Native youth organization UNITY moves to Arizona

01/16/2014 08:58 AM
MESA, Ariz. – After calling Oklahoma home for more than 37 years, the United National Indian Tribal Youth organization celebrated its the relocation with a grand opening at its new headquarters on Dec. 30 at 1 N. MacDonald Drive, Suite 312 in Mesa.

“We are excited about beginning this new journey for UNITY with the official headquarters now being in Arizona” Mary Kim Titla, executive director, said. “The move makes sense for the organization on many levels, we are the largest Native-youth network organization in the country with more than 132 youth councils in 35 states. The Phoenix-metro area provides an environment that allows us to flourish.”

Titla was selected as UNITY’s new leader in spring of 2013 when former Executive Director J.R. Cook stepped down after more than three decades of service.

Native youth leaders serving on the executive committee for the National UNITY Council and special guest speakers, including tribal leadership and dignitaries from the local area, attended the open house.

UNITY is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering the spiritual, mental, physical and social development of American Indian and Alaska Native youth and to help build a strong, unified, and self-reliant Native America through greater youth involvement. UNITY has impacted more than 150,000 Native Americans through its programs since 1976.

For information, visit


10/08/2015 08:30 AM
BARTLESVILLE, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Julie Thornton on Sept. 18 was crowned the title Miss Oklahoma Indian Summer 2015, in which she will serve as an ambassador for Oklahoma Indian Summer Inc. and Native people. “I am the first woman to win the title of Miss Oklahoma Indian Summer. It is a great honor and opportunity to represent,” Thornton said. The process to win this title included an application as well as participation in a competition against the other individuals seeking the title. “I had to go through an application process. Once accepted I was notified and then waited to actually participate in the competition,” she said. “On Sept. 17, I was judged on an interview process and cultural presentation. My interview process was over an hour long and I answered questions on all three Cherokee tribes, cultural questions and I conversed in Cherokee.” Thornton said during her conversation she spoke about different forms of Cherokee regalia, tribal history both pre- and post-Trail of Tears. “I also was asked about my previous title holdings of Miss Cherokee and Junior Miss Cherokee, being a member of the award-winning Cherokee National Youth Choir and being on the Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council,” she added. “Then I was to give my cultural presentation, the story of first fire.” Thornton was crowned during the Oklahoma Indian Summer Festival’s powwow. “I would like to thank my family for being so supportive of me, the individuals who helped sew and make my regalia, the wonderful Oklahoma Indian Summer committee, Cherokee Nation for its support and most of all Unetlvnv (God) for always being in my corner in all my adventures throughout life,” she said. According to its website, the Oklahoma Indian Summer welcomes each of the more than 28 federally recognized nations, tribes, bands and townships headquartered in Oklahoma. Since 1988, the Oklahoma Indian Summer Festival has been sponsored by the Cherokee, Delaware and Osage tribes. The purpose of Oklahoma Indian Summer Inc. is to sponsor, coordinate and present traditional Native American cultural public events for the benefit of community education, cultural preservation and the development of positive multicultural community relations.
10/02/2015 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At the same time his most popular movie “The Indian in the Cupboard” is re-released, Gary “Litefoot” Davis is being honored by the Cherokee Nation. Litefoot is a CN citizen actor, musician, author and entrepreneur. His many accomplishments led to him being honored with the SevenStar award on Sept. 26 by the Cherokee National Historical Society at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Catoosa. He received the award under the category of Contemporary Achievement. “It is truly an honor to be recognized by my own people to advance our rich history and culture,” Litefoot said. “My entire career has been devoted to empowering Native American people and recognizing our many accomplishments, and I hope to continue to play this most important role for many years in the future.” Sept. 24 marked the 20th anniversary of the original release of the popular movie “The Indian in the Cupboard,” starring Litefoot as “Little Bear.” To mark the occasion, Sony Pictures has re-released the movie on Blu-Ray with new features including an interview with Litefoot reflecting on his iconic role and an