While the rollout of coronavirus vaccinations has been chaotic and resisted by some of the public, the Cherokee have quietly mobilized their members to get as many needles into as many arms as soon as possible, starting with some of the most endangered members of the tribe — those who still speak Cherokee.
"We put Cherokee-fluent speakers, most of whom are elders, at the front of the line," Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., leader of the 385,000-strong Cherokee Nation, said on a Zoom call from the reservation in Oklahoma. "The reason is that our language is at risk."
Tribal leaders and activists across the country have harnessed the reverence for Native American culture and tradition to vaccinate a people that has deep-rooted fears and suspicions of the U.S. government and the medical establishment.
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