Cherokee Nation citizen Candessa Tehee began serving as the Cherokee Heritage Center’s executive director on Dec. 9. Prior to coming to the CHC, she worked as manager of the CN Cherokee Language Program. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Tehee named new CHC executive director
New Cherokee Heritage Center Executive Director Candessa Tehee stands at the center’s Diligwa Village in Park Hill, Okla. Tehee is the first female, full-blood Cherokee Nation citizen with Cherokee language skills to serve as the center’s executive director. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Candessa Tehee will tell you that all she knows how to be as a person is Cherokee and that her “Cherokee-ness” makes her a good fit to lead the Cherokee Heritage Center as its new executive director.
Tehee, 36, took over as CHC executive director on Dec. 9. She said she was “immediately welcomed” by each staff member and that she met with them to hear their hopes and concerns as well as the challenges the CHC has faced in the past several years.
“I think giving them that voice has been very beneficial. We have a wonderful foundation in terms of the staff. The staff who are here really are the lifeblood of this organization,” she said.
According to Cherokee National Historical Society archives, Tehee is the center’s first female executive director, first full-blood permanent or interim director and first CN citizen with Cherokee language skills to serve as director.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies and communications and a master’s degree in education from the University of Oklahoma. She is also finishing her dissertation for a doctorate in social, cultural and linguistic anthropology from OU.
“Candessa represents a new generation of Cherokee leadership,” Susan Plumb, president-elect of the CNHS board of directors, said. “Not only does she have a passion for her people, the Cherokee culture and history, she has the professional experience and education that make her a great fit.”
Prior to going to the CHC, Tehee managed the tribe’s Cherokee Language Program and oversaw the Language Technology Department, Translation Department and Community Languages Program.
Tehee said working as Cherokee Language Program manager helped prepare her for her new job because she worked on long-range strategic objectives, which will be part of her duties as executive director. She said her accomplishments and previous challenges helped her ask needed questions to develop long-range goals and collaboration with the CNHS board and CN.
The CHC’s mission is to celebrate, preserve and perpetuate the Cherokee culture. Tehee said the center’s cornerstones are Cherokee history, language and culture.
Tehee grew up immersed in the Cherokee culture in Sequoyah and Cherokee counties and comes from a “very, close-knit traditional community.”
“I grew up with the culture as an everyday part of my existence. I grew up with language as an everyday part of my existence. It’s not something that I can pick and put down; it’s just who I am. If I could live and breathe Cherokee, it was what I was doing when I was growing up. When I left my house I realized the existence that I had is very special,” she said. “I think it is those things that prepared me to be the manager of the Cherokee Language Program and now to be the executive director of the Cherokee Heritage Center.”
The center, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013, has not had a permanent executive director since early 2012 and Tehee said she faces tests as executive director.
The CHC is a nonprofit organization and faces budget challenges that can stymie growth and improvements to the center’s Cherokee National Museum, Diligwa Village, Adams Corner Rural Village, Nofire Farms, Cherokee Family Research Center and Cherokee National Archives.
One challenge is completing the Diligwa Village that opened this past summer. The village showcases Cherokee life in the early 1700s using summer and winter homes from that era, a council house, a ball field and interpreters placed throughout the $1.2 million structure.
Tehee said landscaping and a village pathway are being worked on during the offseason.
“The majority of the building phases of Diligwa have been completed. We’re pretty close to being ready, and we hope to be fully functional and ready in the spring of 2014,” she said. “Of course the challenge is always staffing. I worked in the Ancient Village, which was the village we had prior to Diligwa, as a tour guide and I remember it feeling like it was a community and I made some long-lasting friendships there in the village. I would really like to see Diligwa maintain that spirit as we move forward.”
Tehee said she’s seen plenty of enthusiasm about her joining the CHC from its staff, CNHS board members and people in the community.
“I feel very encouraged and supported by the enthusiasm because I don’t think it’s just for me. I think more than for me. It’s for the heritage center. I want to contribute in a positive way to the legacy of the heritage center,” she said.
WESTVILLE, Okla. – When expert bushcrafters were invited to square off against one another on the Discovery Channel’s new series “Bushcraft Build-off,” Cherokee Nation citizen B.J. Latta was featured among them.
“Back in March, I get a phone call and this lady calls me from Hollywood, California, and she says, ‘hey, we would like to interview you on Skype for a upcoming TV show. You got recommended by (Latta’s friend) Matt Tate.’ It was just crazy being interviewed, and of course, I didn’t think it was going to go anywhere because there’s so many guys who are way more talented,” Latta said.