archival “making-of” featurette. “Little Bear is one of my most recognized and iconic roles with fans across the U.S. and the world,” said Litefoot. “‘The Indian in the Cupboard’s’ re-release on Blu-ray gives its many fans something new, and I hope a new generation comes to love this classic film and its new features.” “The Indian in the Cupboard” is based on the popular children’s book of the same name written by Lynne Reid Banks. Its plot revolves around a boy (played by Hal Scardino) who discovers that his toys, including a Native American figurine named “Little Bear,” come to life inside a cupboard given to him for his birthday. It was Litefoot’s acting debut. Reviewing the movie at the time for Newsweek, movie critic David Ansen said “… Litefoot, a Cherokee rap artist with no acting experience, is a delightful discovery. That [Scardino and Litefoot] generate such a convincing bond is no mean feat: the trick perspective required them to play all their scenes together solo. Their friendship is the film's most indelible special effect." Since his debut, Litefoot has appeared in films such as “Mortal Kombat Annihilation” and “Adaptation,” as well as television shows “CSI: Miami” and “House of Cards.” Litefoot hit the entertainment scene in 1991, when he became the first American Indian rap artist with the release of “The Money E.P.” on his own recording label, Red Vinyl Records. He has won both “Album of the Year” and “Artist of the Year” honors from the Native American Music Awards. His music recently became available on iTunes. His book, “The Medicine of Prayer,” is also available for purchase on his website <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. He currently serves as president and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, a nonprofit that assists American Indian Tribes and entrepreneurs with business and economic development.
09/29/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – “The Reign in Shambhala” is the first novel by Oklahoma native and Cherokee Nation citizen Shelley Baker. Even though the name Shambhala is taken from the mythical city that sits between the physical reality and what lies beyond the “veil,” this is not a novel about ancient Eastern religions. The story’s setting is in modern times and depicts real issues the world faces today, but it is an intricate world of its own. “The characters and lore are taken from many religions and ideals; however, it is not a religious story, but rather a fantasy about a land that is intertwined with love, healing and understanding amid greed, lust, and pride,” Baker said. “The story is gentle and delicate, yet harsh and edgy. It has an 18-plus rating from the author, but is not erotica. Strong language and inflammatory situations will create squirming among readers who will see a bit of themselves in the characters and plot.” Baker described writing the novel as a journey that has taken many years. She said “making a living often blocked it” but it insisted on being written and published. A former, award-winning journalist and current language arts teacher, Baker released the book on Kindle as an e-book in February and added a passage before publishing through Create Space in April. The book is available as paperback on Amazon. The “Reign in Shambhala” Facebook page has been created to give readers more insight into the author’s mind, as well as showcase the book’s artwork, and opens a forum for discussion. On this page readers will find the synopsis, name and place origins, lore, and character descriptions among other morsels of Shambhala-related information. Reader questions and/or comments are encouraged. For more information, email Shelley Baker at <a href="mailto:"></a> or call 602-312-9960.
09/29/2015 08:37 AM
WOODALL, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Madilyn Joice gained invaluable experience this past summer when she was selected as only one of 15 fastpitch softball 13-and-under players to compete for the Midwest region in the USSSA Elite Select All-American tournament. She was selected for the July 16-19 tournament in Orlando, Florida, via email after competing in a March tryout in Tulsa where she spent an afternoon pitching, batting and fielding with more than 100 girls. “I kind of think of it as being recruited for college,” Madilyn said. “I mean, they’re only going to pick a few. They’re not going to take everybody that comes to that tryout, and being selected for one of the top 15 from my region was a real honor for me.” USA Elite Select began traveling the country in late 2014 to scout for softball talent with 23 tryouts across eight regions. The competition consisted of age divisions from 10-14, with 15 spots per age group, per region. USSSA Pride Players such as Keilani Ricketts and the National Scouting Report were present during the March tryout, coaching and evaluating girls on a scale from 1 to 5. Joice’s father, Jerimy, first