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


Senior Reporter
04/27/2015 03:30 PM
STILWELL, Okla. – Running comes naturally for Stilwell High School senior Sydney Lawrence, and it has paid off for her in the form of a college scholarship to Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee. The 17-year-old will run cross-country and indoor and outdoor track for the Bison. She was also recruited by Stephen F. Austin University, University of Central Oklahoma and John Brown University but chose OBU because of the people she met and the Christian environment. “I loved all of the people I met there. They were all very nice, and I also loved the Christian environment. I loved how organized the cross-country and track program is and how the team and coaches are serious about getting the job done,” she said. In Class 4A, Lawrence won state in the 3200-meter and 1600-meter runs as a freshman and is a three-time all-state cross-country runner. She won state in cross-country as a sophomore and as a senior and won a national championship as a junior. She excelled in cross-country after picking up the sport as a freshman. Up to that point she had concentrated only on track. She said back then that she liked it because it was more relaxed and not as intense because she was not sprinting. She said she also liked running 2-mile cross-country races because it was more interesting than running in circles on a track. Lawrence said she believes OBU decided to recruit her after she won state this past fall in cross-country. At OBU she plans to major in exercise and sports science in physical training and strength conditioning. She said she feels like she has finally reached her goal, like her dreams are coming true. “It was also a relief because my family has had trouble with college expenses from three girls going to college. I quit my job, so I could completely focus on getting my college paid for through running,” she said. Lawrence is also a Fellowship of Christian Athletes All-State recipient. She is the daughter of Larry and Pam Lawrence of Stilwell.
04/20/2015 09:00 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Aliana Barnoski, 12, excels in academics, but also shines as an athlete. One of her new undertakings is wrestling. Barnoski, a sixth grader at Grant-Foreman Elementary School in Muskogee wrestles in the Muskogee Area Youth Wrestling Program. Aliana said she became interested in wrestling after watching her younger brother wrestle. “I thought it was cool, so I wanted to try it out,” she said. Aliana’s father, John, said he was excited when his daughter wanted to try out the sport. “She just feel in love with it, took to it and loved it ever since,” he said. “She can’t get it out of her mind.” Aliana’s mother, Russanda, said Aliana began wrestling in the MAYWP in November. “She got started late in the season because she was signed up for basketball,” she said. Russanda said despite the late start, Aliana picked up quickly in her new sport. Aliana said training and cutting weight for wrestling was not an easy task. She said when she first started she was in the 12-and-under, 130-pound weight class. She said at this weight she was fighting against tougher opponents. This is when her MAYWP coach, Andre Hill, had her diet to get in the 120-pound class. “When I go to practice I’d have to wear a hoodie and sweatpants so I can cut weight,” she said. “It was pretty hard. I can only eat certain things. I can’t eat any takeout, fast food and stuff.” Aliana practices three to four nights a week for approximately two hours a night. Through hard work and determination she has faired well at several wrestling competitions, including the Novice Junior Nationals, which she placed third in her category; the Tulsa Novice Nationals, which she placed third; and the Oklahoma Kids Wrestling Association Novice State Tournament, which she won. Aliana said she thought it was “pretty cool” to start winning after just starting. She also said she likes getting medals and beating boys. She added that she usually makes friends with the girl wrestlers, and tends to win against them in matches, too. Russanda said Aliana has gone through some trials in wrestling and is glad to see her succeeding. “When she first started she injured her shoulder and set out a week, so that put her behind a little bit, and then when she got her stitches (under her eye) she couldn’t practice for a few days,” she said. “I was really proud to see her work through those things. It wasn’t just a walk in the park to get out there and do it. She struggled all year to keep her weight and her injuries down.” John said it’s important as a parent of an athlete to not be too hard on them when trying to motivate them. “It’s pretty tough because you can’t be too hard on them,” he said. “I know with her if I’m real hard on her she’ll shut down and not do much at all for me. You have to find that fine line on how to talk to them and definitely find them a good program. That’s what’s made a difference with her, is just the atmosphere at wrestling practice.” John said it has been an inspiration to see his daughter work hard and not give up. “It makes me proud to watch her. Just to see how much heart she has and then talking with her coach, he knows that she has a lot of heart. All my kids do, but she really shows it,” he said. Hill said he’s glad Aliana tried out for the sport and he enjoys coaching her. “She’s got something that you can’t teach, which is heart,” he said. Hill said Aliana had the perfect start, which helped her climb the ranks. “She didn’t come in just dominating from the beginning, but she learned and she progressed. At the end of it all she won it all,” he said. “For a first year wrestler, it’s unheard of. It’s nice.”
