Teams compete head-to-head during the recent Cherokee Language Bowl held at Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla. The bowl encourages students to study and use the Cherokee language. COURTESY OF CN COMMUNICATIONS
Students compete in Language Bowl competition
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Recently, the Cherokee Nation held its annual Cherokee Language Bowl, a competition between CN-area students that encourages the study and use of the Cherokee language.
“The language bowl is a place where many of the students shine,” said Sue Thompson, CN Cherokee language specialist. “The competitive setting raises self-esteem while giving students an opportunity to show off not only the Cherokee words and phrases they have learned, but also the sounds of the Cherokee syllabary.”
The CN has held a language bowl for the past 11 years. According to the tribe’s website, this year more than 290 Cherokee students competed in 58 teams and collectively took home $6,000 in awards.
Each team consists of five players. They compete in several rooms ending with winners in each division for first, second and third place. Each student winning first place receives $50, second place receives $40 and third place receives $30.
“The Cherokee Nation is committed to preserving our language and keeping our youth connected to our culture in every way possible,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “The language bowl contest is a way for our students to demonstrate those skills in a fun environment.”
Several schools represented more than one teach in each division.
Grove and Collinsville were the Division 1 first place winners, which included kindergarten through second grade. Collinsville also took home second place along with Kenwood. Belfonte – Bell and Kenwood rounded out that division in third place.
Third through fifth grade made up Division 2. Two teams from Grove and one from Salina took home first place. Claremore, Kenwood and Salina took second place and Collinsville, Kenwood and Claremore took home third place.
Division 3 consisted of middle school students in grades sixth through eighth. Two teams from Grove and one team from Pryor took home $50 each and the first place title. Second place winners were Pryor and two teams from Grove. Rounding out the division with third place finishes were Collinsville, Catoosa and Maryetta.
High School students in grades ninth through twelfth made up Division 4. Teams from Sequoyah High School and Grove won first and second place. Grove also won third place in the division along with Tahlequah.
All participating students and two guests of their choice will attend the Cherokee Language Bowl Awards Ceremony and luncheon on May 10 to receive awards and plaques.
WINSLOW, Ariz. (AP) – On a desert outpost miles from the closest paved road, Navajo students at the Little Singer Community School gleefully taste traditional fry bread during the school’s heritage week.
“It reminds us of the Native American people a long time ago,” says a smiling 9-year-old, Arissa Chee.
The cheer comes in the midst of dire surroundings: Little Singer, like so many of the 183 Indian schools overseen by the federal government, is verging on decrepit.
The school, which serves 81 students, consists of a cluster of rundown classroom buildings containing asbestos, radon, mice, mold and flimsy outside door locks. The newest building, a large, white monolithic dome that is nearly 20 years old, houses the gym.
On a recent day, students carried chairs above their heads while they changed classes, so they would have a place to sit.
These are schools, says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, whose department is responsible for them, “that you or I would not feel good sending our kids to, and I don’t feel good sending Indian kids there, either.”
Federally owned schools for Native Americans on reservations are marked by remoteness, extreme poverty and few construction dollars.
The schools serve about 48,000 children, or about 7 percent of Indian students, and are among the country’s lowest performing. At Little Singer, less than one-quarter of students were deemed proficient in reading and math on a 2012-2013 assessment.
The Obama administration is pushing ahead with a plan to improve the schools that gives tribes more control. But the endeavor is complicated by disrepair of so many buildings, not to mention a federal legacy dating to the 19th century that for many years forced Native American children to attend boarding schools.
Little Singer was the vision in the 1970s of a medicine man of the same name who wanted local children educated in the community.
Students often come from families struggling with domestic violence, alcoholism and a lack of running water at home, so nurturing is emphasized. The school provides showers, along with shampoo and washing machines.
Conflicts and discipline problems are resolved with traditional “peacemaking” discussions, and occasionally the use of a sweat lodge.
Principal Etta Shirley’s day starts at 6 a.m., when on her way to work, she picks up kids off the bus routes. Because there’s no teacher housing, a caravan of teachers commutes together about 90 minutes each morning on barely passable dirt roads.
