Native American identity absent from urban Oklahoma schools

01/04/2018 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Most of Oklahoma’s nearly 130,000 Native American students attend school in small towns, often in communities where their tribe’s history is woven into the town’s patchwork.

But for the 20 percent of Native students who attend a school in the state’s two largest metro areas, cultural connections can be harder to find, especially when it comes to a specific identity.

“Our Native program doesn’t include Native language because I have 77 tribes represented (throughout the district), so if I pick one language someone is going to be upset or left out,” Star Yellowfish, Oklahoma City Public Schools Native American student services director, said.

The state Department of Education counts more than 1,100 American Indian students in the Oklahoma City school district. But that number represents students with different tribal affiliations, the largest being Choctaw, Cherokee and Creek.

While Oklahoma City schools have more Native students than most districts, those students are spread out among nearly 100 schools, which can make it tough for a student to see others who share the same cultural identity.

Connecting Native students with each other can be especially important in an urban school system, said George Shields, director of Indian Education for Putnam City Schools.

“In a rural setting, a lot of Native kids are going to get to see grandma and grandpa, uncles and aunts, and feel more connected to their family and their heritage,” Shields said. “Our kids don’t get that. A lot of the (Native American) families in my district have moved here for a job and it might involve taking that student out of their culture.”

School districts with Indian Education programs, like Putnam City, often provide tutoring, mentoring, test preparation workshops and cultural classes for Native American students.

Districts use parent committees and advisory groups to make decisions on how to disburse funding from Title VI and the federal Johnson-O’Malley Program.

However, some of the federal funding was frozen based on Native American student counts in 1994, even though most school districts in the area have seen their Native American student populations significantly increase since then.

The adjustment to a large urban school is a challenge for some Native American families, especially if the parents’ own experience was attending a tribal school when they were younger.

Sheril Thompson, director of Indian Education for the Mid-Del school district, said she often works with Native American families who recently moved to the city and struggle with getting acclimated.

“A lot of your rural schools are sitting in a tribe and they have so many resources right there. Whereas we are up here with not a whole lot,” Thompson said.

Jillian Palomino, who is Cherokee, is one of around 55 Native American students at Del City High School. But she said it’s hard to know those other students because of the school’s large size.

“I’m sure if I lived in Tahlequah my heritage would be more of a part of my life,” said Palomino, referring to the Cherokee Nation’s capital. “But being here in the city it’s not as much a part of your life.”

Logan Seeley, a senior at Carl Albert High School who is Choctaw, said he’d like to see his classes go deeper with Native American history, especially in a community where there aren’t as many chances to learn about the culture outside of school.

His great grandfather’s skin was dark and he faced racism because of it. Logan wants to know that history and he wants to learn it in the classroom.

“In Oklahoma history we went over how tribes got here, but that’s about it,” Seeley said.

Phil Gover grew up in the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in Nevada and he now wants to create a school in Oklahoma City that not only teaches Native American history but also incorporates a Native perspective in all curriculum areas.

“We have a critical mass of Native students in the city that we can serve with a very different take on curriculum and content,” said Gover, who is leading an effort to launch the Sovereign Community School.

Gover’s group is awaiting a response from the Oklahoma City Public Schools after filing an application to open the proposed charter school in 2019, the Oklahoman reported. The application sets a goal to serve 500 mostly Native students within a few years of opening.

“Underlying our school is the notion that Native students will learn better because they are given access to a curriculum that shows Native people in classes outside of history,” Gover said. “We are going to read awesome books in our literature class, but we are going to read books by Native people that talk about Native experiences.

“The real idea is you see yourself reflected in the things you are learning about and that raises your engagement.”

Nationally, American Indian students are often highlighted as an academically underachieving student group, especially within the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Education school network, where many students have had to overcome generations of forced disenfranchisement.

But there is evidence American Indian students in Oklahoma’s public school system perform well, especially compared to other states.

In early 2017, the state Department of Education highlighted Oklahoma’s nation-leading scores in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading for Native students.

In Mid-Del schools, Thompson said over 200 of the district’s Native students participate in a gifted and talented program.

The Oklahoma Indian Student Honor Society is a program that not only celebrates academic success among Native American students, but it also offers a chance for students to connect with their heritage in deeper ways, Thompson said.

“In order to get cultural points for the Oklahoma Indian Student Honor Society, many of our (Native) students go out and read to our elementary school kids ... from culturally relevant books the district purchased,” Thompson said.

Gover said the challenge many Native students in an urban school system face is connecting to their cultural identity, rather than conforming to the world around them.

“Among urban Indians, at least this was my experience ... if you are not already very closely tied to your culture (when you enter school) it can be really hard to keep that part of you,” Gover said. “Everything about our system and our schools ... pressures them to conform, to assimilate, to become less like their cultural identity is and become more of the mainstream culture.”

Gover hopes he can prevent a whole new generation from losing their Native American culture, especially those growing up in Oklahoma City.


