By BOB GIBBINS
A large contingent of Keetoowah Cherokees braved chilly temperatures and a north wind Saturday to hear tribal officials talk about accomplishments the tribe has made the past year.
The biggest news for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma was a July 30 announcement that the land the UKB casino sits on was placed in trust by the federal government.
The UKB hosted its 62nd annual Celebration this weekend, with the theme “One Fire. One Family. Rising Together.”
The event commemorates the signing of the Keetoowah Constitution, which was ratified by Congress on Oct. 3, 1950.
“We’re always going to have some people against us,” said UKB Chief George Wickliffe. “There would have been some people clapping if our casino failed.”
The casino was on the verge of closing when the Department of the Interior approved trust status for the land.
Trust status was required by an agreement between the UKB and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, for the casino to remain operational.
Wickliffe said the casino generates $133 million annually, and much of the funding goes to provide services for UKB members, along with $12 million the tribe receives in federal aid.
Wickliffe said, at the time, he felt confident the federal decision would be in the UKB’s favor, and credited the work of lobbyists and lawyers working on the tribe’s behalf.
“You have to have lobbyists and you have to have lawyers,” he said. “Our lawyers have done a good job.”
Wickliffe, who addressed tribal members in both his native tongue and English, said he grew up in Kenwood.
“We all talk Cherokee in Kenwood,” he said. “When I was in school, there were three white students and they learned how to talk Cherokee.”
The UKB chief said the Keetoowah Cherokees have a long history.
“We are the original Cherokee people,” he said.
He said the 1859 Constitution is the oldest of three constitutions and referred to it as the Keetoowah Society Constitution.
Wickliffe also told UKB members the Cherokee Nation had no government for many years after Oklahoma became a state and said the current Cherokee Nation is the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
“In 1976, there was a new creation,” he said referencing the current CN government. “There was a new organization.”
Two areas the UKB casino funding helps are elderly and education assistance, the chief said.
“One thing we are not going to let up on is education and training for our people,” he said.
“We want to train our people for good jobs, and we hope we have people ready to hire you after you’ve been trained.”
Wickliffe and Assistant Chief Charles Locust, who spoke after the chief, both said the current administration has worked hard to help UKB members who come to the tribe for assistance. The chief said they’re doing everything they can to help.
“We came in here to work for the people,” he said. “We’re going to continue to grow and help people.”
Wickliffe pledged the tribal administration will never forget to care for the people, particularly the children and elderly.
Locust said the current administration has the tribe in a positive financial position and more benefits are coming from the newly established self-governance status.
Other activities included a powwow, gospel singing, softball and volleyball tournaments, a kids’ fishing derby and a cornstalk shoot.
The comments by Wickliffe and Locust were preceded by UKB Tribal Councilman Tom Duncan leading the opening prayer and the Keetoowah Youth Choir singing three songs.
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