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 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

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    

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.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Cherokee Nation’s collaboration with Junior Achievement increases financial literacy

The Cherokee Nation has a long history of being a leader in education. We keep that tradition alive and well by forging new partnerships. One of the most successful collaborations we have is with Junior Achievement of Oklahoma.

For years, as individuals, Cherokees have been involved with Junior Achievement and teaching young people about work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. In 2011, we initiated a more formal partnership through Cherokee Nation Foundation and Cherokee Nation Businesses. In the last six years, we have helped almost 11,000 students, 525 classes, more than 60 schools and more than 280 teachers get the unique and educational exposure JA offers.

Recently, we were recognized by Junior Achievement for the positive work we have done together. Our goal is to prepare Cherokees and other students in northeast Oklahoma for the real world and encourage them to dream big. Like Cherokee Nation’s economic impact, this education effort benefits all Oklahomans, not just Cherokees.

Together, Cherokee Nation and Junior Achievement are working hard to elevate and not leave behind rural and underserved schools. Through our partnership with Junior Achievement, we are not just educating Cherokees, we are helping Junior Achievement reach a new demographic in rural northeast Oklahoma. Educational and informative workshops help youth develop an understanding of our economy and help them to start planning early.

Cherokee Nation was the first tribe to set up a commercial space in JA Biztown – a kid-sized replicate of a bustling city. We also sponsor classrooms from within the Cherokee Nation to attend.  Students complete an in-class curriculum pertaining to all aspects of business and industry prior to their visit. Once they arrive at the facility, they apply what they’ve learned in the hands-on setting, working various jobs and making financial decisions. 

These programs would not be as successful as they are without the volunteers from Cherokee Nation, Cherokee Nation Businesses and the local communities. Our employees embody the inspiration and excellence we strive for every day. They lead by example. All of our volunteers are dedicated and passionate about making a positive impact in our communities. They made it a mission to improve the lives of people here in Oklahoma. The real reward of being a volunteer for Junior Achievement is the personal satisfaction that naturally comes with increased engagement in a child’s future. The greatest thing we can do for our children is educate them, which is a serious responsibility.

Cherokee Nation will continue to team with Junior Achievement and support its mission. We appreciate the opportunity to work with a national organization that prioritizes innovative learning. Our kids are learning financial literacy, yes, but we also hope to spark an interest in Cherokee culture and a true sense of community.  Developing the next generation of business leaders is an important business initiative. Through Junior Achievement, we can better teach personal finance, community participation and the growing global marketplace. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Cherokee Nation’s economic impact grows to more than $2 billion; growth means more services for citizens

Oklahoma’s core is firmly rooted in its 38 federally recognized tribes. Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma have a unique history based on our shared identity and heritage. According to a new study commissioned to the Oklahoma-based Economic Impact Group, our tribe and its businesses are responsible for more than a $2 billion impact annually on the Oklahoma economy.

Today, more than ever, the Cherokee Nation is an essential part of the economic fabric of our great state. As the largest tribal government in Oklahoma, there is no doubt Cherokee Nation makes undeniable and positive impacts on the state.

Cherokee Nation supports more than 17,000 jobs, and more than 11,000 of those jobs are through direct employment with our tribal government or one of the tribe’s businesses. We have more Cherokees working for the tribe than ever before, and we are proud of that. During the past year, we invested millions of dollars in expanding our economic footprint in northeast Oklahoma, which is essential to developing stronger and safer communities across Cherokee Nation’s 14-county jurisdiction.

The success we are experiencing today will have a positive impact for years to come. As a sovereign tribal government, Cherokee Nation makes positive differences in the lives of our citizens, which helps alleviate the burden on state finances and resources.

Cherokee Nation Businesses, the tribe’s corporate holding company, generated a record-setting $1.02 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2016, the year studied by economists. The profits allow the tribe to continue to expand essential services to the Cherokee people.

Oklahoma is our home, and we are proud to be a partner in its success. We invest in roads – 77 miles in our 14 counties;  public schools – $5 million to 107 public school districts;  health care – more than 1.1 million patient visits annually to Cherokee Health Centers; higher education – more than $13 million for academic scholarships this year; and infrastructure – public water line repairs and installations.

During my time as Principal Chief, I’ve seen firsthand the changes we are making in families and communities throughout northeast Oklahoma. Just some of the examples include:

  • In Delaware County, we invested $30 million in a new casino that created 175 new jobs. In South Coffeyville, we collaborated with the state to attract Star Pipe, a manufacturing company, creating another 75 quality jobs.
  • In Tulsa County, our Career Services Department continues to help Macy’s fulfillment center with staff recruiting and training.
  • In Cherokee County, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, we attracted several new businesses, announced the construction of a $200 million health facility, preserved our iconic capitol building and expanded the Cherokee Nation tribal complex.
Those activities don’t just benefit Cherokees; they represent an investment in our home, Oklahoma. A strong Cherokee Nation equals a strong Oklahoma. Our success is the state’s success. Cherokee Nation remains strategically positioned to lead Oklahoma into a brighter and better future. As we prosper and create jobs, we play an essential role in keeping Oklahoma strong and vibrant, ensuring it remains the best place to live, work and raise a family.

