http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgCotton is a golden doodle that works with her handler, James Bywater, a licensed professional counselor, in the Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health department. She is a service dog and a certified therapy dog. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cotton is a golden doodle that works with her handler, James Bywater, a licensed professional counselor, in the Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health department. She is a service dog and a certified therapy dog. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Cherokee Nation therapy animals assist citizens

The Cherokee Nation’s Animal-Assisted Therapy Program – which Cotton’s handler, James Bywater, helped write – requires animals wear a clearly identifiable service or therapy vest and a photo identification badge when working. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Unali, a golden retriever named after the Cherokee word for “friend,” is an emotional support dog for the Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare. She will receive additional training in the coming year to receive her therapy dog certification. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Teenagers who are getting treatment at the Cherokee Nation’s Jack Brown Treatment Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, feed carrots to Ambrosia – one of three miniature horses donated to the CN to provide equine therapy to Native children at the center and Indian Child Welfare. WENDY BURTON/MUSKOGEE PHOENIX
The Cherokee Nation’s Animal-Assisted Therapy Program – which Cotton’s handler, James Bywater, helped write – requires animals wear a clearly identifiable service or therapy vest and a photo identification badge when working. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Former Reporter
07/27/2017 08:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Whether helping a patient during counseling or comforting a child transitioning into a foster home, therapy animals in Cherokee Nation programs are assisting tribal citizens in ways people cannot.

“It’s a positive benefit to each of the programs, and if anybody is going to use an animal, a tribe should be the one to do it,” James Bywater, a CN Behavioral Health licensed professional counselor, said.

Bywater owns 2-year-old Cotton, a golden doodle that is certified as a service and therapy animal. She works with Bywater in his office every Thursday and Friday, assisting patients directly and indirectly as they work through topics such as death, addiction, rape and suicide.

“She’s really intuitive,” he said. “She doesn’t go and jump and want to roughhouse with someone who’s grieving. Matter of fact, she’ll go over and she’ll just rest her chin on their knee, and it helps to comfort them. Things that I don’t even pick up on, she’ll pick up on. She’s a perfect mirror to people. So if they’re anxious, if they’re angry, she’ll step back.”

Bywater began researching the benefits of service and therapy animals before deciding to purchase Cotton with his funds.

“This is all research-based and evidence-based,” he said. “There’s lots and lots of benefits to having an animal in therapy. It has really been an eye opener to me.”

Bywater can cite studies that show having a therapy animal sitting in on sessions can help a patient overcome fear and anxiety.

When Bywater purchased Cotton in 2015, the CN did not have a policy written for service or therapy animals. So he wrote the Service Animal Laws and Information pamphlet for Health Services and the Animal-Assisted Therapy Program policy. It requires the completion of 100 hours of specialty training for a service or therapy animal designation.

Therapy animals are usually dogs or horses, though the category is not limited. The animals must receive strict training to work in schools, nursing homes and hospitals. Dogs must also pass the American Kennel Club’s Good Dog Citizen exam.

Service animals have training related to providing a service for an individual with a disability, such as alerting their handler to an oncoming seizure.

Emotional support animals are not required to have training, though their handler must obtain a letter from a licensed professional stating the individual suffers from psychological trauma or a disability such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.

Indian Child Welfare has an emotional support animal in its golden retriever puppy Unali, named after the Cherokee word for “friend” and donated to ICW by the organization PuppySpot.

“Right now her job is just to let people love on her and her love on other people,” Nikki Baker Limore, ICW executive director, said.

Unali’s responsibilities will grow as she does and receives added training.

“Her handler, Connie Webb, will take her, and we want her to become a certified therapy dog so she learns additional techniques in order to help nurture these children,” Limore said. “It takes a lot to be a service dog. They have to learn it’s not about them when their work vest goes on.”

Limore said ICW hopes to use Unali to comfort children in various situations, including if they must testify in court, after supervised parental visitations or in foster care transitions.

In addition to dogs, ICW also has several full- and miniature-size horses as part of its equine therapy program.

