Cherokee Rangers crew chief wants more employees
Cherokee Rangers crew coordinator David Comingdeer checks a truck before hiscrew leaves the Cherokee Nation Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protecttribal lands from wildfire. (Photo by Jami Custer)
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – With dry and windy conditions come greater risks of wildfires, and it’s up to the Cherokee Rangers to protect Cherokee Nation lands from those wildfire risks.
However, Cherokee Rangers crew coordinator David Comingdeer said it’s hard to keep a steady crew when he is the only Ranger employed full time. The nine other Rangers are seasonal employees paid by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Comingdeer said his crew, which operates out of the tribe’s Natural Resources Department, deserves to be hired full time by the tribe because of its knowledge about wildfires and its dedication to protecting CN lands.
The first Rangers crew formed on Feb. 8, 2008, when eight Cherokee men graduated from the Wildland Fire Basic Training in Ada, Okla. Since that time, the team has suppressed more than 1,000 wildfires, with 407 located within the tribe’s jurisdiction.
“Seventy-five percent of those (fires) were on Cherokee tribal lands, with the remaining 25 percent being a direct threat to tribal lands,” Comingdeer said of the jurisdictional fires.
He said in 2009 the Rangers helped suppress more than 50 wildfires in other tribal jurisdictions in Oklahoma, as well as nine other states.
He added that he would like to see the tribe hire the other Rangers because he runs the risk of losing them to full-time jobs elsewhere, which would result in having to train a new crew.
“It’s very difficult because when you train men like this through federal classes and get them federally qualified as a wild land firefighter, it’s not something you want to go through ever year with a big turnover rate because the guys lose interest,” he said.
Comingdeer said in 2009 the seasonal Rangers found it hard to make a living with the cool, wet fire season. He said, “to make ends meet, the Rangers worked the last several months off and on” through the tribe’s Day Work Program spending much of the time working at the Cherokee Heritage Center.
However, that program closed on April 1 due to a lack of funding. Tribal officials have said that it may return, but not until late May or early June.
“Our job, we’re busy throughout the winter and spring, but this year it’s been a slow season. We were on the Day Work Program probably about two or three days out of the week, and you know it’s a pay cut,” said Ranger Isaac Merchant. “We have to do what we got to, to feed our families. We’re all proud citizens of the Cherokee Nation, and we’ll do our job no matter what we have to do.”
Comingdeer said he also wants to see the Rangers hired because they work extended hours, don’t pay into Social Security or receive benefits. On fire danger days, the Rangers are on call and are paid in case a fire erupts. But on days when they aren’t, they are considered unemployed.
“…If they’re sick they have to work or they don’t get paid. If the weather doesn’t permit us to have wildfire, then they don’t work. They don’t get paid,” he said.
Comingdeer also said crew members many times have had to wait eight to 10 weeks to receive a check from the BIA, and even then many times it’s two and three checks at once.
“…the rest of us we get a paycheck every two weeks no matter if we show up or not cause we can turn in leave and things like that,” he said. “…these men are all anxious to have gainful employment here through the Cherokee Nation and enjoy the same benefits that everyone else has because these guys are here for the long haul and they have stuck it out two years.”
Natural Resources Director Pat Gwin said the difficulty with hiring more Rangers is that there isn’t enough money to do so.
“At the present time, unfortunately, the funds do not even cover the salary of one person. Those funds come down from a federal agency, and we don’t really have input on that. It’s based on funding availability,” Gwin said. “We are responsible for maintaining a preparedness/pre-suppression program to the level that they (BIA) fund it.”
He said in the future, Natural Resources officials hope to change the program from pre-suppression to a prevention program that will potentially offer more funding.
ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏥᎳ ᏗᏅᏝᏗᏍᎩ ᏗᏓᏘᏂᏙᎯ ᏄᎬᏫᏳᏒ ᎤᏚᎵ ᎤᏂᎪᏛ ᎬᏩᏍᏕᎵᏍᎩᏓᎵᏆ, ᎣᎦᎵᎰᎻ.--- ᏧᎧᏲᏛ ᎠᎴ ᏗᎦᏃᎴᏍᎩ ᏃᏊ ᏥᎩ ᎤᎪᏛ ᏃᏊ ᎦᎾᏰ Ꭼ ᏧᎴᏃᏍᏗ,ᎠᎴ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏟᎢᎶᎮ ᏗᏅᏝᏗᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᎦᏎᏍᏗᏕᎦ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎦᏓ ᏓᎮ ᏧᎾᎦᏎᏍᏙᏗ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏕᎦᎵᎬᎢ.
ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ, ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎦᏓ ᏓᎲ ᏧᎾᎦᏎᏍᏗ ᎤᎾᏓᏡᎬ ᏗᏘᏁᎦ ᏕᏫ ᎠᏫᏓᏯᎢ ᎤᏛᏅ ᏍᏓᏱ ᏂᎦᏓ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᏧᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᎬᎩᏍᏕᎵᏍᎩ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏩᏌ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᎠᏥᎾᏢᎢ. ᏐᏁᎳ ᎢᏯᏂ ᎠᏂᏐᎢ Ꮭ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᏱᏗᎨᏥᎾᏝᎣᎢ ᏴᏓᎭ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏱᏗᎦᎵᎦ ᎠᎴ ᎨᎦᏈᏴᎡᎲ ᎾᎿ ᏩᏥᏂ ᏧᎾᎦᏎᏍᏗ ᎤᏂᏴᏍᏗ ᏗᏓᎴᎲᏍᎪᎢ.
ᎠᏫᏓᏱᎢ ᏚᏬᏎᎸ ᏓᏘᏁᎲᎢ, ᎾᎿ ᏗᏓᎴᎲᏍᎪ ᎠᏂᎳᏍᏓᏢ ᏄᏍᏛᏊ ᎤᏂᏲᎯ ᎤᎾᏙᏢᏒ, ᏙᎯᏳ ᎤᏚᎵᏓ ᏗᎨᏥᎾᏢᏗ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᎾᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᏂᎦᎥ ᎤᎾᏅᏛ ᎢᏳᎾᏛᏗ ᏱᏗᎦᎵᎦ ᎠᎴ ᎢᎦ ᎠᏂᎦᏟᏯ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎤᎾᎵᏏᏅᏙᏗ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎦᏓ ᏚᎲᎢ.ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎬᏱ ᎤᎾᏙᏢᏅ ᎯᎠ ᎤᎾᎦᏎᏍᏗ ᎧᎦᎵ ᏧᏁᎵᏁ, ᏔᎵ ᏯᎦᏴᎵ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᏌᏗᏒ, ᎾᎿ ᏧᏁᎳ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏍᎦᏯ ᏚᏂᏍᏆᏛ ᏓᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎦᎵᎬ ᏗᏅᏝᏗᏍᎩ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎨᏥᏏᎾᎲᏍᏔᏅ ᎾᎿ Ada, ᎣᎸᎵᎰᎻ. ᎾᎯᏳᏃ ᏂᏓᎬᏩᎴᏅᏓ, ᎯᎠ ᎣᎦᎵᎪᏒ ᏚᏅᏝᏗ ᏯᏛᎾ ᏌᏊ ᎢᏯᎦᏴᎵ ᏕᎦᎵᎬ, ᎾᎿ ᏅᎩᏧᏈ ᎦᎵᏉᎩ ᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᏚᏙᏢᏒ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᏓᏍᏗᏅᏅ ᎭᏫᏓᏗᏝ."