Monday, May 21, 2018

The need for Cherokee foster families continues


The month of May is annually Foster Care Awareness Month across the globe, and at Cherokee Nation, we continue to recognize and celebrate the essential role strong families play in creating a secure foundation in our communities.  A safe family home provides the love, identity, self-esteem and support our Cherokee children need to grow into healthy and happy adults.

At Cherokee Nation, we continue to address the issues that have the biggest impacts on our people, including educational opportunities, health care coverage, homeownership and career development. These can affect generations of Cherokees and improve lives. One area we still are in dire need is foster and adoptive families for our Indian Child Welfare program. Our children ensure the continued existence of Cherokee values and heritage. They are our future.

Sadly, across the country, more than 1,550 Cherokee youth are in need of a safe, secure and stable home environment with qualified foster families. Sometimes these beautiful and innocent children simply need a temporary place until family reunification can occur. Other times we need higher degrees of permanency, including the lifetime commitment of adoption.

Right now, we have 108 families certified as Cherokee Nation foster families that are providing care to Cherokee children. Every foster opportunity is a success story for Cherokee Nation. Last year we created a specific family leave policy at Cherokee Nation for employees who foster. I am proud that about 15 staffers have utilized this program in the past 12 months.

Cherokee Nation is lucky to have such dedicated individuals within our ICW department. They look for creative ways to collaborate with state- and faith-based partners to the benefit our tribe. I know they work diligently every day to ensure the protection of our children within our tribal communities.

As Cherokee people, we believe we share in child-rearing practices in accordance with our Cherokee cultural values that children are our most precious resource and they ensure our continued existence as a tribe.

I urge Cherokee Nation citizens, agencies and organizations to keep collaborating to raise awareness for the need of foster families for Cherokee children. And I encourage all those who can to consider becoming a foster parent. Visit www.cherokeekids.org for more information.

Monday, May 14, 2018

New law incentivizes more home construction within Cherokee Nation’s 14 counties


Legislative success is an essential tool in maximizing the prosperity of Cherokee Nation.  Partnerships with federal, state and local entities enhance our ability to provide essential services to our citizens.


At the state level, we were vocal advocates of House Bill 1334, a recently passed law authored by Cherokee Nation citizen and State Rep. Chuck Hoskin. HB1334 gives school districts with surplus, undeveloped land the ability to transfer that land to a tribal housing authority.


This new law will enable tribal housing authorities, including Cherokee Nation’s New Home Construction Program, to build affordable single- or multi-family homes for tribal citizens, while benefitting the local school district.


Previously, state law required schools to sell land for fair-market value; however, some public schools, particularly rural schools, have surplus land that is difficult to sell on the market. While this property often offers no value to school districts, it will enable tribal housing authorities to build quality homes at a low cost for tribal citizens. Cherokee Nation can develop the property for real growth that benefits local communities, Cherokee families and the school district itself.


The Cherokee Nation Housing Authority builds quality three- and four-bedroom, single-family brick homes, each with a monthly payment of about $350, which includes taxes and insurance. Since 2012, we have built more than 660 of these homes. This program has also put Cherokees and our neighbors to work by creating 35,156 job opportunities for local contractors throughout northeast Oklahoma. HB1334 further increases our ability to build more homes.


The real advantage for local school districts will be in the form of additional revenue, as $2,800 per student will annually go to the school via Federal Impact Aid. School districts will be able to take advantage of this new law by collecting this aid for each student living in the homes constructed by the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation.


Additional impact aid revenue could lead to reduced class sizes, more teachers, newer textbooks and improved facilities. This desperately needed funding, through federal education dollars into Cherokee Nation’s 14 counties, will drastically enhance the educational experience our children receive.


Our partnership with public education in northeast Oklahoma continues to advance in creative and mutually beneficial ways. HB1334 presents yet another opportunity for tribes and schools to collaborate.


Cherokee Nation is a proud partner with the state of Oklahoma. We will continue to champion legislation like HB1334 that creates solutions our state needs to leverage tribal investments and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Addressing food insecurity for veterans in northeast Oklahoma

Cherokee Nation is steadfastly committed to our military veterans, those men and women who have sacrificed so much for our tribe, our country and our collective freedoms. Recently, we established a formal partnership with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma to help ensure these real-life heroes do not suffer from hunger and food instability. Nobody in Oklahoma, especially a military veteran, should go hungry.