Hosted by primitive skills expert Matt Graham, the show debuted Nov. 14 and takes survival to the next level by asking two teams of three bushcrafters to outdo one another in challenges meant to test ability and skill.
Latta led his team on the series premiere competing to build the best shelter during a seven-day span in Utah’s Aspen Grove forest. Each team was allowed three hand tools to accomplish the task while being graded by Graham in areas of creativity, sustainability, livability and protection.
“One tool a piece, per person and then we were just turned loose in the environment for seven days,” Latta said. “The part where I filmed was in the mountains of Utah, and we didn’t know what we were doing until we got off the plane, got out of the hotel room and they took us to the mountains. We were kind of kept in the dark, so the challenge was more real.”
In addition to being limited on tools, Latta faced challenges from an unfamiliar environment.
“I was totally out of my environment,” he said. “When you go to the mountains of Utah, there’s no cedar trees up there. There’s not one and that’s one of the main resources, especially for Native American people, here. Cedar trees are very life giving. We use that in everything in Cherokee culture, but when you get up there, there’s none.”
The location itself was also a factor.
“Even just working in the altitude was very tough for us because I’m not used to that, the oxygen levels,” Latta said. “There’s no high altitude here in Adair County. Your body’s different. You’re burning more calories. You’re exhausted more and in a survival situation, all that stuff really, really matters.”
In the premiere episode titled “Built to Survive,” Latta said Graham was quick to offer advice when things started to go sideways.
“I ran into a problem with my shelter,” he said. “I thought it out and thought, ‘man, my idea is not going to work. I need a bigger and better idea,’ and so I ask (Graham), ‘hey, what do you think about this?’ And so this guy, who is world renowned got to sit with me and I got to pick his brain, which is really, really cool.”
The experience also allowed Latta to spend more time with his father, who was on his team.
“To be able to spend that time with my dad, was probably the most rewarding,” he said. “Being on TV is going to be really cool, but that’s like third or fourth compared to spending 15 days with my dad.”
Despite seeing himself on the Discovery Channel, the Stilwell teacher remains humble.
“To know that maybe the world doesn’t see me as maybe successful on paper, but that’s because I’ve been a good steward at everything I’ve done and just worked hard like the Lord says, just showing up and doing your best can elevate you,” he said. “I didn’t put in an application to be on the Discovery Channel. They seen my work ethic working somewhere else and noticed me and asked me to come there.”
For more about “Bushcraft Build-off” or to watch Latta’s episode, visit <a href="http://www.discovery.com" target="_blank">www.discovery.com</a>. A new episode is aired at 9 p.m. every Tuesday night.
JAY, Okla. – As a little girl, Cherokee Nation citizen Brooke Hester dreamed of being a role model and representing her community as she watched pageant winners do so. Winning Miss Oklahoma 2018 on Oct. 7 in Chickasha now allows her that honor.
From the Delaware County town of Jay, Hester began her pageant journey in elementary school by winning Little Miss Huckleberry in the town’s annual Huckleberry Festival. Since then, Hester has won Huckleberry Princess and Huckleberry Queen.
Having “presence and poise” is what drew Hester to start competing in pageants. “I always wanted to be able to represent my community,” she said.
During the Miss Oklahoma competition, Hester was required to do a private interview with the judges, an opening dance number, an onstage personal introduction, as well as evening gown and talent portions.
To prepare, Hester said she spent hours writing and practicing her introduction speech, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, practicing modeling formations and mock interviews and walking around her house in her “pageant heels.”
“My experience competing in the Miss Oklahoma pageant was truly amazing. I met some of the most incredibly talented and educated women while competing and brought home so many new friendships that I didn’t have before,” she said.
Along with her title, Hester also won best interview and best talent, singing Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough.”
Hester’s platform is “Life is What You Give: Volunteerism,” and she’s an avid volunteer in her community.
As part of her volunteer efforts, she is as a member of the Jay Chamber of Commerce, director of the Miss Huckleberry and Miss Huckleberry Outstanding Teen pageants, director of the Miss Bulldog Pride pageant, director of the Mister and Miss Merry Christmas pageant, an active member of the Huckleberry Festival committee and Jay Chamber of Commerce Christmas Lighting Committee, Jay Summer Sports tee ball coordinator and coach, Little League assistant coach and Jay Youth Sports basketball coach.
“The more I give, the happier I feel. I love to help others, do good for them, and for my community. I promote volunteerism to others just leading by example. Volunteering can be so contagious,” she said.
