There is a mindset in Oklahoma many in the media refer to as the “Oklahoma Standard.” It means that communities pull together to help those communities in times of need. For Oklahoma tribes, one of these recognized areas of need is its Native veterans.
For the past four years, Oklahoma tribes have hosted an “Inter-Tribal Veterans Stand-Down.” Using the military term for a relaxing of combat status, these events are a one-stop opportunity to apply for help through the VA and area tribes for services such as housing, healthcare, counseling and employment assistance. Other services such as free haircuts and a catered lunch are also on site. Guest speakers, prayers and songs in Native language, and color guard presentations by groups such as the Kiowa Black Leggings Society give Native veterans a sense of belonging.
The Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes, whose tribal offices are in Concho, Oklahoma, have hosted the event for the past two years. Last year, their first turn at hosting took place in Clinton, one of the Oklahoma cities within their tribal service area. This year’s event was moved to downtown Oklahoma City at the Cox Convention Center. According to the tribes’ public information officer Neely Tsoodle, preliminary attendance numbers show that at least 300 veterans and volunteers were present November 4, with 26 veterans indicating homeless status.
Tsoodle said she feels that hosting the event is “imperative… Native Americans have served at the highest level per capita among minorities,” said Caressa James, a Cheyenne-Arapaho tribal member on the planning committee. “We’re just taking the initiative to take care of our veterans.”
Throughout the year, the Cheyenne-Arapaho have hosted other veterans’ events such as the National Museum of the American Indian’s public informational hearing on the veterans’ memorial on the National Mall this past July. The tribes also hosted their own Veterans Day observances, where Cheyenne-Arapaho veterans were issued Veteran ID cards.
The decision is pending on whether the Cheyenne-Arapaho will host the event next year or pass on the event to another area tribal nation. Much of the tribes’ funding for veterans has been in the re-establishment of their Office of Veterans Affairs and its related programs. If the tribes make the decision to host a stand-down next year, they want funding in place to serve not only Native veterans but all veterans who attend.
“What we feel is the most important in planning is the outreach and transportation in getting veterans there,” Tsoodle said. “Veterans are often handicapped in some way, whether it be a lack of vehicle, health reasons or just afraid of reaching out. Providing transportation is key and important on getting them there on this day. It’s a one-stop shop, and that resource is gold to getting things done in one trip.”
For additional resources for veterans, visit the VA Office of Tribal Government Relations website.