This collaboration, which is the first time a tribal government has been involved with this local food bank program, means regular access to healthy and nutritious foods, and that will translate to better and fuller lives. It is a blessing that we are able to help, and it is the least we can do for those who have done so much for us.


This endeavor will launch a mobile food pantry to the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center quarterly. The first distribution of 10 pallets — about 10,000 pounds of food — will be May 29. The tribe will help identify and distribute tickets to veterans in need, as well as provide volunteers to help run the mobile pantry. Fresh produce, bakery items and nonperishable food items will be made available for about 125 veterans or widows of veterans.


Today, the Cherokee Veterans Center offers a wide array of activities for veterans. It serves as a place to sign up for benefits, play bingo or attend other activities, and now we are adding a food pantry. It is just one more way we can meet the needs of our people.


The Cherokee Nation continues to look for ways to honor and serve our veteran warriors, and this partnership with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma is another avenue to reach those in need. Food insecurity is a very real issue for families in northeast Oklahoma, and almost 20 percent of the households the Food Bank serves has a military veteran who resides there and utilizes the program. Additionally, national studies show veterans are affected more by hunger and food insecurity than the general population. Many struggle to put food on the table because of a myriad of issues, from employability after service to mental health and related trauma or an unwillingness to seek help.


Collaborating with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma means we are increasing and expanding its coverage and furthering its mission. Just like Cherokee Nation, the food bank wants to provide for our veterans so that they have what they need to prosper.


The Cherokee Nation also offers a food distribution program, which some veterans may also qualify for. For more information on the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center and food pantry, call 918-772-4166.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Mental Health First Aid training helps with holistic care of our people

We all have someone close to us who battles illness or disease in one form or another. It is a challenge to be sure, but one area continues to be neglected by not receiving the attention it truly deserves: mental health. Mental health-related issues are frequently stigmatized, which prevents people from seeking and receiving the professional help they need. Undiagnosed and untreated mental illness can be devastating to those who suffer from it.
   
At Cherokee Nation, we know mental health is equally important as physical health and that treating both is required for good health. We also work to understand and address the impact of historical and generational trauma on our Cherokee citizens.


For years, Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health has used, and is continuing to use, federal grants to train community law enforcement, youth workers and health officials to effectively and compassionately collaborate with individuals with mental illness to address their needs and get them help.


Each of the five courses the Cherokee Nation teaches, funded through a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration grant and the Indian Health Service, teaches specific risk factors for and observable signs of potential mental illness. The classes also address the role of mental health in emergency scenarios, how we can best assist and how those situations can result in more positive outcomes for everyone involved.
 
Nationally, there are only about 5,000 instructors who are certified to teach Mental Health First Aid, and the Cherokee Nation employs six of them.

During a typical eight-hour course, participants memorize a five-step action plan, learn how to identify mental health risk factors and offer support to be effective communicators.



Having these certified instructors is more than just simply hosting a classroom training; it is helping make a life-or-death difference during a mental health or substance abuse crisis. Detailed preparation for these kinds of scenarios means we can better attend to all parties. We are investing in education and training. Because of those efforts, communities and Cherokee families in northeast Oklahoma are benefiting, and we are able to have more comprehensive and up-to-date crisis services going forward.


Cherokee Nation’s Adult Behavioral Health Department has led more than 15 trainings and trained almost 350 people to identify and be better prepared when mental illness, including depression, anxiety or personality disorders, is involved.
 
Cherokee Nation’s Helping Everyone Reach Out, or HERO project, provides children’s mental health services. It has also completed seven Mental Health First Aid trainings with 131 participants from schools, family service agencies and students at Northeastern State University. This summer, the HERO project plans to do even more outreach to area schools so that we can offer this vital training to administrators and classroom teachers.



According to the American Psychiatric Association, Native Americans experience serious psychological distress at 1.5 times greater than the general population and suffer from PTSD more than twice the rate as other Americans. Sadly, those afflicted with mental health issues often self-medicate, which in many cases can lead to substance abuse. This complicates emergencies, which is why we are actively working to be prepared and competent at addressing the complexity created by the presence of mental health-related issues.


