Land-in-trust case crowns UKB Celebration

Brittney Bennett | United Keetoowah Band

Chief Joe Bunch gave a State of the Band speech Saturday during the 69th Annual Keetoowah Celebration. He spoke of the landmark court cases and business endeavors dealt with this year.

A resurgence is a revival or rising, and that's what the United Keetoowah Band themed the 69th Annual Keetoowah Celebration this past weekend.

"The Keetoowahs go back beyond any dating we have. We go back before any history," said John Hair Cultural Center and Museum Director Ernestine Berry during the opening of the Saturday activities.

Berry gave a brief history of the UKB, explaining the difference between the UKB and Cherokee Nation, and the significance of the Keetoowahs getting their first land put into trust last month.

"We are expecting good things for our people," Berry said about the fewer than 12,000 members of the tribe. "We're small enough that we can serve our people. We need to love and care for one another because we're definitely a minority. We need to be pulling together. That way we have more strength. Don't give up. We are headed for better things."

While the U.S. Congress recognized the Oklahoma UKB in 1946 under the terms of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936, the constitution and by-laws were ratified on Oct. 3, 1950. This is why the Celebration is held the first weekend of October each year.

"Being able to get our land in trust status allows us to have a home that's ours," said former Miss Keetoowah Victoria (Proctor) Holland in the opening welcome. "Land means opportunity, opportunities for growth, both for our government and our businesses. You see, without the status of trust land, we didn't really have a stable home. Now, thanks to the hard work of so many people, our home is stable. Now, we are in the beginning stages of a resurgence."

Holland then introduced Chief Joe Bunch, who recapped important UKB milestones that happened in the past year, including: the effects of the federal government shutdown in 2018; the stalling of Indian Health Service monies; the need for improvements on the complex's buildings; the reversal of the ruling of the Federal Communications Commission; and the land-in-trust decision, as well as possibilities for the future.

Bunch said contractors are helping take away $30,000 per month in debt from the Keetoowah Cherokee Treatment Center in Tulsa. The Tahlequah Outpatient Treatment Center is on hold for now, due to the IHS.

"The River Brewhouse, we're slowly and surely moving forward. We want it to be a premiere eatery, as well as a brewhouse, in this case," he said. "The trailer [RV] park down on Highway 10 is up and running.

"They're getting ready for winter hours."

Bunch then went back to the "landmark" land-in-trust case.

"When we were looking at land-in-trust, and I said this was a springboard, too - what that ruling actually did is remove the injunction so our land could be placed in trust. There was another element to it," said Bunch.

UKB officials had thought the Bureau of Indian Affairs had already announced it in the Federal Register, but there was a 30-day comment or complaint period.

"Just yesterday, there's notice in the Tahlequah paper to put the land in trust within the next 30 days, so that is a big, big welcome," said Bunch. "So, what does that mean? I think someone early on mentioned the expansion of services, the expansion of what we already have: rehabilitation, housing, health and human services, the different programs, education and welfare, an expansion of all that. And believe you me, we want more of our youth to go to college and trade schools."

He said that a few years ago, the tribe was funding 80 college students, and today it is down to 23.

"The overall, the big picture was that half of it was land-in-trust. The other half is the self-governance of dollars - those sorts of things," said Bunch. "We don't have all those contracts. So, once all this gets cleared up, we're going to be working on all that."

He ended by thanking the UKB citizens and reminding them he and the council work for them, and his door is always open.

The Band opened its "home" to its citizens, employees and the public, and celebrated with cultural crafts, sporting tournaments, children's activities, live music, free food, and more.

Previously that morning, a bring-your-own pole fishing derby took place at the UKB complex pond. Awards and prizes were given to the top three fishers who were 14 and under.

The Henry Lee Doublehead Child Development Center hosted activities throughout the day including bounce houses, face painting, and the popular turtle races. Volleyball and horseshoe tournaments, stickball games, and a cornstalk shoot also took place at the complex.

The weather toyed with some activities, but the music and "free feed" took place under the pavilion. The live entertainment of Lil Mike & Funnybone was pushed forward a half hour, and the Rod Robertson Band concert will be rescheduled.

It was also announced at the Celebration that the UKB ambassadors, with the titles of Junior Miss Cherokee and Miss Cherokee, have been extended to two-year terms so the youth have more time to grow their platforms.

The 2019 Tradition Keepers were recognized on Saturday, as well. Selected by representatives of the John Hair Cultural Center and Museum, this year's honorees are Lila Killer for traditional apparel and design, and Marcella Foreman for beadwork and basketry.

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