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Keetoowah assistant chief named to state commission

STILLWATER, Okla. - Oklahoma state Sen. Jim Wilson confirmed that Charles Locust, assistant chief of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, has been appointed as a representative on the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. Locust replaces former UKB Chief Dallas Proctor, who recently relinquished his seat on the board. After Proctor's term expires Aug. 15, Locust will begin his own three-year term.

Locust also serves as Eastern Oklahoma alternate for the National Congress of American Indians Executive Board. He was elected to the position of assistant UKB chief during the tribes' 2004 elections. Since assuming office, he has been praised for his work on behalf of elders and students under the administration of UKB Chief George Wickliffe.

OIAC, established in 1967, is a liaison between state and federal governments and Oklahoma's 37 recognized tribes. According to their mission statement, they develop and implement research projects, reports and cooperative programs between tribes, state, federal, local and private entities, as well as health care, education, tourism and economic development concerns.

According to Locust, the UKB has approximately 12,000 members. Some 60 percent of these tribal citizens still speak their native language and are culturally active. The UKB operates one successful casino, but Locust said many still live below the poverty level.

''Working with the state commission is a wonderful opportunity for smaller tribes like ours to have their voices heard,'' he said. ''All tribes in Oklahoma have ongoing concerns about health care, housing and land issues - we are all on the same page about those matters - but sometimes, smaller tribes don't get as much attention as larger ones. [Being included on] this commission is a big step for small tribes, but it is also an excellent chance to work for the benefit of all Indian people in Oklahoma.''

Many tribes in the state are striving for self-sufficiency through economic development, a fact that Wilson sees as a positive goal among those in his constituency.

''For years, federal money has been supplied to tribes for housing and other needs, but no funds were supplied as start-up money for new business. If tribes want more autonomy, self-sustaining endeavors must be their focus. They have a rare opportunity - to use gaming revenues wisely to create capitol for new sustainable business ventures.''

Locust himself contends that one of the most pressing issues facing Oklahoma tribes is protection of sovereignty.

''Many tribes have entered into compacts with the state that are deteriorating their sovereign status,'' he said, ''but I think the state representatives I've met so far, especially in the departments of Commerce, Education and in the governor's office, are open and eager to work together with the tribes in a spirit of cooperation.''

Locust lives in Stillwater with his family. He holds a bachelor's degree in social sciences and business administration, and is a member of the revered Redbird Smith Nighthawk Keetoowah Society. He has worked in several capacities for the Miami Tribe and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.