By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Susan Jenkins’ first day as executive director of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation was Jan. 14, 2002. She began assembling a staff and that September, the CPF awarded 53 grants totaling $2.1 million.
“We started out by asking the community, what do you need? How can we help?” said Jenkins. “What is it that we can do to work together and help this community and this region?”
Since that first day, the CPF has given a total of $58 million in grants in the areas of cultural preservation, economic development and environmental preservation.
Jenkins, who is set to retire at the end of the year, has remained humble about the CPF and its work. “We have the easy part,” she jokes. “We give the money. The grantees do the work.”
During a visit to Cherokee, former Governor James Hunt commented, “The crowning achievement in the Compact between the Tribe and the state was the idea for Cherokee Preservation Foundation to be established.”
One of the major focuses of the CPF over the years has been the revitalization of the Cherokee language. Beginning in 2002 with grant money for pre-K immersion, the CPF has partnered with the Tribe to help further its revitalization efforts. Grants have also been given for the planning and design of Kituwah Academy, language camps for Cherokee youth, and CPF partnered with Western Carolina University to establish a Cherokee Language Program at the university to help create Cherokee language teachers.
Jenkins said the CPF is always searching for new ideas to help the community. “Ultimately, what we are trying to do is help this community create a sustainable environment.”
Some of the ideas that have come out of CPF initiatives include the creation of Generations Qualla for the purpose of addressing energy issues for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the launching of The Sequoyah Fund to encourage entrepreneurship, and providing funding for the creation of Qualla Financial Freedom which helps EBCI tribal members learn more about personal finances.
One initiative grew out of a cultural need. When CPF was formed, cultural preservation was one of its tenets and the preservation of Cherokee basketry soon became a focus. It was discovered that the number of Cherokee basketmakers making rivercane double-weave baskets had dwindled.
Once efforts began to increase the number of active basketmakers, it soon became apparent that natural supplies (i.e. rivercane and dyes) were in low supply.
So, in 2004, CPF helped fund an initiative called Revitilization of Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources (RTCAR). Information from CPF states, “Over the past seven years, RTCAR has done research and programming on sustainable planting and harvesting techniques, as well as a variety of education efforts from youth classes to bringing experts together to create long-term solutions. RTCAR has helped identify approximately 8,000 culms, or stalks, of usable river cane for Cherokee artists; the goal is to provide at least 15,000 culms, determined to be an ample supply for the number of current Cherokee artists.”
CPF has done a lot for the Cherokee community and it has drawn the attention of other tribes and tribal leaders. “Cherokee Preservation Foundation is nationally seen as a model for Native philanthropy,” said Daniel Lemm of Native Americans in Philanthropy. “Their impact reverberates throughout Indian Country and is a steady resource for others working to strengthen Native communities.”
Jenkins is very optimistic about the future of CPF. “The next 10 years is going to be phenomenal. It’ll involve deeper work, broader work, and connecting with the region.”
The Cherokee Preservation Foundation is set to host its annual Community Celebration on Friday, May 11 at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds starting at 11:30am. Free traditional meals will be served by NAIWA.