That symbiotic spirit improves the lives of everyone throughout northeast Oklahoma. We are expanding our businesses and increasing our profits to do more, help more citizens improve their lives and make more of a difference from one generation to the next. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Preservation efforts ensure Cherokee heritage remains intact

Cherokee Nation’s most endangered buildings teach us about the history of our people – the stories and histories of our ancestors who lived here and flourished before we were ever born. We have made a concerted effort to preserve, restore and rehabilitate our most iconic and historic places that have played key roles in Cherokee Nation’s history in northeast Oklahoma. Preserving and protecting important historical elements of Cherokee Nation’s heritage are important to me and to all of us as Cherokee Nation citizens, and it is a value that, as Cherokees, is deeply ingrained in each generation.

Preservation is a responsibility that we all share as citizens of our communities. It’s a part of who we are. While it reflects our past, it also heralds our future. Buildings and iconic places speak to our shared roots. Our work in restoration was recently recognized by Preservation Oklahoma, a nonprofit group committed to historic preservation statewide.  Just a few of our most notable projects include the following:
  • We have overseen the renovation of important cultural projects, including the Cherokee National Capitol. By removing more than 2,000 old and decaying bricks and replacing them with replica bricks and mortar, it strengthened the structure while maintaining its historic look. This effort, coupled with replacing the cupola atop of the structure, has reinforced its place as Cherokee Nation’s most renowned building. Originally built in 1869 and located on the main town square of Tahlequah, this building housed all three branches of Cherokee government until statehood in 1907. Soon it will be the crown jewel in the tribe’s growing cluster of museums.
  • We purchased Sequoyah’s Cabin from the Oklahoma Historical Society when the state of Oklahoma was no longer able to operate the national historic landmark. The structure, which was built in 1829, sits on a 200-acre site and hosts more than 12,000 visitors annually. By preventing the cabin’s closure, we are able to tell the story of Sequoyah through a uniquely Cherokee perspective.
  • We partnered with Northeastern State University to begin work on the rehabilitation of the school’s oldest and most historic building, Seminary Hall. Built in 1888 by the Cherokee Nation, it was the first female institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi River. After a renovation and repurpose by NSU, Seminary Hall will become a multipurpose building that will highlight its cultural heritage and Cherokee roots.
We owe it to our children to make these investments and conservation efforts a priority today, so that tomorrow they may better know, understand and appreciate our iconic and historic treasures in Oklahoma. As a fourth-generation Oklahoman, I know how important our preservation efforts are, and now my great-grandson, who is the seventh generation, will soon be experiencing our history and heritage.

These places are more than brick and mortar; they are places where our ancestors struggled and thrived. That spirit dwells in all of these structures, all extraordinary places that are part of the fabric of our tribe and a tribute to those who were here before us. Preserving them is worth the time and investment. It is an important responsibility, and we take great pride in ensuring it is done well for future generations.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Cherokee Vote campaign sees success in getting tribal citizens registered

Cherokee Nation has invested time and resources in ensuring our citizens are registered to vote in tribal, state and federal elections.  Cherokee Vote launched in 2013 to drive participation in the electoral process.  Since its inception, our voter engagement program has registered 5,585 tribal voters and 1,160 state and federal voters.

Those numbers have been even more impressive in the first three months of 2017, as we have registered 700 voters for tribal elections, which is more than the entirety of 2015. These numbers demonstrate that Cherokees are becoming an influential voice in their communities and in our state. It is critical for our citizens to participate in elections, including tribal, municipal, county, state and federal. We continue to raise this conversation because so many people are still unregistered and many who are registered fail to cast their votes.

Our employees and volunteers routinely travel across the 14-county jurisdiction to tribal community meetings and events to register voters, answer questions and speak to the importance of engaging in the political process. We have a Cherokee Vote presence at local nontribal events as well, like the state and county fairs where we talk to Cherokees and non-Cherokees about the importance of voting. Additionally, we have operated a voter registration booth for the past several years at all Cherokee Nation at-large community gatherings across the country. The Cherokee Vote effort is closely associated with the National Congress of American Indians’ national Native Vote campaign.
It wasn’t until 1924 that Native Americans were recognized as U.S. citizens with the right to vote. That means for 150 years of this nation’s history, American Indians had no vote or say in damaging policies. Almost 10 percent of the Oklahoma population are enrolled citizens in one of the state’s 38 federally recognized tribal governments. With 350,000 citizens, Cherokee Nation is a powerful voting bloc. When we register and get out the vote, Cherokees and Native people can make a huge difference.

