Deere seeks support to protect unmarked graves
TAHLEQUAH – A tribal councilor has proposed creating a new program aimed at preserving unmarked Cherokee graves.
Dist. 13 Tribal Councilor Joe Deere opened the dialogue with his peers in December.
“It’s going to be legitimate Cherokees that are unmarked. The unmarked graves is sort of what I’m wanting to protect,” he said, adding that he sought funding “for a minute” cost. “I wanted to put it out for discussion.”
Deere specifically mentioned utilizing cemetery maps and records found in the multi-volume book series titled “Our people and where they rest” to locate Cherokee graves within the CN.
“It was made for the Cherokee Nation by a Cherokee citizen on where the graves are,” Deere said.
While uncertain how many unmarked graves exist, “We’ve got to start somewhere,” Deere added.
“The book goes to the early 1800s,” he said. “We do have people in these smaller communities that they know their cemetery, they know there’s people there. Well this data just verifies what they’re saying.”
Deere’s proposal garnered support from Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., his administration and other legislators.
“I’m 100% for it,” Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor said. “I’d like to see a systematic approach.”
Financial backing could potentially come from unused CN Cemetery Preservation Assistance funds of approximately $61,000 that roll back into the general fund.
“It is typically underspent, that budget,” Hoskin said. “If the Council wants to do a pilot project, that might be appropriate.”
The existing preservation program helps restore, repair and maintain cemeteries located within the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction. To receive funding, cemeteries must contain a certain percentage of Cherokee gravesites or have historical significance.
Also in December, tribal leaders established the preservation-minded CN Registry of Historic Places Act to save sites of significance to the CN. Its purpose is to “provide a comprehensive framework for identifying, protecting and preserving Cherokee Nation cultural heritage sites.”
Hoskin first announced the act in November at the historic Saline Courthouse in Delaware County, which is one of approximately 80 locations that have been identified within the CN’s jurisdiction for potential inclusion on the new registry.