Friday, December 8, 2017

Solar canopy, electric cars are Cherokee Nation’s latest investment in green energy

Cherokee Nation continues to lead northeast Oklahoma, as well as Indian Country, in embracing green energy solutions. Recently, we dedicated a new solar power canopy at the Cherokee Nation’s W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah. It will harness the power of the sun to charge electric vehicles and provide additional power to our complex. Cherokee Nation is the first tribal government in Oklahoma to build and utilize a solar canopy like this. We have always been good stewards of the land, and this is another example of exceptional natural resource conservation.

Embracing solar panels and adding electric vehicles to our fleet are consistent with Cherokee Nation’s leadership in clean-energy usage and carbon-footprint reduction. We have made an investment in clean and renewable energy a priority. We have embraced ideas that look to the future and how we can be better stewards for our children and for the earth.

These ideas are really just a continued extension of the long tradition that Cherokees have always held. Our commitment to clean energy is rooted in our history, as well as in our values. We look at what our ancestors thought, did and believe, and we try to follow in their footsteps. There is no doubt that our ancestors were among the first conservationists, and we must commit ourselves as they did to protecting the earth. It gives us life, and anytime we can help harness that to make the lives of Cherokees better, we are doing what we're supposed to be doing.

The solar panels cover an awning that can charge eight electric vehicles. The structure’s design also enhances the beautification efforts we have made at the tribal complex. The solar panels can generate 58,000 kilowatt hours per year, which is enough to power three homes for a year. In addition to the charging station, which can charge up to eight cars at a time, Cherokee Nation has incorporated two electric vehicles to its fleet for employee usage. In recent years, we have transitioned many of our fleet buses to CNG vehicles, which are more efficient and cost effective in the long term. By using both electric and CNG vehicles, we are reducing our carbon footprint, stretching our dollars and leading by example.

Preservation of natural resources has been a major theme of our recent accomplishments in the past year. In addition to consciously reducing our carbon footprint within the Cherokee Nation, we continue to lead the fight against the burial of corporate toxic waste within our jurisdiction, have pledged to reduce usage of Styrofoam-like products in our daily operations, and undertaken a business initiative to develop a wind energy farm on Cherokee Nation trust land in Kay County.

Green energy – CNG, wind and solar – is creating jobs and a cleaner, better future for Oklahoma. Cherokee Nation has fully embraced these efforts, and we will remain on the cusp of positive change going forward. It is the right thing to do for the next seven generations.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

CNB’s diversified businesses reach record revenue in federal contracts wins in FY17, success reinvested in Cherokee Nation service programs

Building safe homes, increasing scholarship opportunities and offering accessible health care to our citizens are essential services provided by the Cherokee Nation tribal government. Our ability to deliver vital programs is dependent on our success at Cherokee Nation Businesses. Hospitality and entertainment are the foundation of our economic success, but our diversified businesses, or non-gaming business ventures, now account for about 35 percent of CNB’s total revenue.

Several years ago, we concluded that gaming should be a portion of our economic portfolio but not all we do. We originally called this line of business “diversified” because we had to find a way to lessen our dependence on gaming.

CNB’s diversified businesses, which include 29 companies outside of the gaming industry, achieved more than $1 billion in federal and commercial contract wins in fiscal year 2017. Since 2010, the companies have increased their revenue and profitability significantly, which means they can provide a larger dividend to Cherokee Nation for critical services and programs, like education, housing and health care.

Federal contracting is a market with great potential. The U.S. government is the largest customer in the world, and we will continue creating expertise and securing contracts to bring dollars home to the Cherokee Nation. The hard work of our team, led by CNB’s President of Diversified Businesses and Cherokee Nation citizen Steven Bilby, has made CNB one of the most successful mid-level government contracting businesses in the world.

We have employees in 49 states and contracts in a variety of industries. Whether it is providing disaster relief services for FEMA, serving our Armed Forces through medical readiness exams or helping develop a cure for deadly diseases like the Zika virus, CNB has a significant footprint around the globe and serves more than 60 federal agencies.

Our reputation and results are stellar, and the success brings CNB positive exposure on a national stage.

Yes, we continue to offer hospitality jobs to Cherokee Nation citizens within our 14 counties, but now citizens have opportunities to secure employment in technical and specialized fields across the country.

Helping create career opportunities for Cherokee Nation citizens for the next several decades is essential. It is equally important to instill in Cherokee children the dream of a remarkable career that is with the Cherokee Nation. Creating a highly skilled tribal workforce, along with the jobs, will sustain our tribe for generations.

