Native American group sues New Jersey for recognition

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
07/31/2015 04:00 PM
BRIDGETON, N.J. (AP) – A Native American group is suing New Jersey officials to demand it be recognized by the state government.

The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation filed a federal civil rights suit on July 20 saying that not having recognition hurts its members psychologically and financially.

The group, which is based in Bridgeton, traces its history in the area back 12,000 years and says it now has 3,000 members - the majority of them living in the state. New Jersey made the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape its third recognized tribe with a legislative resolution in 1982.

But the group says that’s now at risk because of a report the state submitted to the federal government in 2012 that said New Jersey had not recognized tribes – a change that could also affect the Powhatan-Renape Nation and the Ramapough Mountain Indians, which also had been designated by the state.

Gregory Werkheiser, a lawyer for the group, said some state officials became nervous more than a decade ago about the possibility of recognized tribes trying to develop casinos. But Werkheiser said the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Nation has no interest in that, a position spelled out in the group’s constitution. And even if it did, he said, it would take federal recognition – awhich can take decades to secure - for that to happen.

The state status is important to the group because, without recognition, it says, its members cannot sell crafts including beadwork, walking sticks, drums, headdresses, regalia, and pottery as “Indian made,” an issue that could cost more than $250,000 a year.

Werkheiser said the group’s artisans – many of them senior citizens – have already seen their income take a major hit from that.

And the group says it could lose $600,000 in grants, tribal jobs and scholarships that are tied to its designation as a recognized tribe.

“State recognition of a tribe has little to no impact on a state budget, except that it may provide tribes access to certain federal benefits that save the state from spending its own dollars,” the group contends in the suit.
The state government has not responded to the claims in court.

The state Assembly passed a bill in 2011 on procedures for recognizing tribes, but the measure never received a vote in the Senate.

A spokesman for John Hoffman, the state acting attorney general, did not immediately return an email seeking comment. The office generally does not talk with reporters about lawsuits it faces.

Sandler releases statement on Native actors who walked off set

BY STAFF REPORTS
07/31/2015 02:00 PM
NEW YORK – After a dozen of Native American actors felt insulted and walked off the set of Adam Sandler’s “The Ridiculous Six” in April, the movie actor recently told the Associated Press the movie is a “pro-Indian” movie.

“I talked to some of the actors on the set who were there and let them know that the intention of the movie is 100 percent to just make a funny movie,” Sandler said. “It’s really about American Indians being good to my character and about their family and just being good people. There’s no mocking of American Indians at all in the movie. It’s a pro-Indian movie. So hopefully when people see it — whoever was offended on set and walked out, I hope they realize that, and that’s it. It was kind of taken out of context.”

“The Ridiculous Six,” which is scheduled to be released worldwide via Netflex in December, is Sandler’s first production for a multi-move deal he signed with movie-giant Netflix. “The Ridiculous Six” is intended to be a parody to the 1960 “The Magnificent Seven” Hollywood-western.

While the Native actors walked off the set, many other Native American actors did stay and continued to work on the production.

The actors who walked off the set said they were upset with the demeaning portrayal of Native women and how the movie producers were insensitive to tribal usage of feathers.

“At first I was glad to be part of the movie because it is about Apaches, who are like cousins to us, but then I noticed things were not right about how Apaches were depicted,” said Loren Anthony, Navajo. “For one thing, the costumes we were given to wear were more like what plains Indians wear, not Apache. Then the way feathers were desecrated on the set made me sick to the stomach, literally. I was brought up by my elders to respect feathers. The move crew paid no respect to the feathers.”

Back in April, Netflex said, “the movie has ridiculous in the title for a reason: because it is ridiculous. It is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only part of but in on the joke.”
http://cherokee.org/AboutTheNation/NationalHoliday

May 11, May 28 and June 15, 2015 Tribal Council meeting minutes now available

BY STAFF REPORTS
07/31/2015 12:00 PM
During the 6 p.m. May 11, 2015 Tribal Council meeting, Councilors discussed:

• A RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE LOCATION OF THE 2015 ELECTION POLLING PLACES
Councilor Fullbright moved to approve. Councilor Hargis seconded the motion. The motion carried with no opposition.