We will continue to provide our citizens with up-to-date information on issues that impact Cherokee Nation. Our hope is that each of our Cherokee citizens recognizes their collective power to influence decisions at all levels of government. It is critical to stay engaged and to exercise your right to vote so that elected officials hear your voice and act to protect tribal sovereignty and honor treaty and trust obligations.  I hope sending a message to Cherokee people that voting is important also teaches our children the importance of civic participation. Hopefully, parents will take their children to the polls and voting will be a regular family event and a lifetime habit.

Monday, April 3, 2017

STEM emphasis will create the professionals Cherokee Nation needs in the future

The lack of diversity in the sciences is not a new problem, but we live in a day and age where we can help bridge that gap. At Cherokee Nation we are committed to encouraging, supporting and mentoring our youth so we can substantially increase the numbers of Cherokees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) studies and careers.

Across America, STEM fields are one of the few areas where there is continued job growth. Almost 80 percent of the fastest growing occupations depend on some mastery of science or mathematics.  For Indian Country, and especially here in our home in northeast Oklahoma, we must ensure our students are prepared for the 21st century global economy.  Kids who excel in science and math aren’t just smart, but they will be the world’s creative problem-solvers going forward. Every time we address workforce development for Indian people and for Oklahoma, STEM absolutely must be part of the discussion. Those careers – researchers, engineers, health care providers – are essential to our health, happiness and safety. They are the cornerstones of our future.

We need boys, and we, especially, need girls in the STEM pipeline. We have to get away from the stereotype that boys are better than girls in math and science, so we need more women in these STEM-related fields to ensure innovation, creativity, competitiveness and, in the long run, economic growth.

Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce but only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce. To change this statistic, Cherokee Nation has pledged to be a partner in mentoring more Cherokee girls to consider careers in STEM. Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor, a certified public accountant, is on the advisory board of the Native American Council for the Million Women Mentors, a group committed to increasing the interest and confidence of girls and young women to pursue STEM careers. Efforts by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society are also targeting Native girls for STEM careers.

Cherokee Nation has some of best and brightest minds in America. We need to continue exposing them to what is possible through STEM education. Starting early to inspire children to consider careers in STEM fields is essential. K-12 outreach summer programs for girls play an important role in inspiring them to pursue science and engineering in middle school and high school.

Right now at Sequoyah High School, nine young ladies are on the robotics team, and this fall, Cherokee Nation provided robotics kits to dozens of schools within the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction to encourage STEM activities. Robotics teams at six area schools that we helped sponsor will compete in the VEX Robotics World Championship later this month, and I am so proud to say Bell Elementary School from Adair County earned a top 10 worldwide score during the state competition.

From competing in robotics to a fulfilling and challenging career in STEM is a short jump if we can create a pipeline of students, find passionate mentors and support our kids through college and into the workforce.  A more diverse scientific workforce with plenty of Cherokee Nation citizens in the labor pool will be better for all of us and for advancements in technology and sciences.

And, the perfect place for STEM students to launch their careers is in our 470,000-square-foot outpatient health facility at the W.W. Hastings health campus in Tahlequah, which is under construction. Once it is opened in 2019, we plan to hire more than 800 health care professionals – doctors, nurses and medical specialists. We have agreed to partner with OSU Medical School to offer localized education and classes, with a hope of developing Cherokee medical practitioners.

We are ready for more Cherokee women to be involved in science and math and pursue new frontiers in technology. Mary Golda Ross, a Cherokee from Park Hill and an engineer and rocket scientist who helped America’s space program reach the moon, was ahead of her time in the 1960s, but in the 21st century, our children can see any achievement is possible and attainable through passion and hard work. As leaders and adults, it is our job to make sure they dream big and reach those destinations.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Investing in Oklahoma and public education is the Cherokee way

Cherokee people have always valued education. When Cherokees were forced to relocate and walk the Trail of Tears more than 175 years ago, our ancestors had to rebuild our tribe and society. They started with education. Once they arrived in Indian Territory, Cherokee Nation leaders dedicated 60 percent of the tribe’s treasury to education. They knew rebuilding after such a traumatic event should start with educating our children and showing them a brighter future is possible.

Today, that investment in public education is more important than ever for the future of the Cherokee Nation and the state of Oklahoma.

Recently, Cherokee Nation issued $5 million to schools in our 14-county jurisdiction for the academic year. Those dollars come through our car tag program, and since 2002, we have contributed more than $45 million to public education.

We are investing in our children, investing in our communities, and investing in our future as Cherokees and as Oklahomans. When our tribal citizens across Oklahoma purchase a Cherokee Nation tag, 38 percent of those dollars is earmarked specifically for public education. This year, that money is being invested into 107 area schools.

For the Cherokee Nation, supporting our local school districts is important to our long-term success. The partnerships we have carefully cultivated with area school districts are some of our most important. School districts have complete discretion on how to use the funds from our car tag compact. The funding will enable schools to execute their strategic plans.

In South Coffeyville, the money will be utilized for technology upgrades, while Hulbert Public Schools will purchase a security camera system for the district to provide more safety for students. At Ketchum Schools, the funds will go toward teacher salaries, and Salina Schools will repair a leaking roof at the high school. Owasso Schools will use the money for after-school tutoring and cultural activities for students.

