Native American people have a proud history and a tremendous influence in the Four-State area.
As part of Native American Heritage Month, Pittsburg State University invited leaders from several of the area tribal councils to talk about their work, culture and more.
Wahwastoas Jacque Jones, director of the Constituent Services Office for the Osage Nation, Krista Pierce, director of higher education for the Quapaw Tribe, Ashlee Chaudoin, college outreach specialist for the Cherokee Nation and Tommy Wildcat, history and cultural specialist for the Cherokee Nation all shared insights into their lives, tribes and more.
Despite being very different sizes, all three tribes face some of the same challenges, including helping younger tribe members carry the culture forward.
"It's a challenge, especially for those who have been away and come back, to make them aware of the ancestry and history and that the Native American way of doing things is different for everyone," said Pierce. "There is a really broad spectrum of cultural knowledge and history of ancestry and tribal knowledge. Some have a good grasp, but others may know they are a member of a tribe, but very little else."
Jones mentioned her nation's concern about a potential loss of the language as those who speak it fluently pass away. She said she personally speaks the language, but is not fluent.
"Eventually, if we don't keep the language and culture intact, we'll lose the purpose of our nation," she said.
Similarly, the Cherokee nation has fewer people immersed in the culture, but Chaudoin and Wildcat said adaptation is part of the heritage of their people.
"Cherokees are survivors," Chaudoin said. "We hold our values and our traditions, but we also change with the times. We have to be able to make adjustments and we can still hold on to our traditions."
She mentioned that the tribe's language department is working on projects with Google and iPhone as one example.
Wildcat said since the Revolutionary War the American Indians have been the power that helped build the country and, despite dark spots in history, Native Americans have maintained their pride and are thriving.
"The Indians have always been proud," he said. "We don't stand in line for equal rights."
He said if his people see things they want they will create them rather than waiting for them.
The sovereign status of some of the tribes helps with that.
Registered tribal members hold dual citizenship with the United States of America and tribes are self-governing.
"It's a separate culture, but we live in the same culture," Jones said.
The tribes run their own governing systems with some of the same challenges that other governments face and they also offer scholarships, oversee education and jobs, consider the mental, physical and emotional health of their citizens and they keep tabs on other legislation that might impact them.
"Keeping your culture involved in your government is a really hard thing," Jones said, adding that the Osage Nation has 17,000 tribal members all over the United States. "That's a lot of people to make decisions and be in charge of."
Chaudoin said the Cherokee Nation has 305,000 citizens and gave out about $10 million in scholarships this year, including to 31 Pittsburg State University students.
Some of the tribe's abilities to do so are through federal grants, but Jones said the goal is to not rely on those.
"We have a lot of federal grants, but the sovereignty goal is to get rid of grants and to be fully independent," she said, adding that the goal would be to sustain the economy through casinos and business investments.
Wildcat said the investments of the various nations also impact the surrounding areas and he said the Cherokee Nation makes a $1.5 million impact in Oklahoma, which also helps create jobs in the area.
"We just want to improve the livelihoods of anyone who contacts the Osage Nation," Jones said, of the similarities between nations.
The tribes also celebrate opportunities to learn and grow through their own education, education and unification between tribes and educating others about the tribal cultures so that those on the outside can understand the decisions made.