Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Culture-keepers in a digital age, OsiyoTV is recognized with two Emmy Awards


Osiyo. Not only is this how we say hello in Cherokee, it’s also how we’ve been saying hello to the world for the past two and a half years through our award-winning television and online program, “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People.” This past weekend, the show was honored by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with two Heartland Emmys after being nominated for a whopping 10 awards overall. OsiyoTV, as we fondly refer to it, was recognized with its first Emmy last year after being nominated for five. The Heartland chapter of the Emmys recognizes outstanding television programming in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming, and heartfelt congratulations go out to the entire OsiyoTV team for their outstanding work and accomplishments.

Since this show launched in February of 2015, we’ve told the stories of more than 100 Cherokees, past and present, who truly embody what it means to be Cherokee. We’ve profiled artists, professional athletes, coaches, opera singers, Grammy-winning recording artists, MMA fighters, models, pageant winners and even a trick rider who starred in a hit movie.

But OsiyoTV has also introduced our audiences to quieter moments, such as our Cherokee language radio show and gospel music, cooking kanuchi, families digging for wild onions or gigging for crawdads, or even Cherokees speaking to their struggles with substance abuse and how they found the will to overcome and help others who are also struggling. For history lovers, the Cherokee Almanac tells the stories you won’t usually find in the history books. The “Let’s Talk Cherokee” language lessons featuring our Cherokee immersion school students inspire us that our youth will keep the Cherokee language alive for the future.

Produced, directed and hosted by an all-Native staff, we couldn’t be more proud of what they’ve achieved. But more importantly, we’re so pleased with what these stories have meant to our people. No matter where I travel, people always make a point to tell me how much they enjoy the show. Many times they’ve seen a story about a relative or a friend, but more often they tell me it reminds them of someone who was special to them who is no longer with us. Other times they tell me it harkens them back to their childhood and experiences they shared with their parents or grandparents growing up. For our Cherokees who’ve left the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation, it’s a connection they may have been missing for many years they’ve been longing to reestablish.

When I took the oath of Principal Chief, part of that duty and responsibility was to protect and promote the Cherokee culture. So while these stories and shows are entertaining and heartwarming, they’re also meant to be a historical record and a way to keep our Cherokee heritage thriving.

No culture can survive unless it is carefully preserved and passed down to the next generation, and that’s what OsiyoTV is doing. The show and its team comprised of Emmy-winning journalist and Cherokee Nation citizen Jennifer Loren, along with Cherokee producers, directors, researchers and editors behind the scenes are culture-keepers in a digital age. They take great care to research, verify and document our culture, customs, language and the wisdom of today’s elders, so that it all may be passed to the next seven generations.

If you aren’t already a fan of the show, please take the time to see what you’re missing. Visit www.osiyo.tv to watch full episodes of this Emmy-winning program from anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The website also displays television showtimes for Oklahoma, northwest Arkansas, southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas. We’ll have more exciting news to announce soon about the show, so as they say in the TV business, stay tuned.

 

 

Friday, July 7, 2017

New Cherokee Nation policy offers employees paid leave for fostering Cherokee children



Cherokee Nation has created a workplace policy emphasizing the importance of protecting our children, one of our core values as Cherokee people and part of our history and heritage going back generations. I am so proud we created a new opportunity for our tribal employees who choose to open their homes as foster parents. I recently signed a human resources policy that will offer Cherokee Nation full-time employees five additional days of paid leave when a Cherokee child is placed in their Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare certified home. 

We continue to lead the way in Oklahoma and across Indian Country when it comes to progressive policies. Cherokee Nation is one of just a handful of entities across the country making this commitment to our workforce, but the commitment is really aimed at Cherokee children in need. When a foster placement is made into a family, it is often an emergency situation and can be at all hours of the day or night. We do not want our workers struggling to juggle work as they attend to the needs of a foster child and the required doctor appointments, school transfers or daycare enrollment and, most importantly, the bonding and trust time that must develop during placement. If parents are unable to take time off work, the child is yet again negatively impacted. 

I have talked and written about the need for more foster and adoptive parents for Cherokee Nation children since my first day in office. Sadly, the need today is just as strong as it was in 2011. Right now, the tribe has 15 employee-led families that are open for foster placement through Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare. We need more. I know the job of a foster parent is rewarding, and I know it does come with some unique and trying challenges. However, lack of workplace support should never be a reason a family closes their home to foster children.

