COMMENTARY: A season of thanksgiving

by Nov 24, 2020OPINIONS





We appreciate the following that the One Feather has and has had for several years. We know that what we publish doesn’t always make people happy. Indeed, we received a voicemail recently from a dissatisfied customer who simply stated, “I hope you are not getting paid for this crap”, or words to that affect. Some have even suggested that the newspaper shouldn’t cover the “bad” or “negative” because “unflattering news is not good for the Tribe”. We should print the “sugar and spice” stories and leave the rest to be figured out by the rumor mongers, creating a nice utopian fantasy that will give everyone a warm fuzzy and facilitate a Cherokee Field of Dreams.

I have always felt that the best way to lift the community up is through truthful reporting. Nobody believes that there is a perfect person, thing, or government. We know that they all have freckles and blemishes. To try to insist or market yourself as a person, place, or thing without defect invites those who are scrutinizing to start digging to find out what you are hiding or just make up their own reasons for your secrecy. That is why I have been a proponent of limiting the amount of government meetings held in closed session. Some may be necessary. Others may be because we just want to maintain an image. Without documentation of the discussions or community legal representation in the closed sessions, it is impossible to verify what is said and who said it. And, what people say in those closed sessions matters. Law is often made based on discussions in closed session. Some people either get to call Cherokee home, or not, based on banishment hearings that are routinely held in closed sessions.

We are grateful to the Lambert and Sneed administrations, and to the adjacent Tribal Councils, for their commitments to working toward a free and unfettered media on the Qualla Boundary. For the most part, their words and actions have been in-line with campaign promises of creating an environment of free flow of information to the public. Chief Sneed and Vice Chief Ensley have been supporters of free press and have left doors open and opened doors for us to get access to information in several cases. Individual members of Council have also expressed support and willingness to help us get information. It is vitally important that governmental officials be clear with their direct reports – directors, managers, and public information officers – about what is public information and what is not under law. It is also imperative that there be an established protocol with clear guidelines from the Executive Office as to what is permissible to release and what would require special approval under the confidentiality clause of the human resources policy and/or Cherokee Code.

We are thankful to the people in the medical field in our Tribe. No one in recent history has had to deal with the anguish of a pandemic in America, one that impacted the Qualla Boundary in a big way. Love ones have been lost. Loved ones have suffered. Community members have been frightened. Community members have been enraged. And through it all, our Public Health and Human Services Division and Cherokee Indian Hospital have remained a calming force, exhibiting a measured, professional demeanor. From early in the pandemic, PHHS assembled representatives from different areas of community leadership to ensure that the public was informed to the best of the Tribe’s ability. Reporting out to the community has been increasingly detailed, with timely notifications being supplied to the public when a cluster has been identified or public notices were needed when contact tracing could not be effectively done.

We appreciate those who were designated as essential workers who carried on the vital services of the Tribe. I couldn’t list them without leaving those who deserve recognition out, so I will just say that many of the things we enjoy on the Boundary continued to take place uninterrupted because there were many who continued to do their jobs. This included employees of the Tribe and those vendors who continued to serve the Tribe. There were many who were not designated as “essential”, who continued with their duties as well.

Our educators are caught in the middle of a medical crisis and political battle. Our teachers are charged with the health of young minds and the safety of young bodies. Administrators face agonizing choices, knowing that the best learning environment is at the schoolhouse, but struggling with how to educate and provide a medically safe learning environment for both students and staff. We thank them for their creativity, innovation, and bravery as the battle rages on with the coronavirus.

Kudos to those businesses who pivoted with the ever-changing guidelines and edicts of state, federal, and tribal governments. In the early stages of the pandemic, businesses had to absorb losses that consumed and closed many businesses across the country and reduced operations of many on the Boundary. When tourism traffic in a tourism town is completely shut off, there is going to be a dramatic and long-lasting impact on tourism business and, by extension, the entire community’s economy. Business owners are walking a tightrope, balancing employee and public safety, and the life and death need to maintain their ways of life.

And, all of us deserve a pat on the back this year. From March 2020 until now, we have sacrificed. Some of the sacrifice was mandated in some fashion, but much of the sacrifice was voluntary. I think of those who have loved ones in nursing facilities. The years we have with our loved ones are irreplaceable, especially those that are in their golden years. COVID-19 or not, we know that time is limited. For those families, the pandemic has possibly taken the few remaining days of comfort and closure away. Sons and daughters having to say their final goodbyes to loved ones through panes of glass or on a computer monitor. No contact allowed. Single people who may depend on visits with family and friends as their only social contact left in their homes in self-imposed quarantine battling loneliness and depression for the greater good. Those who are following the health safety protocols even though they are unsure of the benefit, because they know if the medical community is recommending it, then by not doing it they could be jeopardizing their lives and the lives of anyone they might encounter. And those who endure the ridicule of the angry, the proud, the jealous, and the uninformed. From a national perspective, this virus has been turned into a political football, each of two extreme political factions seeing how many points, or votes, they can score with it. We the people have endured medical misinformation, political exaggeration, and angry rhetoric at the cost of unity and some their very lives.

As we wind down 2020, we still have so much to be thankful for. As we begin a new year, let’s all commit to pray for healing and peace in our physical bodies and in our spirits. Even in what looks like insurmountable chaos, I still believe that God will make a way, when there seems to be no way. And I am thankful for that.