Cherokee chief urges members to protect rights

Sunday, September 5th 2004, 4:38 pm
By: News On 6

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) _ The Cherokee people should never forget the Trail of Tears and need to be watchful of policies that erode the tribal nation's sovereignty, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith said during his State of the Nation address.

Wearing traditional garb and standing on historic ground, Smith delivered his State of the Nation address Saturday, warning his people to stand guard against the repeat of U.S. policies that once nearly crippled their tribe.

Smith told more than 1,000 people assembled on Cherokee Nation Courthouse lawn to remember the Trail of Tears and the government sale of their lands.

Beginning in 1838, the federal government herded the Cherokee people and forced them to travel more than 2,000 miles from Tennessee to present-day Oklahoma. About 14,000 people were moved, but thousands died during the brutal trek.

``History does have a way of repeating itself, and we are once again at a point in history where impeding doom lurks on the horizon,'' Smith said.

Smith said tribe members should be watchful of ``groups and constituents'' who would eliminate Cherokee Nation sovereignty.

``Do we stand firm, and get involved in the political process?'' Smith asked during the 52nd Cherokee National Holiday. ``Or do we roll over? We are at a defining moment in history.

``We must have strong leaders emerging for our future.''

One of those leaders, he said, is U.S. Rep. Brad Carson, whom Smith presented with the Cherokee Nation Statesmanship Award.

Carson is a member of the Cherokee Nation and the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate.

Smith also laid out a plan to defend tribal sovereignty while building an even stronger and independent nation.

``We should not be in the business of helping people, but rather helping people to help themselves,'' Smith said.

Smith promised continued success will come with focus on three areas: language, jobs and community.

``We must hang on to our language, and pass it on to our children,'' Smith said. ``It is the foundation of our culture. We must also keep our Cherokee people at home, and in order to do that, we must create jobs. When our people stay home, our communities thrive.''

Deputy Principal Chief Joe Grayson Jr. stressed the need for tribe members to become involved in the political process.

``The political winds are going against the Indian tribes in general,'' Grayson said. ``Right now, we don't have any (representative) power at all. That won't change until we elect Indians to represent us.''

Cherokee officials anticipate more than 90,000 visitors this weekend for the National Holiday celebration.

The event commemorates the 165th anniversary of the adoption of the tribe's constitution.