Tribe honors 13 military vets, ADA compliance addressed
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Weston Henson, left, is awarded the Cherokee Warrior award for military service on Jan. 14 as Tribal Councilor Buel Anglen looks on. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Retired Warner Police Chief Terry Thompson, left, shakes hands with Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden on Jan. 14 during a Tribal Council meeting after receiving an award for his military service. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH — The Cherokee Nation’s tradition of honoring veterans during Tribal Council meetings was expanded, at least for one night, to include more than a dozen “Cherokee Warriors” on Jan. 14.
“We have more than usual tonight,” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said. “All five branches of the military are represented with us this evening, which is rare. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. It won’t be like this every meeting, but from time to time we’ll have more than our typical two or three.”
Deemed “Cherokee Warriors,” 13 veterans were awarded the tribe’s Medal of Patriotism.
“Unless you’re a veteran, you really don’t know what this means,” Navy veteran Jeffrey Conseen, of Pryor, said. “I can’t describe what it means to stand up here. It’s quite an honor.”
Earlier in the day, CN Veterans Affairs Director Barbara Foreman told councilors the catalyst for a larger ceremony was “a backlog, actually, of our veterans to be honored.”
“We had one family call saying that their father, they didn’t know if he was going to be around for the months that he was going to have to wait to be honored,” she said. “If we see this many veterans and honor this many tonight, it will bring our caseload up to kind of where we need to be.”
Councilor Mary Baker Shaw expressed concern over the veterans’ ability to “walk down these stairs that are not ADA compliant” in the Tribal Council Chambers.
“Can someone please explain to me why we’re not handicapped accessible?” she asked. “I mean it’s 2019.”
Councilors were told that updating the 1970s-era room to Americans with Disabilities Act standards would require a complete overhaul.
“What we’re going to look at is redo the whole council chamber,” Councilor Joe Byrd said. “We need to become compliant. We just started discussing this a couple weeks ago, so we’re in the early stages. But it won’t take long to do a feasibility study.”
The legislative branch was relocated to its current location at the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in 2013 following the discovery of several mold species in the former Council House.
“We had at one time almost $4 million set aside to build a council house after we moved out of the mold building,” Councilor Dick Lay said. “I don’t know where that money went. But at some point in time, some council, somewhere, somehow, is going to have to regenerate that idea of council standing alone and having its own facility. The legislative body is a stand-alone body. It should be standing alone like we were before.”
Byrd said those funds were used for health facilities.
“At one time we had $3.5 million for a new council house,” he said. “We took the $3 million and put it towards the health facilities. Then we took the half a million and used it to renovate what we’re in today.”
The CN opened its $2 million Veterans Center in 2013, but the Tribal Council continued honoring veterans monthly in its chambers.
“I think they like to be recognized in front of the council,” Byrd said. “It’s good to see the expression on those veterans’ faces that they’re finally getting recognized.”
At the Jan. 14 meeting, honored veterans expressed gratitude for the recognition.
“It means a lot,” retired U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Johnny Kidwell, of Broken Arrow, said. “I can’t begin to tell you. I’m just honored that the Cherokee Nation would be doing this. I really, truly appreciate it.”
Vietnam War veteran Everett Sims, of Westville, said he was “just proud to be a Cherokee warrior.”
Fellow veteran Anthony King, of Fort Gibson, accepted his award on behalf of Vietnam veterans.
“I’ve been around a lot of veterans,” he said. “They have told me stories. They have said, ‘You know what, one of the things I was upset about when I came back from Vietnam, I was not accepted. I was not appreciated.’”
Veterans honored on Jan. 14 were:
• Clifford Bark, of Spavinaw, who served in the Army from 1971-73,
• Raymond Buzzard, of Marble City, who served in the Army from 1969-71,
• Jeffrey Conseen, of Pryor, who served in the Navy from 1989-93,
• Weston Henson, of Proctor, who served in the Marine Corps from 2007-12,
• Johnny Kidwell, of Broken Arrow, who served in the Coast Guard from 1991-2011,
• Anthony King, of Fort Gibson, who served in the Marine Corps from 1967-69,
• Jimmy McGrath, of Gore, who served in the Navy from 1971-79 and the Army from 1982-96 and 2006-09,
• Everett Sims, of Westville, who served in the Army from 1969-89,
• Russell Smith, of Bartlesville, who served in the Army from 1967-69,
• Ruben Talley, of Broken Arrow, who served in the Navy from 1957-63,
• Robert Teague, of Tahlequah, who served in the Air Force from 1973-79,
• Terry Thompson, of Warner, who served in the Oklahoma National Guard from 1985-95, and
• Noah Welch, of Muskogee, who served in the Army from 1967-99.