• A RESOLUTION SUPPORTING THE PROPOSED CHANGES MADE BY THE BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS TO STRENGTHEN THE INDIAN CHILD WELFARE ACT OF 1978
Councilor Thornton raised question regarding the polling places and a location missing from the list in Sallisaw. Speaker Glory Jordan requested to revisit this item at the end of this meeting and allow time for the Election Commissioner to check on the location in question.
Councilor Hargis moved to approve. Councilor Thornton seconded the motion. The motion carried with no opposition.

...plus more.

Click here to viewthe May 11, 2015 Tribal Council meeting minutes.

During the 6 p.m. May 28, 2015 Special Tribal Council meeting called by Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Councilors discussed:

•A LEGISLATIVE ACT RELATING TO AND APPROVING A COMPACT TO BE KNOWN AS THE "HUNTING AND FISHING COMPACT BETWEEN THE CHEROKEE NATION AND THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA"
Councilor Vazquez moved to approve. Councilor Hargis seconded the motion. Speaker Glory Jordan stated lengthy discussion was just held on this item in committee and requested those comments stand.
Councilor Hargis called for the question. Councilor Snell seconded the motion. The motion carried with the following roll call vote:
??Council of the Cherokee Nation

?Yea: 10 - Dick Lay;Jodie Fishinghawk;Janelle Fullbright;Tina Glory Jordan;Joe Byrd;David Thornton, Sr. ;Frankie Hargis ;Curtis Snell;Janees Taylor and Victoria Vazquez

Nay: 5 - Lee Keener Jr.;Cara Cowan Watts;Don Garvin;Harley Buzzard and Jack D. Baker

Click here to viewthe May 28, 2015 Special Tribal Council meeting minutes.

During the 6 p.m. April 13, 2015 Tribal Council meeting, Councilors discussed:

• AN ACT AMENDING LEGISLATIVE ACT #25-14 AUTHORIZING THE COMPREHENSIVE OPERATING BUDGET FOR FISCAL YEAR 2015 - MOD. 9; AND DECLARING AN EMERGENCY
Councilor Taylor moved to approve. Councilor Cowan Watts seconded the motion. The motion carried by acclimation.

• A RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE SUBMISSION OF A SPECIAL GRANT APPLICATION FROM THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR, OFFICE OF INDIAN ENERGY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (IEED), ENERGY AND MINERALS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
Councilor Fullbright moved to approve. Councilor Thornton seconded the motion. The motion carried.

...plus more.

Click here to viewthe June 15, 2015 Tribal Council meeting minutes.

OPINION: Thank you for allowing me to serve another 4 years as Principal Chief

BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
07/31/2015 10:00 AM
Wado to all Cherokee Nation citizens who participated in the recent elections for principal chief, deputy chief and Tribal Council. Regardless of whom you supported in the election, if you took time to vote, you expressed your voice and participated in our democratic process, which is critical to our future success. I thank God, my family, my friend Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and our supporters for the honor and opportunity to serve another term.

I invite you all to the inauguration ceremony at 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 14 at the Sequoyah Schools gymnasium, “The Place Where They Play.” The address is 17091 S. Muskogee Ave. in Tahlequah.

It’s critical that our citizens engage in our leadership selection process. I encourage all Cherokees to become involved and learn about the issues and processes that shape our government.

Moving beyond the election, we now return our focus and attention to what truly matters, and that is the future of the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee people. Another term in office will allow us the opportunity to keep building upon the progress we’ve made together during the last four years.

We have multiple projects in motion that will be absolute game-changing endeavors for our future, and over the next four years we will continue to focus on building a better world for all Cherokees.

