Monday, January 25, 2016

Project 320K highlights importance of Cherokee voters, 2016 a critical year

The year 2016 is important for federal and state elections. We will elect a new president, and we will decide on the state and local leaders who shape the policy and direction of Oklahoma and our communities. To better engage our Cherokee Nation citizens, we are putting a renewed emphasis on Project 320K to increase voter engagement and participation across the tribe’s 14 counties and beyond in the coming year.

Through Project 320K, we will be more visible and active at community gatherings, both locally and at our at-large picnics, in 2016. We call the initiative “320K,” because that’s about how many enrolled Cherokee Nation citizens there are across the world at the moment.

It seems every two years we talk about the need to be more active at the polls. We continue to raise this conversation because so many are still unregistered or do not cast a vote. For our tribe and for Native people nationwide, that represents untapped political power.

We know it’s harder in Native communities to do this work, but it is critical. We also know it takes time, money and people to register voters in Native communities, and for too long we’ve relied on candidates or political parties to do that work for us. They don’t do as well as we can for our own people.

While we have been successful with “320K” since its inception three years ago, we know we can do more. Since 2013, we have registered more than 3,800 Cherokees for tribal elections and almost 1,200 for state and federal elections.

Now we need to activate those votes at the polls. Beyond registering, we need people to cast votes and be active. One of our primary goals in 2016 is to engage people through “Get Out The Vote” efforts. Historically, we have seen Cherokee voters participate in either the tribal level or the state and federal level, but too often not in both. What happens in Washington, D.C. and the state capitol has a direct bearing on the Cherokee Nation in countless ways.  If tribal citizens in Oklahoma would vote in state and federal elections, we would suddenly have a much stronger influence on the decisions that affect our daily lives.

Sadly, in 2014, less than 30 percent of Oklahoma’s eligible voters went to the polls. We can and we must do better than that. As the home of 39 tribal governments, Oklahoma has a high number of tribal citizens in public office, including the only two Natives in the U.S. Congress. We should make it a priority to support candidates that understand our tribal issues and sovereign rights as Indian people and tribal governments. 

Through Project 320K, we encourage parents to teach the power of voting by taking their children to the polls with them. We hope voting will become a family activity, so Cherokee children learn the process and know that, no matter where they are, they will always have a voice and a vote in their government.

I believe we honor our Cherokee democracy by voting. It’s important to be an advocate for change and be involved with the political process within the community, the state and the country.

We have untapped power as a voting bloc, and 2016 is the moment to harness that power.  I hope you will consider volunteering with Project 320K and get your family and friends registered to vote.  Contact Cohle Fowler for more information at  or (918) 506-8963.

Friday, January 15, 2016

HUD/VA partnership means more assistance for Cherokee Nation veterans

Heroes deserve hope. 

That’s a mission that will be fulfilled as we create more opportunities for the brave men and women who have given so much of themselves to our great country through their military service.

A new tribal program launched in partnership between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will ensure Native military veterans have access to safe and secure housing. This partnership is especially significant because it marks the first time the HUD/VA housing assistance program has included tribes. Nationwide, $5.9 million will be distributed among the selected tribal governments.

It’s an admirable goal, and I am proud the Cherokee Nation will be one of 26 tribal governments nationwide to share in federal funding to provide long-term housing for veterans who need a permanent home. We will provide 20 vouchers to Cherokee veterans for rental assistance thanks to $194,000 awarded to our tribe.

As most of us know, Indian people serve in the military at a higher rate than any other group, and this program targets homeless veterans within tribal jurisdictions. There is no better way to honor the service and sacrifice of Cherokee veterans than by making sure they have a roof over their head.

In our communities, homelessness may not be the textbook definition of “homeless.”  We don't see as much traditional homelessness in Indian Country as other racial populations because our people take care of one another. We don't kick people out on the streets. However, many Indian families and homes are severely overcrowded. This is one of the examples of “homelessness” within our tribal communities.