Our mission always will be to grow Cherokee Nation’s economy here at home, and we have done that, but our mission is multifaceted. CNB’s profits outside the 14 counties help support the tribe through an annual dividend. The more success we have in federal contracting, the better we serve Cherokee Nation citizens. I look forward to an even more successful 2018 as our businesses on all fronts continue to grow and thrive.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

For many Cherokee youth, Boys & Girls Club participation plays vital role

For the future of the Cherokee Nation, one of the most important things we can do for our youth is ensure we provide ample opportunities for them to grow mentally and physically in a safe and nurturing environment. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America supports a mission that focuses on the next generation and their development. Cherokee Nation is proud to be a partner and financially support the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which has made a sincere commitment to Indian Country and clubs based in Native communities.

Recently, I was a speaker at the 25th annual Native Summit hosted by the Boys & Girls Club of America. The gathering, held in conjunction with Native American Heritage Month, is designed to celebrate and appreciate the important work done by clubs in Indian Country. These educational efforts play a significant role for our people, and they provide opportunities for young Cherokees to learn and grow.

As a tribe, Cherokee Nation donates almost $200,000 annually to eight clubs within our 14-county jurisdiction. We support clubs in Washington, Delaware, Sequoyah, Rogers, Nowata, Cherokee, Mayes and Adair counties. More than 11,000 youth are served in northeast Oklahoma through Cherokee Nation contributions, and about 60 percent of those young people are Native. We have also donated surplus vehicles and a small bus fitted with a wheelchair lift to assist with transportation needs. Additionally, individual Tribal Councilors have given from their community budget funds. Councilor Bryan Warner gave $6,300 to help build a STEM-learning classroom for the club in Sequoyah County, and Councilor Harley Buzzard gave an additional $5,000 for operations at the Delaware County Club.

Locally, one of the most important functions they provide is a safe place for Cherokee kids to go before and after school, as well as during the summer.

Club participation can foster lifelong friends and mentors. Our eight local clubs empower Cherokee youth to work in their community, sustain meaningful relationships and respect cultural heritage. Because of an involvement with the Boys & Girls Club, a child who participates has more influence that is positive in their young life. Teaming up with the Boys & Girls Club means better access to education, physical activity and healthy lifestyle choices for our Cherokee youth, and many of our local clubs offer tradition-based classes based on Cherokee games and arts.

Good character, leadership skills and positive self-image are important for any young person to succeed in school and in life. Boys & Girls Clubs here in northeast Oklahoma help fulfill that potential for Cherokee Nation citizens.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

New pavilion a nod to history and a look to the future

We recently began construction on a new pavilion just east of the Cherokee National Capitol building in Tahlequah. The open-air space will serve many purposes for the Cherokee Nation in our capital city. In addition to beautifying the downtown area, the multipurpose space will soon host community events, live music performances, markets and outdoor cultural classes.

The rectangular structure will be 4,000 square feet and hold around 1,000 people.

The pavilion’s design is a tribute to our history at Cherokee Nation. It is based on the large log structure that was built after Removal to house the reformed Cherokee government. In 1843, the structure housed the largest intertribal peace gathering in 1843. That intertribal gathering was called “the most important Indian council ever held on the American continent” during its era. Chief John Ross saw the need for tribal governments to come together and stand united on issues that would ensure the survival of Native people. At the 1843 meeting, it is estimated 10,000 people attended, and the iconic painting by John Mix Stanley expertly depicts the event. That painting is owned by the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and a copy hangs in the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa. A print of the intertribal meeting painting remains on display as well at the Cherokee National Capitol building.

The grounds of the peace gathering later became home to the Capitol Square. The pavilion is expected to be complete in the spring of 2018, just in time for the 175th anniversary of the 1843 peace gathering. We hope to host a unique intertribal event and invite tribes from around the country to celebrate that anniversary and the new pavilion.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Celebrating Cherokee Veterans

November is a special and sacred time in the Cherokee Nation and all across Indian Country. Annually, November is the month we set aside to celebrate and recognize Native American Heritage. It is also the month we honor military heroes and our service veterans. At all Cherokee Nation events we take a moment to ensure we recognize and appreciate our veteran brothers and sisters for their courage and sacrifice. That high standard of support and recognition is something we all take great pride in and a value that we will make sure is always preserved.

As Cherokees, we respect and admire any man or woman who has donned a uniform and made sacrifices to defend America’s freedoms. Cherokee people, like many tribal nations, have a deep and rich history in the American military. Our people have been a part of every America battle since the founding of this country. This is a fact that many of us know but bears repeating at every opportunity: Native people, including Cherokees, serve in the military at a higher rate than any other racial group in America. Our heritage as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines is strong and widely appreciated.

Historically, Cherokee warriors were prayed for by their family before going into battle or military service. Upon their return, these warriors are rightfully recognized by the tribe and the community for their acts of bravery. It is our tradition and our heritage to celebrate the individual who sacrifices for the larger good. It is the proper way to honor those people willing to fight for our rights to live free.

