Chief Smith and me

I met Cherokee Chief Chad Smith last night. What an honor. It seems to me like a pretty big deal to have the Chief out here in Portland, all the way from Oklahoma. It IS a big deal. But the gathering was rather small, perhaps 150 people. Mark, Tara, and I went together, and Tara made a berry dessert to contribute to the potluck feast. It makes me feel pretty good that they were quick to agree to go with me and support my interests.

The potluck was amazing. Piles of food of all kinds. There was no way to sample it all, but we did our best, returning to the table periodically. I was pleased to find plenty of salmon to try. Mark liked the buffalo and hominy. Tara was excited about the desserts, and went back for more sugar a couple of times.

The Mt. Hood Cherokees, who are eager to build a stronger local community, invited Chief Smith. He began his talk by reminding us that the Cherokee Nation is a government, and he believes it should be run like a business. In his talk he included several examples of how to build a strong community, and he repeatedly explained that it couldn’t be built on handouts. Being Cherokee does not mean entitlement, but rather results in an obligation to give to the community.

Cherokee Chief Chad Smith shares his vision of the Nation

All the resources, strength, and opportunity will indeed become available to members of the Cherokee Nation, he told us, if only we commit ourselves to investing into it. If our goal is to “give” and not to “get,” then the end result will be the benefits we seek.

He took questions afterward. There was some talk about how to expand and improve the Nation’s healthcare system and in particular to have more native doctors at the facilities, and Chief Smith reminded us to help our children excell in math and science. A man shook his head and waved his hand as though to dismiss the idea as beside the point. “I am serious,” retorted Smith. “You want Cherokee doctors, but we are happy to find ANY doctor willing to work for us, there just aren’t many Cherokee doctors. The only way to get more is to encourage your kids to go to medical school. The only way they can consider that is to graduate high school with a strong academic background. And in order to get there, your children need to study math and science in the younger grades.” It was an excellent example of how members cannot expect the handouts (Cherokee doctors) without the investment (committing themselves to helping their children succeed in school).

dancer at the close of ceremonies

Questions covered the saving of White Eagle corn (so named because of a white lip on the kernel that is in the shape of a bird in flight) which had been nearly extinct, what opportunities are available to students, and how to improve contact between local and national communities. Chief Smith said that he felt the more important question was how to build the local community, not how to connect to the one in Oklahoma. A woman stood and made a plug for the local group NAYA, that is a great resource here. I’ve worked with them a little bit, through the VA.

Gifts were presented to our honored visitor, and the gathering concluded with a Navajo dancer. Mark, Tara and I had to leave in a hurry to get our girl to her afternoon volleyball game. We were all glad we had made the time to go to this meeting.

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