All this, to teach in barely passable quarters.
“We have little to work with, but we make do with what we have,” says Verna Yazzie, a school board member.
The school is on the government’s priority list for replacement.
It’s been there since at least 2004.
The 183 schools are spread across 23 states and fall under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education.
They are in some of the most out-of-the-way places in America; one is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, reachable by donkey or helicopter. Most are small, with fewer than 150 students.
Native Americans perform better in schools that are not overseen by the federal bureau than in schools that are, national and state assessments show. Overall, they trail their peers in an important national assessment and struggle with a graduation rate of 68 percent.
President Barack Obama visited Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota in June, where he announced the school improvement plan.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Sarah Ferrell is enjoying her first year of college at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
The 18-year-old honor student is attending on a Gates Millennium Scholars Scholarship. She said her father encouraged her to apply for the scholarship, which is given annually to only 1,000 students from throughout the United States. Ferrell said she did not have high expectations of winning the scholarship, which pays for up to 10 years of college.
“A bunch of my friends applied for it, and they all kept getting rejection letters and I felt really bad,” she said.
The scholarship was established in 1999 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide outstanding American Indian/Alaska Native, African American, Asian Pacific Islander American and Hispanic American students with an opportunity to complete an undergraduate and graduate college education in any discipline area of interest.
Ferrell said having the scholarship relieves the pressure of worrying about how to pay for school.
“My friends talk about always having to deal with loans and how they’re going to pay it. I don’t have to worry about that,” she said.
At Tahlequah High School, she played soccer and was a part of the National Honor Society. One of her long-time interests may surprise some people – she is skilled at shooting a traditional Cherokee bow.
“I’ve never shot a compound (bow) or anything. It’s always traditional. My grandpa made them, and I’ve been doing it (shooting) since I was little,” she said.
She said if she had to hunt game with a bow and arrow to survive, she could do it.
At NSU, she has joined the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority and is concentrating on her studies. After completing her undergraduate studies, she plans to enroll in graduate school.
“I don’t want just four years. I want more than four years,” she said.
She admitted she has a tough time with her science classes but does well in her math classes. She is still is considering a career in the medical field, and understands a medical degree will require science classes.
Recently, Ferrell was the only Cherokee student selected to the American Indian Center’s “All Native American Academic Team.” Each year only 10 American Indian/Alaska Native students from across the United States are selected based on academic achievement, honors and awards, leadership and community service. Each student is given a monetary award that may be spent at the student’s discretion.
“I had to have a lot of volunteer activities and a bunch of leadership roles, and I listed the stuff I had done through the Cherokee Nation,” Ferrell said of the application process.
The objectives of the ANAAT is to increase awareness of academic achievement of Indian high school seniors among their peers, Indian Country and the public; to increase recognition of Indian student success and capabilities as a positive motivation for pursuing academic excellence and higher education; and to increase academic achievement and role models as positive influences in Indian Country.
The program also means to increase teacher, administrator, parent and community involvement by recommending, nominating and supporting student participation and to increase student participation in high school academic programs and the pursuit of higher education.
Ferrell said she felt good about her application to the ANAAT but still wasn’t sure she would be selected to the team because she faced a lot of competition.
“I didn’t really think I’d get it because so many people apply for it,” she said.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Talking Leaves Job Corps recently reached its 35th year with the Cherokee Nation.
“The (federal) Job Corps program allows for the opportunity to improve many lives on a daily basis and has been doing so for the last 50 years,” Jay Littlejohn, TLJC director, said.
As part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, the Job Corps program started in 1964 to provide a no-cost education and career technical training for low-income young people ages 16-24. The program enrolls nearly 60,000 students annually at 125 Job Corps centers across the country and, since opening the program has trained more than 2.7 million people.
The TLJC was established in 1978 at Northeastern State University. It later moved to the CN Annex Building in 1991 before moving to its current location northeast of the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in 1994.
