The June opening of the new Cherokee Veterans Center is proceeding on schedule, and the nation’s Veterans Affairs department can hardly wait.
“We’re getting a little antsy. We’re ready to go and move into our new rooms!” said Rogan Noble, tribal veterans representative.
Currently, the nation’s Veterans Affairs department is housed in small, crowded offices in the center of a building in the Cherokee’s tribal complex in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. “It gets a bit claustrophobic in here, especially for some of the old tunnel rats,” said Noble, a former Marine who served in Vietnam.The new facility, measuring 7,700 square feet, will house offices, a kitchen, a community meeting hall big enough to hold gourd dances, and a library and museum. The entrance will feature a Wall of Honor and the building itself is located just east of the nation’s Warriors’ Memorial. It is entirely funded by the Cherokee Nation.
Noble is proud of the project, which is a fitting addition on the tribal campus. “We didn’t affiliate with outsiders. We’re a sovereign nation and we want to keep it that way,” he said.
But Noble is quick to emphasize that the new center will be open to all veterans, including non-Natives. “This is for the veterans—all vets. We encourage drop-ins during the day, especially by the older vets who might not have anywhere else to go to socialize. Sometimes just having a cup of coffee and spending a couple hours with guys who have similar experiences as you does a world of good.”
The project’s website notes that the Cherokee Veterans Center will be a central location providing networking with other veterans, as well as outreach activities for those living in rural areas. The center is intended as a place bound together by patriotism as well as the appreciation and acknowledgment of the sacrifice made by all those who have served our nation.
In addition, it will provide quality services for veterans and their families, assisting them in accessing the benefits and services due to them from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It will be a safe and confidential environment from which to seek these benefits, which will be free to all eligible veterans and families.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the center will be a visible sign of the high regard in which the Cherokee Nation holds all veterans. The idea for building the new facility was born when U.S. Army Private First Class Lori Piestewa, Hopi, Piestewa became the first Native servicewoman to be killed in action while serving with the U.S military; she was ambushed along with other members of the 507th Maintenance Company near Nasiriyah, Iraq on March 23, 2003. The subsequent building of a veterans center on reservation land in Arizona to memorialize her got the Cherokees thinking that they, too, should build a dedicated facility for veterans on their land. The project started off as an all-volunteer effort, but when progress began to slow, the nation stepped in to kick construction into high gear. Now, everything’s on pace for a grand opening this June.
“The whole building is a tribute to those who serve and those who have served, including the fallen,” said Noble. “The Cherokee Nation really makes a point to serve the guys who are sometimes forgotten, the elder vets who might be in nursing homes. We want to honor our vets, to let them know that we will never forget.”
For more information about the Cherokee Veterans Center and to follow its progress, go to VeteransCenter.cherokee.org.
Editor's Note: On March 9, soon after speaking with ICTMN for this article, Rogan Noble walked on. Noble was a proud and decorated Marine Corps veteran who served in the Vietnam War. While working with the Cherokee Nation, he was instrumental in establishing its Office of Veterans Affairs and the Warrior Memorial that sits adjacent to the Tribal Complex. “Rogan was a valued employee of the Cherokee Nation. He was a true warrior and deeply committed to furthering Cherokee veterans,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a statement. “He was our director of our tribal veteran’s program and a champion of our Veteran’s Center. He’ll be sorely missed, and I wish he could have seen the completion of the Veterans Center.” For more, please click here.