- Lani Hansen
UKB Employee spotlight: Sheila Bird
The Giduwa Cherokee News has decided to spotlight a new UKB employee each month as a way for tribal members to come to know the friendly faces behind the tribe. Below is this month’s feature.
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
TAHLEQUAH - When United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians member Sheila Bird heard the UKB Tribal Historic Preservation Office had an opening for a director, she chose working for her tribe over working for herself.
“When I heard that this job was going to be open, I was working independently. I was in the dilemma between working independently or working for my people,” she said. “When people usually come into these roles, they stay. It is such a meaningful job. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to work for my people. I just felt like I had the experience, knowledge, understanding and passion to really elevate the program here.”
Bird began working as the UKB THPO director in March 2018 and now also manages Environmental Services, administering grants for both programs and keeping the tribe compliant with federal and tribal consultation regulations.
She also works within the guidelines of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which was enacted by the U.S. government in November 1990 and serves two main purposes.
It requires federal agencies, museums and educational institutions receiving federal funds to inventory for tribes any Native American remains or objects within their possession. It also dictates that tribes must be included when Native American burial sites and funerary items are found during ground disturbing projects.
Bird often travels for her work, as she regularly consults with more than 25 federal and state agencies in 17 states on projects that could potentially impact historical lands and sites sacred to Keetoowah people.
“My job is to protect our cultural resources,” said Bird. “We take our jobs very serious. Although we are a removed tribe and are located in Oklahoma now, that doesn’t remove our responsibility to protect our aboriginal lands and these sacred sites. Even though we aren’t serving the people of today, we are serving the people of the past, which supports the people of the future.”
She said that is the most “rewarding” part of her job.
“Knowing that end of the day, you put everything that you have into something that is bigger than yourself is one of the most rewarding things about this job,” she said. “Every day is a project. Every day I have the privilege and the honor to bring my expertise, my passion and my love for my people all into this job. Not only does it mean something today, we are preserving our past to protect our future.”