“With the Cherokee Nation as our contractor and the support of Career Services Executive Director Diane Kelley serving as the corporate liaison, our program is able to thrive and prepare students for the workforce so they may find meaningful employment,” Littlejohn said.
Job Corps is the nation’s largest and oldest federally funded career training and education program. Career training areas at TLJC include office administration, certified clinical medical aide, certified nursing assistant, culinary arts and electrical wiring and facilities maintenance.
By participating in the work-based learning program, students are provided hands-on experience while spending time in a real work environment. The program provides students with opportunities to prepare for high-skilled careers while making successful transitions from training to the workplace. Students start with classwork and then they can go into the field of their choice. Students must receive 400 hours of training.
“I’ve been the center director at Talking Leaves since 2009 and am very proud to say that since then we have had over 1,200 students complete a trade and nearly 900 students receive their GED,” Littlejohn said. “We look forward to the next 35 years of success.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After starting construction in August, Cherokee Nation officials said the new stoplight at Sequoyah High School’s entrance was expected to be complete by the end of October.
“It’s very important for Cherokee Nation to keep the students, parents and faculty and staff safe as they travel through this intersection,” Michael Lynn, CN Roads Department director, said.
The CN Roads Department received $525,000 from Federal Highway Administration’s Tribal Transportation Program safety funds in 2013 to improve highways on tribal lands. With those funds, the department planned to install the four-way stoplight at the busy intersection of U.S. Hwy 62 and Coffee Hollow Road, with the cooperation of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
“There are over 16,000 vehicles a day that travel across U.S. 62, about 1,800 cars that travel into Sequoyah High School at any point in time depending on activities going on at the school,” Lynn said.
The funds were given to add signal lights, better signage, turning lanes and improved acceleration and deceleration lanes to the intersection, which is the entrance to Sequoyah Schools, the CN Charter Immersion School, Head Start and Early Childhood Center in Cherokee County.
Before the stoplight, CN citizen Colleen Daugherty, who has a daughter in Head Start, said although she doesn’t have to pick up her child from Head Start that often, when she did she would notice how dangerous the intersection became.
“Traffic backs up. You have a really hard time turning left (in and out of the school), so I think the stoplight is a very beneficial thing, and I will be able to turn left (into the school) in the morning when I’m dropping her off,” she said.
Lynn said during the past 10 years, there have been approximately 15 accidents at that intersection but no fatalities.
“We’re working to improve the safety of this intersection to reduce that number,” he said.
This is the fist time the Roads Department has been awarded this grant. The Tribal Transportation Program was established to address transportation needs of tribal governments throughout the United States.
As of Oct. 21, traffic lights were being installed at the four-way intersection. Lynn said that once installation was complete, incidental work was still needed such as sod, striping, general cleanup and traffic light activation.
Roads Department officials said they still expected the intersection work to be complete by the end of October.
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Bacone College’s Art Department recently received a vintage 30-foot-by-64-foot Whelan Press from Cherokee artist Sallyann Paschall.
The press now resides in the William McCombs Hall and is valued at approximately $3,000.
According to a Bacone College press release, the Whelan Press is an etching press system that “implements 21st century design and manufacturing techniques as a means of answering the creative needs and safety concerns of artists and printmaking labs.”
The press is able to create various pieces, such as reliefs, monotypes and etchings among other pieces.
Bacone College Director of Art Tony Tiger said he is grateful for the donation.
“We’re glad to see students express themselves creatively through art,” he said. “We are also developing better methods to help guide students to success.”
For more information, email Tony Tiger at <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to the Cherokee Nation Foundation’s 2013 audit, former Executive Director Kimberlie Gilliland “exercised substantial control over all phases of the organization and was able to circumvent board authority on a number of issues.”
Gilliland, a Cherokee Nation citizen, served as executive director from January 2010 to June 2013.
According to the audit, no accounting controls were exercised over restricted funds and their disbursements. The auditor was unable to obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence about the amounts recorded as restricted funds. The auditor was also unable to determine whether adjustments to those amounts were necessary. Accounting controls over the disbursement of funds for the payment of expenditures and payroll were not sufficient and a great deal of those expenditures did not have appropriate supporting documentation, it states.
