1700s typically had two housing structures – one that retained heat for winter and one that allowed for airflow in the summer. The name Diligwa is a name derivative of Tellico, a village in the east (Tennessee) that was once the Cherokee Nation capital and center of commerce. Historians believe that when our ancestors first arrived in Indian Territory after the removal, the landscape and native grasses reminded them of the grassy open areas of Tellico. They called their new home “Di li gwa,” Tah-le-quah or Teh-li-co, “the open place where the grass grows.” We are poised to continue educating visitors about the Cherokee Nation, the Cherokee culture and life as our ancestors truly knew it. Diligwa will allow us to do that better than ever. Our success further strengthens Oklahoma as a top tourist destination and provides a much needed economic benefit to our home state. American Indian heritage is an asset to Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation has proven time and time again to be the leader in cultural tourism and education. As a people, we must continue working together to carry on our culture for future generations. We must encourage our youth to embrace their heritage and we must share our stories with the world. <p><i><center><a href="mailto:bill-baker@cherokee.org">jami-custer@cherokee.org</a></center></i></p> <p><i><center>918-453-5618</center></i></p>