Cherokee Nation to seek veterans cemetery funding

06/17/2019 10:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A sculpture called “The Warrior Circle” by Cherokee artist Daniel HorseChief is seen outside the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center in Tahlequah. The Tribal Council voted June 10 to seek funding for a veterans cemetery. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee veterans honored with the tribe’s Medal of Patriotism this month are Billy Cecil, of Park Hill; Ashley Rutherford, of Burleson, Texas; John Cochran, of Catoosa; and Marvin Winton, of Amarillo, Texas. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – Hoping to establish a Cherokee Nation veterans cemetery, tribal policymakers agreed June 10 to apply for federal grant funding.

“I have mentioned this to some veteran friends, and they’re very excited about it,” Dist. 13 Tribal Councilor Buel Anglen said. “They just want to know where it’s going to be.”

The Tribal Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the CN Office of Veterans Affairs to seek from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grant funding to cover costs associated with design and planning of a cemetery. The tribe will express interest prior to a July 1 “planning phase” deadline, CN Veterans Affairs Director Barbara Foreman said.

“This is just preliminary,” she said. “It’s like a pre-app. The only thing they’re wanting from us is something from our council and chief.”
An early site considered for the cemetery was near Cherokee Trails Golf Course, Sequoyah High School and the tribe’s Cultural Grounds in Tahlequah. Unimpressed with that site, councilors removed from the proposal any reference to a cemetery location.

“This is my district,” Dist. 3 Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick said. “I grew up in that area my whole entire life. I’m not really excited about the location. I think it’s a great concept, a great idea. But, I can’t pass this with the location it’s in right now.”

At-Large Tribal Councilor Mary Baker Shaw agreed.

“I think this is a fantastic idea, but that was before I saw the location,” she said. “I’m horrified we’re going to put a cemetery possibly by our school where our kids go. I’m sorry, I think this is a terrible location.”

Councilors also amended the resolution to include only “Cherokee veterans,” a move Foreman said will likely lessen the tribe’s chance to receive a portion of the $45 million available in grant funding.

“We can apply for either way you choose,” she said. “But what they’ve told us so far is that if we apply for a national cemetery and we open it for all veterans, we would be higher on the priority list to be funded. If we just go to strictly tribal, it will drop us down quite a bit.”
Councilors were adamant that a CN cemetery should be limited to Cherokees.

“I love the idea of us having a national cemetery,” Dist. 14 Tribal Councilor Keith Austin said. “I don’t love the idea of us committing ourselves to care for non-tribal citizens from now until eternity with tribal dollars.”

Tribal Speaker Joe Byrd acknowledged that limiting the cemetery could reduce grant chances, but like others, expressed concern over serving “all tribes, all non-tribal members.”

“I’m excited about this national cemetery for Cherokees with a different site,” he said.

Cherokee veterans honored

CN citizens and veterans honored in June with the tribe’s Medal of Patriotism were Billy Cecil, Ashley Rutherford, John Cochran and Marvin Winton.

A U.S. Army veteran, Cecil, of Park Hill, served from 1966-69. He spent three years in Germany.

“I just want to thank the Cherokees for all their recognition,” Cecil said at the June 10 meeting. “I’m very proud to be a Cherokee.”

Vietnam veteran Rutherford, of Burleson, Texas, served in the Army from 1965-69. A military policeman and squad leader, he achieved rank as an E-5 sergeant.

“On behalf of my family – a large number of them who are members of the tribe – I thank you for this,” Rutherford said. “It’s an honor for them and me.”

Vietnam veteran Cochran, of Catoosa, served in the Army’s 4th Infantry Division from 1968-72.

“It’s a privilege to serve in the U.S. military,” Cochran said, “and a privilege to serve our tribe and nation.”

Winton, of Amarillo, Texas, served in the U.S. Marine Corps during peace time from 1953-56.

“I go to a VA hospital in Amarillo named and dedicated to Thomas E. Creek, an 18-year-old who was killed in Vietnam and received the Congressional Medal of Honor for it,” Winton said. “We love our country. We will raise our hands and give our lives as a human sacrifice if necessary.”
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