As a tribe, we have set a high watermark for our commitment to our veterans. Our Veterans Center is a special place that serves as a home and gathering place to socialize and get assistance with available services. We have provided our military veterans with a place of honor at our tribal headquarters, and it has inspired other tribes in Oklahoma to make similar commitments to their veterans. Not only on Veterans Day, but every day, we express our gratitude for the many sacrifices Cherokee veterans have made for all of us.

We all know somebody in our family—a cousin, sibling, parent or grandparent—who has served the Stars and Stripes and the values it represents. That commitment to country and duty is true and inspiring. I encourage you to celebrate their service and tell them thank you for stepping up when America needed them.

Monday, October 16, 2017

‘Chosen One’ campaign seeks increase in Cherokee foster and adoptive homes

The Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare team has launched a new initiative to recruit foster and adoptive parents, as well as collect some of the vital items needed for children in need. “Chosen One” is a contest featuring Cherokee Nation citizens the ICW staff has selected. These "chosen" participants were selected to assist the ICW department in recruiting Native foster and adoptive homes and will be advocating for others to get involved by donating items like diapers, backpacks, clothing and car safety chairs. These individuals are respected leaders and will be competing with one another in the “Chosen One” challenge, which will be an annual drive. The contestant with the most applicants and items donated to Cherokee Nation ICW will win the challenge.  

Some of the best ways to gain new foster and adoptive families are to get the word out with new voices and recruit new recruiters, who can utilize their circles of influence as well as their social media connections. One of the strategies evident in the “Chosen One” push is to look at stakeholders in our communities that others value and respect.  

“Chosen One” participants this year include Matt Anderson, Casey Baker, Greg Bilby, Shannon Buhl, Susan Chapman-Plumb, David Cornsilk, LeeAnn Dreadfulwater, Canaan Duncan, Alayna Farris, Rhonda Foster, Brian Hail, Daryl Legg, Debra Proctor, Brandon Scott, Kevin Stretch, Mark Taylor, Bryan Warner, Kara Whitworth and Tommy Wildcat. These 19 people have been tabbed because they possess leadership skills and have great compassion for our people. They understand the need, they care about our children’s future, and they will be excellent assets for our ICW recruitment team. It is no secret that when notable people speak, we all pay attention and respond. The deadline for the contest is the end of November, giving participants about six weeks to compete for the most new homes and desired materials. 

The campaign is the creative idea of our ICW team, which is constantly devising new ways to spread its important message. It is fun and a positive way to get Cherokees involved with recruitment and keep this issue in the public eye. Our ICW workers are dedicated and committed, but they cannot do this work alone for our children. They need fellow Cherokees to step in and step up to help. As we communicate with family, friends and co-workers, it is critical that we all work to share Cherokee Nation’s ICW’s vast needs with the public. 

Everything the ICW team does to garner support for our children and families is centered on Cherokee cultural values, including “digadatseli,” which means “we belong to each other.” Taking care of our children, protecting our future, requires all of us to be part of that circle.  

Today, Cherokee Nation’s ICW office works with more than 1,900 children. That figure includes children in Oklahoma’s custody, tribal custody and children involved in civil guardianships and adoptions. About 630 of those 1,900 children are in the state’s custody within our 14-county jurisdiction, and another 70 Cherokee children are in the Cherokee Nation’s custody. Seventy percent of the youth in state custody are in need of American Indian foster care placement. Unfortunately, we have only 50 certified foster homes at this time.  

No doubt the need is immense. We see a myriad of reasons, from historical trauma to lack of parenting skills to addiction, that have caused a spike in the numbers of kids in need. Innocent children deserve every opportunity to grow into what God intended for them. I am asking Cherokee families to look in your heart and, if possible, open your doors and your lives to a Cherokee child. If that is not possible, please give what you are able to and support our ICW office as it fights for Cherokee children. 

To find out more about the “Chosen One” campaign or to learn more about our foster and adoptive programs, visit or call 918-458-6900.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Physician compensation plan positions Cherokee Nation health care for better future

The Cherokee Nation recently took a major step towards a stronger and brighter future for our health system. By boosting the compensation of the doctors and other health care professionals who care for our Cherokee people, we have laid a stronger foundation for consistent quality care. The professionals in our system are responsible with caring for our patients. They improve, and literally save, so many Cherokee and Native lives each year.

The new plan increases pay and incentives for doctors and advanced providers. The increase includes raising base pay, about a $35,000 increase for physicians in primary care, as well as providing a quarterly incentive based on work quality. Under this plan, every physician and advanced practitioner will see a raise. It will raise the threshold pay to the region’s market rate, which will affect about 120 doctors and advanced level providers who administer care in the tribe’s nine health centers and W.W. Hastings Hospital.