In CNF’s audit response, the new board has committed to improve the organization’s oversight, including the executive director, and it now requires two signatures on all checks and the executive director only is one of the signers in the event of an emergency.
“When I took over, we had an auditor and an outside accountant and the books hadn’t been balanced in three years,” current CNF Executive Director Randall told Tribal Councilors during the Aug. 11 Education and Culture Committee meeting.
“He (Robert St. Pierre of Stilwell) said it was the worst audit he had ever done in the history of his auditing.”
Gilliland said during her tenure she acted in accordance with the CNF bylaws.
Gilliland cited section 5.2 of the bylaws, which provides that the executive director “shall be the administrator of the corporation and charged with the responsibility of managing the business of the corporation in the roll of the chief executive officer and shall perform such other duties as may be prescribed by the board of directors or the president.”
Section 7.2 specifically delegates the executive director to “sign checks, receipts, deposit funds enter into contracts, modify or cancel contracts, on behalf for the board of directors, except in the amounts of over $5,000 which shall be required to have the signature of one officer.”
“I reported to the board president weekly, to the board’s Finance Committee monthly and to the full board quarterly,” Gilliland said. “I did not make any decisions without consulting the respective committee chairs or the board president.”
Gilliland said CNF’s financial records consisted of a general ledger, maintained using QuickBooks accounting software, bank statements and financial statements.
“An independent outside CPA (certified public accountant) reconciled the bank statements, the general ledger and the financial statements monthly,” she said. “Up to the summer of 2010, the accountant who performed these reconciliations was Chrissie Moore.”
At the time, Moore was a CN employee who reported to then-Treasurer Callie Catcher.
Gilliland said CPA Linda Drumm performed these reconciliations from the summer of 2010 through December 2011. Drumm is the financial director of St. John’s Medical Access Program.
Gilliland said from December 2011 through January 2013 Catcher performed the reconciliations, and former CN Finance Director Tamsye Dreadfulwater performed them from January 2013 to May 2013.
“I provided this information to the board’s Finance Committee each month,” Gilliland said. “This information was also provided within 48 hours to any Tribal Council member who requested it.”
Jim Rush, an independent CPA experienced in tribal policy and procedures and IRS regulations applicable to tribal and nonprofit entities, performed audits annually for the 2010 through 2012 fiscal years, she said.
“The corporation’s accounting records were kept according to generally accepted accounting principles found in the United States,” Gilliland said. “The financial statement presentation followed the recommendations of Financial Accounting Standards. Opinions in all audits stated that ‘the financial statements referred to present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the Cherokee Nation Foundation…’ In summary, I acted at all times in accord with the authority expressly delegated to me by the bylaws and the board and with full disclosure to the board and the Tribal Council.”
According to the audit, “the inherent limitation resulting from one employee performing functions that would normally be divided among several employees were a larger number available presents a proper segregation of accounting functions deficiency. A much larger staff would be necessary in order to assure adequate internal accounting controls.”
CNF officials said management plans to start presenting a list of all disbursements to the board each meeting that details the check number, amount of the check and the vendor name for disbursement. The board will also have access to a copy of the bank statement and a copy of the bank reconciliation and supporting documentation for all expenditures. New internal controls have also been implemented to address this recommendation and an outside accountant was hired in December 2013.
Gilliland said during her tenure three people reviewed each incoming donation or other payment.
“The office manager opened the mail and made photocopies of all checks, cash or other enclosures and removed any checks or cash. I entered the donations and payments into the accounting system. A third employee then deposited the checks or cash into the bank,” she said.
Gilliland said CNF maintained separate bank accounts for general operating funds, grants, restricted donations and unrestricted donations and that an independent CPA then reviewed and reconciled CNF’s financial records monthly.
“The board’s Finance Committee reviewed this information and constantly provided recommendation on how to improve CNF’s procedures and maximize the return on CNF’s funds,” she said. “Despite the limited number of employees, CNF had a procedure in place to ensure the integrity in handling all funds. I cannot address questions after June 13, 2013, when I left CNF, or what has happened since that date to the financial and other records CNF maintained during my tenure.”