The most important issue for our future is access to quality health care. Four years ago, Cherokees agreed our tribal health care was at a crisis point, so we invested $100 million from casino profits into health care expansion and improvements. Our record-breaking gaming profits should be utilized to benefit Cherokee Nation citizens. That is the reason we pursued gaming in the first place 25 years ago. This has allowed us to build new clinics in Jay and Ochelata and expanded health centers in Stilwell and Sallisaw. Soon, we will break ground on a 450,000-square-foot facility at the W.W. Hastings Hospital site in Tahlequah. The planned facility at that location will provide space for 1,200 new employees who will, in turn, provide quality care for our people.

Once the facility is built, we can launch our own medical school, where we hope to partner with Oklahoma State University to provide hands-on education right here in the Cherokee Nation. This means we will educate and train health care professionals who will one day staff our clinics and new hospital.

We will keep advancing our economic growth and finish major retail and entertainment expansion projects in Tahlequah and Catoosa. Additionally, we will implement statewide hunting and fishing licenses for all Cherokee Nation citizens near the end of year. We are also investing in our iconic structures by making a major renovation to our tribal headquarters in Tahlequah, a project that has been ignored for almost 40 years. Along with that, the refurbishing of our historic Cherokee capital building in downtown Tahlequah shows our commitment to the future.

It’s imperative that we convince even more Cherokee Nation youth that a college education is possible with our tribal scholarships. No qualified student who applied last year was turned down, and we supported nearly 4,000 Cherokees in college, a record number. We will help even more students in the future, honoring our ancestors’ deep commitment to education.

We want more Cherokees to enjoy the American dream of homeownership and put our Cherokee tradespeople to work building these homes. Hundreds of folks are taking advantage of our housing program, and thousands of Cherokees are now employed building those homes, including cement finishers, carpenters, bricklayers, roofers and plumbers.

Financial success for Cherokee families is equally important. We will keep advancing job development and driving the economy of northeast Oklahoma. We have a talented staff that is adept at securing federal grants to create jobs, programs and provide services for Cherokee people. Additionally, increased diversification of Cherokee Nation Businesses in our jurisdiction will continue to create cash flow for our tribe and increase self-sufficiency for our citizens.

Over the next four years, we will keep up that momentum and continue building on this successful foundation. We will continue looking for partnerships that create opportunities for our people, such as the Macy’s expansion in Owasso that is creating thousands of good jobs for Cherokees and non-Cherokees alike.

We’ll be sharing even more updates and more exciting news during the Cherokee National Holiday State of the Nation address. Please make plans to join us this coming Labor Day weekend for our annual homecoming event the first weekend in September.

With great enthusiasm and pleasure, we look forward to serving you, the Cherokee people, for another four years.

Wado.
https://www.facebook.com/NativeGrains

August 2015 issue of the Cherokee Phoenix now available online

BY STAFF REPORTS
07/31/2015 08:00 AM
In this month's issue:

• At-Large CN car tag sales gross $1.2M

• Warner, Pearson, Hatfield win Tribal Council seats

• Court tosses Smith’s election appeal

• Cherokee Phoenix wins NAJA, OPA, SPJ awards

...plus much more.

Click here to viewthe August 2015 issue of the Cherokee Phoenix.

Click here to viewthe 2015 Cherokee National Holiday guide.

Native Voices seeking short play entries

BY STAFF REPORTS
07/30/2015 04:00 PM
LOS ANGELES – Native Voices is seeking short plays that address the many ways a Native American family forms and functions.

Native Voices at the Autry is the only Equity theater company devoted exclusively to developing and producing new works for the stage by Native American, Alaska Native and First Nations playwrights.

Plays may be a celebration of family life or an examination of complexities and issues in Native families. Alternately, plays may dramatize traditional family stories or family histories. A reading panel of nationally recognized theater artists and community members will evaluate short plays that are related to the family theme.