We are happy to provide these dollars, especially as gaps in the state’s education budget continue to grow and Oklahoma public education continues to be underfunded by state policymakers. Schools operate with fewer resources and more pupils than ever. Across Oklahoma, we continue to trend in the wrong direction with investments to education, as fewer dollars are allocated to our children and schools.

For individual students, this Cherokee Nation investment is critical so they can grow into everything God intended them to be, but collectively for northeast Oklahoma, it is just as important so we can continue developing a diverse economy with an educated workforce.

Thank you to all the Cherokee Nation citizens who have purchased a tribal tag. That decision makes our academic partnerships possible and keeps them flourishing. As a tribe and sovereign government, we remain blessed to be able to make a positive impact on Oklahoma’s future.

At Cherokee Nation, we will continue to play our role as a benefactor to public education. We will make our ancestors proud by prioritizing education.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

New tribal homes continue to be built in Cherokee Nation; hundreds of families reap the benefits

Access to safe housing is a key to good health and remains a critical piece of the foundation for success for Cherokee families. Recently, in the community of Vinita, we broke ground on 11 new homes. This will help 11 Cherokee families become new or first-time homeowners. In Craig County, just like in every county within our 14-county jurisdiction, we have created jobs, expanded health care and invested in public education.

This opportunity for Cherokee Nation citizens to become homeowners ensures our tribal government is truly improving the lives of our people and building a brighter future for the next generation. The three-bedroom homes, scheduled to be completed in late 2017, will feature one and a half bathrooms with 1,003 square feet of living space and a garage. Recipients will be selected from the waiting list of new home construction applicants who do not own land.

Additionally, the 11 new homes will benefit the local economy, as well as the Vinita school system. The construction effort means jobs for area builders and contractors, and it means every child living within the new houses will take approximately $2,800 in impact aid to Vinita schools. That could have major implications and be a potential source of revenue, especially when northeast Oklahoma public schools are facing continued education cuts from the state.

Since 2012 Cherokee Nation has built more than 500 new homes for Cherokee families through the New Home Construction Program. We also have an additional 300 new houses in various stages of construction throughout the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction. We are improving the lives of our Cherokee people family by family and home by home. By county, we have worked to build new homes in all quadrants of the Cherokee Nation: Adair County (56); Cherokee County (130); Craig County (11); Delaware County (76); McIntosh County (3); Mayes County (36); Muskogee County (41); Nowata County (20); Ottawa County (7); Rogers County (30); Sequoyah County (83); Tulsa County (5); Wagoner County (3); and Washington County (8).

We restarted the New Home Construction Program four years ago to help Cherokee families. It is a program that is second to none across Indian Country, and it truly empowers our families. One of my greatest joys as Principal Chief is being able to assist tribal citizens who want and need the Cherokee Nation’s help to become homeowners and achieve the American dream.  Good government makes improving the lives of its people a priority. Cherokee Nation government is fulfilling that obligation through new home opportunities.

Families with a secure home are more stable, and children who have a safe environment have peace of mind and a comfort level that will allow them to succeed in school, athletics, the arts and other personal endeavors. The success we have seen is real, and we will continue focusing on ways to make positive, lasting impacts in the lives of Cherokees.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Women play essential role in our history and our success at Cherokee Nation

Historically, the Cherokee Nation has been a matriarchal society and has always looked to strong women for guidance and leadership. Cherokee women are proud and powerful and fuel our success as a tribe. This fact is as true today as ever. This month we are honoring the spirit of Women’s History Month and celebrating the enormous contributions Cherokee women have made throughout our history and in our modern government and business endeavors.

As Principal Chief, I strive to place talented women in leadership roles within this administration and at Cherokee Nation Businesses. In fact, there are more women in management at CNB and Cherokee Nation than ever before.  Many of our tribal programs and departments are led by women and our tribal government’s workforce is dominated by women. Of the 3,665 employees we have at Cherokee Nation, 2,597 are female. That represents more than 71 percent of our staff.

We have created a more female-friendly work environment at Cherokee Nation by establishing a fully paid, eight-week maternity leave policy for expectant mothers who work for the Cherokee Nation and by raising the minimum wage for all employees, allowing our employees to continue working for the Cherokee people while meeting their family obligations.

The tribe’s legislative body, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, is shaped, in part, by Deputy Speaker Victoria Vazquez and Councilors Frankie Hargis, Janees Taylor and Wanda Hatfield. Their leadership and vision are helping drive the Cherokee Nation into a brighter future.

This month also marked the fourth anniversary of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. At Cherokee Nation, we remain committed to protecting women and children from the epidemic of domestic violence. We created the ONE FIRE Victim Services office to be a beacon of hope and safety for women and families within our tribal jurisdiction.

