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.