Selected plays will be presented as staged readings on Nov. 8, as part of the Autry’s annual American Indian Arts Marketplace. A panel of celebrity judges will select the 2015 Von Marie Atchley Award for Excellence in Playwriting, a $1,000 cash prize.

For more information and submission details, visit TheAutry.org/NativeVoices.

RiverHawk Food Pantry enters 2nd year

BY STAFF REPORTS
07/30/2015 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The RiverHawk Food Pantry, a 132-square-foot building that holds an average of 10,000 pounds of non-perishable food items and personal hygiene products, is now in its second year of operation.

RiverHawk Food Pantry overseer Helen Lahrman said the pantry has been a huge asset to those in need in the Northeastern State University community.

An NSU press release states the goods are available to current NSU students at two pantry locations. One is in the basement of the University Center at the Tahlequah campus, while the other is in Suite 211 of the Administrative Services Building at the Broken Arrow campus.

Locations are open from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tuesdays and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays. There are also donation drop-off locations on the Tahlequah and Broken Arrow campuses.

During the pantry’s first year of operation it served 170 families, 345 individuals and averaged aiding 40 people weekly.

Lahrman said although stocks were sufficient in 2014, having extra products and a fund to purchase items would help the pantry.

According to the release, items most needed include peanut butter, noodles, rice, canned fruit, canned meats, pre-packaged items, mixed vegetables, personal hygiene items, laundry soap, household cleaning items and paper products such as toilet paper, paper towels and tissues.

To view the RiverHawk Food Pantry donation site, visit http://bit.ly/1OaGatH.

For more information, call Lahrman at 918-444-2644 or email lahrman@nsuok.edu.

Culture

‘Mankiller’ documentary covers former principal chief’s life
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter
07/29/2015 08:22 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Stories and memories are ways to remember people who have died, whether their smile is remembered or their views, there is a way to catch a glimpse of the past. With the hopes of a 2016 release, people will get a look into former Principal Chief Wilma P. Mankiller’s life as told by her loved ones and colleagues in the PBS documentary “Mankiller.”

Documentary producer and director Valerie Red-Horse, who is of Cherokee descent, said she is honored to share Mankiller’s legacy, the Cherokee Nation’s first and only female principal chief who served 1985-95.

“As someone who is of Cherokee ancestry, there are so many similarities in my life that I often find myself in tears as we’re filming this project. It’s just really hard for me because my father was born and raised in Tahlequah and then brought out to San Francisco on the (Bureau of Indian Affairs Indian) relocation program, just like Wilma’s family,” Red-Horse said. “When I hear some of the things she went through, it was like part of my life story is reflected in that.”

Red-Horse said she is working with fellow producer Gale Anne Hurd, of Valhalla Entertainment, who is known as the “First Lady of Sci-Fi” and has produced films such as “The Terminator,” “Aliens” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Hurd is also an executive producer on “The Walking Dead” and the upcoming companion series “Fear the Walking Dead.”

Red-Horse said this isn’t the first project they have worked on together. They also created “True Whispers: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers” and “Choctaw Code Talkers.”

She said Hurd is a great person to work with when it comes to honoring Native traditions and stories.

“She has a total heart for philanthropy and for the Native community. She’s always very supportive. She always refers to traditions and cultures and never wants to come in as the Hollywood entity,” she said.

Red-Horse said she is glad to be producing the documentary because she and others on staff believe “Wilma Mankiller is a woman that deserves to have a documentary.”

“What happened was when her widower, Charlie Soap, and his team of producers were doing the ‘The Cherokee Word for Water,’ that film came to our attention and it came to the attention of PBS,” she said. “PBS does not get involved with narrative feature films, the Native (Vision Maker Media) arm doesn’t, so they had reached out to me and started a dialog with me saying, ‘look, you’re one of our veteran film makers is this something that you might consider doing the real life story of Wilma.’ I said, ‘we would be very interested in that.’ We started talking to the family and they liked the idea.”