Cherokee Nation was selected to participate because we have raised the bar for veteran services. We have a state-of-the-art veterans center, which provides veterans invaluable resources and services, and we have a memorandum of understanding in place with the VA to treat Native veterans with routine health care in tribal facilities.

I applaud HUD Secretary Juli├ín Castro for traveling to Oklahoma for the sole purpose of sharing this news with tribal leaders and for the White House’s efforts to curb the rate of veteran homelessness. This new effort will ensure Cherokee patriots get the assistance they desperately need after serving our country. As Secretary Castro said, we can “create a better 21st century for all Americans.”

We are already working with the VA to identify 20 Cherokees veterans who need adequate housing. My administration has been defined by homes and hope.  I am so proud we will be able to do this for our veterans. 

Anytime you can help provide the basic necessities for a Cherokee Nation citizen and for a veteran, it is the right and honorable thing to do. Heroes deserve hope. I believe this program will be a great success and hope it will perpetuate and help more deserving souls in the future.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cherokee Nation Youth Council: building the next generation of tribal leaders

2015-2016 Cherokee Nation Youth Council
Happy New Year! A new year brings us a crop of new leaders in the Cherokee Nation, in the form of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council. The Youth Council serves a vital role in building the next generation of leaders for our tribe and our people. We recently swore in 17 Cherokee Nation citizens to sit on the 2015-2016 Youth Council. These young men and women accept a major responsibility when serving the one-year volunteer term. They help shape tribal policy and our future as a tribal government.

Participating is an honor, and I respect the commitment these young people have displayed. Their input is something I take seriously. In a few short years, many of these youth will assume their rightful leadership role within the Cherokee Nation.

The Youth Council learns the Cherokee Nation Constitution, our tribal history and our tribal heritage. They represent a resource for our administration and Tribal Council to get a better idea of the concerns important to Cherokee youth. That is significant because they will have a meaningful role in our tribal affairs and share the issues affecting them the most, which means we do not have to assume or even guess how our young people feel.

The Youth Council empowers young Cherokees, gives them an avenue to participate and prepares them for future public service. Since 1989, the Youth Council has been a critical tool in building leadership and teamwork skills for so many Cherokee Nation citizens. Many of the 184 past participants have gone on to work for the tribe or for Indian Country in some capacity.

The 2015-16 Tribal Youth Council members are:
  • Taylor Armbrister, of Kansas, Sequoyah High School
  • Jori Cowley, of Vinita, Vinita High School
  • Bradley Fields, of Locust Grove, Locust Grove High School
  • Amy Hembree, of Tahlequah, Stanford University
  • Camerin James, of Fort Gibson, Fort Gibson High School
  • Austin Jones, of Hulbert, Tahlequah High School
  • Destiny Matthews, of Watts, Colcord High School
  • Emily Messimore, of Claremore, Verdigris High School
  • Treyton Morris, of Salina, Salina High School
  • Sarah Pilcher, of Westville, Sequoyah High School
  • Sunday Plumb, of Tahlequah, Oral Roberts University
  • Laurel Reynolds, of Claremore, Claremore High School
  • Abigail Shepherd, of Ochelata, Caney Valley High School
  • Julie Thornton, of Gore, Northeastern State University
  • Chelbie Turtle of Tahlequah, Briggs School
  • Jackson Wells, of Tahlequah, Sequoyah High School
  • Sky Wildcat, of Tahlequah, Northeastern State University

These students, all 15- to 22 year-olds, are role models for other Cherokee youth. They maintain high academic standards and organize community service projects. Last year’s Youth Council spearheaded a Cherokee language revitalization effort aimed at young adults. That idea was a five-year program and this new group will carry on that mission by challenging others young adults to speak and learn the Cherokee language.

Time and time again, we have seen young men and women blossom before our eyes when they participate in the Cherokee Nation Youth Council. I know these committed youth will grow and make very real contributions to their community, to the Cherokee Nation and to Indian Country.