If you do not already, please follow our Facebook and Twitter accounts as we will profile historic and modern Cherokee women and their stories on our social media channels throughout the month of March.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Cherokee National Treasures book honors culture keepers

A stunning new coffee table book profiling Cherokee National Treasures, the prestigious citizens who actively work to preserve and revive Cherokee cultural practices, has been beautifully designed and produced and will soon be available for Cherokees, historians and cultural enthusiasts to add to their personal collection.

The keepsake book, entitled “Cherokee National Treasures: In Their Own Words,” is a project that was coordinated by Roger Cain and Shawna Morton Cain, who also edited the book with Pamela Jumper Thurman. They ensured each profile was depicted exactly as the subject desired. Gayle Parnell-Samuels served as lead copy editor and applied integrity to each and every story. The project was managed by Cherokee Nation staff member Bryan Shade. The commitment of this team is evident in each profile of our tribe’s National Treasures, the citizens who represent the very best values of the Cherokee Nation.

Beautiful and historic photographs accompany each profile, and each of the almost 100 narratives are truly intimate and deeply personal. The stories are told by the artists themselves in their own words and for those Treasures who have left us, loving remembrances by family and friends are featured. These Cherokee artists share the story of themselves, their family, their influences and how their respective expertise reflects who they are as Cherokee people.

These powerful stories, coupled with the compelling photographs, are simply captivating. Reading them makes you feel like you just sat down with the Treasure and had a personal conversation. The stories will leave a lasting impression on readers of Cherokee life, values, the artistic traditions today and how those traditions have evolved for our people through time.

I also want to thank all the National Treasures who consulted on this publication and operated as a review board: Kathryn Kelley, Betty Jo Smith, Lorene Drywater, Dorothy Ice, Al Herrin, Bessie Rackleff Russel, Edith Catcher Knight, Thelma Vann Forrest, Durbin Feeling, Donald Vann and Betty Christie Frogg.

Currently, we are planning a celebratory event to honor each of these National Treasures and present them with a copy of the book.

The Cherokee National Treasure Award was established in 1988 by the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee National Historical Society. The award is given annually to a select few during the Cherokee National Holiday to honor citizens who have been recognized for their artistic and preservation work. The recipients have preserved and perpetuated traditional and contemporary artistic methods and practices, ensuring traditional arts and skills are not lost. Each is committed to education, cultural preservation and the continuation of Cherokee heritage.

They have all been recognized not only for their roles as artisans, but also for their roles as teachers, mentors, and advocates. These cultural icons continue to practice ancient customs and bring them into the 21st century. Because of their love and commitment to their respective discipline, the spirit of the Cherokee Nation remains as vibrant today as ever. These individuals exemplify the values that we hold dear as a people, and as a sovereign government. I admire them all and respect their talents.

As readers flip through the pages of this new publication, which will soon be available in our Cherokee Nation gift shops as well as online, they are taken on a journey of Cherokee culture. The people in this book and the stories they tell reflect our Cherokee history and heritage and how they are seamlessly woven into the tapestry of who we are today, as a people and as a tribe. Each of these Treasures possesses a true gift and those talents help shape the Cherokee Nation today, while protecting our unique Cherokee culture and lifeways for the future. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

The dawn of a new day in Cherokee health care

A new day has dawned for health and wellness in the Cherokee Nation, as we recently broke ground on a new state-of the-art outpatient health care facility, located at the W.W. Hastings Hospital campus in Tahlequah. When complete in the fall of 2019, this nearly 470,000-square-foot facility will be full of cutting-edge medical technology, more doctors, nurses and specialists, and will be known as the largest American Indian health center in the country.

I can’t tell you just how monumental this milestone is and what it will mean for future generations of Cherokees and other Natives. It will also be transformative for northeast Oklahoma. Between W.W. Hastings Hospital, this new outpatient facility, Northeastern Health System next door and our partnership with OSU Health Science Center to train residents, Tahlequah is set to be a hub for medical technology in rural Oklahoma.

We have worked aggressively to improve access to quality health care and the wellness of our tribe, both individually and collectively, since the day I took office more than six years ago. Since then we’ve built new health centers in Jay and Ochelata and expanded health centers in Stilwell and Sallisaw. As the final piece of our health care capital expansion plan, the new outpatient facility is definitely the crowning jewel.

For our nation to achieve so much in just a few short years makes this mission extremely personal for me. It means our health services can now adapt with the needs of our tribe, and we can continue to improve the gaping health disparities between our Indian people and other ethnicities.

Thanks to our historic joint venture with Indian Health Service, they will provide about $80 million annually for operating costs and staffing doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. With IHS’s arrangement to pay salaries, we will be able hire more than 800 new medical personnel, almost tripling our current staff.

Cherokee Nation will pay to construct the $200 million facility, which will have 180 exam rooms, a new surgical center with additional capacity for MRIs and endoscopies, and expanded dental, optometry and auditory testing that will revolutionize the services we provide for our people. Much of this is technology we haven’t offered in the past due to space and budget constraints.