She said the difference between the “The Cherokee Word for Water” and the “Mankiller” documentary is that the documentary will be a work of non-fiction that tells Mankiller’s life story and not just focus on the Bell Waterline project.

She said the documentary covers Mankiller’s life from before her family’s relocation to San Francisco to when she died on April 6, 2010.

“We’ve covered the early years. We went back to (Mankiller) Flats and we interviewed her family where she was raised and talked about the early years before the relocation,” she said. “We’re going to cover San Francisco, she was there for about 20 years and then she came back (to Oklahoma) in 1977.”

Red-Horse said they interviewed influential people in Mankiller’s life, ranging from former Principal Chiefs Ross Swimmer and Chad Smith to current Principal Chief Bill John Baker and everyone in between.

“We’ve interviewed people in Oklahoma who worked with her, who were apart of her administration, her family, her friends, political allies. We’re interviewing everyone,” she said. “We’re trying to get a good cross section of anyone who knew her or worked with her. We have interviews from Gloria Steinem (and) I think we’re going to be able to get one from (former President) Bill Clinton.”

Red-Horse said she is amazed by how many people Mankiller’s message of “working together” reached.

“…what she called gadugi, which is a good way, the Cherokee way. I just feel it’s a message that everyone needs to hear today. I don’t feel that it stopped when she passed away or was out of office, I think it’s a message that really resonates today,” she said.

Red-Horse said Vision Maker Media, an arm of PBS, funded the documentary, as well as a Kickstarter campaign that Valhalla Entertainment started. She said the delivery date of the documentary to PBS is set for Dec. 31, 2015, but she was unsure of an official broadcast date other than sometime in 2016.

Education

CN Head Start accepting applications
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/30/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Head Start programs are accepting applications for children from infants through pre-school age for the upcoming academic school year.

The tribe’s Early Childhood Unit is comprised of Head Start and Early Head Start, child development programs that focus on social development, kindergarten readiness, motor skills and incorporates Cherokee culture and language.

CN Early Childhood Unit reserves at least 10 percent of its available slots for children with special needs.
Applications are available at any of the programs’ 17 locations or mailed by request from the ECU office in Tahlequah.

Applications remain in the system for one year. They are accepted year round. Other documents requested include a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood card, immunization records, a birth certificate and current verification of income. Income guidelines apply.

Completed applications are to be mailed back to the Tahlequah office, PO Box 948, Tahlequah, OK 74465.

For more information or to find the nearest classroom, call 918-453-5757 or 1-888-458-4393.

News

BREAKING: Supreme Court calls for new Dist. 14 Tribal Council election
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
07/08/2015 02:58 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court on July 8 granted a new election in the Dist. 14 Tribal Council race between William “Bill” Pearson and Keith Austin.

The verbal ruling followed several hours of testimony in the appeal that Austin filed after losing the general election on June 27 by one vote and a recount on July 2 by six votes.

The court ordered the tribe’s Election Commission to hold the new election as soon as possible but didn’t specify if that would be during the July 25 runoff.

As of publication, EC officials said they had no comment as to when they would conduct the new election.

The court did not issue a written opinion when it announced its decision, but justices said they would release one within the statutorily mandated timeframe.

Austin filed the appeal on July 6 alleging that ballots were cast that should not have been accepted, ballots were cast that should have been accepted and two absentee ballot envelopes could not be found.

“There is one challenged ballot that was rejected that should have been accepted; there are eight voters who live outside of Dist. 14 who are incorrectly registered to vote in Dist. 14 who voted; there are two voters who voted by absentee who ballots were rejected that should have been accepted; there is one voter whose absentee ballot was accepted, but the commission cannot locate his affidavit envelope and there are two absentee voters who the commission has not given voter credit to,” the appeal states. “For the forgoing reasons, it is apparent that the results of this election cannot be determined with mathematical certainty and Petitioner Austin requests that the Court order a new election.”

Austin said this election was just too close to accurately discern what the will of the people was.

