Citizens of the Cherokee Nation, like most tribes nationwide, have a deep commitment to the American military. That history and the bravery of Cherokee men and women are why we pay our respects to veterans not just on Veterans Day, but at every public event the CN hosts. We recognize those who have fought battles, those who have served, and those who sacrificed for our collective freedoms.
Native people have the highest per-capita involvement of any population within the Armed Forces, as well as a higher concentration of women service members. Our people have served with distinction in every major conflict for more than 200 years. That heritage of service – as soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen – is something we, as Cherokees, should all take great pride in. Cherokee people have been willing to answer the call to serve this country, even as this country often tried to eliminate tribes and tribal culture.
My father served in the U.S. Navy, working on the flight deck of the USS Independence. He stepped forward when the nation needed him to serve. I’m inspired by him and all veterans who answered the call to duty. One of many lessons I’ve learned from my dad is that veterans, by and large, are not looking for personal recognition, but they do deserve our thanks and utmost respect. At the CN, we are doing more than ever to ensure our veterans know how much we appreciate them. We have also increased the services offered by the tribe to support our veterans and their families.
We have established multiple food distribution events solely for veterans and their families across the reservation. Battling food insecurity is something Oklahomans sadly know all too well. Under the leadership of Secretary of Veteran Affairs S. Joe Crittenden, we are making sure our veterans have access to nutritious foods. We are also committed to reducing veteran homelessness, and we have programs to ensure veterans have a safe and secure roof over their heads. We also are collaborating with the Department of Defense to build a division of 21 homes in Tahlequah earmarked specifically for Cherokee veterans.
The Cherokee Warrior flight is one of the most popular veteran events annually. Sadly, we have tabled it for two years in order to follow COVID safety guidelines. However, next year we plan to reinstitute the trip and host a tour of Washington, D.C., again. Cherokee veterans who participate will see the debut of the public art piece devoted to Native veterans that the National Museum of the American Indian is dedicating in 2022.
Remembrance and reverence are a big part of Cherokee culture. This Veterans Day, I joined Secretary Crittenden on the campus of Northeastern State University in Tahlequah to dedicate a monument honoring NSU’s military veterans. Because NSU is such an important partner to the CN and our capital city, it is fitting for the CN to have a significant role.
In the coming months, I will be making more announcements about veterans’ programs and services, including a new cemetery in Tahlequah devoted specifically to Cherokee service members. It is our tradition and our heritage to celebrate individuals who sacrifice for the larger good. It is the proper way to honor our veterans.
Our CN Veterans Center remains a hub of activity for those looking for assistance navigating federal applications or seeking any kind of health care service. It is also a place of camaraderie and friendship, where bonds are strengthened because of shared experiences.
The best way for our veterans to stay connected with programs and services is through our Gadugi Portal. Veterans can visit our website, cherokee.org, and include their veteran status in their Gadugi portal profile. This better enables the CN to communicate opportunities for veterans directly to them.
Our ancestors fought, endured hardships and persevered for our collective freedom. Our military heroes likewise fought and endured hardships so today we can remain free. That’s why the Cherokee people have always respected any man or woman who has made sacrifices to protect and defend our nation’s liberties.