BELFONTE, Okla. — Cherokee Nation officials joined Rural Communities Initiative Foundation leaders to cut the ribbon on the new Sallie Byrd Sevenstar Community Building in Sequoyah County on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

The community center is named in honor of Cherokee Nation citizen and fluent Cherokee speaker Sallie Byrd Sevenstar, who passed away in August 2020.

Sevenstar was a lifelong resident of the Nicut Community. She was a retired teacher of more than 30 years and member of the Belfonte Baptist Church for more than 50 years, where she taught Sunday school and led singing. She was also the first bilingual Cherokee speaker to receive a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.

“The spirit of community is strong here in the Belfonte-Nicut community, and it makes me proud to be in leadership at a time when culture and community is present,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “The first time I came to this community, the first person to greet me was Sallie. She greeted me with such joy that I will never forget. That made such a difference – her simple act of being full of joy and the pride she displayed when she talked about the history of the old building and what it meant to this community. If all of us could have that same pride and a little be of Sallie’s joy, this new community center will be one of the brightest spots in the great Cherokee Nation and we will all be proud every time we visit.”

Chief Hoskin, Deputy Chief Bryan Warner, Tribal Councilors Daryl Legg, E.O. Smith and Speaker of the Council Joe Byrd met with Rural Communities Initiative Foundation leaders, Belfonte-Nicut community residents and family members of Sevenstar to celebrate the project’s completion.

“Having this community building named after Sallie means so much to our family, but it also means we have a responsibility to make sure we carry out what she had envisioned for our communities and working together,” said Speaker Byrd, brother of Sallie Byrd Sevenstar. “Now with the Byrd-Sevenstar name we will continue that shared responsibility. I want to thank the Cherokee Nation for giving us that honor. Wado.”

In October 2020, the Council of the Cherokee Nation unanimously approved renaming the former Belfonte-Nicut Community Center in honor of Sevenstar for her lifetime of service to the Cherokee people and to her community.

“This was the second oldest building in the Cherokee Nation at one time before this new facility was built here,” said Legg. “It has been a dream of Rural Communities Initiative Foundation before they even started, and now we were able to see this dream come to life today with this ribbon cutting. It is also a great day because this special building is named in honor of a very special person, Ms. Sallie Byrd Sevenstar. We are going to be able to do a lot of great things here, and I appreciate this administration for stepping up, seeing the need and helping us fulfill that need.”

The facility offers 4,000 square feet of space where the community organization can host meetings, cultural events and other activities once it safe to do so. Currently, the organization offers programs such as food distribution, firewood for elders and minor home improvements for community residents. The organization also plans to add a basketball court, playground, a walking trail and picnic area in the future.

“There has always been a great need here. The old community building that was here before became outdated and we really just out grew it, so this new building was very much needed and greatly appreciated,” said Sammy Eagle, Rural Communities Initiative Foundation president. “Sallie was a matriarch in this community. She is the one who started the Belfonte Community Organization years ago. She served as the president, and she continued to keep things going until she passed last year. Rural Communities Initiative Foundation merged with Belfonte community in order to keep Sallie’s legacy, so it’s an honor to have this building named after her.”

The community building is one of several projects throughout the tribe’s reservation included in the Cherokee Nation’s Respond, Recover and Rebuild COVID-19 relief initiative. As the pandemic continues, the building will continue to serve as a hub for storing and distributing emergency food supplies and other community assistance needs.