It is the largest project IHS has ever helped a tribal government achieve, and it was so badly needed. Cherokee Nation already operates the largest tribal health system in the United States. Our current 190,000-square-foot hospital in Tahlequah is more than 30 years old and was built to handle only one-third of the current patient load it sees every day. That puts a tremendous workload and unjust pressure on our staff and the antiquated building. We have simply overburdened W.W. Hastings Hospital for too long, which has been serving as a health center and a hospital.

In addition to new health care jobs, we anticipate construction of the facility to generate more than 350 construction jobs. New jobs, shorter wait times and better services will positively impact so many lives.

In late 2019, we will gather once again to dedicate this new world-class health complex. And when we do, we will know that the next several generations of Cherokees will have a better future. Our Cherokee people will be able to live longer and healthier lives because they will have real access to modern medicine. This is a wonderful moment in our tribal history and the start of a brighter, better future ahead.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cherokee Nation, state of Oklahoma seek to halt burial of radioactive waste

Cherokee Nation and the state of Oklahoma recently teamed up to file a restraining order to stop the disposal of radioactive material near the Arkansas and Illinois rivers.

Sequoyah Fuels Corporation operated a uranium processing plant near Gore from 1970 through the early 90s. The plant converted yellowcake uranium into fuel for nuclear reactors. After it closed in 1993, more than 11,000 tons of uranium-contaminated waste was left at the site. In 2004, Sequoyah Fuels agreed to spend millions relocating the waste off-site. The radioactive waste has been stored in large bags on top of concrete pads at the site ever since.

Many Cherokees worked at this facility over the years, and many of us know men and women who were employed at the facility, and though memories of Sequoyah Fuels may have faded, sadly the threat of radiation has not. We know the radioactive waste can’t stay where it currently sits, but the Cherokee Nation was informed last month by Sequoyah Fuels that it could not find a suitable place to relocate the waste. The company said it would begin burying the waste in underground cells at the current site.

That’s when our attorney general’s office, secretary of Natural Resources and the state of Oklahoma stepped in. We will not stand idly by and let a private company unilaterally determine the future of two important rivers and the safety of the Cherokee community of Gore. The Cherokee Nation is a staunch defender and protector of our natural resources.

The Arkansas riverbed is no place for radioactive waste. According to scientists, uranium is highly toxic and has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. Our goal is to work with the company, along with the state, to minimize the threat by finding and securing a proper storage solution. 

Protecting the lands and the natural environment is a priority for us today and for future generations who call the Cherokee Nation home. Cherokee Nation established the office of the secretary of Natural Resources last year to address these very specific kinds of issues, because as a tribal government, we have a responsibility to protect the land, water and air. We will unequivocally fight for the rights of our people to live safely in their communities. Our children, our grandchildren and their children deserve to inherit a natural world free of hazardous pollution.

We will do what is best for the Cherokee Nation, Sequoyah County and Oklahoma so we will pursue an expert review of disposal options for the materials and examine the impact to the community and the environment. We need to sit down and negotiate a solution that everyone can agree on. I believe we have the ability to find an answer and an agreement that will be palatable to all parties.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Competitors share tribal heritage, highlight Cherokee Nation’s diverse talent

Over the last year, an elite group of professional athletes shared many successes while proudly representing their tribe. It is true that we have Cherokees in the NFL and MLB, but we also have tribal citizens who are champions in professional sports that are played closer to home on a slightly smaller, but just as prestigious stage.

Watching these Cherokee athletes in their quest to show the world the many talents and skills found throughout the Cherokee Nation and northeast Oklahoma is gratifying and inspiring.

Just some of the Cherokee champions I have seen in action in the past year are Ryan Dirteater, professional bull rider; Jason Christie, professional angler; Haley Ganzel, rodeo performer and trick rider; Jaymee “Ambush” Jones, mixed martial arts fighter;  Kathina “Kill Switch” Catron, mixed martial arts fighter; and Wes Nofire, professional boxer. Their list of accomplishments and well-earned victories over their respective careers is noteworthy.

  • Ryan Dirteater rode in as the year’s fourth best PBR rider in the world and won the 2016 PBR World Finals, the largest event in the sport.
  • Professional angler Jason Christie fished his way to eight national wins over the past five years.
  • Haley Ganzel celebrated 16 years in trick riding and is widely considered one of the best trick riders in the world.
  • Jayme “Ambush” Jones has earned five wins across her professional career, including a knock out win in less than 40 seconds.
  • Kathina “Kill Switch” Catron has earned seven professional wins.
  • Wes Nofire has boxed his way to 19 professional wins in the toughest division of professional boxing, the heavyweight ranks.
These are just some of the professional competitors who highlight the diverse talent found throughout the Cherokee Nation. These athletes train hard, work hard and lead by example. Many of them are from small communities, and there is nothing more important than showing kids from home that they too can fulfill their dreams.