“It’s great to give a child control over an environment and an animal who is wanting to trust them,” Limore said. “We’ve got pictures of our kids when they first started, scared to death of these horses, and then once they get on there and work with them and begin to have love for these animals, you just see them blossom.”

In June, the Jack Brown Treatment Center and ICW received three miniature horses named Kiss-Me Kate, Iris and Ambrosia from Missouri native Barbara Watters. Watters donated the horses after no longer being able to care for them and wanting to make sure they got a good home.

“We do have a lot of little kids, so our goal is to take them and teach them basic horse information with an animal that’s on their eye level,” Limore said.

She said the equine therapy gives children something to look forward to in a time of uncertainty.

“They don’t know what’s happening in their life. It’s all up in the air. So if we can give them a little bit of fun in the meantime or something to look forward to then that’s a step in the right direction,” she said.


07/16/2018 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – The Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation is accepting College Housing Assistance Program applications for the fall 2018 semester July 23 through Aug. 3. The CHAP is a Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act-funded program designed to help low-income Native American students secure safe and affordable housing while seeking a first-time bachelor’s degree. Program participants must also maintain full-time student status at an accredited institute of higher education. The CHAP will provide up to 125 students with up to $1,000 per semester for housing costs. Eligible applicants must be a member of a federally recognized tribe and be a resident of the Cherokee Nation jurisdiction. Applicants must also meet NAHASDA income guidelines as well as other eligibility requirements according to the CHAP policy. Priority will be given to CN citizens and students who were served on the program the previous semester. Applications are available at <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or any HACN office location. For more information, call 918-456-5482.
07/16/2018 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s Registration Office stays busy year round receiving, processing and sending out CN citizenship and Certificate Degree Indian Blood cards to applicants. Registration officials said the office receives an average of 1,200 CN citizenship applications per month. For a quicker processing time, Registration staff recommend citizenship applications be made shortly after a child is born. This will give staff time to process the application should any services be requested for the child in the future. All applicants need to complete applications listing their direct lineal ancestors (parent, grandparent) back to a Dawes Roll enrollee. The application process times vary. Some applications may require more or updated information such as correct birth certificates and affidavits, and some applications may not be completed correctly. “If the applicant’s parent is already registered, then we just need an application and birth certificate listing the Indian parent,” Associate Tribal Registrar Justin Godwin said. “If no one in the family has received CDIB (Certificate Degree Indian Blood) card or citizenship (card), then we will need the birth or death certificate beginning with the applicant back to the enrollee.” The birth or death certificate must contain a state seal, state file number and be certified by the state registrar. Officials said six years ago more than 23,000 citizenship applications were pending and another 15,000 CN citizens were awaiting CDIB cards under the previous system. Officials said that backlog is now wiped out and a system is in place to keep pace with the applications submitted. To lower waiting times, officials said the CN added nearly 2,000 square feet to the Registration Office. The department also received a budget increase, which allowed for adding 22 full- and part-time employees. Employee responsibilities were also realigned, officials said, as five operators were assigned to answer applicant questions, and others were assigned to type or process files, address special projects and work on backlogged applications. Officials said Registration’s database application was also updated in 2013 to more efficiently process citizenship and CDIB cards. New processes were also developed to provide employees with documents that had been scanned and filed in an electronic database, officials said. Officials said as a result, citizenship and CDIB applications filed with all necessary documentation can now be processed in as little as one month, compared to previous wait times that often stretched out for two years or more. Applications can be picked up at the Registration Office or printed online at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. People may also email a request to, call 918-458-6980 or mail Cherokee Nation, Attn: Tribal Registration, PO Box 948, Tahlequah, OK 74465. Officials said aside from issuing citizenship and CDIB cards, the Registration Office also produces free photo identifications that serve as a dual citizenship and CDIB card. Since 2012, more than 100,000 photo IDs have been issued, officials said. The cards have CN citizenship information on one side and CDIB information on the other.
