By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
CHEROKEE, N.C. – A ribbon was cut to open officially the Cherokee Tribal Foods Distribution & Tribal Cannery Center in Cherokee, N.C. on the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 29. The nearly 8,000 square foot building project was funded through a $5.3 million USDA grant, $4 million in ARP (American Rescue Plan) funds, and $1 million from the capital fund of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). In addition to the new building, the project also saw part of an existing building, the former craft business known as The Cherokees, renovated.
“This is a moment that our teams have been looking forward to for a while,” said Amelia Owle-Arkansas, Tribal Foods manager. “Our mission statement at Tribal Foods is to provide nutritious food and resources, support, and guidance, to eliminate hunger for all of our participants in a caring and culturally-supportive environment. My staff does just that.”
She added, “I would like to thank the community and our Tribal Foods participants as they are the reason that we can continue to serve the next seven generations of families…Our teams are excited to see the possibilities of what this new building can bring to our community so we can better serve.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed commented, “I’d like to say to the Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) staff, in general, to the entire division, thank you for caring for our community. Thank you for caring for some of the most vulnerable in our community. I know that sometimes your jobs are some of the more difficult here in the tribal government. I want you to know that we appreciate what you do day in and day out to care for our people.”
“It’s my hope that this project will be an icon and a cornerstone in our community for generations to come, that we have food security, food sovereignty for our people. We have an amazing new cannery so for those of you who are gardeners, or hunters who want to can your vegetables or meats, what a great opportunity for carrying on those traditions.”
Chief Sneed also thanked various people who worked on the project including Vickie Bradley, former EBCI Secretary of Public Health and Human Services, and Frank Dunn, former Tribal Foods Distribution manager, who wrote the USDA grant.
Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley recognized Tribal Council representatives present and noted, “We really appreciate everything you do when any project comes along that’s introduced to Tribal Council to begin with.”
He said it is a “magnificent facility” adding, “I want to thank Amelia, Vickie Bradley, everybody involved with this project. It seems like it was just yesterday we were up there having the groundbreaking and today we have the ribbon cutting to a fantastic new building.”
Joey Owle, EBCI Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said, “I’m just so immensely proud and honored to be standing here in front of you all and with you all today in front of this fine facility that is truly representative of our community and for our community.”
He spoke of how the project began. “We’re so thankful that in the initial phase of this, Frank Dunn gave me a call and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea about something’ and it’s amazing how much and how far you can go with a project and an idea starting out with that sentence.”
“This is what it has led to – an outstanding partnership for our tribal divisions that has resulted in not only the new Tribal Foods building that will serve our community for generations to come and meet our demands and needs, but also this new cannery, which I believe works hand-in-hand with any kind of food waste that we might be able to capture out of the Tribal Foods program and turn it into another useful product for our community members.”
Secretary Owle concluded, “We’re going to be looking to come into production and opening this cannery sometime this fall to next spring as we start to get our staff trained up. We’re looking forward to this to not only be a place of service, but a community gathering spot.”
The USDA was represented at Tuesday’s event by several officials including Willie Taylor, USDA SERO regional administrator, who said the EBCI has been a great partner. “There are a lot of things that we do at USDA. One of the most important things that we do is not only just build partnerships, but building and investing in communities, investing in people, investing in lives. I think this edifice behind us is an example of just that.”
“The CARES Act funding act gave us the power to invest in indigenous food, to empower indigenous agriculture, economies, and to improve indigenous health with traditional foods. The full renovation to the warehouse facility that you’ve seen prior to my arrival is a testament to the team and incredible teamwork. I’m honored to be alongside you and want to publicly acknowledge the dedication and commitment of your team for their extraordinary efforts this past week to get these spaces ready for today.”
Aneva Hagberg, EBCI PHHS operations director, commented, “I’d just like to say thank you to everyone that’s made this a wonderful, wonderful opportunity for our community. That’s what we do here at EBCI is we take care of our families. We take care of our own. This has been a true leadership role in bringing lots of folks together, lots of programs, lots of intellect…”
“We have accomplished something amazing, something that we can be proud of for the next seven generations.”