As Miss Oklahoma, Hester will spend the next year traveling to communities and events in Oklahoma.
“My next year will be a journey that I hope goes by very slowly because I won’t want it to end. Throughout my year I will continue volunteering in my community as well as others,” she said.
Hester said she would speak at schools, attend meet-and-greets and participate in parades across the state. She will also make appearances with the current Miss Huckleberry and Miss Huckleberry Outstanding Teen.
In 2018, Hester will also compete for the title of International Miss in Orlando, Florida.
In the future, Hester plans to compete in the Mrs. Oklahoma pageant, which is for married women. She works at the CN Sam Hider Health Center in Jay, is married to her husband Caleb, and has three children.
BOISE CITY, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Weston Henson served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2007-12.
During his time in the USMC, Henson was part of two international tours and earned the rank of corporal in the 3rd Battalion Second Marines.
Born Dec. 21, 1987, Henson grew up in Westville, attended Westville Public Schools and graduated in 2006. He initially planned to play college football at Southeastern State University in Durant and obtain a degree in wildlife biology, but his playing career did not pan out.
So he decided his next career choice would be to enlist in the USMC.
After enlisting in March 2007, Henson was sent to San Diego for basic training. After six months, he was sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, which also served as his base camp. While at Camp Lejeune, Henson became a small-arms and weapons repair specialist.
“While in the (United) States I was responsible for care of maintenance of all the weapons for our battalion. While deployed, I was a gunner for my platoon and also in charge of the weapons for my company,” he said.
In 2010, Henson was called for duty overseas. His first assignment was a humanitarian tour in Haiti following its 2010 earthquake. Then he was sent to South Africa. His tour also included a training mission in Europe, and when it ended he began a second tour and was sent to Afghanistan to help train Afghan allies and support other Marines during combat.
He said serving in Afghanistan was not easy. Henson said supplies were scarce and a “good night’s sleep” was something he and other Marines “could only hope for.”
Henson lost a good friend in battle and endured battle wounds himself, but found a way to keep going.
During a skirmish with the Afghan enemy, Henson caught shrapnel in his right knee. As the only marine with an injury during that time, his fellow marines dubbed the firefight “The Battle of Wounded Knee.”
Henson also suffered injuries from other combat missions. In one incident, a 60-pound improvised explosive device or IED blew up his transport vehicle. In another incident, his armored vehicle hit a 120-pound IED, which was the biggest-known IED at the time, and he suffered from head trauma. That injury earned him a Purple Heart.
In addition to the Purple Heart, Henson received the Combat Action, Afghan Campaign, Sea Service, Good Conduct, National Defense, Global War on Terrorism, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Humanitarian medals.
In 2012, as overseas deployments began to slow, Henson decided not to re-enlist but to pursue a college degree. He attended Missouri State University in Springfield and received a degree in natural resources. He now works as a soil conservationist for the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“The best part of being a marine is the pride we take in ourselves from our fighting abilities to how we carry ourselves, and also the brotherhood you form with the men you fight beside,” he said. “To me, being a Cherokee veteran is showing the pride, ethic and spirit of our people to not only the people we know but also to all of the people in the world where we may travel or fight and to honor those who came before. To me, serving isn’t about self but selflessness, to put others before yourself and hope that if you do so they may never have to go through what you have.”
NORMAN, Okla. – Dwight Birdwell, a native of Bell in Adair County, earned two Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts while serving in Vietnam in 1968.
He was assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Calvary, 25th Infantry Division. The then-20-year-old Spc. 5 Birdwell was the gunner on a 52-ton M48 Patton tank. He was efficient with the weapons provided to him and used them to save his fellow soldiers in two battles.
For his bravery and service, the former Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal chief justice was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame on Oct. 21. About 50 of his friends and family members attended the ceremony to honor him and 10 other honorees.
“I want to thank the Cherokee Nation and other folks who came from back home, many of whom I’ve known since I was 3 years old, all the way from bean fields, strawberry fields, hay-hauling fields and what have you,” he said after receiving his OMHOF medal. “I must say without hesitation that I want to also remember and honor the 70-something people I served with while I was in Vietnam from (19)67 to (19)68 who were killed in action and did not make it back. Their faces and their memories will forever be in my heart. Thank all of you, again, for this humbling honor. It’s something I will treasure the rest of my days.”
Troop C was responsible for securing the main supply route between Saigon and Tay Ninh in South Vietnam. On Jan. 31, 1968, Birdwell and his unit were outside Saigon at Cu Chi, resting after weeks of field operations. At dawn and without warning, an estimated 70,000 Viet Cong guerillas and North Vietnamese soldiers attacked major cities in South Vietnam. Their main target was Saigon. Another target was the American command center at Tan Son Nhut, southeast of Saigon.