More importantly, they all serve as excellent role models for our youth to emulate and know that through hard work, commitment and character they, too, can accomplish great things. These Cherokee Nation citizens are pursuing exciting careers, and they serve as inspiration to others. They all bring different talents, skills and tenure to their respective sports but share a common desire to represent the Cherokee people, our values and our heritage when they step into the bright light of competition. I believe when they win and when they achieve levels of greatness, which they do quite often, we can all celebrate and be Cherokee proud.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Creating more opportunities for college-bound Cherokees

The Cherokee Nation this year funded a record number of tribal citizens to attend college and pursue their dream of higher education. In the fall semester, our Education Department awarded 4,167 scholarships to Cherokees, and all of those students who reapplied and qualified for a scholarship were offered a $2,000 scholarship this spring semester.
A fact that we can all be proud of is this: There are more Cherokee students pursuing a higher education than ever in our tribal history. Personal opportunities for expanded education lift our entire tribe; they mean better jobs and create healthier, stronger families.
Another growing segment in our higher education population is the number of concurrent enrollees in our area high schools. We started helping Cherokee high school juniors and seniors with college classes in the fall of 2013. The number of youth taking advantage of this assistance has almost doubled from the 215 students we started with three short years ago. These are high-schoolers who are either graduating early or have scored high enough on their ACT and have a GPA that warrants college classes. We cover the tuition, books and fees for the qualified applicants.
Cherokee Nation has stepped up its scholarships for these youth, as state education budgets have constricted. It is another example of how our tribal government is stepping in to fill the education gaps in northeast Oklahoma. We have made our youth a priority. It is not fair to them that the state’s funding for education prohibits them from fulfilling their dreams. We have some motivated students who have taken advantage of the increased opportunities and will begin their college career with 30 hours of credit already complete.
Not one Cherokee who applied and qualified has been denied the opportunity to pursue a higher education. With so many talented and educated citizens, it bodes well for the future of our tribe.
The tribe’s budget for these scholarship programs is more than $13 million this year, and the bulk of that funding is collected from the tribe’s motor fuels tax funds. Cherokee Nation College Resources is the department that manages all of the tribe’s scholarships, and it actively communicates with schools throughout the 14 counties to help students understand and apply for a wide variety of scholarships. For more information on Cherokee Nation scholarships, call 918-453-5465.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tribal governments: stronger together for Oklahoma

Recently, the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes gathered to collaborate and strategize on issues that will be beneficial to the sovereign governments of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Muscogee (Creek) nations.  The Inter-Tribal Council is one of the strongest tribal associations in the U.S. and was established to promote positive relationships among five of Oklahoma’s largest tribes. Collectively, our governments represent more than 650,000 citizens. We are stronger as tribes when we share in one another’s success and support the efforts of our brothers and sisters from our partner tribal nations.

Tribal governments are a major force in Oklahoma. It makes sense that we work together whenever possible to advance the needs of our people and communities. The need for a united front on a variety of issues, including sovereignty, economic development, health care, water rights, housing and elder care is more important than ever. It is the spirit of cooperation that fuels our mission. Together, we can better protect our sovereign rights and do more good for our people, our governments and our state.

Tribes are essential economic drivers in Oklahoma, and the governor’s office along with state policymakers in the Senate and House of Representatives are aware of the unique capabilities we can bring to the table. The Cherokee Nation, through our government and business endeavors, has an annual $1.5 billion economic impact in our great state. When this year’s economic impact report is released in a few months, it will show that Cherokee Nation’s contribution to the Oklahoma economy has only gotten larger.

With 38 federally recognized tribes, Oklahoma is the heart of Indian Country in America. The role tribes have in Oklahoma as economic, infrastructure and social service partners will continue to grow, especially with the projected state budget crisis we are facing in the coming year. That’s why the governor has made a standalone Secretary of Native Affairs position within her cabinet.

Sadly, Oklahoma is looking at another $900 million deficit in 2017 because of an inability to agree on proper funding for essential government functions, like education and public safety. In contrast, our businesses continue to thrive in northeast Oklahoma, which allows Cherokee Nation to reinvest locally.

Last week’s official grand opening of our newest entertainment facility in Grove is a good example of this commitment. This development means 175 permanent quality jobs in Delaware County, not to mention all the construction jobs that were created in the past year on this project.

You see projects like this popping up all over Oklahoma, led by dozens of tribal nations.  We understand very well the positive and long-lasting effect jobs can have at the local level. These employment opportunities, which come with health insurance and retirement options, mean better lives for all our citizens today and for the future. Beyond creating jobs in our communities, tribal nations continue to make a positive impact on the health and in the lives of all citizens, Native and non -Native alike.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Remembering the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today we recognize and remember Dr. Martin Luther King and his legacy of increased hope and fairness for all people in America, regardless of race, religion, gender or creed. It is a good time to reflect on where we are as a country. While we have certainly made progress in terms of positive change for people of color, we still have far to go to meet true equality and opportunity for all. Now more than ever we should make standing for the voiceless a priority in our country and community. We should be an advocate for all people who face injustices in their lives. Dr. King planted seeds of hope that life should and could be better for all Americans. That hope carried a generation forward and continues to inspire me today. My job is to ensure Cherokees, and all of Indian Country, are always respected and remain an integral part of our nation's fabric. At Cherokee Nation, we are striving to build a brighter future for all of our citizens. We are forever indebted to true American heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King. His fight for civil rights increased the opportunities and freedoms that we all enjoy today.

