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    

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.