- By Aaron Payment
Special to Native News Online. Sault Ste. Marie Tribe Reservation — Indian Country is full of heroes and sheroes who have dedicated their lives to advocating for our people. It is what we do to honor our ancestors and provide for future generations. Recognizing our individual responsibility to our Gawin Na Min Da Min Da (all of our relatives including our ancestors) is the mark of a true leader.
Cathy (McCoy) Abramson is one such leader. Too often, we don’t say what we should. This tribute to Ogitch’da Cathy Abramson is offered to share my gratitude and to honor her lifetime of service to all
While we are cousins through our Netamup-Joseph family line, I first got to know Cathy when she was interning with our Nokomis-Mishomis Elder Center in the early 1990s. Her duties included marketing our Elder programs and initiating our Elder newsletter. As an older returning student, Cathy studied and graduated with a bachelor’s degree with courses in business and marketing.
Cathy was the first to meet Olympian Billy Mills (Lakota) through her daughters Lisa and Laura’s outstanding high school running careers. This friendship would eventually bring Billy to our reservation year after year to promote health, wellness for our people.
Cathy and I entered elective office at the same time in 1996. After I served for 12 years (eight as tribal council member and four as chairperson) I lost re-election. After a four-year time out of office, when re-elected as Chair in 2012, Cathy asked if I would go to lunch with her with one of our mutual mentors ~ former Chairperson of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians Frank Ettawageshik at the Legs Inn restaurant in northern lower Michigan. They both implored me to get on a positive path to advocate for our people. As the chair of the National Indian Health Board, Cathy told me, “I need your help” to fight for the health and welfare of our people.
Within months, we accomplished convincing the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes (MAST) to pass a resolution calling for the creation of the Great Lakes Area Health Board. Next, she pushed me to engage in the federal appropriations process and eventually to serve as a member of the Tribal Interior Budget Council. Then, she invited me to attend a meeting of the Health and Human Services Secretary Tribal Advisory Council for which she was a member. After seeing her in action, I was hooked. Cathy would go on to serve as the Chair of the HHS STAC. Knowing that I had a proclivity for gab and testifying, invited me to join her in testifying at the highest levels. I served on the National Congress of American Indian’s board and became a mainstay in testifying on appropriations for all of Indian Country budget for three years in a row. But, make no mistake, this high school dropout had my leadership instigated by Cathy Abramson who coined the term, “pre-paid” treaty rights for “health, education and social welfare”.
Cathy is currently experiencing some serious health challenges. Several years earlier, we started a tobacco prayer chain when she needed a double transplant operation. Our prayers were heard, and the Creator gave us several more years of her contributions. As time may have it, she again may be called back. I hope and pray this is not the case, but she has shared with me that she is at peace. Still, I pray for God's grace like the blessing of wrapping oneself with a Pendleton blanket for her family and our entire tribal nation if the call to bring her home is stronger that our desire to keep her here.
Cathy, you have set a standard for positive tribal leadership and advocacy at the highest levels. I say, Chi MeGwitch for your leadership. I credit much of my growth to your kindness in shaping the path I eventually followed. Some of us were not raised to use the word love due to historical and inter-generational trauma, but I can honestly say that I and we love you Cathy.
Dr. Aaron A. Payment, (Sault Tribe)
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