OPINION: Celebrating Native American Heritage Month
As we enter November – Native American Heritage Month – it’s a good time to take stock of where we now find ourselves in this difficult year. Even though we are still weathering the global COVID-19 crisis, I believe our tribal nations stand stronger than ever. Celebrating Native American Heritage Month means celebrating who we are historically, who we are today, and who we will be in the future.
Cherokee Nation Businesses’ Cultural Tourism department plays a central role in helping the public reach a better understanding and respect for the Cherokee Nation’s contributions to this country. Through managing our historic properties and museums, our tourism team creates a knowledge bridge to share our culture, language and stories in an engaging, accessible way.
Toward that end, the CN recently acquired the historic Will Rogers Birthplace Museum from the Oklahoma Historical Society. Located in Rogers County in northeastern Oklahoma, the property spans 162 rolling acres of the original Dog Iron Ranch adjacent to Lake Oologah. It includes the two-story, ranch-style home where Rogers was born and provides a glimpse of what life was like on a late 19th century Cherokee ranch in Indian Territory. It’s there that Will Rogers grew up, working cattle for his father, Clem Rogers, a member of the Cherokee Senate, before moving on to vaudeville and Hollywood.
No matter how popular he became as a performer, actor, humorist and writer, Rogers was always a Cherokee first, and he never shied away from talking about it. He often referenced his perspective as an Indian. Although he was not fluent in the Cherokee language, he did know many Cherokee words, dropping them casually into his essays and radio reports. I somehow think Will would approve of the measures we are undertaking today to keep the Cherokee language alive and thriving.
Our Cultural Tourism department will manage the site, and it will continue to be open for the public to visit and enjoy. We expect it to function much like the Sequoyah’s Cabin property near Sallisaw, which the tribe also secured through the state’s historical society.
Will Rogers and Sequoyah, both giants in Cherokee history, left an undeniable impact on our tribe and our country. The preservation of their respective historic homes is part of the Cherokee Nation Historic Registry Act, an initiative we launched last year to better preserve meaningful and iconic Cherokee places. Continuing to honor these and similar legacies is a responsibility we have strategically and purposefully taken on as a tribal nation.
Through our historic sites, we can accurately tell our history, celebrate our culture and ensure these important places remain available for future generations. We have about 20 additional Cherokee historic sites selected, with dozens more lined up for consideration. We will announce those as they are finalized.
Will Rogers will forever be remembered across the world as a beloved public figure. As principal chief of the CN, I could not be prouder of the positive image Will Rogers left for our future generations. His good-heartedness shines even now through his words and his work. “The Cherokee Kid,” as Will was known, never forgot who he was.
As we observe Native American Heritage Month in 2020, it may be a little different from past celebrations, but I encourage you to thoughtfully consider the history and heritage of tribes, and the power of our sovereign nations yesterday, today and tomorrow. May we, like Will Rogers, never forget who we are and where we come from.