The Cherokee Nation’s vision statement includes the aspects of togetherness, community, family and culture. Though not a Cherokee citizen herself, Evening Shade resident Donna Collins touts that this vision is more than just a creed for Cherokee citizens. It is something that should help guide the leadership of our communities.
Collins came to Oklahoma in 1976 with her family.
“We were on our way from Connecticut to Montana in an RV, and we stopped at Tenkiller and never left,” Collins says.
After graduating high school in Vian and marrying her high school sweetheart, Mark, Collins went on to serve Vian and Gore for 25 years as a mail carrier.
Collins said she got to know the people she served, and, in some cases, watched their children grow up. She still recognizes and often remembers their addresses.
“After 25 years, you just remember people’s names and addresses,” she says.
Since she retired, Collins has made it her mission to care, love and support her community.
“It is all about helping others,” she says. “Whether they are hungry, cold or need something done, we have to help each other, especially our elders.”
Along with her husband of 37 years, Collins has done a lot for her community and has helped to establish community services such as food drives, arts and craft programs, and a food distribution center five days a week for the Evening Shade community north of Vian.
Collins said that many people in the community need services, and she highlights the Cherokee citizens, especially the elders, who benefit from the effort she has made.
“We try to ensure that people’s needs are met. We have helped organize yard maintenance services, fundraisers and recently did a turkey shoot where we invited people from as far away as Stilwell to take part,” she says.
A few years ago, the Collinses donated an acre of their property to establish a Cherokee Nation community center. Collins says the decision was easy, as they recognized the need for an established community center.
She has since written grants to secure funding for the community center and associated programs, and is working with the Cherokee Nation to get a new building constructed.
“My husband and children are Cherokee,” Collins says. “We are not looking for a building as large as the one in Marble City, but something large enough to house our programs and allow for meeting and party spaces.”
Collins currently serves as treasurer of the community building.
Collins leads a busy life. In addition to her community obligations, she is active at Vian Assembly of God, where she serves as the “sound lady,” and revels in the fact that she gets to play her contemporary Christian music.
Collins also helps her sister at her storage unit business, and often helps clean out storage units.
“We find some great items. Often arts and craft materials, and sometimes we get clothing that we donate or give away for free,” she says.
Collins is a mother to three and a grandmother to 11.
“I think my youngest two children were in competition, as they each were pregnant around the same time, and each has three kids under 5 years old,” she brags. Collins says one of her children lives on her property, and that she would love to one day have her other children live there as well, jokingly referring to it as “our own family compound.”
Togetherness, community, family and culture are more than just a creed for Collins. They are a practice she hopes will continue to further generations.
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