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

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.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Community and Cultural Outreach Department successful in keeping citizens connected

The strength of the Cherokee Nation resides in our people. We are all Cherokees, whether we live inside or outside of our 14-county jurisdictional boundaries. Over the course of the past year, we have achieved many things that will improve the quality of life for our citizens. Those efforts can be seen today, and they will be felt for generations. We have created jobs, increased health care opportunities and invested in education like no other time in our history. One of the most important things we do is engage with our people locally at the community level. The work of Cherokee Nation’s Community and Cultural Outreach team connects people to Cherokee culture as well as continuing education programs. 

Today, our CCO staff provides capacity building and training to Cherokee community organizations. They also manage a community work/building program, a volunteer program, a cultural outreach program, a history preservation program and the Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program. This work is done within our 14 counties as well as our formalized 23 at-large communities across the United States. As the largest sovereign government in the United States with a citizenry of more than 360,000 people, we strive to keep our people connected to culture by offering our citizens informative and educational opportunities to learn and volunteer.

Our culture and heritage are who we are, and it is a blessing to share that bond with other Cherokees at CCO gatherings, which in the past year have been bigger and better than ever before. CCO’s work has helped revitalize the spirit of “neighbors helping neighbors,” a core Cherokee value.

In the past year, CCO has served 112 different Cherokee community organizations with technical assistance, a 55 percent increase from just two years ago. They offer community organizations tips on funding sources, grant writing, new program development, board of directors development, and ways to improve technology use and communication.

The volunteer program under the CCO umbrella coordinates with universities and other education-based programs, like AmeriCorps, to provide opportunities for students to come into the Cherokee Nation and volunteer their time and energy to build and repair homes of elders, veterans and other citizens in need. We have created collaborations that help Cherokees and completed 64 enhancement projects last year by partnering with schools like Ohio State, Texas Tech and University of Connecticut. The completed work has a monetary value of about $240,000.

Sharing Cherokee culture is one of the most important jobs at CCO, which coordinates weekly cultural presentations, oftentimes conducted by Cherokee National Treasures in all areas of Cherokee life. The presentations are filmed and are popular on YouTube. Our team recognizes the need for a strong cultural identity, the expansion of our language and the preservation of our history.

Nationally, attendance is up almost 25 percent at our at-large meetings in the past year. The spirit of community is alive and well in these endeavors. It is always a blessing to see so many friends and meet new ones as well.

We have laid a strong foundation for success in the past year within our CCO programs. The staff has a wide range of expertise, and participating in CCO’s community events are some of my favorite responsibilities as Principal Chief. Every CCO meeting, educational program, cultural presentation, language workshop or leadership lesson is made with one goal in mind: to make the Cherokee Nation and our people strong.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Raising wages for our teachers is the right thing to do

As the Chief of the Cherokee Nation and the son of public schoolteachers, it has troubled me to see the inaction at the state level as teachers across our great state struggle. The time for action is now, and Cherokee Nation is taking the lead by granting our certified teachers the pay raise they deserve.

Recently, I proposed—and the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council approved—a lump sum payment of $5,000 to all certified teachers, effective immediately. Additionally, certified teacher pay will increase by $5,000, effective the beginning of teacher contracts in FY18-19.

Over the past decade, the state of Oklahoma has made drastic budget cuts to public education. At the same time, teachers continue to meet additional demands beyond simply fulfilling the daily lesson plans.  From monitoring student safety to test preparation to finding ways to help students in need of food or school supplies, Oklahoma teachers go above and beyond the call of duty each day and with fewer resources each year.

We have the best colleges in Oklahoma (several in our jurisdiction like Northeastern State University and Rogers State University), which train our brightest minds for the educational workforce. Yet, sadly, when they graduate, they often leave to teach in other states or are forced to leave the children they love teaching for higher-paying jobs. The state absolutely must address teacher pay this legislative session because we are in a crisis. However, Cherokee Nation will not wait any longer.

This pay raise is in keeping with Cherokee Nation’s longstanding commitment and support of public education. We started the first institution of higher learning for females west of the Mississippi River.  We established a system of free public education well before Oklahoma statehood. We continue to achieve excellence today at Sequoyah High School, the Cherokee Nation Immersion School and through our support of public schools and students across northeastern Oklahoma.

In addition, we recently issued $5.4 million to 108 schools through our car tag compact. The amount given annually has doubled since 2010, and since 2003, Cherokee Nation has contributed more than $50 million to public education through the compact.