learned of the tryout and knew it was an opportunity that couldn’t be wasted. “I was the one that got online and started looking at the USSSA All-American games and thought this may be something that could maybe get her seen a little bit, put her out there,” Jerimy said. “I saw that they were going to have some of the USSSA Pride professional players there and thought if nothing else it would be a good experience for her.” Madilyn has grown up around softball. Both her parents played. And it wasn’t a surprise to anyone when she picked up a glove at only 4 years old. “It was just kind of one of those things for me that you’re just going to play softball,” she said. “Your parents played softball. You come from a softball playing family. It was just kind of a given.” Four years after that, she wanted to pitch. “Around 8 she kind of started showing an interest in pitching and really started asking some questions about it,” Jerimy said. “I told her if that was something she was interested in, it was something that would take a lot of extra effort, even more than just going to practice and pitching normally, you would have to do it outside of that.” Madilyn was undaunted by the effort it would take to become a starting pitcher and now throws up to eight pitches at velocities ranging from 58 to 62 miles per hour. Only matching the intensity of her pitching velocity is her love for the position. “I just really like to be a leader and I like to be vocal, so I figured that if I could control the game by what I do, then that’s the best position for me because everything is kind of controlled by me,” she said. While her Midwest team didn’t perform as well as it had hoped during USSSA Elite Select tournament, the pitching experience in Orlando helped Madilyn grow. “I learned that hard work always pays off,” she said. “That every time you go out for that extra hour of hitting, that extra hour of pitching, it always comes to pay off. I just learned that hard work and dedication always get you where you want to go.” The lesson is becoming even more invaluable back home where Woodall is attempting to capture its third-straight Organization Of Rural Elementary Schools state championship. “We’re not where we need to be right now, but I have confidence that we’ll get there because every day we’re learning and every day we’re progressing,” Madilyn said. “Every day our coach is teaching us something new and every day we’re always getting out there. I have confidence we’ll get back to a state championship.”
09/28/2015 08:47 AM
WELLING, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen John “J.R.” Sellers was born Jan. 29, 1945 in Tahlequah. He began playing baseball at age 5, often with boys nearly twice his age, leading to what would eventually become an illustrious career on the diamond. “I was playing with a 9-year-old group because they didn’t have a 5-year-old group, and at that time baseball was my life. That’s all I thought about was playing ball,” he said. Sellers began by pitching, eventually becoming ambidextrous – having the ability to pitch with either arm – but relished playing other positions such as shortstop and third base. “I really wanted to play somewhere else because I thought if I go anywhere later on in life, I don’t want to be a pitcher. I wanted to be a hitter,” he said. Sellers fulfilled that desire at Tahlequah High School, from which he graduated in 1962 with a .513 batting average. He took an offer to play with Northeastern State College, now called Northeastern State University. “It wasn’t special to me,” he said. “I thought I was doing what I was supposed to be doing and I had an opportunity to go to other colleges and universities, but through the Cherokee Nation I went on an Indian grant to Northeastern.” There, Sellers excelled and earned National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics All-American honors in 1965 and 1966. “My mother was probably the proudest person in the area,” he said. “I know it came out in the paper that I had made All-American in 1965, and I’ll never forget, she came over and said, ‘Son, I’m so proud of you.’ The next question she asked is, ‘What is that really?’ That was my mother.” His father was equally proud. “I would give more credit to my father for helping me through my career,” he said. “That guy didn’t miss ballgames. When he became crippled and was in a wheelchair I was in college and they even gave him permission to drive right up by the screen. He didn’t miss a game.” In 1966, Sellers graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in education. That same year the Kansas City Athletics, now Oakland Athletics, selected him in the 29th round as the 559th overall pick in the MLB Draft. However, he didn’t sign because of his father’s health. The following year the Cincinnati Reds picked him in the sixth round at 107 overall. But again he didn’t sign with the team because of