She said that during her tenure the number of employees varied from one to five. Their duties also varied depending on the positions for which they were hired. All positions had job descriptions that outlined the duties, and the board approved these job descriptions before the employees were hired.
The audit also states that records reflected endowment funds, which were $666,766, for both the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma State University, were reported as assets. This error caused the prior year audit as well as the current year’s assets to be overstated.
CNF’s audit response states that the “previous staff and auditor evidently did not have the knowledge and or skill to prepare financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles.” The Foundation has hired an outside accountant in an effort to avoid this.
Gilliland said in the audits for fiscal years 2010 through 2012, CNF financial statements were prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles.
“The handling of the endowment funds for TU and OSU was dictated by the nature of the endowments and the manner in which the Memoranda of Understanding were written,” she said. “Three independent CPAs, all of whom had experience working for or with tribes, concurred in this.”
Health Insurance Payments
The audit also states when Gilliland reached an agreement on a severance package it doesn’t appear health insurance was part of the agreement.
However, it was found that CNF continued to pay the executive director’s health insurance for the remainder of the year.
As a response, Foundation officials said health insurance was not part of the severance package. For part of the year, the organization either had an interim director or no director. Because there was an inadequate management transition and several account changes, the automatic withdrawals to pay the health insurance were not stopped.
“In late April 2013, the board appointed Jason Denny as interim director,” Gilliland said. “Mr. Denny assumed responsibility for most day-to-day activities. I assisted with the transition as well as CNF’s summer programs.”
She said what happened was a CNF procedural issue and can only comment what happened while she was there.
“While I was there, CNF established automatic payments for health insurance at the independent outside CPA’s recommendation for the purpose of consistency and efficiency,” she said. “Had the financial reporting procedures that were instituted and in place while I was there been followed, the situation should have been found and corrected.”
Gilliland said she could not recall the amount of the monthly premium payment. CNF officials said they could not comment on the amount because the personnel information is confidential.
While Gilliland was heading CNF, all the office computers were replaced with new computers for $8,931. According to the audit, this purchase didn’t appear to have been approved by the board as it exceeded the spending authorization limit the board established.
The audit states Gilliland “took possession of some of old computers and also removed data files from the offices.” She paid CNF $1,496, however, there doesn’t appear to be board approval for this transaction and the items were not declared surplus by the board, it states.
There also was a printer that was purchased possibly with grant funds. However, the printer was not at the Foundation offices. Current employees were told the printer had been taken by Gilliland and was possibly given to another CN program, the audit states. There was no board approval for the removal of the printer, according to the audit.
However, Gilliland said that isn’t true. The computers were small laptops with useful lives of approximately three years. When operating software could not be updated, the computers were given to scholarship students, she said.
“Two of the computers needing replacement had, at one time or other, contained sensitive information,” Gilliland said. “As a security precaution we made an inquiry to Apple regarding the trade in value. Apple responded with a value of $50 for one and nothing for the other.”
Gilliland said the computer she was using had a hard disk, which needed replacement.
“I discussed this situation with the board president (Robin Flint Ballenger) and the board treasurer,” she said. “I and one other employee offered to buy these two computers for $100 each.
“In regard to the additional $1396 dollars, I ordered iPads for the Cherokee Scholar program and the staff. We determined after we purchased this equipment that the students would use laptop computers rather than iPads, and two of the iPads were therefore no longer needed. I purchased them from CNF at the same price CNF paid with full disclosure to, and approval of, both the board president and the board treasurer.”
Gilliland added that all data files were backed up to a CD, which was given to CNF staff. The data files were also backed up to one of the new computers.
Gilliland said that $1,496 was the true value of the computers.
In regards to the printer, Gilliland said the printer was part of a First Nations grant for capacity building and was to be used for Cherokee language programs.
“Priorities changed at the Nation and it purchased its own printers to support Cherokee language projects,” she said. “The printer CNF purchased therefore went unused for several years and took up space needed for other CNF operational needs. CNF therefore donated the printer to the Nation.”