Cherokee Nation is unwavering in its commitment to public schools, students and teachers. Our pay raise reaffirms that commitment and, I hope, sends a message to state leaders that they should follow Cherokee Nation’s lead and raise pay for all certified teachers in the state. The Cherokee Nation understands the role of teachers. It is a profession that we know is of extreme value and importance. Teachers impact so many lives and should be rewarded as such.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Cherokee National Youth Choir earns prestigious Governor's Arts Award

The Cherokee National Youth Choir recently won the Governor’s Arts Award. It is the most prestigious arts award in the state of Oklahoma. It was my honor to nominate the Cherokee National Youth Choir for the Community Service Award from the Oklahoma Arts Council, an award annually issued by the governor.

This particular honor recognizes Oklahoma individuals or groups for significant contributions to the arts in the areas of leadership and volunteerism. Without a doubt, the youth choir acts as ambassadors for the Cherokee Nation, as their beautiful voices show the strength of the Cherokee Nation and our culture.

The group is active in the community through volunteer efforts, and it raises awareness to important causes. Members often lead fundraisers or donation drives when community members are in need.  Their dedication does not end with music.

Typically, the choir consists of 30-40 young Cherokees from northeast Oklahoma communities. The members, who perform traditional Cherokee songs in the Cherokee language, are middle and high school youth, usually in the sixth through 12th grade. The students compete in rigorous auditions every year for inclusion in the group, which is funded solely by the Cherokee Nation and is directed by Mary Kay Henderson and Kathy Sierra.

The goal of the choir is to increase awareness of Cherokee culture and it is an important tool to keep our young citizens involved in the Cherokee language and heritage.

A staple at Cherokee Nation events and ceremonies, the choir’s music has a special way of connecting its audience to Cherokee Nation’s history, culture and language. That success is not limited to the tribe’s borders.  Over the years, the group has performed around the United States, including two appearances at the Macy’s Day Parade in New York. Founded in 2000, the choir has recorded 13 CDs and has performed with legendary artists like Foreigner, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Roy Clark, Kenny Rogers and the Oak Ridge Boys.

It has been a remarkable year for the Cherokee National Youth Choir. In addition to the recent state award, it also won the award for Best Pop Recording during the 17th annual Native American Music Awards this past year. Another impressive honor the youth choir secured in 2014 was its selection for a GRAMMY Foundation award worth $10,000 for stressing the importance of music in school. More than 120 other vocal groups were considered for that effort.

The Cherokee National Youth Choir is part of the long tradition of excellent musical talents in Oklahoma, and they have brought acclaim and accolades to the Cherokee Nation and the state. The talent represented each year within the Cherokee National Youth Choir is impressive, and I could not be more proud of their contributions. These young people represent the best of the Cherokee Nation and remain the future of our communities.

The choir’s latest album, “Just Jesus,” is available through Cherokee Nation’s Gift Shops or online at


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Federal diabetes program for Indians is saving lives in Cherokee Nation

The recent federal budget extension includes funding for the reauthorization of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. This is significant for the Cherokee Nation and all of Indian Country. The budget for SDPI has been renewed at the current funding level of $150 million until the end of FY 2019.

Sadly, one in four Cherokees over age 50, and one in three over age 60, has diabetes. But through the federal investment in SDPI, Cherokee Nation has received the resources needed to address our disproportionate burden of diabetes. SDPI is a lifesaving program and continues to play a significant role in improving health care quality and access for Cherokee families.

Established in 1997, SDPI currently supports more than 300 diabetes programs in 35 states that have led to significant advances in diabetes education, prevention and treatment. Last year, more than 10,000 diabetes patients in the Cherokee Nation Tribal Jurisdictional Service Area benefited from SDPI.

SDPI funds have been utilized to support nearly 30 schools and Cherokee community organizations in increasing physical activity levels and healthy nutrition for schoolchildren and community members.  It’s critical we begin the education process with our youngest citizens to ensure they grow up eating healthy and getting plenty of physical activity.

Cherokee Nation’s program, one of our most successful public health programs, targets Type 2 diabetes through collaborations with coalitions that include the state, municipalities and communities to implement programs such as Farm-to-School efforts to reduce diabetes risk factors. We have served 527 participants with prediabetes education and activities, which resulted in a loss of 4,478 pounds and an average weight loss of 8.5 pounds per Cherokee Nation participant.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data that shows some diabetes rates are improving for tribal citizens. Native people have experienced a 54 percent decline in rates of end-stage renal disease due to diabetes, which represents the steepest decline of any ethnic group. These kinds of improvements have resulted in significantly more patients with controlled blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. These health indicators are associated with the reduction of diabetic complications, including heart attack, strokes, blindness, amputations and kidney failure.

Simply put, SDPI is saving lives in Cherokee Nation, transforming communities and saving our federal health care system dollars. We are pleased congressional leaders did the right thing and continued its funding.