Miss Cherokee Julie Thornton, Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden and Jr. Miss Cherokee LaNice Belcher participate in the wreath ceremony during the Cherokee Nation’s “Honoring Our Veterans” program in November 2013
The Cherokee people have always respected any man or woman who has donned a uniform and made sacrifices to protect and defend our nation’s liberties. Our heritage and history as soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen is something we should all take great pride in and something that must be respected and carried forth. A fact many of us know but is worth repeating is that Native people, including Cherokees, serve in the military at a higher rate than any other ethnic group in America.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker
The Cherokee people, like many tribal nations, have a deep history with the American military. As a tribe, the Cherokee Nation has set a high watermark for our commitment to Cherokee service men and women. As a society, we owe military veterans the utmost admiration as they have fought and sacrificed for our collective freedoms to vote, voice our opinion, peaceably assemble and pursue an education.
Two of my closest friends and important members of my administration served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Deputy Principal Chief S. Joe Crittenden served as a radio specialist on the USS Princeton, and Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin worked on the flight deck of the USS Independence.
I have learned a great deal from both of these men. Like my dad, Tim Baker, they stepped forward when our nation needed them. Their commitment to country and duty is sincere, and it’s inspiring every day. It is why they are such revered leaders within our tribe. Yes, they were proud to serve. But they are even more proud of the work they have done for other military veterans. As leaders of our tribe, Joe and Chuck have led our efforts to make our Cherokee Veterans Center a reality. This past year, we also established the first Cherokee Warrior Flight to Washington, D.C. We presented seven WWII veterans from the Cherokee Nation an opportunity to see the national monuments and U.S. Capitol. This trip was not one we gave them. It was a trip they earned through their extraordinary valor and service to their country and tribe. The inaugural Cherokee Warrior Flight was an emotional and spiritual journey for these men, and we are already making plans for the next one.
Valor. Strength. Honor. These are the traits we admire in our military heroes.
Remembrance and reverence are a big part of Cherokee culture. That’s why over the summer we signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Administration to provide additional quality health care options for Native veterans. It’s morally imperative that we provide timely and quality care to the men and women who have given so much to our country. I am proud we could agree on this compact to provide much-needed services.
Historically, Cherokee warriors left for battle or service with family prayer. Upon their return, these warriors are rightfully recognized by their tribe and their community for their acts of bravery. It is our tradition and our heritage to celebrate individuals who sacrifice for the larger good. It is the proper way to honor our veterans.
We all know someone in our family who has served to protect the Stars and Stripes, whether it is a cousin, sibling, parent or grandparent, and they valued it enough to put their very own lives at risk. This Veterans Day, I encourage you to thank a veteran and remind them how grateful all of us are of their service.
Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.