It’s not often that we can provide Cherokee Nation citizens free field trips, one that includes a lunch, an education in tribal history and a tour of the modern Cherokee Nation complex. We have started a new program with our 14 senior nutrition sites. Recently, we hosted the first group of about 30 Cherokee elders from senior nutrition sites in Marble City, Muldrow and Sallisaw and the response was great. Our elders are so important to our tribe and culture. They are the anchors of our families and the keepers of our culture, traditions and values.

The tribe’s senior nutrition sites provide an invaluable service and help ensure the continued good health and quality of life for our Cherokee elders. Over the past year, Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and I have joined different Tribal Council members to attend at least one lunch per month. We visited all of the 14 senior nutrition sites, which are open to provide meals to our elders.

These were opportunities to connect with our citizens and provide important updates to people who may not get news from the tribe regularly. So, we set out to change that, and we had wonderful conversations and experiences across the 14 counties. Several people asked for the opportunity to travel to Tahlequah and actually see firsthand some of the things we were talking about.

We promised to fulfill that request, and so we partnered with the cultural tourism department at Cherokee Nation Businesses to arrange a bus trip for the elders to Tahlequah and tour the Cherokee National Prison Museum, the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum and the John Ross Museum. It’s a natural fit to partner with CNB, which provides the shuttle bus as well as the friendly and informative tour guides, who share so many aspects of our tribal history and heritage.

We also provided lunch at the Restaurant of the Cherokees, and offered opportunities to shop at the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop or stop by the registration department for photo IDs, as well as visit the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center. Additionally, there was a drive-by tour of Northeastern State University to see Seminary Hall and the bronze Sequoyah statue in front of the school.

We already have many more trips for the other sites planned in 2017. I am so very proud to have set this program in motion because it affords us opportunities to share time, a meal and fellowship with some of our most delightful and eager citizens. The Cherokee Nation’s Human Services and Community Services and CNB’s cultural tourism have all played valuable roles to ensure these trips are well planned and meaningful.

Bill John Baker is the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.