WARNER, Okla. – In August, Connors State College opened the doors to its Native American Success and Cultural Center that features Native American art, a computer lab, language repository and study group rooms for students, faculty, staff and the public.
The center is part of a Title III grant program that Connors received in 2014.
“This was a $5 million dollar grant spread over five years. This particular one has two focus areas. It has the Native American Success Center area, and it also has another focus for online hybrid course development,” Gwen Rodgers, Connors Title III project director, said.
Rodgers said Connors developed a “pride model” to help Native students with retention, help them learn about their respective cultures and be “inclusive” of all cultures.
“The center is open to anybody. It is not exclusive to Native Americans. There’s a rumor going around that only Native American students can utilize the center, and we’re trying to dispel that,” Colleen Noble, NASCC director, said. “We want students, the public, faculty, staff to feel comfortable to come and learn about the history, culture, literature, artwork of the Five Civilized Tribes. That’s our focus. We are reaching out to school districts for them to come and be a part of field trips.”
The Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), Chickasaw and Seminole nations were labeled as the Five Civilized Tribes.
Noble said in the center’s cultural section artwork is featured with a majority of it being Cherokee, but it also has Muscogee, Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Pawnee and Osage artwork. For the grant’s remainder, NASCC officials plan to acquire more art pieces from the Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee tribes in Oklahoma.
The center also offers cultural activities throughout the year by inviting presenters from different tribes to teach classes such as basket making and moccasin making.
Noble said Connors has a high population of Native American students, and the center is a “stop gap” for them to learn more about their respective cultures and heritages without having to travel to places such as Tulsa, Tahlequah and Muskogee to visit museums.
“We are currently 38 percent Native American students, which is a really good percentage for this area. We are one of the highest Native American populations for the state of Oklahoma for a higher learning institute. The biggest percentage of our students are Cherokee. We have over 900 students who are Native American and out of that over 600 are Cherokee,” Noble said. “We’re able to partner with Cherokee Nation and bring in some really wonderful cultural experts to share their knowledge and skills with our students.”
In the NASCC’s success center section, students learn styles in audio, visual and kinesthetic areas. Kinesthetic learning or tactile learning is where students learn by carrying out physical activities rather than listening to a lecture or watching demonstrations.
Noble said the computers labs have headphones, study rooms have marker and art boards and students can utilize a “spinning chair” to de-stress and re-focus on college studies.
“It is a five-year grant, but it is developed and designed for continuation so that at the end of the five years this doesn’t all stop. It’s institutionalized throughout so that everything we’re doing now will keep going. So Connors will just be stronger because of it. We’re excited to be a part of it,” Rodgers said.
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.connorsstate.edu" target="_blank">connorsstate.edu</a> or call 918-463-6364.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Teacher Enrichment Program recently graduated 28 people who are now certified to teach Cherokee language, culture and history in public schools and communities.
The graduation took place Jan. 31 in the Osiyo Community Room for CTE and Cherokee language teachers who participated in the program for the 2015-2016 school year. The graduates are either teachers or para-professionals who worked with Johnson-O’Malley staff to learn about Cherokee culture, language and history.
Special Projects Coordinator for JOM Tonya Bryant said the CTE program has been in place for eight years. The group that graduated on Jan. 31 is the eighth graduating class, and more than 100 teachers have participated in the program.
“We have affected 75 schools that we (JOM) work with directly. We have probably had 50 of them (schools) with a teacher in this program at some point,” Bryant said. “Once they finish this program, they can continue on to a second year, and it’s Cherokee Language Methods for Teachers where they push a lot of language. They teach the methodology of how to teach the language in schools. We have teachers that have been a part of that for three years now.”
Fifteen men and women in the language program graduated along with 13 CTE graduates.
CTE students take 12 hours of Cherokee history with Dr. Duane King of the Gilcrease Museum, 12 hours of “Culture through Clothing” with Cherokee National Treasure Tonia Weavel and also took courses with Cherokee National Treasures Jane Osti, Martha Berry, David Comingdeer and Noel Grayson. United Keetoowah Band Traditional Keeper Danny McCarter also worked with the participants.
