Cherokee Nation citizen Susie Thompson reads a traditional Cherokee story, the “Origin of the Strawberry,” to students as they learn how to say “peach” in Cherokee. COURTESY PHOTO
Teacher connects new generation with Cherokee culture
BELL, Okla. – A retired teacher from Maryetta Public Schools is using her knowledge, old and new, to teach children about Cherokee heritage.
Susie Thompson, a Cherokee Nation citizen, said when she speaks Cherokee it takes her back in time, creating a connection to her mother and grandmother.
Thompson, a Cherokee speaker until age 8, said she was inspired to volunteer after completing the tribe’s Teacher Enrichment Institute. The TEI prepares staff, teachers and other citizens to teach the Cherokee language, history and culture.
After the course ended Thompson said she wanted to learn more.
“I learn best by teaching and love learning,” said Thompson. “The new information I was learning through the Cherokee teacher enrichment program was something that I wanted to share with others. I knew there were many Cherokee speakers here in Bell, and I asked Mr. (Tony) Davidson, the principal, if he would allow me to come down here and teach Cherokee history, language and culture.”
Thompson volunteers two days a week teaching Cherokee lessons that align with the class curriculum. She tells stories such as “The Origin of the Strawberry” to fifth and sixth-graders. Words such as man, creator, huckleberry, peach and strawberry are written on banners that display the English word, the Cherokee word and the pronunciation in Cherokee.
“In the process, the children have learned things about Cherokee history, language and culture that they didn’t know before and I have learned things better,” said Thompson. “They responded in a really good way.”
The TEI is a free program that provides participants with Cherokee knowledge, teaching skills, lesson planning, classroom management, curriculum development and class assessments. The tribe’s Co-Partner Program, a federally funded program designed to provide educational opportunities to Cherokee children that would otherwise not be offered in the public school system, administers it.
Thompson said after taking the course she realizes the importance of preserving Cherokee culture.
“I thought about all of the thoughts, all of the history, all of the culture and the meaning of Cherokee words that cannot be translated into the English language and I realized as much as possible the Cherokee language needs to be preserved,” she said.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A newly created Native American Support Center has arrived at Northeastern State University.
The NASC is a federally funded program seeking to increase Native American students’ retention and completion of higher education. The center is open with services available on all three campuses in Tahlequah Muskogee and Broken Arrow.
An official opening will be held at the beginning of the fall semester.
With a five-year funding grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Title III office, the NASC was created to help Native American students combat barriers to a successful educational journey. The NASC is under the authority of the Division of Academic Affairs.
Though based within the Center for Tribal Studies, NASC branches are located in the John Vaughan Library in Tahlequah and on the Broken Arrow and Muskogee campuses.
Under the leadership of Director Mary L. Nordwall, the NASC will offer personal, academic and career coaching, peer tutoring and advisement, research and graduate school preparation, college success workshops, peer mentoring and cultural activities.
Joining Nordwall are Marsey Harjo, academic intervention specialist; Jade Hansen, advisement and career specialist; and Shelly Dreadfulwater, outreach coordinator for all three campuses.
With the center’s guidance, Native American students can embrace the challenges that can make their college journey a success and help them become successful professionals.
“All students can learn, but it depends on the faculty to stimulate and challenge them in their academic work,” Nordwall said. “The NASC will work to model, facilitate and enhance student motivation and support through preparing them for research and finding their own answers or solutions to their goals.”
Motivational speakers, both Native and non-Native will also be a part of the inspirational mix for students thanks to collaborations with faculty, staff and local, state and national American Indian leaders.
“Our cultural component includes traditional artistry in two- and three-dimensional arts, music, language (Cherokee/Creek) classes for credit, tribal law/politics, song, drumming and dance,” Nordwall said. “Being Native myself inspires me to share this with all American Indian students. I want them to research their own cultures’ richness and to share with other tribes and non-Natives on the three campus settings of NSU.”
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CATOOSA, Okla. – Five Cherokee Nation citizens were recently named 2017 Academic All-State Scholars and received scholarships in recognition of their academic achievements.
The five Cherokees honored were Chelsea Anderson, of Warner; Ann Marie Grue, of Welch; Gideon Moore, of Muldrow; Jacob Ross Taylor, of Broken Arrow; and Brook Wigginton, of Oologah.
The honors were bestowed upon them during an event in which the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence honored the state’s top 100 high school seniors, as well as five outstanding Oklahoma public educators, during its 31st Academics Awards Banquet. The annual gala is a statewide tribute honoring the best in Oklahoma’s public schools.
