March 18, 2020, was the day COVID-19 forever changed the Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma. It was the day we lost the first Oklahoman – a Cherokee Nation citizen, Merle Dry – to this deadly pandemic. To mark this anniversary, Cherokee Nation recently hosted a National Day of Remembrance. This online vigil paid respect to Mr. Dry and the numerous other beloved Cherokee men and women we have lost to the virus in the past 12 months.
It has been a sad chapter in our history. We have lost hundreds of Cherokees to the pandemic, including more than 50 Cherokee first-language speaking elders. The casualties were our family, our friends, our coworkers and our fellow Cherokees. They were our culture keepers, our oral historians and our language propagators to the next generation.
The loss of so many will forever remind me of how precious and how fragile life is. They must live on now in our memories, stories and hearts. We owe it to them and to ourselves to never forget their legacy.
We must now move forward, driven by what we’ve lost. But we know better days are ahead. I believe the future is beginning to turn bright again for the Cherokee Nation.
As the pandemic declines and more of us are vaccinated, it’s tempting to relax our vigilance. We must not. We owe it to the victims of this virus and all of our loved ones to stop the spread of COVID-19 and prevent even more tragedies until it is fully behind us.
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. As Cherokees, we must maintain our spirit of gadugi – looking out for each other and working for the greater good.
We all know someone who has walked on because of COVID-19 – a friend, a loved one, a pillar of our community or the bedrock of a family. May their memories be eternal, and may we live in ways that honor their legacies. While much has changed over the past year, one thing that never changes is that Cherokee Nation and Cherokee citizens remain steadfast, showing strength, creativity and resilience even during times of great hardship.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.