Mary Beth Williams, a Gallogly Family Foundation Public Interest fellow, left, and Yvonne Galey, Oklahoma Indian Legal Services law staff attorney, assist Cherokee Nation citizen William Deerinwater in applying for a “transfer on death” deed on March 14 during a wills clinic hosted by OILS and Oklahoma City University law students in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
OILS, OCU law students partner to serve CN citizens
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, in partnership with Oklahoma City University law students, held a wills clinic March 14 in the Cherokee Nation’s Tsa La Gi Room to help CN citizens write wills and provide other services for free.
OILS Executive Director Stephanie Hudson said OILS attorneys not only help individuals with wills but also with advance directives, power of attorney and with anything to do with assets.
“At OILS we try to make an effort to reach out to every tribe in the state of Oklahoma. We’re not associated with any tribe. We’re funded by the Legal Services Corporation, and we’re nonprofit. We provide services to individual tribal members all over the state of Oklahoma who are having legal issues related to their status as an Indian,” Hudson said.
OILS also assists individual tribal citizens with Indian Child Welfare issues, probates on restricted lands, tribal housing issues and tribal court issues.
“The services are free. They’re based upon a person’s income, and we do an interview with them to make sure they meet the income guidelines,” Hudson said.
Kace Rodwell, a CN citizen and second-year OCU law student, said she contacted CN officials to set up the clinic.
Hudson said the law students are members of the Native American Law Student Association and Public Interest Law. She said it was “wonderful” they chose to participate in an alternative spring break and give their time to serve others.
Rodwell said this is the second year the wills clinic has been held but the first time at CN.
Originally from Tahlequah, she said she knows the need for these types of services in the area.
“I know there’s so many people in this direction that doesn’t have access to legal services,” Rodwell said. “I’m…hoping that we can reach out and provide services that we don’t really have access to, especially my own family who talk about how they wouldn’t even know how they would go about getting a will done and how much it cost, and that was a big issue. I know different tribal nations, it’s really costly to get legal services and so for us to provide it for free, I think really (we’re) doing something to help.”
CN citizen William Deerinwater attended the clinic to get a “transfer on death” deed. He said upon his death, the deed would allow for smooth transition of his property to a beneficiary without the need for legal action.
“This is the first time I’ve tried it. Me and my daughter was talking about it. So I told her I might check into it,” he said.
Deerinwater said he knew he had to get a deed but was not sure about how to obtain one. He said OILS staff attorneys helped him by explaining the process in a way he understood.
Rodwell said OILS is located in Oklahoma City, and most tribal citizens are not able to travel there. She said OCU law students and OILS hoped to reach as many tribal citizens as they could with the clinic and to come back next year.
“I went to law school so I could help my tribe. I planned to hopefully get my law degree and come back one day to help serve the Nation, and this is kind of part of it, I think. That was the reason I wanted to come here because I was like ‘well, I’m there getting my education so I can help, but this also an opportunity and a program that I could be helping right now before I get that law degree,’” Rodwell said.
For more information about the wills clinic, call OILS at 1-800-658-1497.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Male Seminary Recreation Center is introducing fitness programs in 2017 to promote healthier lifestyles for gym members.
Additions to the fitness center’s schedule include Glow Spin, a late afternoon kid’s boot camp with a yoga class joining the list of programs in March. In addition to the new programs, the MSRC offers personal training services, traditional spin class, advanced and beginner boot camps, Zumba, weightlifting and a 65-years-old and older stretching/yoga class.
“We are modeled after a family focused YMCA setup, instead of your typical fitness center. I think that’s one of the things that make us special. We have all different types of people, all different types of fitness levels and all different types of workouts,” MSRC Director Julie Kimble said.
Glow Spin, one of the additions, is becoming a fan favorite. The class is a creative take on a traditional spin class where participants work on endurance spinning and stretching all while basking in the glow of a 1980s style black light.
