COMMENTARY: Cherokee Year of Caring

by Mar 2, 2020OPINIONS





When you work in government, you meet a few public servants. That is what government work is-public service. From attorneys to wildlife biologists, there is an army of government workers who make life better for our community. There are people who monitor and protect your enrollment status, housing, environmental services, elder and orphan care, police enforcement, emergency services, employment rights, hospital care, sanitation, and many more. Many of those workers could likely get more compensation in another line of work. 

Government jobs, while tending to be stable, are not known for high salaries. You don’t see those after big money saying, “I think I will go into government work.” Surely, there are exceptions to every rule. However, most tribal government workers are hard-working, selfless, and community minded. They care about their clients. We are the clients. 

I have had the privilege to work with many tribal employees in my various positions of service. I can say that several of those who serve you work more than 40 hours a week, even when they are not getting paid for it, and they do jobs that many times are not within their job descriptions. More times than not, they do this without additional compensation or recognition. Once they go past their required time “on the clock” they volunteer their time and effort over and above what is required. In fact, the only time they may draw any kind of attention is when they make a mistake or don’t get something done fast enough to suit an impatient supervisor. We pay too little attention to customer service, but we really neglect our internal customers, our own employees. 

Some of us have difficulty with the term “volunteer”. I don’t feel bad about that though, because even some of our leaders have had difficulty with it. One email that came from a tribal leader in a previous administration, giving a directive to participate in working a tribal event, called those who were commandeered to labor “mandatory volunteers”. It was quickly pointed out that mandatory volunteerism became illegal in America in the mid-1800’s. 

Note: Once you are indentured to participate in an activity, you are no longer a volunteer. 

Another “gray water” area of laboring for the community is the idea of paid volunteerism. Merriam-Webster defines a “volunteer” as “a person who voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service: such as one who renders a service or takes part in a transaction while having no legal concern or interest or one who receives a conveyance or transfer of property without giving valuable consideration.” 

Is it just me, or does it look like to you that those who volunteer doesn’t or don’t expect a personal return, monetary or otherwise, for their efforts? For example, if I go out into the community and help my neighbor with repairing his home while I am being paid by the Tribe or another employer, is that true volunteerism? 

Note: The nature of volunteerism is charity. When you expect personal gain from your effort, it is called work, not volunteering. 

When someone loses a loved one or is sick, I like to send a card, some flowers, or maybe a monetary donation of some kind to let them know that someone cares about them and wishes them condolences or recovery, respectively. It is a token of my affection for them. Now, if I do these things because they insisted on it, then it is not about affection, but because of a directive. If I do these things because I am getting paid or reimbursed to do them, then it is not about affection, but personal gain. For either motive, the term “volunteer” does not fit.

I have been in work groups who wanted the company to create a “flower fund” using company funds. I am against the practice. Caring funds should be completely from the person or group wanting to show concern or appreciation for someone. If I use company funds to send an honorarium to someone, who is actually honoring that person? A similar situation would be if you and I were in the checkout-line at Walmart. The cashier asks me if I would like to donate to a local food bank and I say sure. I then turn around, reach into your pocket and grab ten dollars of your money. I hand that money to the cashier and she hands me one of those cardboard hearts that they put up in the store to acknowledge the donor for the food bank. I write my name on the heart and hand it back to the cashier. Did I make the donation or did you? Did you volunteer that money?

Each year, the Cherokee Preservation Foundation along with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, hosts a “Cherokee Day of Caring” event. It is a day that reminds us of the importance of community and having a sense of place. An army of workers go out to preselected private homes on the Qualla Boundary. They build and make repairs for members of the community. They mend roofs, paint, build ramps, and many other needed services. Many work these projects as an alternative to their day jobs, while others volunteer their time and talents. However they do it, they are doing what public servants do-make life better for their community. It is a noble and worthwhile cause. 

There are at least a couple of free labor groups on Boundary. These are men and women of the community who volunteer to do similar services, including digging graves and assisting the elderly. When someone is in need, the people in our communities are quick to offer help. Cake walks, lunch benefits, 50/50 fundraisers, and direct personal donations are common among the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

It is so good to be a part of a community that is so focused on caring for each other. And, it is a privilege to work for this community of people. We may have our disagreements, but the overarching ethic of our tribal community is caring for each other all year long. We should celebrate that and do all we can to nurture that feeling. 

On a personal note, I want to “give props” to the staff of the Cherokee One Feather – Scott McKie Brings Plenty, Jonah Lossiah, and Sally Davis. Each year, this paper competes in the North Carolina Press Association awards program. We submit news articles, commentary, advertising, and photos to be judged on a state level. We are judged with many other newspapers in North Carolina. And, I am proud to say that One Feather captured four first place, five second place, and three third place awards in various subcategories in our division. We also took third place in “General Excellence for Newspaper Web Sites”, which is an overall divisional award. This is another indicator that your newspaper is providing quality, professional service to you. Thank you Scott, Jonah, and Sally. And thank you Cherokee tribal leadership and community for providing the platform for us to get the job done.