Creating new Cherokee speakers

The Cherokee language is one of the most vital elements of our tribal culture. We have invested in preservation efforts and youth education endeavors, including the Cherokee Immersion School, which is a renowned global example for developing youth speakers. Today, there are an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 fluent Cherokee speakers, and many others who are conversational second-language learners of Cherokee. While we have elders who are fluent and the emerging youth who will be, there was a void in the development of young adults.

That is why, two years ago, we launched the Cherokee Language Master-Apprentice Program. The goal of this program is to create new adult Cherokee language teachers. We selected four young adults to be the first class, and I am proud to say two of the students recently graduated and one of them will soon be teaching at the Immersion School.

When the selected students came into the program, they had little to no knowledge of the Cherokee language. However, upon graduating two years later, they have achieved high conversational levels. That is truly amazing.

The Master-Apprentice Program is an everyday effort. The students perform general, everyday activities but speak nothing but Cherokee. No English is spoken all day. They cook, look for wild onions and mushrooms, and have general daily conversations in Cherokee. The approach is to do the everyday things, simple activities that are second nature to speak about in English, but do so only in Cherokee. The Cherokee language immersion environment is eight hours each day, five days per week.

The students are paid an hourly wage to attend the program and are selected through an essay and interview process. The students are referred to as apprentices, and these activities and classes are led by fluent, first-language speakers called masters. The program tries to identify young adults and older learners.

This method has been adopted by many tribes in California and has proven to be effective in producing fluent second-language learners. The evidence-based strategy integrates the Cherokee language and our staff has secured multiple grants to help fund the Master-Apprentice Program. Our success in the past year reinforces this effective learning method. Language immersion may be difficult and disorienting initially, but through perseverance and patience, students begin to grasp and learn Cherokee communication structures.  Our mission is to develop Cherokee speakers who will have the knowledge to continue learning and teaching throughout the student’s life and ensure language preservation.

A third class of eight participants was selected in late 2016, bringing our total to 16 students. Increasing our number of speakers means preserving our unique culture.  Our goal is to provide a seamless path for Cherokee language achievements that result in cultural preservation and eventually finding employment utilizing the Cherokee language.

With this effort, coupled with our Cherokee Immersion School and the work of our Cherokee translation department, which has  helped develop the Cherokee language for new technology that our citizens can use to text and email in Cherokee, we have set the bar for what it means to invest in language development. Cherokee Nation is a leader in Indian Country, and we are committed to preserving and growing our language. The tribe is proving we can cultivate more Cherokee speakers and enhance our language programs.

For more information on the Master-Apprentice Program, contact the program’s manager, Howard Paden, at .

Monday, January 9, 2017

Providing Cherokee elders day trip opportunity

It’s not often that we can provide Cherokee Nation citizens free field trips, one that includes a lunch, an education in tribal history and a tour of the modern Cherokee Nation complex. We have started a new program with our 14 senior nutrition sites. Recently, we hosted the first group of about 30 Cherokee elders from senior nutrition sites in Marble City, Muldrow and Sallisaw and the response was great. Our elders are so important to our tribe and culture. They are the anchors of our families and the keepers of our culture, traditions and values.

The tribe’s senior nutrition sites provide an invaluable service and help ensure the continued good health and quality of life for our Cherokee elders. Over the past year, Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and I have joined different Tribal Council members to attend at least one lunch per month. We visited all of the 14 senior nutrition sites, which are open to provide meals to our elders.

These were opportunities to connect with our citizens and provide important updates to people who may not get news from the tribe regularly. So, we set out to change that, and we had wonderful conversations and experiences across the 14 counties. Several people asked for the opportunity to travel to Tahlequah and actually see firsthand some of the things we were talking about.

We promised to fulfill that request, and so we partnered with the cultural tourism department at Cherokee Nation Businesses to arrange a bus trip for the elders to Tahlequah and tour the Cherokee National Prison Museum, the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum and the John Ross Museum. It’s a natural fit to partner with CNB, which provides the shuttle bus as well as the friendly and informative tour guides, who share so many aspects of our tribal history and heritage.

We also provided lunch at the Restaurant of the Cherokees, and offered opportunities to shop at the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop or stop by the registration department for photo IDs, as well as visit the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center. Additionally, there was a drive-by tour of Northeastern State University to see Seminary Hall and the bronze Sequoyah statue in front of the school. 

We already have many more trips for the other sites planned in 2017. I am so very proud to have set this program in motion because it affords us opportunities to share time, a meal and fellowship with some of our most delightful and eager citizens. The Cherokee Nation’s Human Services and Community Services and CNB’s cultural tourism have all played valuable roles to ensure these trips are well planned and meaningful.

For more information, contact Barbara Foreman at (918) 453-5919 or