In my younger years, I enjoyed learning about history. As a child, I enjoyed hearing the stories of my grandparents and parents and what their lives were like growing up – some when this area was called Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, prior to Oklahoma statehood.
When I entered my junior year of high school, I had an awesome teacher at Tahlequah High School named Harold McMillen, who made learning history fun. I learned a lot from him about U.S. history and its importance. His explanations of the story of America made me realize at age 16 how important it was for us to know and understand about our country and the story of societies around the world.
I was so taken with the subject that when I entered college, I received a minor in history without planning to do so. Every time I had an opportunity to take an elective, I always chose a history class because that was of interest to me. In 1988, when I went in for my graduation check, I was told I was also being granted a minor in history because of the number of classes and hours I had taken throughout my bachelor’s program. It came as a pleasant shock.
As an American citizen, an Oklahoma resident, a Cherokee Nation citizen, and an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, history has become even more important to me as the years of my life have worn on. This includes learning about the history of the state, the nation and the world. It also includes remembering, learning and helping others learn about our own family histories.
These lessons and stories are important for many reasons. As an American, it is important to know about the events leading up to the founding of this country. As a Cherokee Nation citizen, it is important to know the histories and stories of our tribe and other Native tribes and their people. As an Oklahoman, it is important to know about how this was originally to be the State of Sequoyah, how statehood for Oklahoma came to be, and how it affected Cherokees and other Natives who were here. As a Latter-day Saint, history plays a crucial role in our faith with the restoration of the church, the political and immigration issues of early Saints to America and to the western frontier, and the early pioneers traveling west to the Salt Lake valley.
What I have learned over time is that our individual stories and histories are what make up the overall stories and histories of the nation and the people. You, as an individual, are important and play a role in the overall story.
I have recently been given a special historical project for the genealogical website FamilySearch.org. This site can be used by, and is free to, people around the world.
My specific project has to do with gathering the histories and individual stories of all Cherokee people to coordinate our stories and history. This is for United Keetoowah Band, Cherokee Nation, and Eastern Band. I will be uploading the stories that are in the public domain, as well as my own Cherokee family history. I invite others to do likewise, and will gladly assist if needed.
For me, this is a great project. The importance of keeping an accurate and truthful history of Cherokees and of all people is one of great need. This is an exciting project and one I am very honored and happy to be a part. Mr. McMillen would be proud.
Randy Gibson is the CEO of RDG Communications Group, LLC, and the former director of the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce and the Texas State Rifle Association.