She added the participants also did hands on activities like going out to the woods to dig up wild onions. Students were able to use the Sycamore Springs facility near Locust Grove in Mayes County, which allows CTE participates to explore nature and gather items like wild onions and watercress, which is also a traditional Cherokee food item.
“They take all of this information and then they write lesson plans, and then they go out and teach those lesson plans in their schools, so that our kids get to benefit from this knowledge. They are required to write four lesson plans a year, one for Cherokee language, culture and history and then one they choose,” Bryant said. “They go out and work with their students, and we see that it greatly affects our Cherokee cultural competitions.”
The JOM program annually hosts a Cherokee Challenge Bowl and a Cherokee Language Bowl for area grade schools where student teams compete using Cherokee history, language and culture. An art competition is also held, and Bryant added JOM staff has noticed students use Cherokee stories shared by CTE-certified teachers in the art they create.
“We definitely can see it’s working in our schools,” Bryant said.
CTE Graduate Amicia Craig, 26, of Tahlequah said it means a lot for her to complete the CTE course because it will allow her to share what she has learned with “younger generations.”
Currently, Craig is taking online college courses through Iowa State University and Connors State College in Warner, Oklahoma.
“I’d love to come back home to Tahlequah and teach,” she said. “I learned a lot. There’s stuff that I thought I knew that was wrong.”
She added she took part in the annual “Remember the Removal” bike ride last summer and got to see firsthand many of the historic sites she studied in her CTE history class.
The graduates received a certificate, various teaching items and a traditional Cherokee basket.
“Tonight they will be receiving over $600 worth of items and a beautiful basket made by (Cherokee) National Treasure Thelma Forrest,” Bryant said. “We are able to provide quality resources for the program once they graduate. There are posters, CDs...we just try to equip them to go out and do a great job.”
Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he is glad the CN is able to provide the resources for the Cherokee Teacher Enrichment program to enable the participants to go out and teach proper Cherokee history, culture and language.
“Everybody has talents and skills, but when you take everybody’s and put them together so that each one of these teachers has that knowledge and that ability to pass on that culture, heritage, history and language of the Cherokee people, then it’s just that many more kids we're going to touch and get excited about their heritage and about the Cherokee people, he said.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma ranks 41st of the most educated states because less than a quarter of adults have a bachelor’s degree and about one-tenth have a graduate or professional degree, an analysis by a consumer finance service found.
The study by WalletHub used 11 criteria to make the findings in its 2017 Most & Least Educated States study. The survey examined the percentage of adults with at least a high school diploma and the gender gap in educational attainment.
Massachusetts came in first with a score of 80.65 of 100 possible points. West Virginia came in last with 11.99.
Oklahoma achieved the No. 16 rank in the number of students enrolled in top universities per capita and came in at No. 19 in the difference between the percentage of female and male bachelor’s degree holders.
The state ended up in the bottom 10 because only 24 percent of its adults possess a bachelor’s degree and just 8 percent have master’s or other professional degrees, The Oklahoman reported.
Teachers, lawmakers and parents have grappled with how to fund all levels of education in Oklahoma in recent years.
Last year, the Legislature slashed budgets to close a $1 billion-plus hole. The cuts were felt from classrooms to social service programs in the state. Some schools moved to four-day weeks and many of the state's teachers, who are among the lowest paid in the nation, fled for neighboring states.
In November, voters rejected a penny sales tax increase that would have funded pay raises for teachers.
Natalie Shirley, the secretary of education and workforce development, said thousands of jobs go unfilled in Oklahoma because employers can’t find workers who are qualified enough.
A new state initiative wants to increase the number of workers with a college degree or other advanced training by about 600,000 by 2025, the year roughly 80 percent of state's jobs will require a degree beyond high school.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – For the past 10 years, Cherokee Nation citizen Dr. Jeff Corntassel has focused on Indigenous “resurgence” movements, believing that Indigenous people have a “responsibility” to show examples that highlight their resilience as well as their resurgence.