When asked about her favorite part of Glow Spin, participant and Cherokee Nation employee Tara Rodriguez said, “I would have to say the trainers. They make it really fun, inviting and easy to do. I have been coming for a little over two weeks and have already lost 15 pounds.”
MSRC trainer and Glow Spin instructor Magen Lawrence is hopeful the program will increase participation in cardio and endurance style exercises that are so vital to the health of CN citizens.
“We really do have something for everyone here. I think a common misconception is that we throw you in and leave you, but everything we have can be adjusted to your comfort level,” Lawrence said.
The 25,000-square-foot MSRC has played a major role in the tribe’s Healthy Nation program. Located at 1501 Graham Ave., MSRC is free of charge for CN citizens and employees and their immediate family members. A $20 monthly fee is required of all non-Cherokee gym members.
For more information, call 918-453-5496 or visit <a href="http://cherokeepublichealth.org/MSRC" target="_blank">http://cherokeepublichealth.org/MSRC</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Career Services Coming Home Re-entry Program assists formerly incarcerated CN citizens rehabilitate back into society by helping them find jobs and housing.
Daryl Legg, program director, said it began in 2013 and was funded through a donation of $20,000 to help homeless incarcerated Cherokees. Since then the Tribal Council has appropriated a budget to operate the program with $131,000 per year.
“The first two years that we implemented the program, we had…45 (Cherokees) the first year and 55 the second year. Then last year we got 165 (Cherokees),” Legg said.
Those who qualify must be a CN citizen; have served time in prison, not including county jail; provide release documents from the Department of Corrections; and sign up for the program within the first three months of his or her release.
The program helps individuals with reinstating driver’s licenses, provides a $250 stipend to buy professional or work clothing, pays the first month’s rent on housing and provides furniture and other needed items for a home.
Legg said program officials keep in contact with the DOC and prison facilities to provide information so that prisoners know the program is available upon their releases.
“We do try to immediately get them on the (CN) Day Training program so they can start earning $50 a day. Other than that we do vocational training. We also tie into the economic development funds for OJT (On the Job Training) so that we can help them get a job,” Legg said.
Before their releases, most individuals are already receiving “quality apprenticeship-style training” in a trade that they can utilize when released. Legg said prisoners are also getting their GEDs, cognitive behavioral therapy and other help to begin their journey back into society.
He said the CN program boasts a recidivism or re-offend rate of only 10 percent.
Legg said with this type of re-entry program, the CN and other Oklahoma tribes are able to reduce the recidivism rate “beyond the national level,” with the national average being 67 percent and the state average at 27 percent.
Legg said the program’s focus is getting incarcerated citizens jobs that will help motivate them, help them be responsible and take care of their families.
CN citizen Christopher Wilson, who was released from prison in September, used the program and obtained a job a week and a half after his release.
Wilson said while in prison, he acquired his unlimited journeyman’s license in the electrical trade.
“I knew that that was going to help me when I got out with a good-paying job. So I just worked hard and focused on my future for when I got out and that was probably that best thing that I could do while I was in (prison),” Wilson said.
He said the program helped him reinstate his driver’s license, pay his first month’s rent, buy him regular and work clothing and pay $500 to get him the tools he needed.
Wilson now works for Lawson Electric Inc. in Tulsa. He started with a pay rate of $19 per hour and has since earned his first raise.
“It was a big morale boost to know that I had people supporting me and helping me. They saw that I was willing to try and work hard,” he said. “My faith in God, I believe God put these people in my path to help me, and it’s all worked out great.”
Wilson said he encourages anyone who is eligible to take advantage of the program.
“I encourage anyone getting out that’s serious about making it to take advantage of this program and really use it to get their life straight. It’s a great hand up when you first get out,” Wilson said.
For more information, call 918-207-3832.
AUSTIN, Texas – For the first time, a culturally-relevant, safe and confidential resource is available for Native American survivors of domestic violence and dating violence, who now make up more than 84 percent of the entire U.S. Native population.