An airbase was also at Tan Son Nhut, which is where Birdwell’s unit, numbering less than 100 men, fought a Vietnamese force numbering approximately 1,000 men.
Troop C moved from Cu Chi to take up positions along Highway 1 on the west side of the airbase, heading off any withdrawing enemy soldiers attacking the base. The column of three M48 tanks and 10 armored personnel carriers or APCs quickly made it to the blacktopped Highway 1.
Unknowingly, the column pulled onto the highway just as the 1,000-man force prepared to attack the air base. As the column passed huts that paralleled the highway to the west, rocket-propelled grenades were fired from the huts knocking out the lead tank and three APCs.
The M48 Patton tank was equipped with a .50-caliber machine gun and a 90mm main gun. Birdwell, the gunner in the second tank, and his commander didn’t immediately realize what had taken place. When the tank commander finally returned fire and shot into the huts, a return barrage of fire seriously wounded him.
Upon realizing his commander was wounded, Birdwell dragged him to safety in the highway’s ditch. Birdwell then climbed on the tank and returned fire with the main gun and the .50-caliber machine gun. RPG rounds were shot at the tank but missed, Birdwell later recalled. His firing kept the enemy at bay and the tank sheltered the more vulnerable APCs behind it.
During the battle’s mayhem, Birdwell realized that no one was firing from the vehicles ahead of him. He also realized that some were on fire and enemy soldiers had clambered atop one of the disabled APCs.
“They were monkeying with the M60s (machine guns),” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe it. I fired on them with the .50-cal., and hit about half of them. The burst really spread them out.”
Birdwell’s tank became the center of Troop C’s survival. Troops who had crawled into the ditch found shelter behind it, and because of his constant machine-gun fire and cannon fire, the enemy couldn’t overrun the column.
“Birdwell was part of that 10 percent that are good soldiers and understands fighting,” Albert Porter, who fought alongside Birdwell that day, said.
Birdwell fired the main gun but eventually used all 64 rounds and all the .50-caliber ammunition.
Troop C eventually received artillery and air support and evacuated the wounded.
For his bravery under fire, Birdwell was awarded the Silver Star.
He received a second one later in 1968 for rescuing fellow soldiers. That incident occurred on July 4 after he had moved up in rank. Now a tank commander, he was at the end of a column of APCs and two other tanks moving through the An Duc village, which was occupied by North Vietnamese Army sympathizers.
Upon entering the village, the column was attacked and had to retreat. After the unit regrouped, it was discovered an APC had been disabled by enemy fire and left in the village along with its crew. Birdwell and his tank crew returned to the village three times to rescue stranded soldiers.
“When no one else wanted the job, I volunteered my tank and crew to go back into the village to rescue the abandoned APC crew members,” Birdwell said.
Birdwell, with the help of author Keith William Nolan, told about his service in Vietnam in the 1997 book, “A Hundred Miles of Bad Road: An Armored Cavalryman in Vietnam, 1967-68.” The book is no longer printed but is available on Amazon.com, Birdwell said.
And he still gets requests to sign his book. “Just about every week, someone contacts me and asks, ‘can I send you the book to sign?’ It’s humbling to do that. I tell them, ‘if I write in your book it’s going to deface it, and it won’t be worth anything.’ That’s, of course, a joke.”
He said he has mixed emotions about writing the book. Looking at it from the standpoint of the men he served with who were killed in combat, he said their families have gained an understanding about the conditions their loved ones served in, sometimes more details about how they died and the “nature of the relationships they had with other members of the unit.”
“It served as a unifying force. For example, there’s a lady in California whose brother was killed in our unit, and now she’s good friends with a lady in New York whose husband also served. It’s been like a spider web for making good connections,” Birdwell said. “On the other hand, I sometimes feel bad about some of the stories about how people died. You kind of hate for a brother or sister to learn what really happened or maybe how horrible the event was, so I have some doubts on that, but otherwise, overall, I’m glad I wrote the book.”
Birdwell was honorably discharged in December 1968 after serving nearly three years in the Army. He was also awarded a Bronze Star, for meritorious service. He said, since his service, he has joined a Veterans of Foreign Wars group in Wauseon, Ohio, because a friend of his from there “insisted” he join. He’s also a member of the 25th Infantry Division Association and the 3-4 Cavalry Association.