The 2017 Academic All-State class hails from 77 schools in 68 school districts. This year’s honorees were selected from hundreds of nominations during the academic competition.
Scholars are nominated by their principals or superintendents and selected based on academic achievement, extracurricular activities and community involvement, as well as an essay submitted by each nominee.
With support from scholarship sponsors such as Cherokee Nation Businesses, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence presented merit-based scholarships of $1,000 each and medallions to 100 Academic All-State Scholars.
“We very much appreciate Cherokee Nation Businesses serving as the All-State Scholarship Partner for all five of the Cherokee students who were named Academic All-Staters,” Emily Stratton, Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence executive director, said. “It is remarkable to have so many All-Staters from one class who share the same tribal heritage. Cherokee Nation must be very proud.”
CNB Executive Vice President said CNB is proud to partner with the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence “to honor these scholars for their achievements and to help support them in continuing their education.”
The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence is a nonprofit, charitable organization founded in 1985 by then U.S. Sen. David L. Boren to recognize and encourage academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. Through its Academic Awards Program, the foundation has awarded more than $4.5 million in merit-based scholarships and cash awards to honor outstanding graduating seniors as Academic All-Staters and exceptional educators as Medal for Excellence winners.
For more information on the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, visit <a href="http://www.ofe.org" target="_blank">www.ofe.org</a>.
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials recently donated $29,000 to the Alice Robertson Junior High School to help construct an outdoor classroom focused on environmental sciences.
Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Tribal Councilor Don Garvin and Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. presented the check to Principal Peggy Jones and Indian Education liaison Jerrod Adair.
“This donation gives our students at Alice Robertson Junior High an opportunity to extend their learning beyond what we could do in a regular classroom,” Jones said. “It gives our kids a hands-on opportunity to do a multitude of kinds of things in an interactive environment.”
The donation is expected to provide students a new outdoor space for botany, horticulture, agribusiness and other environmental science hands-on classes and activities.
Garvin said the donation would have a major impact on the learning and futures of students at Alice Robertson Junior High School.
“As a former educator, I know the impact that a project like this outdoor space learning area can have on students,” Garvin said. “I’m so proud that the Cherokee Nation can step up and help our schools provide some special learning amenities to students that will have a lasting impact on their academic and professional careers.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A new cornerstone for capacity building was put into place June 14 at the United Keetoowah Band John Hair Cultural Center & Museum with the signing of a memorandum of understanding for cooperation between Northeastern State University and the UKB.
“This memorandum solidifies the collaborative opportunities for both institutions. It will help to further our respective missions for developing learning opportunities and creating educational and economic success for the health and productive futures of our populations,” UKB Chief Joe Bunch. “Our tribe is honored to sign this MOU with the university. The alliance with NSU offers incredible resources, experiences and opportunities for both entities to forge new paths and grow together. The cooperative agreement with NSU, an outstanding regional university, represents new promise, hope and progress for enhancing and developing many of the important programs and services for the UKB going forward.”
UKB Assistant Chief Jamie Thompson said the UKB Tribal Council unanimously endorsed the dedicated relationship, honoring NSU’s standards of excellence, quality teaching, challenging curricula, research and scholarly activities – particularly its goal to provide immersive learning opportunities for their faculty and students in service to the local community.
“We envision the collaborative relationship to include capacity building areas of elder community services, sustainable language, kinesiology/recreation, Indian Child Welfare, child development, tribal libraries and technology and more. The tribe and university have also agreed to consider undertaking mutually beneficial, sanctioned research and grant-funded projects,” he said.
After signing the agreement, NSU President Steve Turner cited the rich educational heritage of the Cherokee people and the university’s respect for the UKB as two key elements that led to the partnership. He also acknowledged the UKB’s commitment to higher education and deep roots with the university and the Cherokee Nation.
“We seek collaborations such as this alliance with the UKB to advance or mission of helping all of our region to achieve professional and personal success in this multicultural and global society,” Turner said. “NSU continues to devote faculty and student services resources toward collaborative projects with the tribe and other American Indians that encourage, inspire and support tribal members to lead healthy and productive lives and to encourage the pursuit of post-secondary education at our institution.”
The memorandum will be supported by a joint committee comprised of individuals from both the university and the tribe who will provide oversight for the activities and projects included in the alliance.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – It has been more than a year since the last cohort for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program was announced, giving several Cherokee recipients time to reflect on the scholarship’s legacy and impact it has made on their lives.
“It was just a huge, huge blessing,” Felicia Manning said.
