Monday, June 29, 2015

Tribal complex expansion means better service for Cherokee citizens

Rendering of the W.W. Keeler Complex’s 31,550-square-foot second story addition.

The W.W. Keeler Cherokee Nation Tribal Complex in our capital city of Tahlequah is the central hub of our Nation. Tens of thousands of Cherokee Nation citizens pass through the doors of our tribal complex each year seeking services that will improve their lives and the lives of their families.

Despite the tribal complex being the heartbeat of our Nation, no major investments or improvements have been made to our headquarters since 1992. After more than 20 years of neglect, we decided the time is right for upgrading and expanding the complex. Without a doubt, the need to grow is great and the opportunity for us to address it is now. It’s long overdue.

In the capital city of the Cherokee Nation, we should have a building that feels culturally authentic and makes our people and employees proud. A distinguished place where citizens can come, feel comfortable and get the services they need. Our complex should be a source of pride and reverence, a headquarters for the people with sufficient space for visitors and staff alike. Cherokee people deserve that.

Without proper upkeep, a structure like the complex will deteriorate. However, instead of patching rooftops here and there, we are making a quality investment in our infrastructure that will have a lasting effect for years for the Cherokee people.

This major renovation includes a 31,550-square-foot second story addition on the west end of the building. When completed, our building will be 117,000-square-foot. A canopy will also cover the main entrance to better shelter visitors as they enter and exit the building. We are also installing a new energy-efficient HVAC system, as well as a new pitched metal roof over the single story portion of the complex to match the second floor addition.

These upgrades, scheduled to be completed by next summer, will add to the effectiveness and the beauty of our tribal complex. The Cherokee Nation has always been a good steward of its financial resources. The expansion and improvements are smart investments because they will have a positive impact on so many Cherokee Nation citizens for years and years. 

The new space will allow us to better serve the Cherokee people while better accommodating our growing workforce. Over the years, we have added and expanded the programs and services that Cherokee people utilize daily. In turn, we have had to add the staff to fulfill those responsibilities. This expansion will ease the congestion for Cherokees seeking services, visitors and staff that we routinely experience at the Cherokee Nation. Visits to our tribal complex will be easier, faster and more accessible.

Excluding our renowned health centers, the Cherokee Nation employs 2,250 people, but only about 400 work in the tribe’s main complex due to space constraints. We have an opportunity to bring more of our dedicated staff to work in one location. We estimate more than 150,000 visitors annually cross the threshold of the tribal headquarters. That is people we serve on a daily basis for governmental services coupled with those visiting for the first time or reconnecting during Cherokee National Holiday.

I am proud we are able to launch this development. When complete, the new and improved Cherokee Nation complex will be yet another source of pride for all Cherokee people.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Protecting Cherokee elders from financial fraud and abuse

Signing Cherokee Nation proclamation  to establish
Elder Abuse Protection Initiative. 
Elder abuse is a rapidly growing problem nationwide and within the Cherokee Nation’s boundaries. As we all know, that conflicts with our Cherokee values and our inherent respect for our elders.

According to data from the U.S. Congress, more than 30 percent of financial scams are perpetrated on elders. Though many of us may not want to believe it, there are criminals out there who want to take advantage of senior citizens because they see them as easy prey. Many times when it finally does come to light, it's something that has been going on for a very long time and may not have been reported right away.

No one deserves that. That’s why Cherokee Nation is spearheading a unique endeavor to end elder abuse. The Elder Abuse Protection Initiative is a much-needed program, and I’m proud that we are taking the initiative.

We are hoping to improve the knowledge about tribal and state resources offered to our citizens and to better protect them. It is wrong when people work their entire lives, raise children and grandchildren, and take care of everyone around them, only to be taken advantage of at the most vulnerable period in their lives.

Unfortunately, this is a severely under-reported issue and scams specifically targeting seniors are on the rise. Seniors and retirees often have retirement accounts and more savings in their accounts. Seniors may be more trusting and not as tech-savvy and can fall prey to Internet and phone scams.

Because so many business transactions from banking to health care are conducted through the Internet, a criminal can be virtually anywhere to access account information or steal identities.
Aging adults are at risk for financial abuse because they are sometimes seen as easy targets due to physical limitations and isolation. Educating people on how to recognize the warning signs and report any suspicious activity is the only way to begin combating this growing trend.

America’s senior population continues to grow rapidly as Baby Boomers transition into their silver years, so this problem will become only more prevalent in the years ahead.

It’s hard to imagine that caretakers, friends and relatives would prey on unsuspecting seniors, but they do, and more often than we think. Before our elders realize it, their life savings are gone and they are emotionally devastated and ashamed.

Standing up for our most vulnerable citizens starts with awareness, education and strong public policy. We have developed programs and partnerships for our seniors to learn about the best tools and practices to keep themselves and their families safe.

The more people are aware of the signs, the better the chances of disrupting the problem. It’s all about education, folks. We can all help bring attention to this crime that lurks largely out of sight by being aware of the indicators and sharing them with others.

