Nikki Baker Limore, executive director of the Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare and attorney, waits outside the Capitol building holding a sign in support of Oklahoma teachers on April 9 in Oklahoma City. BRANDON SCOTT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Girl Attorney LLC rallies with teachers at Capitol
Cherokee Nation Businesses attorney Tralynna Scott, holding sign, and CN Assistant Attorney General Alayna Farris, to Scott’s right, leave the Oklahoma Bar Association building to walk to the Capitol building on April 9 in Oklahoma City. BRANDON SCOTT/CHEROKE PHOENIX
OKLAHOMA CITY – A group of more than 100 female attorneys, also known as Girl Attorney LLC, on April 9 marched to the Oklahoma Capitol to stand in solidarity with public school educators who had been rallying for increased funding since April 2.
Girl Attorney sent a letter on April 8 to Senate and House members. The letter, containing 628 signatures, stated: “The purpose of this visit is to meet with members of the 56th Legislature to discuss their plans to fully fund public education in Oklahoma. Various stakeholders have proposed possible solutions, and we expect our elected representatives to be able to speak intelligently about the merits and potential pitfalls of each. We also expect that a representative who is ideologically opposed to a particular proposal will be prepared to present a detailed alternative. We are business owners and taxpayers ourselves; if there is a means of providing a quality public education to our children without increasing taxes, then we would love to hear the details.”
Among the group were several Cherokee attorneys, including Nikki Baker Limore, the Cherokee Nation’s executive director of Indian Child Welfare. She said she became involved after learning there were 27 children in his class to one teacher.
“For a teacher with no aide, no intern, no assistance whatsoever to have to handle 27 5-year-olds, it was like herding cats,” Baker Limore said. “That’s what began my looking into the public school system, and that was eye-opening for me back at the beginning of the school year. I felt compelled.”
She said she also sees how the lack of funding affects the 84 children attending public school while in ICW custody. She said it’s hard for those children, who sometimes deal with personal trauma, to receive individual attention, encouragement and redirection because of class sizes.
CN Assistant Attorney General Alayna Farris said she sought ways to contribute to education reform and answered the call to march to the Capitol. “I would like people to know that the teacher walkout was a selfless act done for the students. Years of education cuts have landed us in this situation. I know the many teachers I have had over the years directly contributed to my success as an assistant attorney general for Cherokee Nation. I would not be where I am today without public education.”
Cherokee Nation Business attorney Tralynna Scott also said she sees the struggles public school teachers face. “I get to see firsthand just how abysmal our school systems are now. There aren’t enough books. These kids can’t take books home in the evening to do their homework because they share books with other students. I just don’t understand how any expects them to really learn in that fashion.”
She said she got the sense that many lawmakers were playing the “blame game” and that they were backtracking on deals that were made and then repealed.
“Circumstances have changed, number one. Number two, the other thing that was on that deal supposedly, was the hotel-motel tax, which they turned right around and took off the plate. They repealed it. (Gov. Mary) Fallin signed that into that in law Monday, and in my world, in my legal world, if you make a deal, and you turn right around and don’t do part of that deal, that’s called breach of contract,” Scott said.
Scott said the representatives she spoke with supported certain exemptions but weren’t able to get their bills heard. “None of them are willing to start a petition to suspend the rules where they can bypass (House Majority Floor Leader Jon) Echols and get it heard on the floor. That would take 68 votes to suspend the rules. But I directly point blank asked them ‘will you start that petition?’ No,” she said.
She said Girl Attorney would continue advocating for adequate funding. “To the legislators, we are very serious. The entire state is very serious about changing public education, and if they don’t move forward with solutions then they will be voted out.”
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s College Resources continues to provide scholarships to concurrent, undergraduate and graduate students to help them continue their educational endeavors.
College Resources serves 147 high schools in the jurisdiction and surrounding counties. In the 2017-18 school yea, 4,325 undergraduate and graduates students and 417 concurrent students received financial aid.
“We’re primarily focused toward high school juniors and seniors and then the current students that we have trying to keep them in school and trying to make sure they meet the deadlines,” Jennifer Pigeon, CN Education Services’ fiscal management and administration manager, said.
College Resources provides concurrent enrollment scholarships, high school valedictorian and salutatorian scholarships, undergraduate scholarships, graduate scholarships and financial assistance for directed studies.
Concurrent students who are high school juniors receive financial aid for tuition, books and fees for up to six hours of general education courses. Seniors only receive financial aid for books and fees due to a state waiver that pays for tuition.
Senior valedictorians and salutatorians receive a one-time scholarship upon graduating high school. Valedictorians receive up to $1,000 and salutatorians receive up to $750.
Undergraduate and graduate students receive up to $2,000 per semester.
“Once they’re accepted, undergrads are required to maintain a 2.0, concurrent a 2.5, and our graduates just need to remain in good standing with the college that they’re in,” Pigeon said.
She said to renew their scholarships students must turn in their grades and community service hours. One hour of community service is required for every $100 received.
Pigeon said students taking part in directed studies are limited to a University of Oklahoma rate of an equivalent degree meaning. For example, if a student is studying to become a doctor, dentist, or lawyer and do not choose to attend OU, College Resources will pay up to whatever OU’s rate would charge by paying for the tuition, books, fees, any required equipment and a housing stipend.
CN citizens and citizens of federally recognized tribes are eligible to receive College Resources financial aid. However, federally recognized tribal citizens besides CN citizens are only awarded if they qualify for the federal Pell grant known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. The award varies based on the number of applicants.
College Resources also provides a computer lab at the W.W. Keeler Complex equipped with six computer stations, printers and scanners to help students with the application process, and College Resources staff also participate in college and career fairs such the tribe’s College and Career Night to promote scholarship opportunities to students.
Information, applications and deadlines for the 2019-20 school year can be found at <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/Services/Education/College-Resources" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/Services/Education/College-Resources</a> or by calling 1-800-256-0671, ext. 5465 or emailing <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Tuition will increase at 21 of Oklahoma's 25 higher education institutions.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education on Thursday approved tuition and fees for each of the state's colleges and universities.
Only the University of Oklahoma, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Eastern Oklahoma State College and Murray State College did not seek a tuition increase.
The Oklahoman reports that several college presidents cited the need to raise faculty and staff pay as a reason for the increase.
The increases range from $130.80 at Carl Albert State College to $480 at both Oklahoma Panhandle State University and the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.
Tuition at Oklahoma State University will rise by $280.50.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An anti-tax group seeking to roll back a package of tax increases approved by the Oklahoma Legislature to help fund a teacher pay raise said Monday it is abandoning the effort.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court's recent decision to toss the group's ballot initiative didn't leave enough time to gather the 42,000 signatures needed to place the question on the November ballot, said Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, one of the organizers of Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite.
"The court really cut us short on time," Vuillemont-Smith said.
The anti-tax group led by former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn was seeking a public vote to repeal tax hikes on cigarettes, fuel and energy production that were approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year to help fund an average teacher pay raise of $6,100. The tax increases took effect on Sunday.
But the Supreme Court ruled a description of the proposal on signature pages was insufficient and that its ballot title was misleading. The court said the group would have to start over with a new petition and gather the required number of signatures by July 18.
Lawmakers were seeking to placate teachers frustrated with low pay and dwindling state funding. Despite the raise, teachers walked off the job for two weeks this spring and descended on the Capitol seeking more funding for public schools.
Vuillemont-Smith said the group was not opposed to raising teacher pay, but said state leaders should have found other ways to fund the raises without raising taxes. The tax increases were the first in Oklahoma in more than two decades since voters approved a constitutional requirement that any tax increase receive a three-fourth's vote of the Legislature or be approved by a vote of the people.
Opposition to the tax hikes has come at a political cost . Many of the anti-tax Republicans in the House who voted against the package faced primary opposition this year. Two GOP incumbents were defeated in last week's primary election. Several others were forced into a primary runoff after failing to secure a majority of votes in the primary.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Cherokee Nation citizen LaNice Belcher, a junior at Oklahoma City University, is going into her third and final year as an instrument music education major in the fall.
Belcher attends OCU’s Wanda L. Bass School of Music. She said she takes 16 to 17 credit hours per semester while attending rehearsals as a bassoon player and teaches every evening at a music-based, after-school program called El Sistema.
“That’s probably the best part of me going off to school because I work with inner city youth in downtown Oklahoma City, and so the program’s really great. We feed them, they get homework help, and we have classes for them,” Belcher said.
Belcher said she was interested in instrument music education to become a teacher upon graduating from OCU. But in light of the recent Oklahoma teacher walkout, she’s considering other options such as obtaining a master’s degree in bassoon performance, nonprofit leadership, or getting a degree to become a radiology technician.
“When I came to this program it was just so music-heavy I thought I was starting to burn out a little bit. I was starting to lose the focus of where the love originally came from. For me to be able to balance that and have the medicine side of things is like really vital,” she said.
Before the end of this past spring semester, Belcher was elected OCU’s Collegiate National Association for Music Educators’ president for her local chapter to help create opportunities for her fellow music educators.
She’s also involved in an upcoming collaboration called Project 21, where she’ll work with a local group at OCU to work with music composition majors, give fellow musicians the opportunity to play modern music compositions and get to know future colleagues such as music directors in the Oklahoma City area.
For the summer, Belcher said she has an internship in OKC for the Inasmuch Fellowship to work with the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and the Paseo Arts Association to do grant research, fundraising, event planning and social media outreach.
She also will continue her job at El Sistema throughout the summer and into the fall semester.
“I take pride in the things. I want to do them well. If can’t do them well I won’t do them,” Belcher said.
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizen Crystal Young on May 4 was named the Tahlequah Public School District Teacher of the Year for the 2017-18 school year. She is a third grade teacher at Cherokee Elementary.
Young was first awarded Cherokee Elementary Teacher of the Year in April, which put her in the running for the district award.
“It’s just super humbling, I think, when you get something like that, that you know your peers chose you,” she said.
In the fall, Young will begin her seventh year at Cherokee Elementary and plans to teach fifth grade. Before joining Cherokee Elementary, she taught two years at the tribe’s Head Start. However, teaching wasn’t her first desire. She said she initially wanted to become a lawyer and work in juvenile justice.
“Growing up, we lived in poverty. My dad struggled with addiction and things like that. So some of these students that I see, I was right there. I know exactly what they’re going through, and I wanted to show kids that hard work will get you where you need to be, and perseverance and work ethic and all those attributes, honesty, integrity, those things matter,” she said.
While attending college, she realized she worked well with children and changed her career path from lawyer to educator.
Aside from teaching, Young is the Cherokee language bowl sponsor and Together Raising Awareness for Indian Life sponsor for Cherokee Elementary. She said she exposes her students to Cherokee culture and to diabetes awareness through the TRAIL’s 12-week curriculum.
“When they’re an adult, this is going to help them. I’m hoping that we’re setting a good foundation for them to be not only good readers, good writers, good mathematicians but just healthy, good individuals,” Young said.
She said there are struggles with being a teacher and that she was one of the many teachers who rallied at Oklahoma City in April for more education funding. She said she believes it’s important to show students that when faced with adversity sometimes not going with what has always been done is acceptable.
“It’s OK to be willing to stand up for what you feel like is right and standing together and being able to bond,” Young said.
She said the rewards and struggles of being a teacher go hand in hand when coming in every day and giving her best while at the same time knowing so many kids rely on her.
“I feel like everything I’ve done or wanted to do has been, at the root of it, has been I wanted to help people. I guess just to encourage people and motivate people to be the best they can be,” she said.
Winning the district award puts Young in the running for Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year, which will be announced in October at the Tulsa State Fair.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Thirty-five high school and college students attended the University of Arkansas’s Indigenous Food and Agricultural Initiative fifth annual Native Youth in Food and Agricultural Leadership Summit June 7-14 at the university’s law school.
Representing 20 tribes from across the nation, each student studied in one of four educational tracks pertaining to agricultural business and finance, agricultural law and policy, nutrition and health, and land use and conservation planning.
“What we hope is that young people who are coming here are already leaders in their communities and tribes back home, and we hope what they take away with them are the skills they need to be that next generation of leaders and help develop their tribal food and agricultural systems in their own farms and ranches back home across the country,” Erin Parker, university research director and staff attorney, said.
Parker said the summit started five years ago via a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to help youth who go into food and agricultural careers in Indian Country know the problems agricultural producers face, specifically Native American producers, and how to solve those problems.
“We know from our work at the Indigenous Food and Agricultural Initiative that Indian producers face legal barriers, financial barriers that no other producer in the country faces when it comes to agriculture. Obviously dealing with an additional regulatory system through the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) around land usage and land management, it creates a lot of potential problems,” Parker said.
Cherokee Nation citizen and Oklahoma State University junior Zachary Ilbery attended the summit for the fifth year in a row as a student leader and presenter. He focused on the agricultural business and finance track.
“This year I was asked to apply in the agri-business and finance sector. I currently work as a loan officer/appraiser intern for Oklahoma AgCredit. I know a little bit in the business and credit side of things, so I was asked to apply to come back and dig deep into that sector,” Ilbery said.
Ilbery said he wants to learn more about how agriculture in Indian Country differs.
“Within Indian Country a lot of the times we don’t have the access to credit. We don’t have the access to capital. The way we manage we our natural resources is different from the way the USDA may want to manage our natural resources,” he said. “The Indigenous Food and Agricultural Initiative really is a groundbreaking opportunity for Native American, Alaskan and Hawaiian youth from all the around the nation to teach about our agricultural business and finance, credit, natural resource use.”
He said he’s obtaining a degree at OSU in agricultural education, minoring in agricultural land real estate and is pre-agricultural law. He said he hopes to become an agricultural lawyer for the CN or the USDA to help improve agricultural laws.
“Within the Cherokee Nation right now we have our bison herd. We have our natural resources division within the Cherokee Nation, and that’s something that the Cherokee Nation does focus a lot on is their agricultural practices. Going back and implementing some of our agricultural practices in a large perspective to better our community, to help us become self-sufficient and food sovereign, and in order to be a sovereign nation, you have to be food sovereign,” Ilbery said.