Another positive result of Cherokee Nation’s efforts in this arena is assisting our first responders. Law enforcement engagement with persons with mental illness will be more amicable and result in increased frequency of positive outcomes in Oklahoma because of these trainings conducted by the tribe.

Our behavioral health programs, just like our other health endeavors, rely on federal funding. Cherokee Nation is doing more every day, even as federal policymakers continue to underfund Indian Health Service and other programs that affect our Native population in America.


Striving for a healthy mind, body and soul is how we can move forward, and Cherokee Nation will keep leading the way. May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and we are taking steps to make our employees and citizens more mindful of these issues and the programs we offer tribal citizens, like individual and group therapy for mental health and substance abuse, relapse prevention, children and family treatment, parenting classes and psychological testing for children and adults.


Our hope is to light the way for each other.  By addressing mental health on a policy, community and individual level, we plant the seeds of change within our tribe.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

American Indian Center and Cultural Museum will be a boon for Oklahoma


The forthcoming American Indian Center and Cultural Museum in Oklahoma City will be a world-class facility and has tremendous potential for education, economic development and tourism purposes in Oklahoma. The Cherokee Nation is proud to support AICCM and pleased to see it moving closer to opening. The heart of Indian Country will be home to one of America’s finest museums.

Recently, I began serving a three-year term on the American Indian Cultural Center Foundation to help move this center of collective history and culture toward completion. It will be a unique destination, designed to tell the powerful and significant story of Native Americans in Oklahoma. The AICCM’s mission has always been to enhance what individual tribes, including the Cherokee Nation, do to share our heritage.

Art, history and contemporary culture will be all in one place, and if people want to dig deeper they can travel to Tahlequah or Ada or Anadarko or Lawton.

I am proud to be a part of this creative endeavor and a public-private venture with the state of Oklahoma, city of Oklahoma City, AICCM Land Development LLC and private sector. Absolutely none of this would be possible without the cooperation of the 38 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma today.

Construction will resume this summer and take about two years to complete, while exhibits and other interior finishes will take another year to install. The museum will open in the spring of 2021. Construction was stopped six years ago on the museum, which sits at the junction of Interstates 35 and 40 in Oklahoma City, when state funding ran out.

As Native people, perseverance is something we know well, and we would not be moving forward today without Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby and his leadership in establishing a powerful and productive partnership with Oklahoma City’s leaders. He has been a champion to achieve this dream. Once completed it will be an epic indoor/outdoor adventure for the entire family with unique exhibits, hands-on educational programs, firsthand accounts and cultural demonstrations.

Tribes have tremendous heritage and history in Oklahoma, which is why state leaders wanted to build this museum in the first place. It will substantially increase opportunities to educate Oklahoma’s youth on the rich history of our state, which was born from Indian Territory. Those critical aspects of Oklahoma’s history simply are not stressed enough in public classrooms. Oklahomans need to know more about their history and certainly need a better grasp of how important tribal governments are not just to our past, but also to our bright future.

Tribal governments mean so much to the state, not just its cultural identity, but also in a very real and tangible way economically. The Cherokee Nation alone has an economic impact on our state of over $2 billion.

Oklahoma is Indian Country, and AICCM will be a tremendous asset to all of us.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Cherokee tribes will return to NMAI for 5th annual celebration of heritage and history


The Cherokee Nation, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians are again collaborating for the fifth annual Cherokee Days in Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. The three-day event is April 13-15. It is free to attend in person, and many of the educational and cultural offerings will be streamed live online.

The annual celebration has grown into a special event for the Cherokee Nation, and it is typically one of NMAI’s most heavily trafficked weekends. The collaboration between the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes and the Smithsonian is easily one of the best national showcases of tribal culture. We are able to share our heritage and history in one of the finest cultural museums in the world.

Since starting this annual partnership five years ago, we have enlightened and educated thousands of people about who the Cherokee people were in our historical homelands in the Southeast, and just as important, who we are today. Collectively, our historians, educators, entertainers and artists reflect the best of our Cherokee people.

