By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
For the first time in its 17-year history, the Talking Trees Children’s Fishing Derby was postponed. On the Thursday before the derby, the river was swollen from days of constant and torrential rain.
Postponing the event meant more than children being disappointed. Entire families come to this event, staying at least one night in our town or a nearby hotel, eating in our restaurants, shopping and seeing the sights. With the necessarily late date of the postponement, many people may not have been able to cancel long-held room reservations. I am not sure of the economic impact of the children’s derby on the Boundary, but it likely meant thousands to local retailers and our levy/privilege coffers.
Beyond the money invested by sponsors, tribal government, and those families, many of whom plan their final vacation of the summer around the derby, there were the children to consider. Thousands of kids come to Cherokee each year for the derby. Some make it an annual pilgrimage until they are no longer young enough to participate (age limit is 12 years). Then, those now older brothers and sisters come to help with their younger siblings as they join in the annual family ritual. Vacation time being what it is in our busy world, postponing the event might mean that some of those 11-year old boys and girls would not get to participate in their final derby. Some parents might not be able to afford the time or money to reschedule their trip to Cherokee. Postponing the derby meant that some little hearts would be broken, at least for a while.
And, it was because of the children that the decision was so difficult. Sure, there is the monetary consideration, but when the derby was created, the organizers had a vision of an event that would bring families together around an activity that was central to Cherokee life.
From the beginning, the event’s foundational rules included that parents would stay with their children throughout the derby and share the experience. The event was created as an intentional, quality time for parents to bond with their kids. The rules also include that parents may not fish “for their children” and that they only assist the child to the level of their ability, depending on the age of the child. This rule further encouraged interaction and engagement between the parents and their children.
In a world filled with distractions, the derby was a throwback to days when families communicated directly and were in direct touch with one another. Kids and their parents sat together and talked, instead of getting their information from a text, email, or post on Instagram. The children’s derby affords meaningful time and conditions for bonding that may not happen all year long.
So, this decision went beyond the dollar value of the Talking Trees Children’s Trout Derby. It was not made lightly. Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed and Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley consulted with EBCI Emergency Management, Natural Resource Officers, the Water Department, Risk Management, and the Division of Commerce. Every option was explored, and there was no way to ensure a safe experience for the children based on the rising water levels of the Oconaluftee River and the already saturated Oconaluftee Island Park. The difficult decision to postpone the derby was made on Friday morning.
I think this decision shows a little bit of the enormous heart of the Tribe and the benefits of being in a community where family truly comes first. Everyone at the table was more concerned about the safety of the children than financial loss or inconvenience. A financial setback or temporarily hurt feelings did not outweigh the obligation of we all share to protect the children and families who visit the derby and are our friends, family, and neighbors. The chance that even one child may be seriously injured or worse was more significant than any other concern, as it should be for any event that the Tribe produces.
I applaud the decision made by our tribal government regarding the postponement of the Children’s Trout Derby, and I hope every child and family will be able to reschedule and attend the rain date. And when they come, they will know even more surely, that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians cares about their kids.