“I’ve been very critical of truth and reconciliation commissions as a way to resolve longstanding historical conflicts. I think we need more than that, and so a lot of the answers are in our own communities. We just don’t realize it. So it’s reminding people that they have that power,” he said.
Corntassel, Northeastern State University’s 2017 Sequoyah Fellow, presented his lecture “From Mauna Kea to Standing Rock” on Jan. 30 at NSU, with one topic being Indigenous “resurgence.”
“Indigenous resurgence really is about honoring and nurturing those relationships we have with land culture and community and to think about different ways to honor those deep-seeded, those complex relationships whether it’s through speaking the language, whether it’s through telling the stories related to that place, whether it’s through the songs we sing or engaging in ceremony,” he said.
Corntassel, who is the director of Indigenous Governance and an associate professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, said a recent way Indigenous people have honored relationships is when communities came together for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota to serve as “protectors” by preventing the Dakota Access Pipeline from being routed near water sources and tribal lands.
“I think a lot of folks have been thinking about the ways in which Standing Rock communities banded together to protect the water and how there might be the threat of more actions that might be needed to do that with the executive order (by President Donald Trump) basically giving the OK to Keystone (XL pipeline) again and also to North Dakota,” he said. “I think I wanted to show people that the link between water and land to Indigenous (people) is really close. As Indigenous peoples we honor and feel those relationships.”
He said the CN and communities surrounding the tribe have shown support for Standing Rock and by doing so it shows there are other Indigenous struggles out there that tribes such as the CN “can potentially be tied into for a future benefit for all.”
“An attack on one nation’s self-determination is an attack on all of us in some ways,” he said.
Corntassel said he plans to return to NSU in March to visit students in their classrooms. He added that he would also be back in April as a keynote speaker at the 45th annual Symposium on the American Indian.
“I want to go deeper than just a series of talks, so I’m hoping to continue meeting with students, Cherokee students and other Indigenous students to really see what’s on their minds and then (find) ways that I can help advocate for them in any facility like whether it’s at the university or elsewhere,” he said.
As a Cherokee in Canada, Corntassel said he had to “broaden” his thinking.
“Have to think about our old school diplomacy as Cherokees, have to think about what does Gadugi really mean in practice and how do I embody that. That’s why I do the everyday stuff like, how do I embody being Cherokee on an everyday basis,” he said. “How do I show that to my 10-year-old daughter. The language is so important, and it’s so hard to speak that in isolation so I’m trying to…create my daughter as a speaker. Then always visiting back home. I come back at least once or twice a year. We dance at Echota Grounds and then also to visit relatives and catch up. So really it’s broadened my thinking. I feel like an ambassador for the Cherokee Nation to a different place so I have to honor our teachings in everything I do.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation HERO Project, in partnership with Sequoyah High School, created the first Youth Motivating Others through Voices of Experience National chapter in Oklahoma.
The chapter’s aim is to teach youths how to become leaders and impact their communities by creating policies and developing procedures on issues that affect them.
“Youth M.O.V.E National has been around for a while working and developing youth in our communities all across the nation to help youth to become empowered to make a difference in their communities,” Juli Skinner, CN HERO Project director, said.
Skinner said the CN HERO Project started in January 2016 to apply and get a Youth M.O.V.E National chapter started because officials liked the organization’s idea and mission.
She said the CN HERO Project is able to teach youths leadership skills and advocacy they can use to help make necessary changes and impact the lives of other youth and families.
Every Wednesday after school, Ashley Lincoln, CN HERO Project evidence-based intervention specialist, meets with eight to 10 SHS students who are chapter members.
“Some of the activities that we work on they’re really youth driven, so we asked ‘what are activities that you want to work on? What are issues that affect you today?’ and they said nobody talks about mental health, especially youth mental health. So de-stigmatizing that, starting a conversation, and finding out where they can access services and who they can talk to,” Lincoln said.
The group call itself the Native Youth M.O.V.E. HEROES.
Jacob Smoke, a United Keetoowah Band citizen and sophomore, said he wants to help “de-stigmatize biased statements about mental illnesses” such as anxiety and depression.