07/14/2018 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Phoenix is now taking names of elders and military veterans to provide free subscriptions of its monthly newspaper. In November, Cherokee Nation Businesses donated $10,000 to the Cherokee Phoenix’s Elder/Veteran Fund. The fund provides free subscriptions of its monthly newspaper to elders 65 and older and military veterans who are Cherokee Nation citizens. Subscription rates are $10 for one year. “The Elder/Veteran Fund was put into place to provide free subscriptions to our Cherokee elders and veterans,” Executive Editor Brandon Scott said. “Some of our elders and veterans are on a very limited budget, and other items have a priority over buying a newspaper subscription. The donations we receive have a real world impact on our elders and veterans, so every dollar donated to the Elder Fund is significant.” Using the Elder/Veteran Fund, elders who are 65 and older as well as veterans can apply to receive a free one-year subscription by visiting, calling or writing the Cherokee Phoenix office and requesting a subscription. The Cherokee Phoenix office is located in the Annex Building on the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex. The postal address is Cherokee Phoenix, P.O. Box 948, Tahlequah, OK 74465. To call about the fund, call 918-207-4975 or 918-453-5269 or email or No income guidelines have been specified for the Cherokee Phoenix Elder/Veteran Fund, and free subscriptions will be given as long as funds last. Tax-deductible donations for the fund can also be sent to the Cherokee Phoenix by check or money order specifying the donation for the Cherokee Phoenix Elder/Veteran Fund. Cash is also accepted at the Cherokee Phoenix offices and local events where Cherokee Phoenix staff members are accepting Elder/Veteran Fund donations. The Cherokee Phoenix also has a free website, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>, that posts news seven days a week about the Cherokee government, people, history and events of interest. The monthly newspaper is also posted in PDF format to the website at the beginning of each month.
07/13/2018 03:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH – According to a Cherokee Nation press release, the tribe donated a total of $90,000 to six Oklahoma-based domestic violence shelters on July 10. Each shelter received $15,000. Those shelters are Women in Safe Homes Inc., of Muskogee; Safenet Services, of Claremore; Help-In-Crisis, of Tahlequah; Family Crisis Counseling Center, of Bartlesville; Domestic Violence Intervention Services, of Tulsa; and Community Crisis Center Inc., of Miami. “Together, these entities are helping hundreds of domestic violence victims across northeast Oklahoma escape the atmosphere of physical, verbal and emotional abuse,” Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “All six of these services are doing some fantastic work with the help of their employees and volunteers. There should be no doubt they are committed to breaking the cycle of domestic violence, which is, unfortunately, plaguing Indian Country. I’m proud to say the Cherokee Nation is supportive of their mission.” Safenet Services operates a 35-bed center for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Among the key services offered by Safenet is an intervention program for those accused of domestic violence. The release states that the CN’s donation is helping Safenet recruit volunteers and organize approximately 300 who already work with the entity throughout the year. “Cherokee Nation has always helped us,” Donna Grabow, Safenet Services executive director, said. “This day and age it’s hard to keep the funds coming and not be cut, and it’s really tough because utilities and food costs are going up and we’re helping three times the number of people. When they come in with nothing, it makes such a big difference to have the help of Cherokee Nation.” Tribal Councilor Keith Austin said he often visits with Grabow and others who work at Safenet Services to check on their programs. “The team at Safenet, led by Donna Grabow, is so dedicated to helping those who are most vulnerable build a better future,” Austin said. “I am proud the Cherokee Nation supports their good work.” The donations to the shelters were provided through the tribe’s charitable contributions fund.
07/13/2018 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation Marshal Services is a tribal law enforcement agency that has 33 deputy marshals who cover the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction, which covers all or part of 14 counties in northeast Oklahoma. The CNMS received about 40 applications for deputy marshal this past year and has an average of about 30 to 60 applications in a hiring cycle. “They go through physicals, mental health (testing) and…a psychological evaluation,” Marshal Shannon Buhl said. “They will do their weapons qualification, get sprayed with OC (oleoresin capsicum or pepper) spray and get Taser-certified.” Deputy marshals can only work “in house” and not on the street until they receive an academy date. The academy, known as FLETC, is the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. It is in Artesian, New Mexico, and is four months long. Also