TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation held a candlelight memorial at the tribe's W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah on Thursday, March 18, in memory of Cherokee citizens lost to COVID-19. March 18 marked one year since the loss of the first Oklahoman and Cherokee citizen, Merle Dry, of Berryhill, due to COVID in 2020.
The ceremony included remarks from Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner, District 4 Tribal Councilor Mike Dobbins, Speaker of the Council Joe Byrd and Chief of Staff Todd Enlow, and was followed by a prayer from Cherokee National Treasure Crosslin Smith.
“Today, our obligation is to give each of these lives lost even more meaning. In their names, let us keep each other safe. In their names, let's have each other's back,” Chief Hoskin said. “Let’s live each day to the fullest. In their names, let us embrace each other. In mourning those who have left us, we remain mindful of how to beat the COVID-19 virus. That means getting the vaccine, wearing a mask in large gatherings, and following the latest public health recommendations. Each life lost to COVID-19 is a deep loss, and each life lost was meaningful. We can give even deeper meaning to those we lost by working together, in their memory, to keep each other safe and keep our communities strong.”
The memorial included 107 candles in honor of Dry and the 106 lives lost in the Cherokee Nation health system since the COVID-19 pandemic began. There were also five empty chairs reserved during the memorial for Cherokee Nation employees lost to the virus.
“How do we build one other up? It’s simple: with kindness, with love, and with compassion,” Deputy Chief Warner said. “This is something that we, as Cherokees, have shown throughout this pandemic. Because of the great loss that we’ve had, our hearts are grieving, and we must have compassion as we move forward. We must use kindness, and we must wrap everything that we do in love. Let us remember those who passed from this Earth, and let us honor them by extending the grace and mercy that our creator extends to each and every one of us.”
The memorial also featured three members of the Cherokee National Youth Choir, who performed “Orphan Child” and “Amazing Grace” in the Cherokee language. The public was invited to view the memorial live on the Cherokee Nation’s official Facebook page and to leave memories, thoughts and prayers in honor of those they have lost to COVID-19.