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Chickasaw Lt. Gov. Jefferson Keel visits UNC Pembroke

Jefferson Keel
Lt. Gov. Jefferson Keel of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma chats with Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings during a campus tour

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke recently hosted a prominent leader of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Lt. Governor Jefferson Keel toured the campus, meeting with faculty, staff and students on Sept. 15, 2017. He visited classrooms, made a quick stop at the David Weinstein Health Sciences Building, Old Main and viewed the site of the new School of Business.

Keel is the second highest ranking member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, home to 38,000 members and the country’s 13th largest federally recognized tribe. He was recently elected president of the National Congress of American Indians, the nation’s largest and oldest American Indian advocacy organization.

“I was highly impressed, not just with the community, but with the university and its vision,” Keel said after touring the Entrepreneurship Incubator with his wife, Carol.

"It was great to hear from the leadership and the plans for the future,” he said. “It sounds like a tremendous growth plan. When you undertake to be an economic engine for a region, particularly this part of the country … that’s pretty impressive.”

Keel has served as Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation since 1999. He is a retired U.S. Army officer with 20 years active service. He serves on the Tribal Consultation Advisory Board for the Centers of Disease Control and chair of the Facilities Allocation Advisory Board of the Indian Health Service.

He also co-chairs an advisory committee that oversees efforts to erect a memorial to Native American veterans at the National Museum of the American Indian by 2020.

A traveling exhibit “Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces” which is being used to drum up support for the memorial, was previously on display at UNCP’s Museum of the Southeast American Indian. The museum was part of the campus tour.

“The university was honored to welcome Lt. Gov. Keel, a widely respected leader known for his work on behalf of American Indians nationwide,” said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings.

“Everyone he interacted with on campus recognized his sincere interest in our history and mission. He graciously offered to host a UNCP contingent in Oklahoma so we can learn more about the Chickasaw Nation and share information about the NC Promise Tuition Plan and other opportunities at our university. I’m looking forward to the visit.”

While in Pembroke, Keel visited the Lumbee tribal headquarters where he was greeted by Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr.

"We are pleased once again to be able to partner with UNCP in hosting a great Native American and this time from the state of Oklahoma,” Godwin said.

“We are honored to have his support as we continue the fight for full federal recognition of the Lumbee Tribe.”

Before leaving for his home in Ada, Oklahoma, Keel met Chancellor Cummings and university delegates at the Chancellor’s Residence.

“I was highly impressed with Dr. Cummings,” Keel said. “It looks like you’ve got the right leadership and vision for the university. The university should be very proud of the growth it has made and the vision going forward.

“I look forward to working with Dr. Cummings in the future. And I hope to make another visit.”

Keel is among several dignitaries who have paid visits to the university recently, including Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T North Caorlina; Sen. David Curtis, Kelly Haney, former chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, and former Congressman Robin Hayes.