his father. “I didn’t go,” he said. “My father was in a wheelchair. He was an invalid and I stayed home more or less to help the family and taught school and coached for 31 years.” In addition to looking after his family, Sellers served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1969-74 before being honorably discharged with a sergeant rank. In the years following, he competed with the National Indian Athletic Association in basketball and fast pitch softball before finishing his career with a 1982 appearance as an all-star shortstop at the World Assembly of First Nations tournament in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Five years later, Sellers was inducted into the NSU Athletic Hall of Fame as the second-youngest member ever to be given the honor. An induction into the American Indian Hall of Fame followed on May 4, 1996, in Phoenix. Of the 101 inductees to the American Indian Hall of Fame, 13 are Cherokee or part Cherokee. “When I was playing ball, I wasn’t looking for awards and I got awards,” Sellers said. “Now that I’m older I really appreciate getting those awards. Now that I’m older I would hate to go back and retrace what I’ve done and do it again because it was more difficult than I thought. But at that time it was all fun and games.” Today, Sellers owns J.R.’s Country Auction and operates the Tri-Community Welling, Eldon and Briggs Association Community Center, which sponsors events such as Cherokee language classes and horseshoe tournaments. Though Sellers has left the world of baseball in favor of his community, he credits the sport with shaping him into the man he is today. “I feel really fortunate,” Sellers said. “I think baseball has really made me the person that I am, and when I played I didn’t realize the awards I was receiving were as important as they were until I became an old man. I can look back and see that I accomplished a lot of things.”
09/23/2015 08:30 AM
BLUEJACKET, Okla. – On a typical day Justin Herlan, a 13-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen, wakes up at 6 a.m. to tend to his show heifer, Twister, making sure she’s fed, groomed and that her area is cleaned and adequately cooled before he gets ready for school or the weekend. Herlan, an eighth grade student at Bluejacket Middle School, said the approximately 1-year-old Twister received her name “because she’s kind of crazy.” “She’s pretty good, but she’s not the best. She’s got a little temperament,” he said. “She use to blow snot everywhere. Now she’s just tame.” He said he was able to tame her by working with her so he could show her. “You got to be hands-on all day, almost everyday too,” he said. Herlan said he has trained four cows during the past two years. He said when he prepares for a showing he makes sure Twister’s hair is not matted up and that she is in a confortable living area. He also walks her around and makes sure her stance is correct for showing. When it comes to the actual showing, Herlan said he gets Twister ready by making her hair look “nice and poofy” before bringing her into the ring. “We usually take them in, set them up for profile and then we walk them around,” he said. “Profile is when you stop them, their back left leg has to be in front of their back right.” He said he learned how to show cattle after attending McPeak’s Be A Champ Show Cattle and Lamb Camp in Warner. He has attended the camp twice. “It’s taught me a lot. I used to be last in my class on showmanship. Now I’m in the top one or two,” he said. “You go down there and you work your butt off (for) four days. You wake up at 4 o’clock. It’s a lot of fun.” In August, Justin won the Grand Champion Steer title at the 2015 Craig County Fair in Vinita. He also won the Reserve Grand Campion Steer title from the Inter-State Fair and Rodeo in Coffeyville, Kansas. His next showing will be at the Tulsa State Fair. At school he is a member of the Future Farmers of America club; plays football, basketball and baseball; and consistently stays on the Principal’s Honor Roll. His father, and fellow CN citizen Jon Herlan, said his son became interested in farm animals at an early age. “He could study the genetics of a cow, which this is 6, 7, 8-years-old,” Jon said. “He was looking at the bucking bulls then. He was big into the PBR (Professional Bull Riders). Now that that’s transpired over into these show cattle. He’s looking at how he can have his cattle breed and looks to the future and on down the line with them.” Jon said he believes it’s important for Justin to show cattle because he is learning “work ethic.” “I think if a person will work, them and their family will never go hungry,” he said. “I think you learn life lessons.” Jon said he is also “proud” of his son’s accomplishments. “I mean you win first place, no matter what you’re doing whether it be sports or showing, you win it at home, you win it at your barn, you win it at practice,” he said.