At Cherokee Nation, we made a decision that if we asked our people to step up as foster parents, then we must step up as an employer and support the service our foster families are providing. This is an important way we can support our workforce and grow our database of foster parents. The five additional days of paid leave for full-time employees can be used during the first full year after placement. 

Our ICW department is one of the strongest programs in the state and in the nation. As the largest tribe in the United States, we have more children involved in these kinds of cases than any other tribal government. Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare has custody of approximately 80 children during any calendar year but intervenes as a party and participates in more than 1,600 cases per year throughout the United States. Nationally, Native children are overrepresented in the nation's foster care system, and we have to address those statistics. We must ensure our children have safe, stable homes and remain connected to their Cherokee culture. 
 
At Cherokee Nation, we strive to be the employer of choice in northeast Oklahoma. During my tenure as Principal Chief, we have raised minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and created an eight-week paid maternity leave program for mothers and six weeks of paternity leave for fathers. 

For more information on Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare programs and services, visit http://www.cherokeekids.org/.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Environmental protection ensures fresh water, better future


Protecting the environment and practicing conservation principles have always been important to the Cherokee people. Our close relationship to the land, and our traditional knowledge about our natural surroundings, has always been a part of who we are. Cherokee values and knowledge about ecological preservation, acquired over multiple generations, can benefit all of northeast Oklahoma.

Today, the Cherokee Nation Office of Environmental Services oversees the programs and services related to preservation and conservation of our air, land, water, and animal and plant life.
Recently, the tribe earned a $75,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency that will help support the critical environmental work that we do at the local level. The partnership between Cherokee Nation and the EPA benefits our people, our environmental endeavors, and the health and beauty of northeast Oklahoma.

Together with the EPA’s federal dollars, we can sustain the environmental protection efforts that preserve our clean air, healthy land and fresh water. The Cherokee Nation’s five-person Environmental Protection Commission, with the leadership of Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill, administers the Nation’s environmental programs and develops community and education programs.

The Cherokee Nation is also a founding member of the Inter-Tribal Environmental Council, an organization that helps protect the health of Native Americans, tribal natural resources and the environment. This intertribal organization was created to provide support, technical assistance, program development and training to member tribes nationwide. Today, almost 50 tribal governments are members and share best practices.

An excellent example of our renewed conservation efforts was a recent federal court decision naming Cherokee Nation the court-appointed steward of restoration efforts of Saline Creek in Mayes County. David Benham, a Cherokee Nation citizen originally from the Kenwood area and a property owner along the creek bank, personally sued Ozark Materials River Rock for the extreme damage done to the water. The company, who will pay for the restoration effort, mined at the foot of the creek, removing the gravel at the lower reaches. Erosion upstream redirected the creek and eroded vegetation, which in turn increased stream temperature and algae growth.

It is fitting and appropriate that the court appointed Cherokee Nation to manage the recovery of these damaged areas. Saline Creek has spiritual as well as historical significance to Cherokee Nation citizens, and it is one of the most beautiful creeks in northeast Oklahoma. Cherokee Nation is always willing to serve as stewards of our lands and waters so they will be protected for generations to come.


Our tribal government strives to build a better future for our people. Protecting the environment through Cherokee Nation’s active and progressive conservation programs is one of the most important things we can do to ensure we achieve that goal.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Cherokee Nation health providers are among best in nation

We are grateful for the talented physicians working for Cherokee Nation Health Services, which is the largest tribal health system in the United States. Our doctors take care of us, and we should celebrate their efforts and help patients better understand a physician’s sacrifice and dedication. It’s why the tribe recently honored 300 physicians during our annual “Our Docs Roc” event with a dinner and awards ceremony.

It gave us a chance to recognize the people that work in the hospital, and the physicians, dentists and medical support staff who provide excellent care.

In the past year, we have achieved many great accomplishments, and that is due, in part, to our excellent staff. We have greatly increased dental care to Cherokee and Native peoples in Oklahoma. Our dental services team is expected to see more than 135,000 patient visits this year. That is up 60,000 patient visits from just five years ago.

Our nationally recognized Hepatitis C program has cured 94 percent of patients we have screened who tested positive and have been treated for the deadly disease. Cherokee Nation was also the first tribe to achieve Public Health accreditation by the Public Health Accreditation Board. Just this past week, Cherokee Nation Health Services accepted the Public Health Innovation Award given by the National Indian Health Board.

Cherokee Nation also won the C.T. Thompson Award for excellence in trauma care. We now have full-time cardiology services, and in the past 12 months, about 900 babies were born at W.W. Hastings. We again received marks for clinical excellence from an international hospital accreditation firm, and the Cherokee Nation’s Emergency Management Services was recognized for its capabilities in northeast Oklahoma.

In the past year, we made national news by breaking ground on Cherokee Nation’s 469,000-square-foot health facility. Indian Health Service will fund the operations and staffing. It will be the largest Native health facility in the country, a game-changer for increasing our ability to provide quality care to our citizens. It means we will add even more talented staff to better address the record-setting volumes seen in both the Hastings emergency room and operation units.

Additionally, the new facility will allow our partnership with Oklahoma State University to continue, as we work in tandem to establish a medical school that targets Native students.

We should all thank our doctors and health care professionals who are helping improve the health of Cherokee Nation. Expanded services, better health care opportunities, shorter drives and wait times, and more health professionals to serve our people have been a few of my primary goals as Principal Chief. We are blessed to have a medical staff with the talents and abilities to execute those continuing improvements. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Growing leadership skills and learning Cherokee history define Remember the Removal Ride


Every summer a group of young riders from Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians team up and retrace by bicycle the Trail of Tears, our ancestor’s removal route from our homelands in the East to modern-day Oklahoma. This year 12 riders from Cherokee Nation, who range in age from 16 to 24, are joining eight others from North Carolina to complete the 950-mile trip.
This is a special group of young people who will retrace our tribe’s route to Oklahoma. As a student of history, and specifically Cherokee history, I am envious of their experience. This is the best classroom I could ever imagine.
People sometimes ask why we do this program year after year. We do it because this annual event is important and deeply meaningful to our people, especially our youth. The Remember the Removal effort enables some of Cherokee Nation’s strongest emerging leaders to participate in a unique event that is focused on individual growth, teamwork development and, most importantly, sharing Cherokee history and heritage.
The riders travel about 60 miles per day over a three-week period and pass through seven states: Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. It’s a hard trek to be sure, but the struggles on the ride offer a small taste of what our ancestors experienced many years ago along the Trail of Tears. We will always remember and honor those sacrifices. We are here today, as the largest tribal government in America, because of that strength and perseverance.
Accepting the challenge of this ride definitely changes any Cherokee who participates. It opens eyes, expands minds and allows the riders to feel closer to Cherokee history than ever before.  They start out as individuals and return as a family, relying on one another while growing stronger physically, emotionally and spiritually.
It’s an inspiring and motivating sight to see 20 Cherokee bike riders peddling together in unison toward a shared goal. I encourage people to follow the ride’s progress on social media. The Remember the Removal Facebook is updated daily.
Below are the 2017 Remember the Removal Riders:
  • Breanna Anderson, 21, Sand Springs, University of Tulsa
  • Brian Barlow, 22, Tahlequah, George Washington University
  • Shelby Deal, 19, Porum, Connors State College
  • KenLea Henson, 23, Proctor, Northeastern State University
  • Raven Girty, 20, Gore, Northeastern State University
  • Ellic Miller, 23, Tahlequah, Northeastern State University
  • Gaya Pickup, 21, Salina, Sequoyah High School graduate
  • Trey Pritchett, 19, Stilwell, Northeastern State University
  • Susie Means-Worley, 24, Stilwell, Northeastern State University
  • Hunter Scott, 16, Bunch, Sequoyah High School
  • Macie Sullateskee, 19, Tahlequah, Northeastern State University
  • Skylar Vann, 23, Locust Grove, Northeastern State University
 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Creating better opportunities for Cherokee families to foster

Cherokee Nation has a strong Indian Child Welfare program, and we have always emphasized the importance of protecting our children. The month of May is Foster Awareness Month nationwide, and it’s important to highlight the work of our tribe’s child welfare workers and so many caring Cherokee foster parents.

At this time, we are working cases on approximately 1,612 children here in Oklahoma and throughout the United States. We have almost as many cases here in our jurisdiction as we do outside it---716 children inside the 14-county jurisdiction and 896 outside the jurisdiction. Our tribal citizenship is the largest in America, and those numbers reflect the number of Cherokee children in need. 

 Although we have had a slow and steady increase in foster homes, it is still not near enough to have every one of our Cherokee youth in a Native home. Two years ago we only had 17 regular foster homes, and today we now have 46 who regularly step up to foster Cherokee children in need. However, we need more homes.  A decent number of our children are placed with relatives, and a high percentage of those children are in non-Native foster homes. 

Those kids in non-Native homes who do not reunify with their family or are placed with another Native family become eligible to be adopted by the family they are placed with. To put that into perspective, if 400 Cherokee children are in non-Native homes this year and a non -Native family adopts them, we lose 400 children. If you magnify that even more, in a 10-year span, we risk losing 4,000 Cherokee children. 

