It can be so incredibly overwhelming for At-Large citizens, especially our elders, to connect with tribal services. While there are tribal services available to At-Large citizens, knowing where to begin can be a daunting task. That task is further complicated if you don’t have an affinity for or access to reliable technology, or any experience with our tribal government.
How do you even know where to begin?
I’ve been serving as an ordained minister in The United Methodist Church for a long time, just as my father before me did. Prior to serving in ministry, and shortly after my tour with the U.S. Army, I worked for a time as the Indian Education Advocate for Lincoln Public Schools in Lincoln, Nebraska. There are probably more than a few similarities between those two roles, but one that stands out for me is the necessity of bringing services and resources to where people need them most. Whether it was bringing qualified people from the Cherokee Nation to the Indian Education students of Lincoln so that they could learn how to play stickball, or bringing resources and aid to the homeless community in Oklahoma City as part of our Homeless Outreach Team at Southern Hills United Methodist Church…we accomplish more together when insttead of expecting our people to come to where the resources are, we come up with outside-of-the-box solutions that bring resources to the people who most need them.
Because I’ve learned from those experiences, let me propose something new…
What if we opened Cherokee Nation Embassies in states with high-density populations of Cherokee Citizens, designed to give our At-Large Citizens a place to connect with a person who can connect them with Tribal Services?
There are so many ways in which we could go about pursuing something like this…but let me get the conversation started. What if we located these Embassies in a strip-mall facility with access to multiple business spaces. Those Embassies could include:
A Cherokee Nation Ambassador
The Cherokee Nation Ambassador could be a person who is a citizen of both the Cherokee Nation and the state in which the Embassy is located. This person could be appointed by the Principal Chief and serve to connect At-Large citizens with important resources such as: tribal registration and ID Card procurement, educational and scholarship opportunities, health care, cultural activities, and much more…
An Outpatient Health Clinic
Next to the Office of the Ambassador, why not explore including an Outpatient Health Clinic? It would certainly be possible to provide quality healthcare to not only Cherokee Citizens, but also to members of other federally recognized tribes as well. Healthcare is something that we do well in the Cherokee Nation. We can expand this success to meet the needs of At-Large Citizens in more effective ways.
A Child Care Center
As you know, I am a United Methodist Minister. If you have any experience with Christian Churches, then you know how common it is for those churches to offer quality (often DHS certified) child care services on their campuses. Offering quality, DHS certified child care centers within the Embassy complex not only meets a real need for the communities that we would be partnering with, but also helps to provide funding for the administration of the Embassy. This means that while meeting an important need within their communities by offering quality child care services, the Embassies themselves would not be funded using funds already allocated to services provided within the boundaries of our reservation. Instead, At-Large Cherokee Citizens would be funding our own Embassy complex.
Election Polling Locations
At present, At-Large Cherokee Citizens do not have polling locations unless we travel to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. It is likewise currently necessary for At-Large citizens to request an absentee ballot in order to vote in any tribal election. What if our Embassies also functioned as polling locations for At-Large citizens? How much more would access to a polling place increase voter turnout and participation among our 239,000 At-Large citizens?
So many of those of us who live, or have lived outside of Oklahoma cherish every opportunity that we have to participate in the cultural life of our people. Our Cherokee Nation Embassy complexes can be hubs for cultural events ranging from classes in traditional cultural practices, arts, and skills, to language courses and community events.
The Cherokee Nation has made great strides in finding ways to connect with our large population of At-Large Citizens. Creating space on the tribal council for us to have representation was a major step in a good direction. We can continue that good work by doing more good work…and it will take some work…to forge another link in a chain that was forged long before us, and will continue long after we’re gone. Let’s forge that link together!