I want to acknowledge Todd Hembree and the Attorney General’s Office, as well as Marshal Shannon Buhl and the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service. They have championed this initiative to provide awareness and education that make prevention possible. Another component of this initiative is to be more aggressive in prosecuting offenders who prey on Cherokee elders.

Much like our One Fire program to combat domestic violence, we hope this initiative can be a one-stop shop for elders who need information on housing, health care and financial aid services.

To request a copy of services for elders or how you can better protect our Cherokee senior citizens, contact the Cherokee Nation Attorney General’s office by calling (918) 453-5000 or (800) 256-0671.

No one should be the victim of fraud or have to endure abuse or neglect in the Cherokee Nation, because our way is one of respect, reverence and honor for elders.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Cherokee Youth Leaders Accept White House's Generation Indigenous Challenge

Members of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council have accepted the White House’s Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) challenge to Indian Country to improve lives and increase opportunities for Native youth. When accepting the Gen-I Challenge, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council launched a new initiative to promote traditional language preservation and spark usage among young adults within the Cherokee Nation. That’s a key sector of our tribe that needs engagement with our tribal language. Our Cherokee Language Immersion School has proven to be effective for our youngest children, and the Cherokee Speaker’s Bureau is a wonderful tool for our elders to congregate and speak the language. But there was nothing designed specifically for outreach to young adults.

That’s why the Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council is launching the Gen-I Cherokee Language 2020 Challenge.
It is an effort to challenge Cherokee citizens to do their part in speaking or learning the Cherokee language. Pledge forms have been created for individuals and families to accept the Cherokee Language 2020 Challenge, which challenges all of us to speak Cherokee daily and to encourage others to learn the language.

In 2020, just five years from now, we can reassess the number of Cherokee speakers on behalf of the youth council and see if their targeted outreach was effective. These youth ambassadors have met with Cherokee Nation department leaders and other stakeholders to implement and promote their five-year plan. It’s especially encouraging for this age group because Cherokee is now available on so many smartphones, computers and other technology-driven platforms.

These youth are wonderful examples of our young Cherokee Nation citizens engaged in improving their community, their tribe and their world. They are interested in their Cherokee culture and language and want to make a difference in the lives of our people. These are young leaders who are not afraid to shoulder responsibilities for the future of the Cherokee Nation and all of Indian Country.

I fully support their endeavors because part of my sworn oath as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation is to preserve, promote and advance the language and culture of the Cherokee Nation.

Youth Council representatives are leaders among their peers and volunteer to accept additional responsibilities within our tribal nation. Their motto, “It starts with you,” means that speaking Cherokee starts with an individual’s commitment to learn and use the language.

If we all do not do our part, our Cherokee language will be further comprised. We have made a concerted effort to ensure our language will not be lost, like so many other indigenous tongues. This idea reinforces our mission to grow and develop more speakers so that Cherokee will continue to be used by our children, our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

Several of our young Cherokees will be attending the White House Tribal Youth Conference in July as part of President Obama’s outreach to Indian Country. He championed the Gen-I to focus on improving the lives of Native youth. Through increased engagement and investments, we can better address some of the issues facing Native youth, including mental and physical health, access to education, and cultural preservation.

Representing the Cherokee Youth Council at the White House gathering will be their elected leaders: Ashlee Fox, president; Ja-Li-Si Pittman, vice president; Ashton Shelley, secretary and treasurer; Taylor Armbrister, parliamentarian; Morgan Mouse, reporter and historian; and Bradley Fields, chaplain. Additionally, both Sunday Plumb, Miss Cherokee, and Chelbie Turtle, Jr. Miss Cherokee, accepted the Gen-I Challenge, utilizing their platforms, “Retention Rates for Native Students in College” and “The Value of Higher Education,” respectively.

Some of our partner organizations are Gen-I challenge early acceptors, including the National Congress of American Indians, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, National Indian Child Welfare Association and National Indian Education Association.

Our tribe is losing Cherokee speakers at an alarming rate, and everything we do for our youth to increase their ability to use the language is vital. I commend the Cherokee Youth Council for recognizing this fact and taking decisive action to increase opportunities for their fellow Cherokees to speak, tweet, Instagram, text and email in Cherokee.

I will also be accepting this challenge and encourage all Cherokees to do so as well.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Investments in health care create culture of wellness

Cherokees in Sequoyah County now have better access to world-class health care. A new $10 million addition to the Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw ensures our people will continue to get the kind of quality care they rightfully deserve.

This is one more block in building a more solid foundation for health services across our 14 counties. We already completed a health clinic in Ochelata and will soon dedicate state-of-the-art health facilities in Jay and Stilwell.

We have the largest health care system in Indian Country with more than one million patient visits per year. Having the largest health care system is pointless if the quality of care is lacking. We should also have the best health care system in Indian Country, and we work toward that goal every day. But our system has the potential to be even more. I believe it can be the best health care system in the entire state of Oklahoma.  For the first time in the history of our tribe, we are in the position to achieve that. We took $100 million in casino profits, something that had never been done before, and put it toward new clinics, new equipment and more doctors. This is all in an effort to make all of us healthier and happier. As I have said time and time again, without good health you have nothing.