The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and the National Domestic Violence Hotline on March 6 launched the national crisis-line dedicated to serving tribal communities affected by violence across the U.S., called the StrongHearts Native Helpline.
Native survivors in Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska – the helpline’s initial service areas — will be able to connect at no cost, one-on-one, with knowledgeable StrongHearts advocates who will provide support, assist with safety planning and connect them with resources based on their specific tribal affiliation, community location and culture.
Callers outside of these states can still call StrongHearts while the helpline continues to develop its services network. All services available through the helpline are confidential and available by dialing 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Central Standard Time Monday through Friday. Callers after hours will have the option to connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or to call back the next business day.
“The reality is that so many of our American Indian and Alaska Native people experience domestic violence and dating violence every day,” Lucy Rain Simpson, NIWRC executive director and Navajo Nation citizen, said. “It has never been more evident that our Native people need a Native helpline to support efforts to restore power and safety in our tribal communities. The StrongHearts Native Helpline is ready to answer that call.”
The helpline was created by and for Native Americans who, compared to all other races in the U.S., are twice as likely to experience rape or sexual assault, 2-1/2 times more likely to experience violent crimes and five times more likely to be victims of homicide in their lifetimes. Even though four in five experience violence, Native Americans have historically lacked access to services.
“The hotline has served victims and survivors of domestic violence for 20 years, and we recognize that Native American survivors have uniquely complex needs,” Katie Ray-Jones, hotline CEO, said. “Through StrongHearts, domestic violence advocates will be able to address those complex needs with an unparalleled level of specificity.”
Advocates at the StrongHearts Native Helpline are trained to navigate each caller’s abuse situation with a strong understanding of Native cultures, as well as issues of tribal sovereignty and law, in a safe and accepting environment, free of assumption and judgment. Well-trained professionals will treat callers with dignity, compassion and respect.
“To enhance services is critical,” Marylouise Kelley, Family Violence Prevention & Services Act program division director, said.
Initially, StrongHearts will focus efforts on providing services to survivors who live in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, which combined make up more than 12.5 percent of the country’s entire Native American population.
“The team will leverage the large number of Native-centered resources established within these states to begin providing services, with further outreach to tribal communities as StrongHearts continues to grow,” said Simpson.
The StrongHearts Native Helpline plans to purposefully and thoughtfully expand its services to Native American survivors nationwide – based on utilization, demand and resources available.
“Verizon is proud to be the first corporate sponsor of the StrongHearts Native Helpline, a resource that will provide a crucial space for Native people to find support,” said Stuart Conklin, program manager at the Verizon Foundation. “We look forward to its success and continuing to build on a lasting partnership.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare helps Cherokee youth when they age out of child services with the Oklahoma Successful Adulthood program.
Youth in custody are eligible to enroll in OKSA when they turn 16 years old. But ICW starts teaching youth as young as 14 the skills they need to utilize once they turn 18.
Laurel Mahaney, Tribal Court and Permanency Services supervisor, said the OKSA program, available through the Department of Human Services, provides trainings for youth to learn about educational, employment, and housing options as well as benefits such as paying for driver’s education classes, prom dresses, identification cards and senior pictures.
Tami Haley, ICW program manager, said caseworkers build relationships with youth who are in their caseloads and establish connections with them. They attend trainings with youth and teach them basic knowledge such as doing laundry and cooking.
The OKSA program focuses on seven elements: health, housing, education, employment, essential documents, life skills, and permanent connections, and assesses each enrolled youth.
Haley said the assessments show what elements need to be worked on. For example, past results have shown that most youth lack knowledge in money management, so OKSA and ICW focus on teaching those skills.
When a youth ages out of services, there are options for them to continue to work with ICW and DHS. If they turn 18 while still in high school, they can re-enroll back into services until they graduate or receive their GED.
“Most 18 year olds aren’t ready to be out on their own,” Haley said.