He served on the tribe’s JAT, now the Supreme Court, from 1987-99 and served as chief justice in 1995-96 and 1998-99. At 69, he still practices law in Oklahoma City and plans to continue.
“You know a lot of lawyers work until they die. I suspect that’s what I’m going to do. If I didn’t do that, I’d like to be at Bell. I’d like to be living at Bell,” he said. “There’s nothing like waking up in the morning at Bell and walking out barefooted and getting dew between your toes, smelling that hickory smoke and maybe some fresh coffee. We used to hear the canning factory whistle. I’m sure that’s long gone. During the night we could hear the KCS (Kansas City Southern train) all the way to Bell. What a sweet sound, and hearing owls during the night and maybe a coyote or wolf. There’s nothing like living at Bell, in my opinion.”
PORTLAND, Ore. – Robots and Native Americans usually don’t come to mind as a foundation for novels, but Cherokee Nation citizen and Oklahoma native Daniel H. Wilson has made this possible in his books.
Wilson said he enjoys writing science fiction because it allows consistent motifs such as Native Americans, robots and technology to appear in new and creative ways. With his latest novel, “The Clockwork Dynasty,” he said he emphasizes ancient and new technologies.
“Growing up in Oklahoma, I have always been fascinated by this idea of cultures clashing and how technology affects the outcome when cultures collide,” he said. “That novel (‘The Clockwork Dynasty’) is about countries and people that are modernizing and adopting new technological ideas on how to survive.”
According to its overview, the book “weaves a path through history, following a race of human-like machines that have been hiding among us for untold centuries.”
“Present day: When a young anthropologist specializing in ancient technology uncovers a terrible secret concealed in the workings of a three-hundred-year-old mechanical doll, she is thrown into a hidden world that lurks just under the surface of our own. With her career and her life at stake, June Stefanov will ally with a remarkable traveler who exposes her to a reality she never imagined, as they embark on an around-the-world adventure and discover breathtaking secrets of the past…,” the overview states.
The book was set for release on Aug. 1 for $26.95 in hardback.
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Wilson earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Tulsa and a doctorate degree in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University.
He wrote “Robopocalypse” and other stories that utilize his childhood experiences in Oklahoma and in the CN. “What I find is my experiences with growing up and where I came from come into my writing naturally. You write what you know. I know Oklahoma because that is the experience I had growing up.”
The novel “Robopocalypse” has a strong emphasis on incorporating references to Native Americans and their government, Wilson said.
“The novel is basically robots and Indians who end up fighting in central Oklahoma in the Osage Nation, but there are Cherokee characters as well. I wrote it that way because if the federal government failed, there are sovereign governments who might not fail during a robot uprising,” he said.
His interest in writing and science fiction novels began while attending Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa. During high school, he wrote and submitted science fiction stories to pulp magazines.
“While studying computer science at the University of Tulsa, I was lucky to gain arts exposure through the honors college,” Wilson said.
With “Robopocalypse,” which had its movie rights purchased by director Steven Spielberg, the robots were often futuristic, he said. Wilson changed this in “The Clockwork Dynasty” by looking at history. “Everyone associates robots with cutting edge and new technology, and I was sick of that because human beings have always been obsessed with building machines that replicate ourselves.”
Wilson also has an upcoming short story novel called “Guardian Angels and Other Monsters” that contains 15 short stories that have never been published. The theme of the stories is technology being a protector and destroyer, he said.
For more information about Wilson, view his social media accounts at Twitter (@danielwilsonpdx), Facebook (<a href="http://www.facebook.com/officialdanielwilson" target="_blank">facebook.com/officialdanielwilson</a>) or his website at danielhwilson.com.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd was recently re-elected to his second term as vice president of the eastern Oklahoma region of the National Congress of American Indians during the annual meeting in Milwaukee.
The NCAI is a collection of Native leaders from across Indian Country elected to work together on issues regarding tribal sovereignty. The group of 28 elected officials representing more than 10 tribes meets annually to discuss policies, goals and needs.
“We all know the National Congress of American Indians brings together Native leaders so we can better speak with a unified voice on issues critical to American Indian and Alaska Native nations,” Byrd said during a speech prior to the election. “As NCAI vice president, I will continue to advocate for tribes and ensure our region is regularly updated on active legislation. I look forward, very much, to working with other tribal leaders on solutions that will ensure a strong future for all of our people.”
Byrd is currently serving his last term as Tribal Council speaker. According the Cherokee Nation’s Constitution, Byrd will be ineligible to run for re-election as the Dist. 2 representative in 2021 because of term limits.