By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
As we go to press, the community is dealing with the aftermath of a forest fire that, according to our Principal Chief’s office, has burned approximately 50 acres of timber, flora and fauna. As we moved to and from our workplaces during the day, we saw and smelled burnt Cherokee land.
On Monday morning, a trip through downtown was a smoky experience. In fact, the smoke was so thick that some people had breathing issues and drivers actually slowed to the town-wide 20 mph speed limit. Some of the child care centers in the area closed. Fortunately, what we did not witness was any loss of homes, businesses or life. The firefighters of the Cherokee Fire Department, BIA Forestry and local agencies stood guard, built firebreaks and held the line, keeping fire away from populated areas. Tribal leadership plotted and executed plans to contain the fire into areas that would not endanger life and livelihood. A coworker in my department reminded me that the Creator, or nature, depending on your belief, sometimes prepares land for renewal with fire, clearing away the old, the ugly and the dead so that new growth has room to sprout and flourish.
There were some moments of concern during the event. The fire burned from the corner of the motorcycle shop in town back through the Yellowhill area. Looking up the hill from the Ginger Lynn Welch building, you could see the fire edging closer to the Yellowhill Baptist Church. People speculated as to whether homes were being burned in that area. People wondered if there would be evacuations. A section of Acqouni Road was closed where the fire burned down the hill near the Oconaluftee Island Park. Firefighters stood in the middle of that section of road with equipment at the ready to push back should the fire get out of control.
Even with all the distraction of a forest fire raging near our homes and businesses, and many people who were fascinated by the mix of smoke, fire and emergency response, the community continued to conduct personal and commercial business.
In a discussion with a tribal leader, I asked if anyone was providing water and food to the firefighters. He responded that the BIA Forestry was coordinating meeting water and food needs for them and that the Chief’s office was very involved and would be providing a meal on Tuesday morning. This official added that there had been several from the community offering to assist in preparing water and food if needed.
A similar pulling together of leadership, personnel and community was experienced last week during the roadside clean up project instituted by the Executive Office. Apron, sidewalk and gutter areas of the Cherokee roadways had, over time, filled with debris and overgrowth of weeds. A small army was mobilized for a day of “catch-up” cleaning, focusing on making efforts to clear away the old, ugly and unattractive so that the community might have the great appearance intended when the walkways and roadsides were established. In a way, it was an opportunity for a new start.
In both cases, the community came together to address a common issue and to enhance the community’s well-being for the common good. Next month, tribal leadership will execute its annual Cherokee Day of Caring. Again, the community will come together and help families in the community make a fresh start of sorts. The Tribe identifies homes of families that are in need of clean up and repair. Volunteers from the community and tribal government team up to spend a day making improvements for others.
It is important to take a moment to look around at the good fortune or blessing of living and working in a community like we do. Sometimes a crisis like a forest fire encroaching on our developed properties, threatening homes and business, shocks us into seeing those who make sacrifices to serve others. It also shocks others of us into realizing that it is part of our duty to the community be in service to others. It is worth noting that during the roadside cleanup, Chief Lambert spent his day working alongside everyone else with shovel in hand, uprooting weeds in walking paths and roadway gutters. In fact, I was walking to the post office from the Ginger Lynn Welch Complex at the close of business (4:30 pm) on the day of the clean up. As I approached the roundabout, I saw a huge cloud of dust and debris over one end of the bridge. When I got closer, I could see a man in the middle of the dust cloud. As I kept walking, I got close enough to see Chief Lambert walking in the middle of the bridge with a backpack blower on his back and he was finishing his day at work cleaning the bridge. I have always believed that the best leaders lead by example. When it comes to serving the community, don’t miss your opportunity to set the example.