The printer was not donated until the grant was closed out, Gilliland said.
Gilliland said the printer was purchased approximately 3-1/2 years prior to the time CNF donated it at a cost of approximately $2,000.
Donor Restricted Funds
According to the audit, CNF receives contributions with donor-imposed restrictions. The Foundation management and board are responsible for insuring the funds are expended according to the donor’s wishes. However, the CNF offices were not sufficient to determine if the donor intentions were fulfilled, it states. “There is good reason to believe that funds were not expended in accordance with terms as set forth at the time of contribution,” the audit states.
In its response, the Foundation states, “we believe that all funds donated for scholarships have been expended to provide scholarships according to donor instructions,” however, they also state that records available are not sufficient to determine all donor restrictions.
Gilliland said any restricted funds were not used improperly, and during her tenure at CNF, a separate bank account was set up in order to honor donor restrictions.
“Restricted and unrestricted funds were not mixed,” she said. “CNF had very strict accounting codes and procedures for handling restricted funds.
Restricted funds had an MOU and/or donor restrictions. Each fund had its own binder. At the time I left CNF, there were records properly documenting the handling of all restricted funds. I cannot comment on what happened to those records after I left CNF in June 2013.”
The audit also found that Gilliland appeared to have paid expenses such as airfare, food and lodging for people not affiliated with CNF. However, there were not adequate records to determine if there was a business purpose or reason for additional travelers, it states.
It was also noted that travel receipts were sometimes in the name of Cherokee Media, a company partially owned by Gilliland and partially owned by Gilliland’s husband, Andrew Sikora. However, they were paid for with a CNF credit card.
Gilliland said this isn’t true.
“The board and its Finance Committee scrupulously monitored all CNF expenditures, especially travel,” she said. “CNF employees often shared rooms and paid for meals at their own expense. Cherokee Media had rewards cards that were used to obtain lower travel and hotel rates. The use of the Cherokee Media rewards cards was thus a way to reduce CNF’s travel costs and was properly documented.”
Gilliland added that CNF paid travel for CNF staff and volunteers, and to determine the cost of the travel she would have to examine records that she no longer has access to.
She said that the CNF board approved all travel expenses and that CNF was not paying for travel for Cherokee Media. However, Cherokee Media’s travel rewards cards were used to obtain discounts and save CNF money on travel, she said.
Sunshine Ethics Act
According to the audit, under the Sunshine Ethics Act, the auditor believes the Foundation and CN employees are prohibited from contracting with the organization unless they enter into an extra duty contract. “The former executive director was aware of this via email from Chrissy Nimmo (Assistant Attorney General) dated Sept. 1, 2009.” It was found that CNF did issue at least one check to Cherokee Media for $988.
Gilliland also said this wasn’t true.
“The Oklahoma Arts Council wanted to work with Cherokee Media on the Cherokee Cultural Exchange Program,” she said. “This was a cultural exchange program that allowed Cherokee students at Sequoyah, Maryetta and Fort Gibson schools to interact with schools in Brighton, England, and talk about culture, language and history. The program resulted in the introduction of Cherokee history into the English school curriculum. Cherokee Media provided services to CNF to document this program.”
Gilliland added that the payment was approved and signed by the CNF board.
“During my tenure, CNF took the Sunshine Act and conflict of interest very seriously,” she said. “Proper policy and procedure were always front and center. This particular program was an eight-month project that came about pursuant to a restricted grant. CNF and I consulted with an attorney who assured that there were no violations of the Sunshine Act was followed.”
Ballenger said that she could understand how someone looking in from the outside might question paying Cherokee Media for work with the Foundation.
“In actual fact, Andrew’s early generosity in donating 99 percent of his services to CNF was of huge benefit to us,” she said. “He was a wonderful benefactor, donating some lovely videos and media work to us. We paid him for a tiny fraction of his services. His donations gave us a big boost and I’ll always be grateful to him.”
<a href=" http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2014/10/8563_CNF_Audit.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a> to read the audit document.