The Cherokee Nation agreed last week to buy the Will Rogers birthplace from the state of Oklahoma.
The birthplace, located east of Oologah, has struggled in recent years under state ownership. The Oklahoma Historical Society recognized the importance of the landmark, but, overburdened and underfunded by the state, had been forced to prioritize its budget in other directions. That meant the Rogers birthplace was sagging under the weight of time and reluctant neglect.
Money from sale of the birthplace will be used to invested in the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore.
Cherokee ownership of the birthplace is a good fit. The tribe is in a financial position to repair and restore the site and has a strong motive to do so.
Rogers is sometimes cited as Oklahoma’s more illustrious native son, which is true, and no less true of the Cherokee Nation. Rogers was a Cherokee citizen, born in the Cherokee Nation.
Eighty-five years after his death, the extent of Rogers fame and influence has been largely forgotten. At one time, he was Hollywood’s biggest star and one of the nation’s most syndicated and influential newspaper columnists. He was a star of Broadway, vaudeville, the silver screen and the printed page.
His epigrams — “All I know is what I read in the papers,” “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat,” and, of course, “I never met a man I didn’t like” — still echo in our national consciousness because they are as funny as they are apt.
We hate to see the birthplace go out of state ownership, but know the Cherokee Nation will be a better steward of its heritage.
The transaction is a model for a better relationship between the state and the dozens of sovereign tribes located here.
The past two years have tested that relationship with Gov. Kevin Stitt pushing an agenda to increase the state’s share of tribal gaming revenue and, most recently, provoking the tribes with tone and leadership of his efforts following the U.S. Supreme Court’s portentous McGirt decision. That ruling finds that Congress never dissolved the Creek Nation reservation at statehood (and, implies the same to be true for the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole nations).
We can and must reinvigorate the state-tribe relationship.
The tribes are thriving, growing businesses that will never leave Oklahoma. In myriad ways, they serve their citizens, the vast majority of whom are also Oklahoma citizens. The beneficiaries of tribal efforts are often all the people of Oklahoma, as in the Cherokee adoption of the Rogers birthplace.
We thank the Cherokee Nation for adopting the birthplace. It will mean an important piece of common history will be properly preserved, honored and showcased. Further, we hope this moment is a sign of a healthier, more cooperative relationship between equals for Oklahoma and the sovereign nations within its borders.
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