Tahlequah is more than a community; it’s a cluster of communities. And what affects one element of the community affects everything else in the cluster.
The city is bookended by the Cherokee Nation on the southwest, and Northeastern State University on the northeast. The Cherokee Nation is the largest Native American tribe in the U.S.; NSU is the fourth-largest university in Oklahoma, and one of the few its size with roots deeply immersed in tribal history.
Not all Tahlequah residents are members of the Cherokee Nation, and not all attended classes at NSU. Some citizens, in fact, may have a distaste for tribal politics, or may have issues with certain CN leaders. Other local residents have no use for higher education, or they may object to financial partnerships with NSU or the tribe.
But whatever one’s status or philosophy, it’s a practical impossibility for any resident of Cherokee County to claim no affiliation to any of those three entities. The city of Tahlequah, NSU and the Cherokee Nation are inextricably intertwined, and any action one takes can affect everyone who lives here.
Even those who are neither enrolled in the tribe nor college courses must concede that without NSU and the Cherokee Nation, Tahlequah would virtually cease to exist, because there would be no jobs to sustain the population. The CN has 8,900 employees, and while fewer than half may work in Cherokee County, that’s still a staggering number of people who draw their paychecks from its government. NSU has about 1,700 on its payroll, and again, though some of those work for the Muskogee or Broken Arrow campuses, the vast majority live and earn their wages here in Tahlequah.
There are other major employers: the nurseries, the hospital, the Keetoowahs, the city itself. But none have quite the impact of CN or NSU. You may not be on either payroll, but people in your family or circle of friends most certainly are. That’s as good a reason as any to care about what happens to the Cherokee Nation and NSU.
NSU has launched a new “Master Plan” – a 16-month, five-step process that, according to its website, aims to build consensus through outreach opportunities for both the campus and community at-large. NSU leaders want to focus on physical, social, intellectual and sustainability challenges they expect to face in the future, and they’re looking for input from several sources.
This is not just a discussion of what classes to offer, or how to attract new students, though the latter is certainly a key consideration. It’s an overarching vision of NSU as an essential part of this city, region and state, as seen through the prism of a 30-year-long lens. Resources, capital projects and aesthetics will all come into play.
Everyone already knows NSU is building a multipurpose event center, which will now be expanded, thanks to the generosity of local taxpayers. An ambitious renovation slated to begin soon for the Fitness Center will transform that facility into a “wellness center,” and bring certain academic endeavors under the same roof. New programs will be introduced, and according to Vice President for Operations Tim Foutch, the current pool could be joined by one or two more that are better suited for water aerobics and therapy than the current “lap pool.”
Many local residents use the Fitness Center for swimming, weightlifting, racquetball and more, but other potential topics of discussion might also interest them. For instance, those who dabble in history and architecture might be concerned with the future of the venerable Wilson Hall. RiverHawk fans will want to know where they’ll be going to watch their favorite teams compete. Folks who enjoy strolls or bike rides through campus might be curious about the future layout.
NSU is inviting the community to take part in its future, through a series of meetings. The first was held in October; the second is slated for 5:30 tonight (Jan. 23) in the University Center Ballroom Lounge. If you’d like to contribute your opinions, or just listen to what others are saying, it will only cost you an hour of your time. For more information on the plan, go to www.nsuok.edu/masterplan.
As we’ve said many times before, we’re all in this together, whether we like it or not. Tahlequah depends on NSU in so many ways, and in this case, NSU is also depending on Tahlequah.