Keith Austin

You don’t learn it, you live it

I was raised in the small red town of Talala, and educated a few mile south in Oologah. Talala is the Cherokee word for -headed woodpecker and Oologah is the Cherokee word for dark cloud. They both are small towns in the county named in honor of Clem Rogers, a Cherokee Nation District Judge for a time, and a long serving legislator in the Cherokee Nation representing the Cooweescoowee District in the late 1800’s. Some also may know him as father to The Cherokee Kid, Will Rogers.

With all of this Cherokee history surrounding us, you would think the culture, history and traditions of the Cherokee Nation and its people would have been a central part of our education. In the 1960’s and 70’s, we had great teachers, but I recall very little mention of Indian Territory or anything that came before statehood in 1907. I do not remember having the option of a Native American Student Association or something similar.

I am very fortunate to be the son and grandson of proud Cherokee people that always spoke of our history and celebrated our heritage. My grandparents were born a very short time after Indian Territory became Oklahoma. For them, Cherokee was not something you learned, it was something you lived. They spent their entire lives showing their eight children and many more grandchildren how to live as Cherokees in a modern world. Our grandmother, Alice “Crittenden” Callison, made sure her grandchildren knew we were the Great Great Great Grandchildren of Judge John Martin, the first Supreme Court Justice of the Cherokee Nation.

On a hot August day in 2015 as the newly elected Cherokee Tribal legislator for District 14, I recited the same oath all elected and appointed officials of the Cherokee Nation recite. “I do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will faithfully execute the duties of Tribal Council of the Cherokee Nation, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitutions of the Cherokee Nation, and the United States of America. I swear or affirm further, that I will do everything within my power to promote the culture, heritage and traditions of the Cherokee Nation.”

As you can see by this constitutional oath, the authors of our Constitution stressed the importance of our commitment to insure our culture, heritage and history is never forgotten. They recognized the best way to preserve our past is to promote our future. As Tribal Councilor I work every day to honor this oath and celebrate those who came before us.

Today it is common in most public schools within the Cherokee Nation to have JOM, a Native American education program, a Native American Student Association (NASA) or native American club. I salute all of these efforts. Native American children are once again being taught the ways of their ancestors, to be proud of their heritage and to live in the modern world as native people. I can’t help but believe that this is pleasing to our ancestors.

 By Keith Austin, Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, District 14