We devised a plan to raise salaries that is responsible and affordable. Our health leadership team, led by Connie Davis and Dr. Charles Grim, along with my cabinet leaders, studied the issue, listened to our doctors and sought input from the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council. Collectively, we are all committed to providing the best health care possible to the Cherokee people. We want our citizens to have access to the best quality care, and that starts with our physicians. Building a level of trust and peace of mind for our doctors will only improve health care opportunities for our people in the long term.

To meet the growing demands on our system, we need to recruit and retain the best doctors we can. We recognize that in the competitive environment of rural health care, we had to take immediate steps in order to attract and retain quality doctors.

Cherokee Nation operates the largest tribal health system in the United States, and our hospital and clinics see more than 1 million patient visits per year, and we are growing rapidly. We are investing $200 million to build a new facility through a joint venture with Indian Health Service. IHS will provide more than $90 million annually for staffing and operations.  It will make Hastings the largest tribal health campus in the United States. It will open in 2019, and we will need to fill close to 900 new health care jobs.

This will only help us maximize our substantial commitment and investment to improved health care. In the end, these dollars will come back to us in the form of better health for the Cherokee people, more competitive applicants and more stability within our health facilities.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Celebrating Native and Indigenous Peoples

Tulsa is the heart of Indian Country in America, and I applaud the city’s leaders for adopting Native American Day on the second Monday in October. This move is important and the right thing to do. Tulsa has been and will always be shaped by the tribes that live in the region. It is part of Cherokee Nation’s history and jurisdiction. Almost 35,000 Cherokees live in the Tulsa area. Tribes, including the Cherokee, Osage and Muscogee Creek, have lived and embraced this region prior to statehood.

The city of Tulsa, the state of Oklahoma and our country itself should recognize this truer and more accurate celebration of life, culture and influence. Native people had a history and heritage in the Americas long before Christopher Columbus ever set sail.

Proper historians know that Christopher Columbus did not discover America. The truth is that he committed atrocities, including slavery and genocide, against Native peoples. He was a destroyer of culture. Perpetuating the Columbus myth does not make us better as Americans, in fact it does the opposite. It makes all less aware of our history and our reality today. Celebrating antiquated and highly inaccurate chapters of history does a disservice to everyone, especially our youth, and our future together.

Every tribe's history is different, but largely, the United States of America and its founding documents grew up around and within Native American tribes and our cultures. My hope is that Native American Day will encourage people to learn about and respect Native contributions to history and this country.

Tulsa joins other Oklahoma cities like Anadarko, McAlester, Norman and Tahlequah, the capital city of the Cherokee Nation, to embrace the day’s name. Nationally, cities with high Indian populations have rebranded the day as Indigenous Peoples Day, a national movement led by the National Congress of American Indians. Major cities like Albuquerque, Minneapolis, Phoenix and Seattle have joined states like Alaska and South Dakota in making the transition.

The Greater Tulsa Indian Affairs Commission, an intertribal group and a city of Tulsa appointed commission that has many strong Cherokee leadership voices, deserves credit for spearheading this effort. Thanks goes to Mayor G.T. Bynum as well. Early in his tenure he made a commitment to work with and listen to Tulsa’s tribal partners like the Cherokee Nation and has fulfilled that promise.

As Indian people, we have left an undeniable impact in America and here in Oklahoma. We have one of the largest Native American populations in the United States. Cherokee Nation alone has an economic impact in northeast Oklahoma of more than $2 billion. The other 37 federally recognized tribes also make significant contributions, both financially and culturally, to our home state.
Tribes are a good partner in Oklahoma’s success from job creation to infrastructure development, and we are good stewards of our vital natural resources – air, water and land.  I think these things are worth celebrating.

It is time to embrace Native American Day or Indigenous Peoples Day. Whatever it is called, the spirit is honorable and justified.  Oklahoma should be the national leader in honoring the culture, heritage and traditional lifeways of our ancestors and of who we are today as successful and modern sovereign governments. This day honors our tribal people and the tribes of Oklahoma.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Array of online tools allow Cherokees to remain connected and informed

With such a large population across the globe, it is important we keep all Cherokees as informed and up to date as we can. The value of staying connected is especially important when the Cherokee Nation is involved in high-profile national efforts like the hurricane relief efforts in south Texas.

The Cherokee Nation has almost 360,000 citizens, and more than 224,000 of our enrolled citizens live outside the tribe’s northeast Oklahoma jurisdiction. Tribal citizens in at-large communities across Oklahoma and the United States are a vital part of our government and are important to our success.