"That is why the Supreme Court, after examining all the evidence, decided that our best course of action is to hold another election in Tribal Council District 14 and give the people another chance to make their voice heard," he added.

Pearson said, “my opinion is to go forward and try to increase the margin (of victory).”

Check back with the Cherokee Phoenix for further developments.

Health

UPDATE: Jordan defeats Sierra in Dist. 1 Tribal Council race
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter
06/29/2015 12:58 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to certified results, the Cherokee Nation’s Dist. 1 Tribal Council seat goes to Rex Jordan after he defeated Ryan Sierra in the June 27 general election.

Certified results show Jordan won by a vote count of 856 to Sierra’s 494 votes.

Jordan received 63.41 percent of the ballots cast while Sierra received 36.59 percent.

The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to contact Jordan but was unsuccessful.

In a Facebook post, Sierra expressed his gratitude to those who supported him during his campaign.

“I must first praise God for giving my family and me this opportunity. He is still in control no matter what,” he wrote. “The numbers are in and we did not gain enough votes to serve as councilman for district one. I want to thank each and every person who showed us support and gave us your vote. You are appreciated! I will continue to serve within my community and in anyway God sees fit. Best wishes to Rex Jordan. Serve the people well.”

Dist. 1 covers the western part of Cherokee County and a portion of eastern Wagoner County.

The EC certified the results from the general election on June 29.

Jordan is expected to be sworn into office on Aug. 14, which is the tribe’s inauguration day.

News

New Dist. 14 election set for July 25
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/10/2015 11:42 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to the Cherokee Nation Election Commission, the new election for the Dist. 14 Tribal Council race between William “Bill” Pearson and Keith Austin will be held on July 25, the same day as the runoff races for the Dist. 6 and At-Large Tribal Council seats.

The EC scheduled the Dist. 14 election after the CN Supreme Court on July 8 determined that a winner could not be determined with mathematical certainty.

Pearson was certified the winner of the Dist. 14 race after the June 27 general election by one vote. Following a recount on July 2, his lead had been extended to six votes.

However, Austin appealed the recount results to the Supreme Court alleging that ballots were cast that should not have been accepted, ballots were cast that should have been accepted and two absentee ballot envelopes could not be found.

“There is one challenged ballot that was rejected that should have been accepted; there are eight voters who live outside of Dist. 14 who are incorrectly registered to vote in Dist. 14 who voted; there are two voters who voted by absentee who ballots were rejected that should have been accepted; there is one voter whose absentee ballot was accepted, but the commission cannot locate his affidavit envelope and there are two absentee voters who the commission has not given voter credit to,” Austin’s appeal stated.

After hearing testimony, the court ruled in Austin’s favor and ordered the EC to schedule a new election.

According to an EC statement, the EC will accept absentee ballot requests from CN citizens registered to vote in Dist. 14 through July 13. It also states that in-person absentee voting, or early walk-in voting, will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on July 18 and July 21-23 at the Election Services Office at 22116 S. Bald Hill Road. EC officials also said a secured drop box for the personal delivery of absentee ballots would be available at the Election Services office from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on July 21-25.

EC Chairman Bill Horton said voters who received an absentee ballot in the first election would automatically receive one for the July 25 elections. However, if a CN citizen didn’t vote in the general election wants to vote absentee on July 25, then he or she must complete an absentee ballot request.

Precinct locations for Dist. 14 and 6 will not change for the upcoming elections.

Dist. 14 covers parts of Rogers, Craig and Tulsa counties. Precinct locations are at the Rogers County Building’s Front Room located at 416 S. Brady in Claremore, the Boys & Girls Club located at 119 N. Ash St. in Chelsea and the Oologah Assembly of God Church located at 13462 S. Hwy. 169 in Oologah.

The Dist. 6 runoff is between Natalie Fullbright and Bryan Warner. The district covers the eastern part of Sequoyah County.

