WHITE OAK, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Chief of the Shawnee Tribe Benjamin Barnes signed a Memorandum of Agreement Friday designating the cultural preserve near the town of White Oak in Craig County.

Under the MOA, the Cherokee Nation’s 155 acres will be used primarily as a cultural preserve to support the Shawnee Tribe as well as conservation traditions. The cultural preserve provides additional access to cultural resources near the Shawnee ceremonial grounds and reinforces preservation of the Tribe’s traditional grounds previously set aside under a long-term assignment.

“Land has always been sacred for our people and having dedicated preserves throughout our Cherokee Nation Reservation, including here in Craig County, for conservation, medicinal plant gathering and traditional activities connects us to our roots,” Chief Hoskin said. “We’ve established a hunting and fishing preserve in Sequoyah County, and now dedicating this cultural preserve in Craig County is proving how vital the establishment of the Cherokee Nation Park, Wildlands, Fishing and Hunting Preserve Act of 2021 truly is. Cherokee Nation has an enduring friendship with the Shawnee tribe dating back to the 19th century. This agreement further solidifies that friendship for generations to come.”

The MOA starts November 2021 for a term of 50 years.

“Our Shawnee ceremonials at White Oak and the ceremonials of our Cherokee relatives are very different from each other, but similar in that they’ve been stewarded over centuries and centuries by our respective ancestors,” says Chief Barnes, “I appreciate that Chief Hoskin mirrors my own values and those of the Shawnee Tribe—our cultures and languages need to be preserved for our grandchildren’s grandchildren. We can develop new ways of generating financial income, but we can’t replace these sacred spaces and practices.”

Sherry Gardner, the Shawnee Ceremonial Grounds Head Lady, said “we all have a major responsibility to preserve our culture.”

“The Loyal Shawnee Ceremonial Grounds have been here for over 100 years,” Gardner said. “I have followed in the footsteps of my grandmother, my aunt and my mother at these ceremonial grounds. In recent years, we have had many of our young people return and participate in our traditional ceremonials. So, to have the lands around our grounds protected and preserved means we can carry on our cultural traditions and not have that disturbed and continue to pass it on to our young people as we have done for centuries.”

“This was a special day in a special place,” said Shawnee ceremonial leader and Tribal Language Director Joel Barnes, “These grounds—yoma waapa’komiisi ta’menyeeleki—this is a home to us. It’s always a good day when we can gather here, and we’re all glad to know we can keep gathering here as we have been.”

Under the Cherokee Nation Park, Wildlands, Fishing and Hunting Preserve Act of 2021, the Cherokee Nation designated four new reserves. The Cherokee Nation Hunting Preserve is nearly 4,400 acres of tribal fee property in Sequoyah County for hunting and fishing and traditional outdoor activities.

“I was proud to be a sponsor of the Cherokee Nation Park, Wildlands and Fishing and Hunting Preserve Act earlier this year,” said Victoria Vazquez, Deputy Speaker of the Council of the Cherokee Nation, from Vinita. “I’m prouder still that it establishes a preserve here in Craig County that strengthens our friendship with the Shawnee Tribe.”

The tribe established the 155 acres of reserve land in Craig County and 810 acres of land in Adair County to be used by the Cherokee Nation’s Medicine Keepers program for traditional and medicinal plant gathering and Cherokee cultural activities.

The Cherokee Nation Sallisaw Creek Park is 800 acres of tribal trust land in Sequoyah County. It is a partially developed public park that can be used for hunting, fishing, camping and other recreational purposes.

“This act has been extremely beneficial for our tribe and citizens, and we hope to identify land for future conservation efforts and add to our preserves in more areas across the reservation,” said Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources Chad Harsha.

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