Ensuring citizens feel connected to their government and remain informed and updated on the issues and policies is critical. At-large council members Mary Baker Shaw and Wanda Hatfield reminded me recently of how important this is, particularly for citizens who live far from home.  They encouraged me to do more to spread the world about Cherokee Nation's online content, which can be accessed for free. Below you will find out how to access some of our award-winning websites, television shows and publications. – official website of the Cherokee Nation
Every program and service offered by the tribe is highlighted and profiled here. Applications and essential contact information are available here. On the homepage are links to the various media platforms where you can follow the official Cherokee Nation and stay plugged in: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. We just recently launched an Instagram account as well. – resource for at-large Cherokees
At-large citizens have a unique site, dedicated exclusively to connecting Cherokee Nation citizens residing beyond the tribe’s 14 counties with information on federal and tribal programs and services. The site features unique information for Cherokee Nation citizens on home loans and IHS health care options. There are details about higher education scholarships available to any Cherokee, no matter where you live. – our award-winning online newsroom
Every Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses media release, op-ed and photograph we produce and send out is housed here. Also, an online copy of the Anadisgoi magazine can be viewed. – our Emmy-winning television show
“Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People” has a new home. It can be viewed live in Oklahoma on Sundays on OETA and on the following stations in neighboring states:
Oklahoma Statewide:  OETA (PBS) Sundays at 3:30 p.m.
Tulsa: RSU-TV Thursdays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m.
Fayetteville and Fort Smith: KHBS/KHOG (ABC) Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Joplin: KSN (NBC) Mondays at 12:30 p.m. and KODE (ABC) Sundays at 9 a.m.
FNX-TV: Check your local television listings or for times.

Full episodes of “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People” as well as the individual stories from the show can be streamed online at The show profiles exceptional citizens, current events and stories on Cherokee history and cultural preservation. – our independent, award-winning newspaper
Cherokee Phoenix, the tribe’s historic paper, is online, and viewers can read every story as seen in the hard-copy edition. I encourage all Cherokee Nation citizens to read the Phoenix, one of the few tribally owned free press publications in Indian Country. Call (918) 207-4975 to order a monthly home newspaper subscription of the Cherokee Phoenix.

Social Media Platforms
Stay connected with Cherokee Nation through official social media. 

Keep Current by Mail
In order to receive hard copies of our tribal publications and mailers, keep your current address on file with Cherokee Nation's registration department. These publications include the quarterly Anadisgoi Magazine and our annual report. Address correction forms are available here: or call (918) 458-6980.

These are all excellent ways for Cherokees to interact, participate and remain connected to our government at no cost.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Cherokee Nation distributes STEM funding to public schools

Cherokee Nation is proud to provide additional financial assistance to public schools in northeast Oklahoma, especially during this era of declining budgets across the state. Last week, we issued more than $444,000 to public school districts in Cherokee Nation’s 14 counties. We sent 107 school districts a one-time award of $4,150. The money, allocated by the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council from the tribe’s Motor Vehicle Tax fund, will help students in the constantly evolving areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics programming.

Our hope is this help will ensure our children get the education they deserve. The Oklahoma State Legislature routinely has failed our communities and our children by severely underfunding our public school districts year in and year out. Cherokee Nation, which already contributed more than $5 million to public education this year, has taken the lead in filling the gap so that our youth are prepared for a better and brighter future. STEM education must continue to be a priority in Oklahoma for children in K-12. We need more funding in these core subjects so that we remain competitive in the future. Comprehensive STEM courses are the only way we can ensure a competitive workforce is prepared for the modern, global economy. Now more than ever, Cherokee Nation’s role as a partner to public education is critical to northeast Oklahoma.

Each school district will determine the best use of the financial assistance. We know some school administrators plan to purchase science lab equipment or math tutoring software. Others will use it for robotics programs, and some will purchase computers and printers. I know our partners in public education will be creative and utilize the funding to enhance STEM activities for students.

In our effort to provide more opportunities for schools, we have contracted with a lifelong educator from Pryor to assist schools within Cherokee Nation as they develop STEM curriculum and programs. Frances Head, wife of former Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Charles Head, is passionate about our youth and their education. Her experience and expertise are available to the 107 school districts in our 14-county jurisdiction. Our hope is to assist schools in STEM development as they navigate trying to do more with less state money. This will benefit both Cherokee and non-Cherokee students as they pursue their educational dreams.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Youth ambassadors represent Cherokee Nation

Cherokee Nation remains blessed to have strong young leaders who annually act as role models and ambassadors on behalf of our tribe. Our Miss Cherokee, Junior Miss Cherokee and Little Cherokee Ambassador representatives always remind me that the future of the Cherokee Nation is in the right hands.

Miss Cherokee represents the Cherokee Nation as a goodwill ambassador and promotes our government, our history, our language and our culture. We recently saw former Miss Cherokee Sky Wildcat pass along her responsibilities to a new Miss Cherokee, 18-year-old Madison Whitekiller. She plans to advocate on a platform promoting the empowerment of Cherokee women.