Precinct locations for that district are in Sallisaw at the United Methodist Church located at 2100 McGee Dr., in Belfonte at the Nicut/Belfonte Community Center at 474894 State Hwy. 101, in Marble City at the Town Hall located at 120 A N. Main St. and at the Cherokee Community Center at 603 N. Main St. in Muldrow. For a precincts map, go to http://www.cherokee.org/Portals/0/Documents/ElectionCommission/2014/precinct%20map%2010-14-14%20approved.pdf

The At-Large runoff is between Betsy Swimmer and Wanda Hatfield. It has no precinct and is voted by absentee.

For more information, call 918-458-5899 or toll free at 1-800-353-2895 or email Election-Commission@cherokee.org.

People

Stilwell cousins volunteer at summer camp that honors their late uncle
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/20/2015 08:40 AM
NORMAN, Okla. – Cherokee citizens McKenzie Claphan and Shy-Annah Claphan are having a memorable summer. The cousins are volunteers at a summer camp in Norman for kids with special needs.

They have the opportunity to help kids as they ride horses, canoe on a lake, shoot arrows at the archery range and work on arts and crafts projects. It’s more than a fun way to spend the summer. It’s an opportunity for the girls to honor their family history.

The two are working at Camp ClapHans, which was named in honor of their uncle Sammy Jack Claphan. The camp is an outreach program of the J.D. McCarty Center for children with developmental disabilities.

“I just feel like it’s important to keep his legacy going,” said McKenzie, 20, of Stilwell.

Sammy Jack Claphan, a Cherokee Nation citizen and a Stilwell native, played football at the University of Oklahoma and graduated with a degree in special education.

He later played in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns and the San Diego Chargers. Claphan retired from the NFL in 1988 and returned to Oklahoma and became a special education teacher. He died in 2001 at the age of 45.

The camp opened in 2013 and is for Oklahoma children ages eight to 18 who have a developmental disability or special needs. The camp is located on the McCarty Center’s campus and features two cabins and an activities building that are located next to an 11-acre lake.

The first of five camp sessions kicked off June 14, and the last day of camp is July 22.

McKenzie and Shy-Annah, 17, said they got interested in volunteering after attending an open house for the camp in 2014 with their family.

“It was amazing,” Shy-Annah, of Stillwell, said about seeing the camp for the first time.

The cousins decided they wanted to get involved as a way to pay tribute to their “Uncle Sam.”

The two describe their uncle as a big “Teddy Bear” who was kind, lovable and had a great sense of humor. Shy-Annah remembers going to the movies with him, while McKenzie recalls a time they went sledding down a snow-packed hill.

“He was just really fun,” Shy-Annah said.

They also admire the compassion and encouragement he showed to his students.

“He loved his job,” McKenzie said. “He just had a huge impact on a lot of the kids.”

Like her uncle, McKenzie said she loves working with kids, which is another reason why she wanted to volunteer at the camp. She said it’s fun to see the excitement on the kids’ faces during the camp.

“You can tell they’re just enjoying being here,” said McKenzie, who is a junior at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

Shy-Annah is a senior at Stilwell High School. She said what stands out for her about the camp is how there are activities available for all ability levels.

Activities for campers include archery, arts and crafts, campfires, canoeing, dance parties, fishing, horseback riding, talent shows, swimming, and stargazing with members of the Oklahoma City Astronomy Club.

The cousins said they are grateful for the chance to volunteer at the camp and for the opportunity to honor their uncle and continue his work with kids.

“I just feel excited and I know he would be happy and proud of us,” McKenzie said.


About Camp ClapHans

Registration: Registration for the 2016 camp sessions begins in January. For information, call Camp Director Kyle Cottrell at 405-307-2814 or e-mail kcottrell@jdmc.org. You can also visit campclaphans.com for more information.

The camp is for kids with special needs ages 8 to 18 and is located on the south side of the McCarty Center's property in Norman at 2002 E. Robinson St. in Norman.
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