“I, myself, am battling them currently. And I just feel like everything biased that’s being stated around it is wrong, and you never know who all has these mental illnesses. I want to be there to support them and help them through it because I didn’t have nobody try and help me,” he said.
Smoke said he learned that more youths suffer from metal illness than he initially thought.
“I figured it would just be them quiet kids that has it, but no, even the kids walking through the hallways with the biggest smiles on their face could have the saddest thoughts inside them. And that just makes me want to do something about it. I want to empower them and help them,” he said.
Josephynne Cheatwood, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen and senior, said joining the group was a way for her to socialize.
She said a project the group is working on is getting suggestion or “trust” boxes put in the counselor’s office and other areas of the school for students dealing with issues such as bullying to use as a safe way to bring attention to the issue.
“You just have a little piece of paper, write down a problem you’re having and you put it in the box. You don’t have to sign it. It’s 100 percent anonymous. One of our school counselors will read it and will address the problem appropriately,” Cheatwood said.
Liliana Rojas, CN citizen and freshman, said joining the group has taught her patience.
“I think I really have to learn to be patient with the others. We all have our own different ideas and viewpoints and it really teaches us tolerance and how to listen to others’ ideas and teamwork,” she said.
Lincoln said she enjoys working with youths and helping them to expand their ideals so their voices can be heard.
“I think it takes a certain person to work with youth. I really enjoy it. You have to be genuine. You have to be invested. And they’re really good at reading people. They know if you really care about their input,’” Lincoln said.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Cherokee Nation Businesses Executive Vice President Chuck Garrett was recently appointed to the Oklahoma Tomorrow board of directors, which formed after the state Legislature cut more than $153 million from higher education during its 2016 session.
The organization is expected to educate the public and the Legislature about the importance of adequately funding Oklahoma's colleges and universities.
“Oklahoma Tomorrow was created to ensure Oklahomans have opportunities to aspire higher and receive degrees allowing them to compete and contribute to our economy,” Devery Youngblood, Oklahoma Tomorrow CEO said. “If funding for higher education is not restored by the Legislature, a college degree will become inaccessible for more and more Oklahomans, limiting their ability to build successful lives. We cannot allow today's budget crisis to cripple tomorrow’s future.”
Joining Garrett on the board are Chairman Bruce Benbrook, Stock Exchange Bank president and chairman; Vice Chairman Bert Mackie, Security National Bank vice chairman; Treasurer Ed Keller of Titan Properties; Secretary Gene Rainbolt, BancFirst Corp board chairman; Craig A. Clemons, Express Employment Professionals vice president of public relations and business development; Vahid Farzaneh, FreeStyle Creative owner; Brad Gungoll of Gungoll Jackson Law Firm; Ted Haynes, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma president; Steve Hendrickson, The Boeing Company director of government operations; Danny Hilliard, Chickasaw Nation Corporate Development vice president; Paula Marshall, The Bama Companies CEO; Jane McDermott, McDermott Insurance and deVine Water owner; Richard Ryerson, Starr Lumber Company owner; Stacy Shepherd, Choctaw Nation executive officer of member services; and Avilla Williams, INTEGRIS Health Edmond president.
Private-sector leaders concerned about Oklahoma’s shortage of nurses, information technology workers and other science, technology, engineering, and math professionals founded Oklahoma Tomorrow because of their beliefs in higher education being critical to a skilled workforce.
However, budget woes prevent colleges and universities from meeting current demand or expanding STEM offerings. For example, every public nursing school in Oklahoma is at capacity, which limits the number of new students they can take. The state is turning away future nurses, which could make it more difficult for Oklahomans to receive quality health care.
Oklahoma has a system of public colleges and universities spanning the state to serve students from all backgrounds in all locations.
“Whether it’s the challenge of providing rural health care or finding engineers for Tinker Air Force Base, we must all work together to fund the education that produces tomorrow’s critical workforce,” Benbrook said.
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.oklahomatomorrow.org" target="_blank">oklahomatomorrow.org</a>.