By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer
Cherokee tribal culture suffered an extraordinary loss Tuesday when former Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief James Garland Eagle died, said former Principal Chief Joe Byrd.
Eagle, 62, served as deputy chief during Byrd’s administration as principal chief from 1995-99 and served as a council member with Byrd from 1987-95.
“Garland was one of our treasures,” said Byrd, now District 2 tribal council member. “He was one of those traditional people, bilingual. And when we lose someone of that caliber, with his knowledge of the language, they are just irreplaceable.”
Byrd and Eagle knew each other from childhood on, and Eagle was “a good man, with a good heart for the people,” Byrd said.
Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the Cherokee Nation is mourning the loss of Eagle.
“As chief of the Cherokee Nation, I respect and admire leaders, like former Deputy Chief Garland Eagle, who have served our sovereign nation,” Baker said in a media release Friday. “It takes a special person to serve in a leadership role, a person willing to work for the greater good, to put the people’s needs first and to preserve our values as Cherokees. Garland exemplified those traits.”
Eagle, an Adair County native, focused on the preservation of the Cherokee language and culture during his time as a tribal councilman and as deputy chief, a media release states.
Eagle also was a co-founder of the Trail of Tears awards given annually to middle school and high school students, and proved to be instrumental in the forming of the tribal burial policy. He also carried the Olympic torch as it passed through New Echota, Ga., in 1996.
Eagle and his wife, Abbie, lived in the Bell Community near Stilwell. The couple raised three children and has nine grandchildren.
Funeral services are planned for 11 a.m. Monday at Sequoyah Schools’ Place Where They Play, 17091 S. Muskogee Ave. in Tahlequah.
Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton @muskogeephoenix.com.