As she travels across Oklahoma and the United States in the coming year, Madison will be a voice of the Cherokee people as she educates people of all ages and from all walks of life. Miss Cherokee traditionally reflects the best qualities of Cherokee youth, and Madison is no different. Over the past 12 months, Sky often spoke about environmental preservation. Her passion and efforts for environmental conservation left an impression, especially since we made plans to abolish the use of foam paper products like Styrofoam and lower the carbon footprint at Cherokee Nation.

The first Cherokee royalty was recognized in 1955, when Sequoyah Vocational School student Phyllis Osage was named “Queen of the Cornstalk Shoot” during the Cherokee National Holiday. Her job was to award trophies to the winners of the cornstalk shoot. Two years later, the title changed to Miss Cherokee Holiday, and in 1962, the first Miss Cherokee was crowned.

More than 60 women have now worn the Miss Cherokee crown. While they act as role models for others, the titleholders also develop their own sense of pride in the Cherokee Nation and better understand how to develop leadership skills in a highly visible role.

Another youth leader, Junior Miss Cherokee, often makes appearances alongside Miss Cherokee, also representing the Cherokee Nation at public events. She shares information and knowledge about our people and our traditions across the country. This year’s Junior Miss Cherokee is 17-year-old Danya Pigeon, who’s following in the footsteps of Lauryn Skye McCoy.

Six Little Cherokee Ambassadors, ages 4-12, represent us on a more local level. These children remind us that it’s never too early to teach our children to value our heritage and share it with the world. Our Little Cherokee Ambassadors for 2017-2018 are 5-year-old Avery Raper, 6-year-old Dante Anguiano, 8-year-old Cooper Dorr, 9-year-old Alayna Paden, 10-year-old Leah Gardner and 10-year-old Preston Gourd.

As a grandfather, I know Cherokee youth have a unique perspective on today’s world, and these young people play an integral part in preserving all that we hold so dear to our hearts. We can learn so much from them.

I’m proud of the women and men who have been a voice for the Cherokee people over the past 60 years, and I’m anxious to see what our newest ambassadors will accomplish in the coming year. Our future is bright so long as we always support and encourage our youth to be bold leaders on behalf of the Cherokee Nation and our people.


Cherokee Nation, Gilcrease Museum unite for historic Cherokee exhibit

For Cherokee Nation citizens, few things are more important than preserving who we are as a tribe and sharing our story with others. A new exhibit hosted by the Gilcrease Museum, called “After Removal: Rebuilding the Cherokee Nation,” tells the story of the Cherokee Nation from forced removal, also known as the Trail of Tears, to the tribe’s settlement in Tahlequah and the formation of a new government in Indian Territory. The time span of the exhibition illustrates not only an important time in the history of the Cherokee people, but also an important moment in the history of the eventual state of Oklahoma.

This exhibit is not a summary of our past, but rather a reminder of how far we as a people have come and the strength and perseverance it took to do so. It features more than 100 items of original artwork and artifacts that illustrate the most pivotal moments in Cherokee history, from forced removal of our people to the rebuilding of our great tribal nation. The museum’s narrative is compelling for any Cherokee Nation citizen or advocate of United States history. 

From the “After Removal: Rebuilding the Cherokee Nation” exhibit:

In the 1830s, after a hard legal and political battle, the Cherokee people were forced to give up their ancestral homeland in the south Appalachians and establish new homes in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. The forced removal resulted in considerable hardship and suffering for those who made the journey and then faced the daunting challenge of creating life anew in an unfamiliar land. John Ross was the Principal Chief from 1828 to 1866 and led his nation through this traumatic event. This exhibition tells a story of Cherokee Nation’s loss and rebuilding in the 19th century through the stark contrasts of the human experience – discord and harmony, war and peace, success and failure – and, in the end, the creation of a solid foundation for the future of the Cherokee people.

The Gilcrease Museum has repeatedly proven to be a great partner to the Cherokee Nation, and together we have created an exhibit that highlights some of the most significant documents and artifacts in the rich history of our people. Together we made a steadfast commitment to create an exhibit with a narrative that is authentic, accurate and appropriate.

The exhibit in Tulsa runs through January 2018.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Cherokee National Holiday is a celebration of history and heritage

If you’ve ever been to the Cherokee National Holiday, I don’t need to convince you that it’s one of the most energetic and spirited weekends to spend in Tahlequah, the capital city of the Cherokee Nation. Every Labor Day weekend, the community bustles with more than 100,000 visitors moving between the Cherokee National Capitol square, the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex, the Cherokee Heritage Center and other Cherokee Nation properties.

