Cherokee National Treasures burial fund approved
Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor reads legislation during the Oct. 23 Tribal Council meeting in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Taylor one of several sponsors of the National Treasures Burial Assistance Act that passed. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors unanimously passed the National Treasures Burial Assistance Act at their Oct. 23 meeting.
The act states the Cherokee Nation will fully fund standard burial assistance for Cherokee National Treasures through a contracted funeral home under the Burial Assistance Program or through a one-time payment to a contracted funeral home at the current burial assistance rate.
“I had a National Treasure that lived in my district that passed away, and that’s what brought it to my attention, was that there are very few of them and they’re getting on in years and I felt like it was the least we could do for them,” said Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor, who sponsored the bill.
Cherokee National Treasures are CN citizens who preserve Cherokee culture through “exceptional knowledge of Cherokee art forms and cultural practices.” Recipients must be nominated for the honor in one of several categories such as language, basketry, pottery and carving.
The act will go into effect Nov. 22.
It is separate from the tribe’s Burial Assistance Program, which relieves or eliminates the financial hardships associated with funeral costs for low-income families.
However, in a Sept. 28 Rules Committee meeting, legislators acknowledged that some treasures may already be covered under the BAP.
“I’ve visited with the chief about this and most of our National Treasures qualify for our burial policy,” Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said. “So it’s going to take care of itself even though we’ve got legislation there. Most of our National Treasures will qualify for the burial policy, so it’s not going to be that much extra (for the treasures assistance).”
Councilors clarified that qualification for the BAP was not needed for Cherokee National Treasures to qualify under the National Treasures Burial Assistance Act.
“They will not have to qualify,” Taylor said. “Some of them will, and if their family wants to stick with the funeral that is provided by our Burial Assistance Program, then we will pick up the tab for that.”
Concerns were also raised about any precedents the act would set and if it could be expanded to include other notable individuals such as Cherokee legislators.
“I support this act, but still, I just think we still have other people we need to recognize, also,” Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard said. “National Treasures are great, and you can’t speak against National Treasures. I’m not speaking against them. But still, in order to do this right, we need to include a few more types of people on this type of an act.”
Tribal Councilor Shawn Crittenden agreed with possibly expanding the act.
“I’m going to support this, of course, but I don’t think, like Harley was saying, let’s don’t stop the discussion about burial here,” he said. “It’s a big issue in our neck of the woods, and I’m sure everybody’s neck of the woods. I think we can do better on burial as a whole.”
In other business, legislators:
• Increased the fiscal year 2018 comprehensive budget by $19,993 for a total budget of $651.7 million. The increase is from grants received and authorized, though no fund allocations were made to any departments,
• Approved the US-75/EW-0290 Road intersection as a priority project for safety improvements through the Tribal Transportation Program Safety funding,
• Authorized an application for full membership into the InterTribal Buffalo Council and appointed Chris Barnhart to act and vote on behalf of the CN,
• Reappointed Jennifer Goins to the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission,
• Declined Robin McClain Smith’s reappointment to the Cherokee Nation Community Association Corporation by a vote of 8-7, with one abstention,
• Reappointed Dawnena Squirrel to the CNCAC,
• Appointed Betty Frogg as a Cherokee Nation National Treasures Program advisory committee member, and
• Reappointed Eddie Morrison and Jane Osti as CNNTP advisory committee members.