By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Leaders and members from over 20 tribes have come to Cherokee this week for the USET (United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc.) Annual Meeting and Expo. The week’s activities kicked off on Monday, Oct. 28 with opening ceremony at the Harrah’s Cherokee Resort Event Center.
“We bring our best minds, our best hearts and our best thoughts to the Cherokee people,” said Brian Patterson, USET president. “Everything we do is in a sacred way.”
Following the posting of the colors by the Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143 Color Guard, a roll call was held for USET personnel and tribal leaders. Then, EBCI Beloved Man Jerry Wolfe gave the opening invocation for the four-day meeting and EBCI tribal member Yona Wade sang the Eastern Band Cherokee National Anthem.
“We are very pleased with the attendance,” Kitcki Carroll, USET executive director, told the attendees. “We have over 400 people here. That’s very strong for our annual meeting. That’s important as there are some important issues coming up in the next few months to discuss.”
Carroll said many issues would be discussed at the meeting including strategy development on budget issues, tax issues, and sovereignty issues. “It’s very important that we around this table identify what our priorities are.”
Principal Chief Michell Hicks welcomed the attendees to Cherokee. “We’re always proud to be a host. We have a lot of projects rolling right now.”
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians offered all attendees a tour of the Cherokee Indian Reservation including the Cherokee Central Schools and other new projects. “There’s a lot of things I’d like for you to see while you’re here,” Chief Hicks noted. “I’d like to thank everyone for being here.”
Tribal Council Chairperson Terri Henry also welcomed the attendees and stated, “It is a great honor to be here today.”
She encouraged everyone to take the tour of Cherokee, “We have a very robust and vibrant community here in Cherokee.”
Following Chairperson Henry, Miss Cherokee 2013 Madison Crowe told the audience of her great-grandfather, the late Principal Chief John Crowe, who was one of the founding members of USET. “It was his vision that tribal sovereignty would grow,” she said. “I challenge you, as my Pa John challenged me, to think about how your decisions will affect the next seven generations.”
The Warriors of Anikituwah then performed the Cherokee Welcome Dance followed by the Bear Dance, Ant Dance, and Friendship Dance.
“Even though we come from different places, we are all the same,” said Bo Taylor, Museum of the Cherokee Indian executive director and member of the Warriors of Anikituwah. “We are Indian people. With USET, we are stronger than one Tribe.”
Taylor added, “We need to go fight those battles on a national level, but it’s important that we keep our cultures alive. The reason we are who we are is because of our ancestors.”
After the initial opening ceremony, the first session of the Annual Meeting was a presentation entitled “Change the Mascot” by Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation representative, and Chief Kirk Francis, of the Penobscot Nation of Maine.
“Everything that we do is really for our children and their future,” said Halbritter who showed a 10-minute DVD at the beginning of the presentation showing a media event where the mascot for the Washington NFL football team was discussed.
“Redskins, it’s a word that’s been in the news a lot lately,” he noted. “Finally, for right reasons it’s in the news.”
He said the new attention to the call for the name change is good, but scoffed at the notion that it’s a new issue, “Many people in this room fought to have this name changed for many years. It is not a new issue.”
Halbritter added, “It has not been an easy road. We’ve been told our land is not ours anymore. We’ve even been told we don’t exist anymore. We have not been treated as humans, as fellow Americans, but as redskins.”
He said many who oppose the name change frequently ask if there aren’t more pressing issues in Indian Country and say that it isn’t a big deal. “If it isn’t a big deal, then why all the vehement resistance? We will no longer be treated as mascots.”
Chief Francis commented, “It’s a social issue that really gets to the heart of things.”
He told the attendees that 30 schools in Maine had American Indian mascots in 2010, and through efforts of many, including the Penobscot Nation, the number is down to two. “The process really brought communities together.”
“We hear a lot of stuff about 90 percent of Native Americans approve of the term. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that for one second. It’s scientifically proven that the self-esteem of Indian kids diminishes when exposed to these terms.”
Chief Hicks said that education is a key so the general public can better understand American Indians. He spoke about an effort several years ago in Asheville to change the mascot name at Erwin High School.
But, he added that he doesn’t have a problem with all American Indian mascots such as Braves or Warriors. “As long as they’re being respectful and we’re not being mimicked or we’re not being made fun. I think we can take this issue too far. I just think we need to be careful.”
Patterson agreed with Chief Hicks and added, “The issue is a racial epithet (r-word).”
Following the mascot presentation, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate spoke about a new consultation policy with tribes. “…the policy is all about self-determination. Some of our initiatives are works in progress like the federal disaster declaration for Tribes. But, this policy will be a tool to help us improve and enhance those processes.”
Business and Executive sessions took place throughout the rest of the day.
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