By SEAN ROWLEY
Amid troublesome developments in recent weeks, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma hosted its 63rd Annual Keetoowah Cherokee Celebration at the tribal celebration grounds south of Tahlequah.
Held Friday and Saturday, the event featured arts and crafts, a stomp dance, turtle races, a cornstalk shoot, a stickball game and a parade through downtown.
“What I like about coming out to the holiday is being around other Natives and being able to celebrate our culture and our heritage,” said attendee Linda Sacks.
At midday Saturday, hundreds were present to take part in the festivities, but also, as several said, “to see what’s going on.”
“I am a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma,” Sacks said. “A function of events like this is to allow us to support each other, and that is another reason I’m here. I want to show my support for the UKB with everything that has happened recently.”
Dozens were present at the pavilion during the annual State of the Nation address, delivered by Chief George Wickliffe.
The celebration theme was “Weaving the Past into our Future,” and Wickliffe frequently referred to events in the tribe’s past during his address.
“We do not give up,” he said. “This recent decision is only about our casino. The rest of the government continues.”
Wickliffe said he believed the long legal struggle concerning the casino was not over.
“In my opinion, and the opinion of our lawyers, they are going to reverse this,” he said. “This is not the end. It continues.”
Pointing to other turbulent events in the history of the tribe, Wickliffe said the people of the UKB were always resilient.
“We will bounce back,” he said. “I’m believe that when we next have our celebration next year, it will be the biggest we have ever seen.”
During the address, Wickliffe also announced his intention to enter the University of Tulsa College of Law.
“I will begin at the [spring] semester,” he said to applause. “But this will not take away from my abilities as chief of the United Keetoowah Band.”
Ella Mae Worley, UKB treasurer, recently filed impeachment charges against Wickliffe, Assistant Chief Charles Locust and Secretary Joyce Fourkiller-Hawk.
The tribe also was forced to close its casino after failing to place the lot at 2540 S. Muskogee Ave. into federal trust.