Tiffany Dunaway, Safe Babies Court Team manager, said a lot of aged-out teens often contact ICW still needing help in learning how to manage a life on his or her own.
“They kind of go through phases. You’ll see them fail for a little bit, then try, and make huge strides. Then they may fail for a little bit. But then you have some who just thrive and they get it,” Dunaway said.
CN citizen Danetta Ross is one of those teens who thrived after aging out.
Ross said, while in custody, the OKSA program helped her with clothing, sports equipment and getting her driver’s license, and ICW helped her get a summer job through the CN’s Summer Youth program.
She said she’s been in ICW more than once. She turned 18 as a senior in high school and voluntarily re-enrolled back into child services. She had no help from family at the time, and her parents were not in her life due to drugs and alcohol.
As a senior, Ross won a Gates Millennium Scholarship and attended Northeastern State University majoring in psychology and sociology. She obtained her degree in 2015 and now works at CREOKS Behavioral Health in Tahlequah.
She said ICW prepared her to be able to manage life on her own.
“What they did was they really connected me a lot to resources in my community, and so I was pretty prepared,” Ross said. “They did help me get motivated to be able to find housing and find a job and be able to maintain my life on my own.”
Ross said, at 25, she is able to give her two young children a better life than she had.
“One thing that is going to make a big difference in my children’s lives and their childhood (being) different from mine is me. Just growing up the way that I did, very poor and around a lot of dysfunction, I don’t ever want my child to feel the same way I felt with my parents. So my parenting style is completely different than what my parents would do,” Ross said.
She added she wants people to understand that most children who end up in child services are not “bad kids.”
“We just have a lot of resentment toward our parents because our parents are supposed to be the ones to protect us and they failed us. So gaining trust from other adults and a bunch of strangers like DHS and ICW, its really hard for a child to do that. I want people to realize that we’re not being bad kids by choice or on purpose, it’s a trust thing that got violated with us,” Ross said.
For more information about ICW or the OKSA program, call 918-453-5000 or visit <a href="http://www.oksa.ou.edu" target="_blank">oksa.ou.edu</a>.
SEATTLE – The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ordered Nov. 27 as the final deadline for class members in the Cobell Settlement or their heirs to submit documentation to Garden City Group, the claims administrator, so that payments can be made.
All documentation must be received or postmarked by Nov. 27.
The court, however, made one exception to this deadline. Estates of deceased class members that are still pending at the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Hearing and Appeals at that time will have funds held to be distributed once the probate process at OHA is complete.
The determination of a final deadline marks the end of an effective but grueling effort by class counsel and GCG to find and pay tens of thousands of Native American class members and their heirs. Those efforts have been incredibly successful and to date more than $1.2 billion dollars and 92 percent of the funds have been distributed.
While the distribution phase is winding down, another important aspect of the Cobell Settlement is rapidly picking up steam. Along with setting a deadline to submit distribution documentation in order to be eligible to receive payment from the Settlement Fund, the court approved the transfer of $21.7 million to the Indian Education Scholarship Fund, another important cornerstone for the settlement.
According to a GGG release, the future of Indian Country was a significant focus for Elouise Cobell, who initiated this litigation, and funding of the Indian Scholarship Fund as part of the settlement was something she insisted upon.
The fund is administered by the American Indian Graduate Center. More information is available at <a href="http://www.cobellscholar.org" target="_blank">www.cobellscholar.org</a>.
Class members or their heirs wishing to submit documentation to GCG for review by Nov. 27 may do so via email at <a href="mailto: Info@IndianTrust.com">Info@IndianTrust.com</a> or U.S. mail to P.O. Box 9577, Dublin, OH 43017-4877. For more information about the settlement and to read the court’s order, visit <a href="http://www.IndianTrust.com" target="_blank">www.IndianTrust.com</a>.
For questions regarding acceptable documentation for heirs, call 1-800-961-6109.