I am proud the Cherokee Nation annually offers our citizens and visitors such an exciting array of entertainment, cultural and athletic events. We have been perfecting one of Oklahoma’s largest spectator events for the past 65 years, and the Cherokee National Holiday has something of interest for everyone. We host a wide array of educational and family-friendly options, including sporting events like softball and a youth fishing derby.  Music will be abundant, with a choir singing and a fiddlers contest. We will be displaying fine arts and crafts by renowned Cherokee artisans, and we will again have a parade with floats, classic cars and marching bands through Tahlequah’s historic downtown before the annual State of the Nation Address. The evening and nights are highlighted by one of the largest contest powwows in the country, with hundreds of traditional dancers and multiple drum groups.

The Cherokee National Holiday was first held in 1953 to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the 1839 Cherokee Constitution. Many people expect the Cherokee National Holiday to offer a glimpse of traditional Cherokee life, and they are never disappointed. Artists still use ancient imagery in their works, marbles players keep score in a game that has been going on for centuries, and storytellers continue to share old tales of heroes and tricksters. Each activity is a testimony to our Cherokee ways and values.

However, it is also a time to see the modern Cherokee Nation, including the expansion and beautification efforts at the tribal complex, the state-of-the-art Veterans Center, and the renovation and preservation efforts of our historic sites and museums.  Since we last gathered a year ago, Cherokee Nation has achieved a multitude of accomplishments. We broke ground on the W.W. Hastings expansion, which will soon be the largest and most advanced American Indian health facility in the United States. We have created unprecedented job and economic opportunities, and our tribe’s imprint on the Oklahoma economy has grown to more than $2 billion annually.

As we honor our heritage and culture, we know Cherokee National Holiday is about coming home for many attendees. Our friends and family return home to celebrate and reconnect in many meaningful ways.  Special thanks must be given to the hundreds of Cherokee Nation employees and volunteers who work hard to ensure this annual homecoming remains a remarkable experience. We are blessed as a tribal nation, and we look forward to sharing our culture and values with you over Labor Day.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rare solar eclipse offers chance to share Cherokee heritage

Cherokees have long had origin stories to explain natural phenomena that happen in the world, including in the water, the earth and the sky. As we prepare for the upcoming solar eclipse, we are teaming with NASA for an exceptional opportunity to revive a Cherokee story that explains why the sun was covered up.

Traditional Cherokee tale of the frog who swallowed the sun:
Long ago there lived a giant, hungry frog. Sometimes the giant frog would come out and swallow the sun. When that happened, it got very cloudy or even looked like it was getting dark when the sun was swallowed. Sometimes the frog even swallows the moon. The wise, old men hate this giant frog. Whenever the wise men would find out it happened, they would shoot guns and beat a drum or rattle turtle shell rattlers. The women would bang pots and pans together, scaring the giant frog away that was swallowing the sun up, so that the sun would shine again.
Cherokee Nation is working with the Indigenous Education Institute, which is producing a video for NASA on various Indigenous perspectives of what eclipses are and how they have been interpreted over time. Our eclipse origin story of the giant frog swallowing the sun has now been recorded in Cherokee and will be featured in NASA’s film for the Goddard Space Center in Maryland.
The Cherokee Nation Language Department didn’t just coordinate the video; a new children’s picture book in Cherokee syllabary is also being produced that will be used by the tribe’s Immersion School. An older version of the book was created about 10 years ago, and only one copy remained. I am proud of the work our Language Department put forth in updating the book and helping produce additional copies, so future generations of Cherokee people will always be able to share it. Our language staff have embraced this opportunity to share the Cherokee language and heritage in a fun and educational way. David Crawler translated and recorded the “Frog Eats Sun” story in both Cherokee and English, while Roy Boney, Jeff Edwards and Zachary Barnes illustrated the film and book.

On Aug. 21, according to scientific reports, a total solar eclipse will be visible across the entire contiguous United States. It is expected to be the largest and most visible eclipse in America since 1918. At Cherokee Nation, we will have a watch party with employees and utilize the 500 safety glasses issued to the tribe from NASA as part of our unique partnership to celebrate this day. At Cherokee Nation’s One Fire Field, we will watch the eclipse and share traditional Cherokee storytelling.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Community Language Program allows citizens to learn in person and online

For Cherokee Nation, like most tribes in America, language is the vital thread that holds our heritage together. Our language is embedded with unique concepts and knowledge that are purely Cherokee and do not exist in other cultures. That’s why we continue to aggressively develop programs and educational opportunities for all our people, so that they are able to connect with and learn the Cherokee language. We know strong language programs help boost Cherokee identity and ensure our citizens have a chance to be culturally connected.

