Cherokee Southwest Township celebrates culture
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Cherokee citizen Nick Nail hasn’t lived in the Cherokee Nation for more than 60 years, but he and about 100 other Cherokees celebrate their heritage thanks to the Cherokee Southwest Township.
The township is one of 12 CN-recognized organizations designated as an “official” Cherokee community outside the tribe’s jurisdiction in Oklahoma. In 2008, the CSWT became the first recognized community under the Cherokee Nation Community Association, which designates satellite groups as official Cherokee communities.
“We were very enthused to become the first satellite community,” said Nail, who is the CSWT’s meeting facilitator. “We’ve always felt we were an embassy anyway for the Cherokee Nation, so we were able to put this all together … it was a real honor for us.”
The CSWT was established in 1999 as a way for Cherokee citizens and their families to explore their heritage, nurture their Cherokee roots and learn more about Cherokee history and traditions, Nail said.
CSWT members consist of enrolled and non-enrolled Cherokees and their families. The group’s activities include monthly meetings and potluck meals with guest speakers and programs. The group also publishes a monthly newsletter, The Cherokee Compass, which includes Cherokee news and articles on history, culture, traditions and general interest.
Nail said his family moved from Oklahoma in 1943, but that hasn’t stopped him from returning to the CN once a year for the Cherokee National Holiday.
“(I) still have family in Oklahoma,” he said. “(I) used to compete in the blowgun competition.
“I’ve always enjoyed my Cherokee heritage and sharing with other Cherokees. We’ve always found it nice to find other families that are Cherokee. We just have a really good time together.”
CSWT member Sue Sleeper, who was born and raised in Santa Fe, said she has always held her Cherokee roots close.
“It’s very dear to my heart to be able to visit with other Cherokees for so many years,” she said. “You end up thinking you’re the only one. When we found this group it just brought our whole heritage to life, and it has just become a special integrated part of our lives.”
Patti Rawls, who was born in Tahlequah, Okla., said her heritage remains important to her and that she is happy to be a CSWT member. “(The group) keeps us all connected,” she said. “Kind of keeps us in touch with relatives back home.”
Charter CSWT member Gwen Forrester said both of her parents are on the Dawes Roll and had land in Oklahoma and that she’s proud of her Cherokee heritage.
“This group, Cherokee Southwest Township, has really enhanced my memories. I’ve taken the language classes…it’s just a wonderful part of my husbands life and my life, and our grandchildren’s lives,” she said.
At-Large Tribal Council Julia Coates said the reason people start satellite groups is because nearly 70 percent of Cherokee citizens don’t live in the tribe’s boundaries and they want to connect with the CN. She said satellite communities are a way to do that.
Along with celebrating the Cherokee culture with themselves, CWST members also receive periodic visits from CN officials and dignitaries, including the Principal Chief Chad Smith.
“We really appreciate the visits from the Cherokee Nation, Chad Smith and (his wife)Bobbie, At-Large (Tribal) Councilors, Julia (Coates) and (Jack) Baker,” Forrester said.
Communities wanting to apply for official CN recognition must meet requirements, including having had six months worth of meetings, established bylaws and permanent officers seated. Also, a majority of officers must be CN citizens.
Once those requirements are met, the group can submit an application to the CNCA board for chapter consideration. Once a community is chaptered under the CN’s non-profit umbrella, they are regarded as one of the CN’s official communities.