Cherokees all over the country have told Deputy Chief Crittenden and me that health care is the most important thing in their lives. They’ve told us it’s the issue they care about the most, so it’s the issue we care about the most. We are God-led men, and we took that feedback to heart. We asked the Lord for direction, and we were blessed to be able to make a once-in-a-lifetime investment for Cherokee people.

Our $100 million investment from Cherokee Nation Businesses’ profits into health care services means that we have improved health for thousands of Cherokees, leaving a positive impact for multiple generations. 

In Sallisaw, the extra 30,000 square feet of space will allow our health care professionals to service an estimated 145,000 patient visits annually. By expanding our facilities, it will allow us to provide more pediatric care, more elder care, a drive-thru pharmacy and more services specifically for women. That’s on top of additional work we performed at that center. Last year we also invested $4 million into gutting and refurbishing the clinic’s main building after a mold issue was identified that had lingered for possibly years.

I walk up and down the halls of the Redbird Smith clinic and am convinced it will improve the lives of Cherokee people. That’s something the Deputy Chief and I strive to do every single day. Our talented workforce will have more space and more access to equipment and treatment methods, and they will be able to focus more on early detection and wellness practices to combat diseases like diabetes, asthma and hypertension before they become life and death scenarios.

A healthier Cherokee Nation and a healthier Cherokee people mean a healthier economy and increased quality of life. We look forward to having all of you out to our next open houses so you can see the coming changes for yourself.

God bless each and every one of you, and God bless the Cherokee Nation.


Dedicating the expansion at the Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Remember the Removal Ride builds bonds and cultural awareness

The 2015 Remember the Removal participants. 
There is no better way to learn about our history, culture and the shared struggle our ancestors endured than to try and replicate their journey and experience it in person. Each summer, that’s exactly what our Remember the Removal bike riders set out to do. This annual event is important and deeply meaningful for our youth who participate. 

Every summer a group of young bike riders from Cherokee Nation team up with young people from the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina to retrace on bicycle the route our ancestors took from our homelands in the Southeast to modern-day Oklahoma. This year 12 riders from Cherokee Nation, ranging in age from 16 to 24,  join seven riders from North Carolina to complete the 950-mile trip. They will travel an average of 60 miles per day over a three-week period, passing through seven states: Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The riders will follow the northern route of the Trail of Tears. Every effort has been made to research that historic route to make this journey as authentic and meaningful as possible to each and every participant. Riders make educational stops at relevant museums, gravesites, national parks, churches and other historic sites along the way. An estimated 16,000 Cherokees made the journey on the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory, with more than 4,000 dying from exposure, starvation and disease.

Every day and with each mile covered, they learn more about the Cherokee experience and the true history of our people. They push each other forward and build lifelong bonds as they drive their bodies to the brink of their physical endurance, riding through mountains, heat, humidity and rain.

I have seen how the Remember the Removal experience transforms our young people and gives them a far deeper appreciation for what our ancestors endured just to survive. Accepting the challenge to traverse on bicycle the route our forefathers journeyed on foot will change how these Cherokees view life, allowing them to be closer to Cherokee history than ever before. Our riders not only physically prepare, but they also take classes in leadership, Cherokee language and tribal history before embarking on their journey. Participants become immersed in our culture, giving them context for what they experience along the route. 

The Remember the Removal project ensures our tribe’s future leaders never forget our past or the sacrifices our ancestors made.

Another goal is to help raise public awareness of our sometimes-forgotten history along the ride’s route. The sight of almost 20 Native bike riders in colorful Cherokee-themed jerseys cycling together is impressive and draws attention everywhere the group travels. Our riders enjoy interacting with the public and serve as goodwill ambassadors, representing all that is good in our Cherokee youth.

We try to keep the ride as public as possible so that folks back home can follow along on social media. Photos and blog posts are updated daily to the Remember the Removal and Cherokee Nation Facebook sites and other social media channels.

The Remember the Removal ride is a challenge that’s both mentally and physically demanding, but each person will come away with a richer understanding of what our ancestors experienced along the trail that winter in 1839. They start out as individuals, but along the way they become a team, relying on one another while growing physically, emotionally and even spiritually.

That’s something very worthwhile in my book.

I’d like to congratulate the 2015 Remember the Removal riders:

·         Haylee Caviness, 18, Tahlequah, Sequoyah High School
·         Caleb Cox, 19, Miami, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, Liberty University
·         Tanner Crow, 19, Tahlequah, Sequoyah High School
·         Kayla Davis, 19, Stilwell, Sequoyah High School 
·         Charles “Billy” Flint, 25, Tahlequah, Northeastern State University
·         Shawna Harter, 18, Tahlequah, Sequoyah High School
·         Tennessee Loy, 22, Kenwood, Northeastern State University
·         Maggie McKinnis, 16, Hulbert, Sequoyah High School
·         Hailey Seago, 18, Claremore, Claremore High School
·         Tristan Trumbla, 24, Proctor, Cherokee Nation Registration
·         Alexis Watt, 21, Afton, Northeastern State University
·         Wrighter Weavel, 18, Tahlequah, Tahlequah High School 

Good luck on your journey, and Godspeed.