One of the most popular efforts is the Community Language Program, an effort spearheaded through Cherokee Nation’s Language Department. The Community Language Program has three full-time staff members. In addition to those full-time staff, about 15 fluent Cherokee speakers are contracted annually to teach language classes throughout the tribe’s 14-county jurisdictional area. All of the instructors have been certified and have passed the Cherokee Language Teachers test. Today, we have more than 60 instructors certified to teach for the Community Language Program, and they are contracted with as needed.  Many elders who serve in this capacity are teaching Cherokee cultural knowledge just as much as they teach the words and pronunciations.

Community participation is the biggest challenge in maintaining a vital and thriving tribal language. The Community Language Program typically hosts 30 to 35 classes annually, and they are scheduled according to community demand across the 14 counties. All classes, which are 10 weeks long and follow a fall/spring schedule that lines up with the public school calendars, remain free of charge and open to the public.

If a northeast Oklahoma community desires a Cherokee language class, organizers contact our staff, and a schedule determined by the availability of instructors is set. Most of our classes are hosted in partner spaces like community buildings, schools and churches.

We teach about 1,000 citizens per year in the Community Language Program. They come in all ages, from youth to elders. Additionally, the Community Language Program hosts online Cherokee language classes throughout the year. The tribe’s at-large community is served through the online classes. Online class attendance reaches about 2,000 per year but the completion rates vary, and we often get international students. Additionally, the online classes are archived so some people sign up and watch all the archived lessons.

Keepsake certificates, which feature Cherokee syllabary, are given to students who attend at least 80 percent of the class’s meetings. These certificates of completion are also issued to online students. Last year we issued more than 130 certificates.

We allocate funding and hire elders and traditional teachers, and we have developed an award-winning curriculum to help ignite the desire to learn the Cherokee language. We are using modern technology to the best of our abilities to share these lessons, and our ultimate desire is to ensure the Cherokee language will never be lost. In fact, these efforts mean it is thriving, growing and being used every day.

For more information about the Cherokee Language Program, email or call (918) 453-5420.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Fighting for Justice in Cherokee Nation

When the U.S. Surgeon General visited Oklahoma last year, he declared the “prescription opioid epidemic that is sweeping across the U.S. has hit Indian Country particularly hard.” This is absolutely felt in the Cherokee Nation, where opioid-related overdoses have more than doubled in recent years and more Cherokee Nation citizens suffer from opioid addiction.

This epidemic has affected every aspect of our society: our economy, our hospitals, our schools and our homes. Our children are especially threatened by the epidemic, putting the future of the Cherokee Nation at risk.

When I was elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, I made a commitment to protect the health and welfare of our nearly 350,000 citizens about half of whom live inside our tribal boundaries in northeast Oklahoma. We are made up of many communities and we feel the impacts of the opioid epidemic every day, as we watch our friends and loved ones grapple with the consequences of addiction. I take this epidemic seriously and that’s why we have taken proactive measures to fight it. To curb abuse at the point of care, our doctors and hospitals implemented a prescription monitoring program. Long before it was required, our health care system also adopted technologies to stop illegal distribution of opioids.

Despite our best efforts, the crisis is still ravaging our communities. This is a matter of life and death, which is why we are doing everything in our power to prevent bad actors from flooding the Cherokee Nation with prescription opioids.

Large distributors and retailers like McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., AmerisourceBergen, CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc., and Walmart Stores, Inc., have fueled this epidemic by saturating our communities with these highly-addictive painkillers, ignoring warning signs that these drugs are not landing in the right hands. This epidemic has cost Cherokee Nation health services millions of dollars, not to mention the thousands of lives lost and ruined. That’s dollars we could use for our schools, college scholarships, hospitals, roads or housing. I will not allow Cherokee Nation citizens to suffer while these companies make huge profits at our expense. 

No one has felt the impact of the opioid crisis more than our children. For children born into families struggling with opioid addiction, their lives are a tragic cycle of abuse and neglect. A recent study found pregnant Native American women are up to 8.7 times more likely to be opioid dependent. This means more Cherokee babies born with lifelong physical, mental and emotional deficiencies.  Many babies are hospitalized for weeks and some are immediately transferred to Tulsa-area hospitals to receive life-saving care. Sadly, these infants are then immediately placed in our foster system. Cherokee families are torn apart before they ever have a chance to be whole, and our entire tribe suffers as a result.

The drug distributers and retailers have avoided their duty as a “check” on the system by failing to monitor, report and prevent illegal opioid activity. Enough is enough. This epidemic is ripping apart families, straining our tribal resources and wreaking havoc across the Cherokee Nation. We’ll ensure distributors and corporate pharmacies are held accountable for their negligence and greed. My hope is that this case will bring justice to our nation and serve as an example to other communities fighting the opioid epidemic.

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