Manning is one of 326 Cherokees who are citizens of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes to receive the scholarship during the program’s 16-year run, according to the American Indian Graduate Center, which oversees the GMSP.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation created the program in 2000. It funds any undergraduate study area and seven graduate study areas: computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health and science.
A 2010 scholarship selection, Manning recently completed her first year of graduate study in marine science at Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Florida.
The program also funded Manning’s 2016 study abroad trip to Mossel Bay, South Africa. While there she tagged sharks with Oceans Research, an organization dedicated to Southern African wildlife management and conservation via marine research.
“That’s a group that I had been following for a long time,” Manning said. “The fact that they actually picked my school, and I’m partnered with them and I get to do my thesis work with them, that has just been so awesome. Gates (scholarship) definitely helped pave the way for me to do that.”
The scholarship is also paving a better future for Wrighter Weavel, 20, a 2015 recipient.
“I wasn’t even going to go to college, but when I found out that I got Gates, that opened so many opportunities for me to go anywhere I want, to experience any life, any culture in the entire United States,” he said.
Weavel said he plans to transfer to the University of Oklahoma to complete his undergraduate studies in education or medicine, with an overall goal to obtain a doctorate.
“I want to get my Ph.D. and I want to be called Dr. Weavel because I have a plan,” he said. “I want to have little ones, and I want them to look at me and see where I came from and to understand that it doesn’t matter the background you have, if you want to do something, you can do whatever you set your mind to.”
Weavel said he has also benefited from the scholarship beyond financial assistance.
“They offer mentors, which the mentors are a huge help,” he said. “They really help expand your mind on exactly what the scholarship can do for you.”
Weavel’s mentor is Corey Still, 26, a United Keetoowah Band citizen who received the scholarship in 2009.
Though initially interested in business and law, Still is now obtaining a doctorate in adult and higher education at OU.
“I really began to fall in love with this idea of education and how we can help our communities through education,” he said. “I really wanted to be able to help other people and especially other students.”
Still said he looks forward to joining the few Native American men with doctorates, which he decided to pursue because of the “faith” the GMSP puts into its scholars. “Whether they know it or not, that by selecting us as scholars and putting a little bit of faith into us, we’re going to go out and make something with those scholarships and with those degrees, that we’re going to make some type of impact within our community or greater society.”
Still serves on the Gates Millennium Alumni Advisory Council as the American Indian Graduate Center liaison and said he appreciates the “communal and family ties” the GMSP creates. “You really see the impact this scholarship has, and not just within Indian Country, because the scholarship itself is for minority students in under-represented fields. And so you really see the connections that are created across cultural barriers and across the country and it really does become a family.”
Of the Cherokee recipients, 313 are CN citizens, eight are UKB citizens and five are Eastern Band citizens.
In its 16 years, the GMSP funded more than 20,000 scholars and awarded more than $934 million in scholarship funds. The program ended in 2016, but the Hispanic Scholarship Fund manages a new version.
<strong>Editor’s Note: Reporter Brittney Bennett is a 2011 Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient.</strong>
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – More than 150 educators traveled June 7-8 to Northeastern State University for training in the latest science, technology, engineering and math teaching and learning techniques at the Cherokee Nation’s Teachers of Successful Students conference.
For a fifth straight year, the CN funded the conference at no cost to teachers. To culminate the conference, the CN awarded a Creative Teaching Grant of $1,000 to 10 teachers to start STEM projects in their classrooms next fall.
Angela Wall, who teaches preschool and kindergarten at Bluejacket Public Schools, said the $1,000 grant from the tribe would help the school in implementing a robotics lab for the lower elementary students.
“This grant makes it possible for us to establish this lab. It’s not something covered in the daily material, and we will now be able to implement STEM projects in the lower grades,” Wall said. “I’m very appreciative of this grant.”
Other teachers receiving $1,000 grants were:
• Greasy Public School’s Maygen Clark for “To Infinity and Beyond,”
• Maryetta Public School’s Tiffany Clawson for “Motivating Tiny Builders,”
• Bluejacket Public Schools’ Amy Rogers for “Beginning Robotics and Coding for 4th-5th Grades,”
• Afton Public Schools’ Jason Gibson for “Building Better Bridges,”
• Cleora Public School’s Deanna Gordon for “STEM Activities with a Basis in Literature,”
• Sallisaw Public Schools’ Christina Magie and Tara Mendrola for “Building Brains with a Maker’s Space,”
• Justus-Tiawah Public School’s Desiree Matheson for “STEM in the Library,”
• Wagoner Public Schools’ Stephanie Rexwinkle for “From Text to Film,” and
• Cleora Public School’s Guy Matzenbacher for “Coding is Fun!”