to become a deputy marshal, one must study a policy manual that is about 600 pages long and be tested on it. “Once they go there (FLETC) they go for four months. They get trained and certified, but they come back and do four-month FTO (training), which is Field Training Officer. This means they go with a training sergeant for four months and are evaluated every shift during the four-month period,” Buhl said. “So it could be a year from the day we hire somebody until they become a deputy marshal.” Following all the trainings, deputy marshals are able to work and patrol on any given shift depending on how many people are on a shift. Marshals work in shifts but are on patrol 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Also, before candidates are hired they must go through CN Human Resources to see if they qualify, can pass a background check and meet other prerequisites. From there they take physical fitness tests where the top test scores are picked by the trainers before moving on to written exams. Applicants must score a 70 on to be considered. Those with the top exam scores will move on to the sergeants’ board that is made up of five sergeants and a lieutenant who ask the applicants questions. It is the first time applicants are interviewed, after the physical fitness tests and written exams. The next interview period occurs after the sergeants pick who can move to the command level board for a two-hour interview. The command board determines if the applicant is a good fit, and they try to gage an applicant’s stress aptitude. After the sergeants make their decisions on whom to hire, the names they choose are submitted to Human Resources for a complete background checks. If they pass, Human Resources will then present applicants job offers. The CNMS has various special operations groups. Before applying for special operations, deputy marshals have to be on the job for a year. A special operations team is similar to a SWAT team, Buhl said. The team performs hostage rescue, high risk warrant service, can deal with an armed and barricaded gunman and has “direct action” teams that can work on issues affecting communities such as gangs. “We can put that team in there and concentrate on those issues,” Buhl said. The second group is a dive team. They do underwater evidence recovery and body recovery. “We usually have about half a dozen calls for the dive team a year and have around 50 calls for the special operations team,” Buhl said. The marshals also have a Search and Rescue team that can search for lost or injured people. The CNMS is located in next to the Tribal Complex. For more information, call 918-207-3800.
06/21/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission wants to ensure that eligible CN citizens register to vote in the tribe’s 2019 general election, which is set for June 1. According to an EC press release, CN citizens who are at least 18 years old, or will be 18 on the day of the general election, must register to vote by midnight CST on March 29. The release also states that people who have never registered to vote or who aren’t registered in the districts of their respective residences, as well as people who are registered but need to change their registration information, may register by completing and submitting CN voter registration applications on or before the voter registration deadline. According to the release, voters with new 911 addresses will also need to complete voter registration applications, updating their address information on or before March 29. “Now is the time to check and make sure you are registered to vote. Citizens are encouraged to check with the Election Commission office and to verify the information is correct,” Elections Director Connie Parnell said. “With Cherokee Nation Holiday fast approaching the Election Commission will be attending the holiday celebration. The Election Commission will provide voter registration stations for the visitors to check on their registrations.” Parnell said the registration stations would be located in the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex during open house and the Courthouse Square during the parade and State of the Union Address. Voter registration forms can be requested or submitted in person, by U.S. mail, email or fax. Forms are available online at <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or in the Election Commission Office at 17763 S. Muskogee Ave. To mail a request, send the request to Cherokee Nation Election Commission, P.O. Box 1188, Tahlequah, OK 74465-1188. To submit an email request, email <a href="mailto:"></a>. For a fax request, dial 918-458-6101. According to the release, the EC responds in writing to every person who submits a voter registration application. The response is either a voter notification card listing the new voter’s district number or a letter explaining why the application for voter registration was not approved. Any person who has submitted a voter registration application and has not received a response within 30 days should contact the EC, the release states. Parnell said the EC also plans to provide voter outreach efforts at events and locations such as community meetings, health clinics, high schools and technology centers within the tribe’s jurisdiction. For more information, call 918-458-5899 or toll free at 1-800-353-2895.