Cherokee Days showcases live cultural art demonstrations and cultural performances including songs and traditional dances, as well as storytelling. There will also be pottery, stickball, basket weaving, carving and textile demonstrations. Among the activities are make-and-take experiences, which allow children to create traditionally inspired Cherokee items including cornhusk dolls, clay beads and medallions. This special festival continues to spark excitement in people of all walks of life and of all ages.

I am proud to say the leaders, along with the staffs, of the three federally recognized tribes continually work together to advance language preservation, historic preservation and cultural policies. There is so much to learn and appreciate in our intertwined narratives.

In addition to NMAI’s current “Americas” exhibit, a new installation created by Cherokee Nation will debut during Cherokee Days. “Trail of Tears: A Story of Cherokee Removal” shares the unique Cherokee perspective of removal policies and focuses on the early history of our tribe in Indian Territory. It educates viewers about the circumstances surrounding the Trail of Tears and the devastating cost of greed and oppression our people lived through. It also shows how our tribal government rebuilt itself by re-establishing schools and courts in modern-day Oklahoma. The perseverance to not only survive but to thrive is a story we are eager to share nationally and in our own voice. The exhibit will remain on display through the remainder of 2018.

Additionally, a new panel exhibit focused on Cherokee women will be showcased this year. The “Cherokee Women Who Changed the World” display focuses on our historic matriarchal society and female trailblazers within our culture.

To experience the Cherokee Days event if you cannot travel to Washington, D.C., there are live broadcasting capabilities through the interactive website www.cherokeedays.com.


Please visit the site for an agenda of daily activities and performances. Also, follow Cherokee Nation’s social media accounts for additional photos and videos throughout the event.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Cherokee Nation fueling economic growth in northeast Oklahoma


Cherokee Nation’s impact within our 14-county jurisdiction in northeast Oklahoma is undeniable. Ask any public school superintendent, county commissioner or small-business owner. From funding public education, building new roads and bridges and supporting first responders, Cherokee Nation’s role as a leader is clearly defined and distinct.

By far, one of the tribe’s largest impacts is on economic development and job creation. Cherokee Nation remains the engine that drives northeast Oklahoma economically. The tribe and its businesses currently employ more than 11,000 people and have a $2.03 billion economic impact on the state of Oklahoma.

Recently in Tahlequah, we topped out the new facility on the W.W. Hastings health campus, which will open in 2019. Once it is operating at full capacity and completely staffed in the coming years it will create 850 new health care jobs, and it will have a major impact in housing and retail needs.

Also in our capital city, we just broke ground on a new gaming site that will house a modern convention center. Our workforce at Cherokee Casino Tahlequah will be about 220 permanent jobs. The W.W. Hastings campus and Cherokee Casino Tahlequah will help fulfill our jobs mission in our home community. It will create dozens of good careers that include lucrative benefits packages with insurance and 401(k) plans. That means Cherokee families are making a good living here in Cherokee County. The future conference center is really the feather in the cap of this expansion for northeast Oklahoma.  There is a huge need in our region for a convention hall-type space that can house multiple meetings where people can stay, meet and eat in one location.

These new properties will be a regional attraction for health care and tourism, not to mention the hundreds and hundreds of construction jobs and opportunities these projects provide the region.

However, Cherokee Nation’s impact transcends just our own developments. We are good partners with regional entities like universities, career-techs and chambers of commerce. Collaboration with the Tulsa Chamber enabled Cherokee Nation to assist an Italian corporation, Sofidel America, on its expansion into Rogers County. The new paper manufacturing facility in Inola will create 300 permanent jobs and another 500 construction jobs. We are excited to continue partnering with state and municipal partners to create opportunities like this, because it supports our entire region.

The tribe’s Career Services Department, a critical team member in securing Macy’s Fulfillment Center workforce in Owasso, is now assisting DMI in expanding its employee base in Wagoner. DMI, a HVAC manufacturing company, has made significant investments in the community in the past year, and we are helping connect our people to good manufacturing jobs like these.

Our work in growing the economy within our 14 counties is a blessing, and we are proudly leading the way through innovation and collaboration. We believe in making sound investments that have a lasting impact on the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee people and all of northeast Oklahoma.