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A Proud Heritage

November 7, 2016
Weekly Columns
The life and culture of our nation’s Native American tribes are written in nearly every chapter of America’s story. It is rich with the traditions, languages, changes, notable names, and much more. Although we honor those legacies and traditions this month, we remember the contributions that our Native American ancestors brought before us every day.  
 
It is an honor and a privilege to be a member of the Chickasaw Nation, and a true blessing to have been surrounded by family members who were active in representing and preserving our heritage. My great, great grandfather served as the Chief Clerk of the Chickasaw Supreme Court, and my great-grandfather was the treasurer of the Chickasaw Nation. My great aunt Te Ata Thompson Fisher was a Native American storyteller and performer who had many opportunities to display her talents across the world, even for the President of the United States and the King and Queen of Great Britain. And I am most proud of my mother, Helen Cole, who has been the greatest influence in my life – she was the first Native American woman elected to the Oklahoma State Senate.
 
Each time I walk into my office, I am reminded of the greater role that Native Americans have played in creating the relationship that our federal government and tribes have today, as well as their many contributions to our society. I am fortunate that I’ve been given the honor to represent Native Americans, and to have met many members and leaders of various tribes across the United States. Although I belong to the Chickasaw Nation, many tribes have walked through my office doors, and I make it a priority that they are well represented in Congress.
 
In 1990, then President George H.W. Bush designated the month of November as "National American Indian Heritage Month." Numerous strides have been made since then in recognizing the many contributions Native Americans have made to our country, and the federal government and tribes have made significant strides towards building a stronger, more respectful relationship with each other.
 
In more recent years, Congress has been able to ensure that Native Americans are protected on the federal level. From critical legislation like the Violence Against Women Act, which provides reforms for combating domestic violence, to reauthorizing the Special Diabetes Program, Congress recognizes that the needs our nation’s Native Americans have are serious, and are not partisan in nature.
 
For me, and for many people, Native American Indian Heritage Month is every day. It is my hope that each person in America will come to learn and respect the legacy and culture that our Native Ancestors contributed to our society. And we always will continue to respect them, recognize them, and celebrate the heritage and legacy that is forever a part of our American story.