 The importance of placing Cherokee children in Cherokee fosters homes is vital. Children deserve the right to grow up in a safe, loving environment, and they deserve the right to maintain their tribal ties to Cherokee values and lifeways.

Our goal is to have more foster homes waiting on children than we have children waiting on homes. Unfortunately, I do not see our Indian Child Welfare department ever working themselves out of a job. We have a long way to go, but I can see progress happening in this area, especially in the past decade.  We have worked aggressively with state agencies and continue to collaborate with the faith community to address this need.

Taking it a step further, Cherokee Nation employees will soon be able to use family leave time when accepting an ICW foster placement. A lack of workplace support should not be a reason families close their homes to foster children. Cherokee Nation is one of the only employers in Oklahoma and across Indian Country to enact a progressive policy enabling a family to address the unique issues with foster care: the required doctor appointments, school transfers or daycare placements, and essential bonding time. If the foster parents are unable to take time off, it compromises our employees’ personal leave and paycheck and compromises our Cherokee children receiving the best care.

Cherokee culture and values teach us that we belong to each other, and we have a responsibility to take care of our children and support the adults who are caring for them. Our children deserve a permanent, safe home life.  Cherokee Nation’s ICW team works to create that for our children, and foster parenting must be supported in the workplace. 

The very best thing for our children is reunification with their parents or placed with family. If family is not possible, then it is our duty and privilege as a tribal family to step forward and care for our Cherokee children. We all come from one fire. Our ancestors often did this without hesitation when children lost their family during the Trail of Tears and the rebuilding of our tribal society here in Oklahoma. One fact is true then and true today: Children are sacred, and their care is a shared responsibility. 

If you have ever considered the path of foster care or are interested in helping in other ways, please contact Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare at 918-458-6900 or visit  www.cherokeekids.org.    

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Cherokee Nation supports area families through Oklahoma Messages Project

In Oklahoma, we have a crisis within our judicial and prison system. Oklahoma is the female-incarceration capital of the country, with twice as many imprisoned as other states. Native women represent 13 percent of the prison population, and across the country, the incarceration rate of Indian women is 38 percent higher than the national average.

Sadly, here in Oklahoma the majority of women are in jail for nonviolent drug crimes. This alarming number of imprisoned women means thousands of Oklahoma children are without their mothers. To keep families better connected and healthier, Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses have collaborated with the Oklahoma Messages Project, a nonprofit that serves the vulnerable children of the incarcerated.

The Oklahoma Messages Project is making a difference in the lives of innocent kids. Our financial support allows the organization to film parents in prison reading books to their children. During Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, parents read books to their children and share personal messages. Children receive the videos, along with the book their parent read on tape, so families can share a moment and a book together.

I am proud of this effort because it is improving relationships, boosting literacy and building self-esteem for both ends of the family unit: parent and child. A loving message and story time with Mom or Dad remind kids they are loved. Obviously, with a parent away, kids are more vulnerable to substance abuse and academic failure. We are able to help break a spiraling cycle through this effective prevention and literacy program that makes a positive difference in kids’ lives. Without intervention and prevention programs, children of incarcerated parents are seven times more likely to become inmates themselves.

Another Cherokee Nation partner, New Hope Oklahoma, also serves children with parents in prison. New Hope programs include summer camps, after-school programs, weekend retreats, family gatherings and case management tools. CNB partners with multiple nonprofit agencies that share a common goal of helping Oklahoma women and their families with the struggle and effects of addiction, as well as criminal justice system challenges.

We can and we must do better for our citizens in Oklahoma. We must improve the processes and make the conditions better so that women are not saddled with unfair and long-term prison sentences, which create depression, anger and anxiety. That means better education opportunities, better mental health services and more chances for economic security with access to health insurance.

Cherokee Nation also has an award-winning reintegration program called Coming Home. The program helps former prisoners get back on their feet upon release, including help with jobs and housing. It is one of the most progressive reintegration programs not only in Oklahoma, but across Indian Country.

We cannot just give up on people and families because of incarceration. Children especially need the nurturing and stability programs that Oklahoma Messages Project and New Hope Oklahoma work to provide each and every day. 

All these partners and organizations share a common goal: make kids a priority and ensure they are not forgotten within this crisis. We cannot expect children to rise above the hardships of their parents’ mistakes if we, as a community, do not lend them the tools and support necessary to do so.