03/23/2018 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation is celebrating the start of construction on a new Cherokee Casino Tahlequah with a groundbreaking at 1 p.m. on March 26. The tribe is building the casino at Cherokee Springs Plaza and bringing more entertainment, dining and convention options to Tahlequah. The 92,000-square-foot facility will feature 525 electronic games, a restaurant, a grab-and-go cafe, a live music venue, a full-service bar and complimentary nonalcoholic beverage stations. The property will also offer more than 33,000 square feet of convention and meeting space. Cherokee Nation Entertainment is the wholly owned gaming, hospitality, retail and tourism entity of the CN. The company currently operates Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, nine Cherokee Casinos, a horse racing track, three hotels, three golf courses and other retail operations. The new location is replacing the existing Cherokee Casino Tahlequah located a few miles south of Tahlequah. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
03/22/2018 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation recently allocated $37,500 to four Adair County law enforcement agencies as part of its motor vehicle tag compact with the state. Each year the tribe allocates 20 percent of car tag sales revenue to local law enforcement agencies. Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis presented the checks to law enforcement officials. “Our law enforcement agencies are such a vital part of every community that we serve, and it’s important that we show our support,” Hoskin said. “I am proud that we can help fill the funding gap and work together in communities where Cherokee Nation citizens live, work and raise their families.” The Adair County Sheriff’s Department received $15,000 and the Stilwell, Watts and Westville police departments each received $7,500. The allocations help ensure the safety of both Cherokee and non-Cherokee citizens, officials said. “One of the most rewarding parts of my role as Tribal Councilor is providing assistance to organizations that are vital to our communities,” Hargis said. “As with most sectors in the state, law enforcement agencies have experienced recent budget cuts, and I am glad the tribe can step up and help alleviate some of that financial strain.” For Stilwell Police Chief Chad Smith, partnerships with CN are an important resource. “It is always wonderful to partner with the Cherokee Nation,” Smith said. “This funding helps supply equipment and other needs and really benefits our community as a whole.”
03/22/2018 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH – The regularly scheduled meeting of the Indian Territory Genealogical and Historical Society will be held at 7 p.m. on March 26 in Northeastern State University’s John Vaughn Library in the Ballenger Genealogy Room. Ashley Thirsty-Vann, Cherokee Heritage Center associate genealogist, will speak about the Cherokee Orphan Asylum and searchable genealogy records. Vann was raised in the Cherokee community of Rocky Mountain in Adair County. She attended Sequoyah High School to honor her grandfather, George Cameron-Campbell, who attended Sequoyah Orphan’s Training School and authored a book about his experiences there. She earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies, as well as three minors in Cherokee Indians, history and social science from Northeastern University. She said she began delving into genealogy at her grandmother’s request to preserve the family’s history. She is a member of several organizations, including the Oklahoma Chapter of the National Trail of Tears Association, Genealogical Speaker’s Guild, the Goingsnake District Heritage Association and the Cherokee National Historical Society. There is no charge to attend and the public is welcome. Those wishing to pursue their own family genealogies can find the Ballenger Genealogy Room open from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday. Much work and many additions to the library have expanded the amount of information readily available for individual research and includes the availability of, Fold 3 for Native American and military records purchased by the Genealogy Society, as well as the addition of For more information about the ITGHS meeting, call Anita Dieter at 918-207-9023.
Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
03/20/2018 02:30 PM
INOLA – Cherokee Nation leaders joined Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, along with state, county and civic leaders, in welcoming Sofidel CEO and President Luigi Lazzareschi for a March 16 groundbreaking of the Italian-based paper company’s $360-million-dollar plant. The plant is expected to support 300 jobs initially. “This is going to be a big investment with a lot of technology,” Lazzareschi said. “For those who don’t know, this is a family only dedicated to tissues. We have never been in any other business than tissue for more than 50 years.” He said when completed the plant would be about 2 million square feet, which is 5 percent larger than the largest Sofidel plant in Ohio. Fallin called the announcement and groundbreaking a great day in Oklahoma. She said she traveled to Sofidel’s Italian headquarters two years ago. Once there, Fallin said she knew she had found a great opportunity for, Inola, Rogers County, Tulsa and the northeast region of the state. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he would normally welcome everyone to the CN, but the groundbreaking was held in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s jurisdiction. He said the CN was “within shooting distance” from where he was standing. He also informed Lazzareschi that assistance would be coming from CN Career Services Executive Director Diane Kelly. As for Cherokee Nation’s involvement with the Sofidel plant, much is still in the planning phase, CN officials said. Although after the groundbreaking, CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the Sofidel plant site is significant. Sofidel will build on the same site where 40 years ago Public Service Company of Oklahoma proposed building a nuclear energy facility. One of the reasons it was never built is because Native American activists, including many Cherokees, protested against it, he said. PSO has retained ownership of the property, which has remained vacant and undeveloped despite its location on the Kerr Navigation Channel and proximity to the Port of Catoosa, the furthest inland port and one of the busiest ports