Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Creating more opportunities for college-bound Cherokees

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tribal governments: stronger together for Oklahoma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Remembering the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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

Creating new Cherokee speakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

Providing Cherokee elders day trip opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, contact Barbara Foreman at (918) 453-5919 or Barbara-foreman@Cherokee.org.