ᎦᎵᏆᏍᎪ ᎯᏍᎩ percent ᎯᎠ ᏕᎦᎵᎬ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏩᏥᏂ ᏚᎲ ᎦᏙ ᎨᏒ, ᎾᏍᎩᏍᏊ ᎯᏍᎩᏦᏁ percent ᎾᏍᎩ ᎾᎥ ᎾᎿ ᎪᏂᎳᏍᏓᏢ ᏓᏍᏗᏅᏅ ᎨᏒ," ᎠᏫᏓᏯᎢ ᎤᏛᏅᎢ.ᎤᏛᏅᏃ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏔᎵ ᏯᎦᏴᎵ ᏐᏁᎳ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᏌᏗᏒ ᎦᎵᎬ ᏗᎾᏟᎯ ᎤᎾᎵᏍᏕᎸᎲ ᏓᏅᏝᏗᏍᎬ ᎯᎦᏍᎪ ᎢᎦ ᎢᎾᎨ ᏕᎦᎵᎬ ᎤᏣᏘᏂ ᎠᏂᎳᏍᏓᏢ ᏚᏂᎲ ᎭᏫᎾᏗᏢ ᏗᏍᏗᏅᏅ ᎾᎿ ᎣᎦᎵᎰᎻ, ᎾᏍᎩᏁᏍᏊ ᏐᏁᎳ ᏗᏐᎢ ᏗᏍᎦᏚᎩ.ᎯᎢᏃ ᏭᏝᏅ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏚᎵᏍᎬ ᎤᎪᏩᏛᏗ Ꮎ ᎠᏂᎳᏍᏓᏢ ᏧᎾᏢᏗ ᎯᎠ ᎠᏂᏐᎢ ᏐᏁᎳ ᎢᏯᏂ ᏗᎾᏟᎯ ᏕᎦᎵᎬᎢ ᎾᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ Ꮭ ᏳᏚᎵᏍᎪ ᏧᏲᎱᏎᏗ ᎤᏣᏘᏂ ᎢᎸᏢ ᎤᏂᏩᏛᏗ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᏗᎬᏩᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏱᏄᎵᏍᏔᏂ ᎠᏎ ᎠᏂᏤ ᏂᎦᏓ ᏚᏏᎾᎲᏍᏙᏗ ᏱᎩ."ᎡᎵᏃ ᏍᏓᏱ ᏂᎬᏂᏏᏍᎬ ᎾᎿ ᏱᏓᏏᎾᎲᏍᏔ ᎠᏂᏍᎦᏯ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏩᏥᏂ ᎤᏬᏢᏒ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᎨᎪᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᏱᏄᎵᏍᏔᏂ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏗᏅᏢᏗᏍᎩ, ᎾᏍᎩᎾ Ꮭ ᏙᎯᏳ ᏳᏚᎵᏙ ᏂᏓᏕᏘᏴᎯᏒ ᏄᎾᏓᎴ ᏗᏏᎾᎲᏍᏙᏗᎢ ᎾᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᏭᏂᏓᏆᏍᎪᎢ ᏭᏂᏲᏎᏲ ᎤᎵᏍᎨᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ," ᎤᏛᏅᎢ.ᎠᏫᏓᏯᎢ ᎤᏛᏅ ᎾᎿ ᏔᎵ ᏯᎦᏴᎵ ᏐᏁᎳ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏆᏗᏒ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎯᎠ ᎢᏴᏓᎭ ᏧᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎯ ᎤᏩᏛᎲ ᏍᏓᏱᏳ ᎨᏒ ᎾᏍᎩᏊ ᎢᎦ ᎤᎾᎵᏍᏕᎸᏙᏗ ᎤᏴᏟ, ᎤᏬᏕᏫᏛᎢ. ᎤᏛᏅ, "ᎧᎵ ᎬᏩᎾᎵᏍᏕᎸᏙᏗ ᏏᏓᏁᎸ, ᎾᎿ ᏗᏅᏝᏗᏍᎩ ᏚᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎸ ᏝᎦ ᏃᏊ Ꮩ ᎠᏁᏙᎰ" ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎯᎠ ᎠᏂᎳᏍᏓᏢ ᎤᏙᏢᏅ ᏗᎬᏩᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᎨᏒ Ꮎ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᏂᏧᎵᏍᏔᏅᏍᏔᏅ ᎠᏰᏟ.ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ, ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏂᏍᏚᎢᏒ ᏗᎦᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᎤᏂᏍᏚᏅ ᎧᏬᏂ ᎢᎬᏱ ᎠᏕᎳ ᏚᎾᏨᏁᎴ. ᎠᏂᎳᏍᏓᏢ ᎠᎾᏓᏅᏖᎵᏙ ᎤᎾᏛᏅ ᎡᎵᏊ ᏯᏓᎴᎾ, ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ ᎤᎵᏍᏆᏛᏊ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎠᏂᏍᎬᏘ ᎠᎴ ᎢᎬᏱ ᏕᎭᎷᏱ."ᎢᎩᎲ ᏗᎦᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ, ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᏕᎩᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎰ ᎪᎳ ᎨᏒ ᎢᎪᎯᏓ ᎠᎴ ᎪᎨᏯ ᎢᏍᏓ, ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ ᎯᎠ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏌᏓ ᎢᎦ ᏙᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ Ꮎ ᏏᎦ ᏗᎦᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᏧᎵᏍᏚᎢᏒ ᎾᎿ ᎨᎦᏈᏴᎡᎰ ᏔᎵ ᎠᎴ ᏦᎢ ᎢᎦ ᏒᎾᏙᏓᏆᏍᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ, ᏝᏃ ᎾᏍᎩᏯ ᏱᎨᏐ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎨᎦᏈᏴᎡᏗ ᎧᎵ ᏱᏚᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎯ," ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᏗᎬᏝᏗᏍᎩ Isaac Merchant. "ᎠᏎᏃ ᏃᏣᏛᏁᎰ ᎣᎩᎲ ᎣᏨᏗᏍᎪ, ᏙᏤᏠᎰ ᏙᎦᏓᏘᎾᎥᎢ. ᏂᎦᏓ ᎣᏣᎵᎮᎵᎪ ᎣᏤᎸ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ, ᎠᎴ ᏙᏓᏲᎩᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎵ ᎾᏍᎩᏊ ᎢᏲᎦᏛᏁᏗ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏓ."ᎠᏫᏓᏯᎢ ᎤᏛᏅ ᎤᏚᎵᏍᎬ ᎤᎪᏩᏛᏗ ᏗᏅᏝᏗᏍᎩ ᏗᎨᏥᏁᏢᏗ ᏅᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᎪᎯᏓ ᏚᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎰ, ᎠᎴ Ꮭ ᎤᏣᏘᏂ ᏱᎾᎾᎵᏍᏗᏍᎪ ᎠᏕᎳ ᎣᏂ ᎬᏩᏂᏙᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ. ᏃᏊᏃ ᎢᎾᎨ ᏕᎦᎵᎬ ᏳᏟᎢᎶᏝ, ᏗᏅᏝᏗᏍᎩ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᎤᎾᏛᏓᏍᏓ ᏧᎾᏟᏃᎮᏗ ᎢᎸᏢ ᏯᎴᎾ ᎢᎾᎨ ᎦᎵᎬᎢ. ᎠᏎᏃ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏂᎨᏒᎾ ᏱᎩ Ꮭ ᏱᏗᎨᏥᎾᏝᎣᎢ."