in the United States. “We routinely work with our state, regional and local partners to find opportunities that best suit all involved, and this was a location that worked best for everyone. About 40,000 Cherokee Nation citizens live within 20 miles of this facility, and when you look at a 25-mile radius, the number of Cherokee Nation citizens grows to more than 57,000,” Hoskin said. “The location is just a couple of miles outside of our (CN) boundaries, and our own Career Services department will help recruit the workforce for Sofidel. Because of that we believe Cherokee Nation citizens will be among the first hired.” Sofidel is one of the leading makers of hygienic tissue paper with locations in 13 countries. It places an emphasis on sustainability and reducing carbon emissions. “We believe our mission alignment and the number of jobs and opportunities they will provide make them an extremely valuable partner in our economic development goals, which are to help make northeast Oklahoma an attractive place to live, work and raise a family,” Hoskin said.
03/20/2018 08:00 AM
MUSKOGEE – To kick off Season 4 of “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People,” three public screening events were held featuring highlights from the upcoming season. The screenings were March 13 in Muskogee, March 14 in Tulsa and March 15 in Oklahoma City. “We felt like since we took the time off and we have been showing reruns, and since everyone has kind of been subject to these reruns, and we have had a lot of people say ‘when are you going to have new stuff?’ we wanted to make a splash and kind of reward everyone for that time they had to sit and wait for a new episode, and we wanted to let everyone know Season 4 is here,” Jennifer Loren, host and executive producer, said. At the screenings, guests had the opportunity to meet with Loren, Cherokee Nation dignitaries and the show’s creators, directors and producers. The directors and producers also held Q&A sessions. In the screenings, guests could view a director’s cut episode featuring CN citizens Brad Eubanks, Martha Berry and Crosslin Smith, as well as the Cherokee significance to “Where the Red Fern Grows” and a segment on the state of Sequoyah. Eubanks, also known as “Fuel,” is the co-owner and star of United Wrestling Entertainment, a nonprofit entertainment wrestling company based in Tahlequah. He said having OsiyoTV tell his story behind UWE and what it does was an honor. “They highlight Cherokee Nation and all of our people, and for them to think of me and to see what we do was amazing,” he said. “They were really interested in it (UWE) and how it ties into my life, as well as learning about the history of the company and learning about me and what drove this Cherokee kid from Tahlequah to become a pro wrestler. After watching that, it drove me to tears, good tears, it was amazing how they put it together, and it was an amazing tribute to my life and a tribute to my grandma.” Loren said this season viewers would see a change. Instead of hosting the show in various places, Loren will host the show in a historical site that will be featured in the “Almanac” segment in that episode with the significance to that site explained. She said the language lesson segment “Let’s Talk Cherokee” would be geared toward basic-level Cherokee for beginning speakers. The show will also be introducing the Cherokee syllabary and teaching words that begin with each syllable. “We are always looking back at seasons past, and we try to improve upon every aspect of the show. But overall I feel like people are going to see a difference in the amount of time we were able to spend with everybody and tell their stories more completely than we have,” she said. Loren said another goal is to become better storytellers for elders. “We do have a good mix of stories on elders in every season, but I think the more we do those stories, the more we realize exactly how important it is to be getting those stories and to be sharing those stories.” The show was slated to premier March 25. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. <strong>OsiyoTV Show Times</strong> <strong>Oklahoma (Statewide):</strong> OETA (PBS) at 3:30 p.m. on Sundays <strong>Tulsa:</strong> RSU-TV at 7 p.m. on Thursdays, at 10:30 a.m. on Saturdays and at 9 a.m. on Sundays <strong>Fayetteville and Fort Smith (Arkansas):</strong> KHBS/KHOG (ABC) at 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays and at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays <strong>Joplin (Missouri):</strong> KSN (NBC) at 12:30 p.m. on Mondays KODE (ABC) at 9 a.m. on Sundays
03/19/2018 04:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Technology Solutions was recently awarded a $21 million indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s Viral Disease Branch. During the next five years, CNTS will provide scientific and technical support for infectious disease research. “We are very pleased to have the opportunity to continue our support of the WRAIR Viral Disease Branch and its very important mission of protecting and sustaining the health of the U.S. military,” John Hansen, CNTS operations general manager, said. “CNTS’ professionals, with their extensive medical and technical knowledge and experience, will help ensure these vital programs succeed.” The Viral Disease Branch conducts infectious disease research, with an emphasis on viral disease threats such as dengue, Zika, influenza, adenovirus and other infections that pose a potential risk to service men and women. Through this contract, CNTS will provide epidemiologic disease surveillance and sample collection, basic and exploratory science and translational research, as well as product research and development in an effort to license and field medical countermeasures against infectious disease threats. For more information about the company’s medical research support services, email Lisa Holsinger, CNTS program director, at <a href="mailto:"></a>. CNTS, formed in 2008, provides technical support services and project support personnel to its defense and civilian agency partners. The company provides a tailored management approach for complex government programs and disciplines, including research and development, geospatial intelligence, science, engineering, construction, facilities management, program management, information technology and mission support. It’s headquartered in Tulsa and is part of the Cherokee Nation Businesses family of companies. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.