Cherokee Tribal Councilor Joe Deere says his job calls for a lot of hats.
The one Tulsans are most likely to see him wearing is for community involvement.
Whether that’s organizing a food distribution at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, volunteering for the Special Olympics or figuring out how to improve access to tribal services, Deere has committed himself to helping people get through the COVID-19 pandemic and to raising the Cherokee Nation’s profile in Tulsa.
And he’s been able to draw on decades of community involvement to make those things happen.
“The problem I saw was that there wasn’t a lot of the Cherokee Nation in Tulsa,” said Deere, a Tulsa native whose council district includes Tulsa County north of Admiral Boulevard and southwestern Rogers County, including Catoosa.
“In the (Cherokee) community, everybody thought you had to go to Tahlequah to get the resources,” he said.
“My whole thing was to get engaged and see what they need and bring that here. I’ve started three community groups (in Tulsa, Owasso and Catoosa), but with that we’re getting … out there where we’re engaging people in the communities. I get to hear what people need and get those first-hand responses from them. That’s what I want to do, basically, is expand the Cherokee Nation in this area.”
His efforts are not limited to Cherokees. The drive-through food distributions he leads every Tuesday evening at OSU-Tulsa are open to anyone.
“One time I was asked specifically: ‘Is this just for Cherokees?’ And I said: ‘No. We open it up for everybody.’ We do keep track of how many Cherokees come through, but we open it up to everybody because it’s a community need.”
Tribal governments, always a factor in Oklahoma, are likely to be even moreso in 2021. Gaming and a host of issues stemming from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming tribal boundaries are almost certain to be front and center.
That’s another of Deere’s hats — and yet it somehow seems to look a lot like the community involvement hat. Every conversation with him seems to lead back to the grassroots.
“If you look at (our) volunteer groups, you have Hispanics; you have blacks, Native American, white. Everybody’s there going toward the same goal. … I think we’re going in the right direction.”