……ᎢᏳᏃ ᏱᏚᎾᏓᏂᎳ ᎠᏎ ᏧᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᎠᎴ Ꮭ ᏱᎨᎦᏈᏴᎡᎰᎢ. ᎢᏳᏃ ᏂᏗᎦᎵᎬᎾ ᏱᎩ ᎢᎾᎨ, Ꮭ ᏱᏙᎩᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎰ ᎠᎴ Ꮭ ᏱᎨᎦᏈᏴᎡᎰᎢ," ᎤᏛᏅᎢ.ᎠᏫᏓᏯᎢ ᎾᏍᏊ ᎯᎠ ᏄᏪᏒ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎬᏩᏍᏕᎵᏍᎩ ᎤᎪᏛ ᎠᏂᎦᏘᏗᏍᎪ ᎨᎦᏈᏴᎡᏗ ᏧᏁᎳ ᎠᎴ ᏍᎪᎯ ᎢᏳᎾᏙᏓᏆᏍᏗ ᎢᎪᎯᏓ ᎩᎳ ᏩᏥᏂ ᏕᎦᏅᏍᎪ ᎠᏕᎳ ᏗᏎᎯᏍᏓ, ᎠᎴ ᏴᏓᎭ ᏔᎵ ᎠᎴ ᏦᎢ ᎢᎦ ᎠᏕᎳ ᏗᏎᎯᏍᏓ ᏓᏂᏁᏍᎪ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎦ ᎣᏂ ᎠᎾᎢᏐᎢ."…… ᏬᎬᎬᏛᏃ ᏙᏥᏁᏍᎬ ᎣᎦᏈᏴᎡᎭ ᏔᎵ ᎢᏳᎾᏙᏓᏆᏍᏗ ᎢᏳᏓᎵ ᎣᎨᏙᎸ ᏱᎩ ᎠᎴ Ꮭ ᎾᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᏙᏣᏓᏅᏁᎰ ᏗᎪᏪᎳ ᎠᏎᎯᎭ ᏄᏍᏛ ᏃᎦᏛᏁᎸᎢ," ᎤᏛᏅᎢ. "…. ᎯᎢᎾ ᎠᏂᏍᎦᏯ ᎤᎾᏚᎵᏍᎪ ᎤᎪᏛ ᎠᎴ ᏗᎨᏥᎾᏢᏗ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎤᎾᎵᎮᎵᏍᏗ ᎤᏠᏯ ᎠᏂᏐᎢ ᎨᎦᏈᏴᎡᎲᎢ ᎾᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᎠᏂᎦᏘᏯ ᎠᎴ ᏔᎵ ᎾᏕᏘᏯ ᎬᏩᎾᎴᏅᏓ."ᏂᎬᏩᏍᏛ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎢᏳᏅᎾᏕᎦ ᏗᎫᎪᏔᏂᏙᎯ Pat Gwin ᎤᏛᏅ ᎾᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᏗᎦᎾᏈᏗ ᎯᎠ ᎠᏂᏍᎦᏯ ᏝᏃ ᎠᏕᎳ ᎡᎵ ᏱᏂᎦ ᏯᎭ.."ᏃᏊᏃ ᎨᏒ, ᏙᎯᏳ ᎡᏍᎪᎯ ᎠᏕᎳ ᏓᎲ ᏎᎦᏨ ᎨᏐ ᏌᏊ ᏴᏫ ᎠᏈᏴᎡᏙᏗ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏩᏥᏂ ᏙᏗᎦᎶᏍᎪ ᎯᎠ ᎠᏕᎳ ᎠᎴ Ꮭ ᎠᏯ ᎣᎩᏁᎢᏍᏗ ᏱᎩ. ᎠᎾᎵᏍᎪᎸᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᎾᎦᏎᏍᏗᏍᎪ ᎠᎴ ᎢᎦ ᎨᏒᎢ," ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Gwin. "ᎠᏯᏃ ᎣᎩᎭ ᎢᎦᏘᎭ ᏲᎬᏁᎸᏍᏗ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏙᏗ ᎨᏒ ᏩᏥᏂ ᎤᎵᏍᎪᎸᏛᎢ."ᎤᏛᏅᏃ ᎠᏟᎢᎵᏒᎢ, ᎯᎢᎾ ᎤᎾᏙᏢᎯ ᎤᏚᎩ ᎤᏅᎭ ᎤᏓᏁᏟᏴᏍᏗ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏂᎲ ᏃᏊ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏅᏓᎴ ᏧᏃᏍᏗ ᎤᏣᏘᏂ ᎬᏩᏅᏔᏂᏓᏍᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎠᎴ ᎤᎪᏛᎢ.