Cherokee Nation citizen Cooper Keys is a 4-year-old who loves motocross racing. He competes in the 50cc shaft drive/air cooled and 50cc beginner divisions at Jandebeur’s Motor Sports Park in Okmulgee. ROGER GRAHAM/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
4-year-old Keys jumps into motocross
PARK HILL – Cherokee Nation citizen Cooper Keys is a 4-year-old with a passion for motocross. Born in 2013, Cooper began riding his 2004 Yamaha PW50 in February after finding tri-cycling slow and monotonous.
With half a dozen races under his belt on the peewee dirt track at Jandebeur’s Motor Sports Park in Okmulgee, he’s notched five third-place finishes and one second-place finish.
Cooper competes in the 50cc shaft drive/air cooled and 50cc beginner divisions and is the only 4-year-old racing against 5-to 7-year-olds.
“We got him a starter balance bike when he was about a year and a half old,” CN citizen and Cooper’s mother Emily Keys said. “Balance bikes don’t have pedals or training wheels, so he just kind of pushed himself around until he eventually got to where he could ride around without using his feet.”
Emily said Cooper soon began riding down hills, balancing perfectly on the bike that was designed for pushing around the yard.
“When he outgrew the balance bike, we got him a bicycle that resembled a dirt bike, which he mastered in no time,” she said. It was around then that Emily and her husband, Justin, began thinking that Cooper’s abilities” weren’t “normal.” Cooper’s agility was only surpassed by his constant request for a real (motorized) dirt bike,” she said.
“He was just gung-ho, and would not be quiet about it. My husband had a mini-bike when he was little but only rode it around the field, so we really knew nothing about dirt bikes or the sport,” Emily said.
She added that it was eventually her parents who sprang for Cooper’s first dirt bike, as a Christmas present. She said she thought he would just want to ride around the field with it. But that wasn’t the case. Cooper wanted to ride all the time.
“We were concerned about him racing at such a young age, so we just started at the bottom, learning everything we could on teaching Cooper how to ride safe and smart. We purchased every piece of safety gear a kid could have. Now the poor (child) looks like (a) mix between an astronaut and the Terminator when he’s all suited up to go,” Emily said. “He’s had some crashes but that hasn’t deterred him in the least.”
Cooper’s father and CN citizen Justin Keys said Cooper’s can-do attitude was only one of the qualities he noticed.
“It makes me really proud that he has such good sportsmanship and how he strives to make himself better. I mean he’s pushing himself more than anybody. He gets out there with a ride, ride, ride attitude and he never gives up. More than once, I’ve seen him fall down, get up and want to go again. You can’t teach that.”
“We don’t want him hurt, and it is scary putting him on such a fast bike, but we’ve done all we can,’ Emily said. “We continue to teach him about safety, and we can’t let our fears get in the way of something he’s that passionate about.”
TAHLEQUAH – Students with the Native Explorers program participated in various traditional activities while visiting Cherokee Nation landmarks on May 22-23 as part of the program’s mission to increase Native Americans in science and medicine.
“The older generations had a lot of knowledge in medicine and we think we can contribute as Native people to the current medical world,” Native Explorers Executive Director Jeff Hargrave said. “If we can get Native kids interested in medicine we can hopefully get them into medical school and they’ll be doctors and return home to Indian Country and service their fellow citizens.”
Founded in 2010 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Native Explorers is offered through the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. It partners with educational institutions and entities, including the Cherokee Nation to encourage Native American youths to explore how their cultures can intersect with science and medicine.
Barbara Girty, Cherokee Heritage Center board and staff liaison, said she helped craft a “specialized itinerary” for the group during its stay.
“They actually slept in the houses in Diligwa Village on the ground, and it’s a one-of-a-kind experience,” she said. “They also took a tour of the different Cherokee Nation museums around town, the John Ross Museum, the Supreme Court building, the jail. They went over and toured the Native Gardens. They were immersed into the Cherokee culture, and we hope that this will help them in their future endeavors when they go on to become doctors hopefully in our (W.W.) Hastings Hospital (in Tahlequah) taking care of our own Cherokee people.”
The Native Explorers also participated in archery, blowgun and stickball competitions, as well as ate at a hog fry and witnessed ceremonial friendship and social stomp dancing.
Girty coordinated the visit with program co-founder Dr. Kent Smith, professor of anatomy and associate dean for the Office for the Advancement of American Indians in Medicine and Science at OSU’s Center for Health Sciences.
Smith said nine students participated this year and represented various tribal nations, including Cherokee, Comanche, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Standing Rock Sioux.
“The group is made up of undergraduate students as well as professional medical students and graduate students,” he said. “The medical students and the graduate students in the group serve as mentors for the undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing a career in science and medicine. Some of our medical students participate in clinical rotations as well as residency programs at W.W. Hastings with the Cherokee Nation.”
Smith said program costs are covered for students, and in addition to the learning and networking opportunities students earn three hours of college credit from OSU.
Cherokee Nation citizen Jacalyn Hulsey, an East Central University student in Ada, said he was eager to participate in the program. “It’s really important to me to be in this program because it gives me an opportunity to learn who I am and get more college credit than I’ve already gotten, and it allows me to interact with other cultures besides my own.”
Hulsey said she knew before gradating high school that her interest was within the medical field.
“I actually knew before I graduated high school that I wanted to be a physical therapist, and so that’s kind of where I’m going in life,” she said. “I would definitely encourage anybody to do this because it’s not just learning what I know already, but I’m getting to learn other stuff about different cultures I never would have known. It’s a very wide range of stuff we’ll get to learn.”
The program, which ran from May 21 to June 1, visited educators from the Chickasaw Nation, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the National Park Service in addition to Cherokee Nation staff. The group also visited select environmental regions across Oklahoma t0 study topics such as anatomy and paleontology.
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.nativeexplorers.org" target="_blank">www.nativeexplorers.org</a>.
MUSKOGEE – When Cherokee Nation citizen Mandy Scott took ownership of the Harmony House tearoom in 2017, she kept things business as usual.
“I have the same wait staff. Some have been here five, six, seven years. The kitchen staff is exactly the same. Everybody has pretty much stayed on since I’ve taken over,” she said. “Everything has just been really smooth and a good transition from the previous (owner) to me, and it’s just been great.”
Scott said she always dreamed of owning a restaurant, and once Harmony House became available, she approached the previous owner without hesitation. “I’ve always kind of wanted my own restaurant, and this was a perfect opportunity for me, just for its history here. It’s a very prestigious landmark for the city of Muskogee. I’m a dreamer, and I believe if it’s something you want to do, you at least need to try it.”
Scott said the building is more than a century old and functioned as a home, bank and church before being converted into a tearoom lunch spot. “It’s a tearoom where ladies from all ages come in and have lunch with their best friend or mothers or daughters. It’s definitely a woman’s atmosphere, but we have a lot of men that come in here too because our food is just so good.”
Harmony House is known for menu items such as hot chicken salad and its namesake club sandwich, though Scott said the “top” item is the grilled chicken sandwich made with chicken, cheese and homemade honey mustard dressing on homemade pita bread.
Daily specials are also offered. “Every day you get a special. It comes with soup or salad and you get a dessert included with that,” she said. “Everybody has their special days where they want to come in on ‘their’ day for their favorite.”
Harmony House also has offerings for those with a sweet tooth. “Our cupcakes are offered every day and then cinnamon rolls. Bread pudding every day as well, and then we have a pie every day. One of the top-selling (items), besides cookies, are lemon bars, and those are made fresh every week. Those are kind of our staple desserts, and then I try to add in some other kind of bar, like a monster bar every now and then,” Scott said.
Friends Kristie Testerman and Martha Hogner have eaten at Harmony House every Tuesday for the past 12 years.
“We love the food, the atmosphere, the people,” Testerman said. “I think it’s the only kind of tea house or tearoom-type restaurant that is left in Muskogee. The old owner started it, and then when Mandy took over, nothing changed. The transition was good.”
Testerman said she’s a fan of the homemade curly fries, as well as the burgers and desserts.
Hogner, who also brings her husband to Harmony House, said she has her favorites dishes, too.
“You can’t beat the cookies and their dessert,” she said. “Their bread pudding is to die for. We also like the special, the hot chicken salad, and we just learned to love the Katie’s Creation. That’s our new favorite. Service is great. Everyone is very friendly.”
Harmony House is also certified with the CN Tribal Employment Rights Office, and of its 13 employees, at least half are Native American, including the two top bakers.
“Over half my staff are Native American, so that’s important to me as well,” Scott said. “It’s important because I feel like we’re unique. We are not, per se, traditional Cherokee food, but we do have a different type of food that would be good to incorporate in any party or event that Cherokee Nation would have, especially for our desserts.”
Harmony House is located at 208 S. Seventh St. Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Cherokee Eats highlights Cherokee-owned eateries and their specialties. Send suggestions to <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
AKINS – Visitors to the first “Sequoyah Day” event held May 20 experienced all things Cherokee such as art, music, lectures, performances, demonstrations and National Treasures all on the grounds of the historic Sequoyah’s Cabin Museum where the Cherokee syllabary creator lived.
“This is a chance to celebrate Sequoyah’s life and his legacy,” Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism Director Travis Owens said. “We’ve had a flute-playing performance, the Cherokee National Youth Choir performed. We had the Girty Family Singers and presenters on our language today.”
Others attending the event included Cherokee National Treasures Lorene Drywater and David Scott, as well as Cherokee artists Roy Boney, Jeff Edwards and Mary HorseChief. Tribal Councilors Bryan Warner and E.O. Junior Smith, and 2017-18 Miss Cherokee Madison Whitekiller also attended.
Another highlight was the Traditional Native Games competition. CN citizen and games coordinator Bayly Wright said “Sequoyah Day” was a great place to hold Cherokee marbles, cornstalk shoot, horseshoes, blowgun, a hatchet throw and chunky competitions.
“Today is the second of the five competitions leading up to the championships, which will be held on Aug. 25, the weekend before the Cherokee National Holiday,” she said.
For more information on cultural events, visit <a href="http://www.visitcherokeenation.com" target="_blank">www.visitcherokeenation.com</a> or call 1-877-779-6977.
STILWELL – The 71st annual Stilwell Strawberry Festival was held May 11-12, and a strong Cherokee presence could be seen in one of the longest running festivals in Oklahoma.
Attractions included a parade, carnival, 5K and fun run, car show, vendor booths, live music, food and strawberries.
One of the two Cherokee strawberry growers, Dylan Collyge, attended the festival even though he was unable to sell his berries or enter them in the competition this year.
“My berries got hit by a late frost in April and set me back about a month,” he said.
Other strawberry farmers did well with their berries and sold them from booths or from their vehicles. Visitors could be seen carrying purchased flats of strawberries around town.
The Cherokee Phoenix was at the festival and produced the following video of highlights.
BROKEN ARROW – An old Vaudevillian joke goes something like this: “She shall now hang upside down while juggling pianos...on horseback.” Adding a horse to an impossible task makes the joke funnier and even more impossible. That is, unless you’re 10-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen Sophie Duch.
Take away the pianos and that’s exactly what she does as a professional trick rider at rodeos.
On May 11-12, Sophie and her trusted horse, Jesse, took their act to Broken Arrow for the 2018 Rooster Days Festival and Rodeo.
Born and raised in Stilwell, Sophie’s love for western trick riding began when her parents took her to a rodeo in 2011 where the All-American Cowgirl Chicks trick riding team performed.
“I knew we were in trouble the moment Sophie saw the Chicks perform. She was only 3 years old but latched onto the fence and watched their every move,” said her mother and CN citizen Shawna Duch. “After the rodeo, Sophie had to meet each one of them. I could tell even then she was hooked.”
Sophie has received much help learning her craft during her young life, including from her first coach, CN-sponsored professional trick rider Haley Ganzel.
“There’s a lot of people around here to help you,” Sophie said. “They’ll even loan you a horse if you need one.”
This has never been a problem for Sophie. The other half of Sophie’s team, Jessie’s Girl, is a good-natured bay mare and has been with her since she fell in love with trick riding.
“She (Jessie’s Girl) just kind of took to it,” Sophie’s father Troop Duch said. “She’s a natural show-off. She really shines once she gets in the arena.”
Having a well-trained horse is key to the success and safety of the trick rider because many of the most difficult and dangerous tricks are performed with little or no control of the horse’s reins. Sweeping and precise ovals of the arena must be completed at the right speed to be successful.
For safety’s sake, tricks are performed from the inside or left as the horse runs counter clockwise, thus keeping the horse between the acrobatic rider and the arena’s fence line. At the Rooster Days Rodeo, Sophie performed not only as entertainer, but she also carried the American flag into the arena for the national anthem.
In her act Sophie performed three tricks and demonstrated twice during Jessie’s giant loop giving spectators on both sides of the arena a look. On the second night of the rodeo, Sophie performed her mounted shooting act, in which she shoots targets while on horseback.
For more information, call 918-696-1648 or 918-696-1648 or email <a href="mailto: Shawnaduch@gmail.com">Shawnaduch@gmail.com</a>. ??