04/16/2015 01:00 PM
CONCHO, Okla. (AP) — A homecoming celebration for Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Suzan Shown Harjo is planned by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. The homecoming will be Friday starting at 4 p.m. at Concho Community Hall in Concho. Harjo a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and is a writer, curator and activist and was a member of the administration of former President Jimmy Carter. She has worked to get sports teams to discontinue using names that promote negative stereotypes of Native Americans and for the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
Special Correspondent
04/14/2015 10:00 AM
STILWELL, Okla. – The postseason awards are rolling in for a few Cherokee high school basketball players. After his team’s second straight trip to the state tournament, Stilwell senior Chase Littlejohn was named the Class 4A state player of the year by the Oklahoma Basketball Coaches Association and awarded a spot on the Oklahoma Coaches Association’s Large East All-State team. The 6-foot, 1-inch guard averaged 19.5 points per game this season. “This is an awesome accolade to earn,” Littlejohn said. “Coming into high school, being named an all-stater was one of my two big goals, along with winning a state title. Obviously, the other one didn’t happen, but this is still pretty sweet.” Littlejohn got word of his all-state selection while on his official visit to Rogers State University in Claremore. Littlejohn has since committed to play for the Hillcats, rejoining his former high school teammate and fellow CN citizen, Matt Lea. Littlejohn’s coach, Ron Dunaway, sees the recognition as a welcome boost for the Adair County school and a testament to the hours Littlejohn and the rest of his teammates spent in the gym this season. “It is so difficult at the 4A level for a kid to earn an all-state spot, as we’re bunched in with 5A and 6A schools,” Dunaway said. “The benefit is priceless for our program. It’s a compliment to…how hard they’ve worked. Chase has worked really hard and puts in lots of time. He’s not 6-8 like Matt (Lea), so he’s really had to get in there.” The OCA All-State games are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 1 in Tulsa. For another Cherokee student-athlete, the postseason honors come as she wraps up her basketball career. A starter on Sequoyah’s Class 3A state championship team, senior center Jhonett Cookson made it through two rounds of tryouts to earn a roster spot on the Oklahoma Girls Basketball Coaches Association’s Middle East All-State team, open to seniors at 3A and 4A schools. “It means a lot,” she said. “Over the past four years, I’ve put in a lot of time playing and practicing and have had to give up a lot of things just to put the necessary time. After all of that hard work, it feels great to get picked for this honor.” Joining Cookson on the OGBCA’s Middle East All-State team are CN citizens Kylie Looney from Adair, Courtney Risenhoover from Verdigris and Locust Grove’s Madison Davis. The OGBCA All-State games are scheduled for May 30 at Westmoore High School. Cookson, Looney and Risenhoover will be teammates again come July, as all three were named to the OCA Small East team on April 9. Davis will play on the Large East team. With an eye on eventually going to medical school, Cookson does not plan on playing collegiately. However, her last competitive game will include a familiar face on the sidelines as her coach, Larry Callison, will be on the sidelines for the OCA all-state game after being nominated by other coaches in the area. “It’ll be fun to coach her again one more time,” Callison said. “It also gives our program a little more recognition for all the hard work and effort Jhonett and the other kids have put in this year.”
Senior Reporter
04/14/2015 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Sarah and Layne Holcomb look like all the other cyclists airing up tires, filling water bottles and checking brakes as they prepare in the Cherokee Nation Tribal Complex parking lot for another day of training. The sister and brother from Vian are not among the 12 cyclists who will retrace the Trail of Tears through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas before returning to Oklahoma, but they are helping ensure the cyclists are ready for their June trip. “Remember the Removal” ride coordinator Joseph Erb said the Holcombs are helping this year’s candidates learn to ride advanced bicycles, to ride in a group, to shift their bikes’ gears, road rules and to ride as a team. “They are teaching the responsibility Cherokees have for each other. They show up and help make this a stronger program by their encouragement and Cherokee mindset. They bring a strong understanding of being Cherokee and believing in each other,” Erb said. “This program honors those we lost and those who where able to continue on and allow us the chance to continue as a people. Sarah and Layne got a lot from the “Remember the “Removal” program when they went (on the ride) and are giving that back to this group.” Sarah, 26, uses the experience she gained from going on the nearly 1,000-mile trip five consecutive years to help train the new cyclists. “I come out and try to help train the riders every year because I remember how hard it was for me. I only had maybe a couple weeks of training, and it was really tough that first year. So every year after that I’ve always tried to come out and help the trainers and tell them (new cyclists) what they have ahead of them. It just always helps to have an experienced rider there,” she said. She said she tells each year’s cyclists the ride will be “tough,” but it will be nothing like what their ancestors went through to reach Indian Territory in 1838-39. She said she emphasizes communication because the cyclists ride close together on the highway. For instance if one cyclist slows down and doesn’t communicate they are slowing down to the others, they could all run into each and wreck. Along with communication, she encourages them look out for each other and work as a team to get home. Cyclists will put their bodies to the test as they travel an average of 60 miles a day, mirroring in part the hardships of their Cherokee ancestors who made the same trek on foot. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory from eastern Tennessee and other sites in the old Cherokee Nation, 4,000 died from exposure, starvation and disease. Layne watched his sister go the first four years, starting in 2009, and he was chosen to go with her during her fifth trip. Sarah said Layne also was inspired by their mother Sherry, who was part of the first “Remember the Removal” bicycle ride in 1984. Layne, 19, said he enjoys the same camaraderie among the cyclists that he experienced when he rode two years ago. He said he tries to encourage the cyclists as they train and tells them it’s not as hard as they think and the obstacles they face “are all in their head.” “Your body can do much more than you think it can do,” he said. He said this year’s group gets along well, which should benefit them. “I’m really glad they do get along,” he said. “Sometimes people argue, but that’s just inevitable because you’re tired and hungry and you just want to take a shower.” Layne said he tries to help the cyclists with tips on how to work their bike’s gears efficiently. Erb said CN marshal Chad McCarter, who participated in the “Remember the Removal” ride in 2009, is also taking time to help train this year’s cyclists. “Getting in shape for this ride mentally and physically is a difficult task. The extreme miles that we cover and the places we see that had very unjust events that caused the death of so many of our people is very emotional,” Erb said. “Having past participants encourage this year’s group is very important as they train and become educated in this part of our history.” Erb said the 12 cyclists and their trainers ride as a group on weekends and the trainees also make time to ride in groups during the week. “I would just like to ask the local drivers to be looking out for them. Please be patient and share the road. These are exceptional young Cherokees, and we hope all the local drivers will give them room and be kind to them,” he said. This year’s cyclists were chosen by a committee and must complete required trainings and history courses from February through May to go on the three-week trip in June. The cyclists’ names will be released later. The CN group will leave on June 3 for Cherokee, North Carolina, where they will join up with seven cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The EBCI has been participating in the ride since 2011. The cyclists will begin making their way back on June 7 from New Echota, Georgia, along the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears and arrive on June 25 in Tahlequah.
Senior Reporter
04/07/2015 09:16 AM
ST. LOUIS – Montana Drum has competed on a wrestling mat for most of her 20 years and now is a champion wrestler for the Missouri Baptist University Spartans in St. Louis The sophomore from Neosho, Missouri, has a 17-6 record this year and won a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national championship in March. The Cherokee Nation citizen said she developed an interest in wrestling when she was 4, tagging along with her older brother who wrestled and her father who was a wrestling coach. “We went to a lot of tournaments, and I really like being around there. My dad kind of picked up on that and he asked me jokingly ‘you want to wrestle?’ and I took off toward the mat thinking he was meaning then. I was only about 4 years old. He joked and said, ‘next year you can when you turn 5.’ My mom was like ‘nope,’” she said. “They didn’t think I would remember the next year, and I asked once I turned 5. They had promised me, so they ended up putting me in, and I’ve been wrestling since.” However, she had to wrestle boys, even throughout high school, which she said makes her appreciate competing against only women in college because wrestling boys was “really tough.” She lettered in wrestling two years in high school, and her team won the Class III boys wrestling title three of the four years she was on the team. She was the first girl in Missouri history to compete in Class III boys wrestling and win a district championship. “I was on the state team my junior year, and I won boys’ districts...and that qualified me for state. I didn’t place there, but I got to wrestle in the boys tournament,” she said. “It got to the point where I had to realize I’m a girl in a boy’s sport. It made me a whole lot better on and off the mat, and it made me stronger knowing I could do something the boys could do. I made a lot of boys cry and a lot of boys made me cry, but it’s always been fun.” She wrestled at 106 pounds in high school. In March, she wrestled at 127.9 pounds in the ASICS Women’s University National Championships in Oklahoma City and won an NAIA national title. In the tournament, Drum wrestled her freshman teammate Erica Mihalca for the championship. After a tough match, Drum eventually pulled away and won by a 15-8 decision. Drum said there are about 21 colleges that offer women’s wrestling. All of the women’s wrestling teams in the country belong to the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association, which was formed in 2008 and is the governing body for all collegiate women’s wrestling programs at NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA institutions. The WCWA competes in the Olympic discipline of freestyle wrestling, which allows competitors to be on their feet more. The women’s matches are two periods of three minutes. Drum said matches go by faster and more points are scored in freestyle wrestling than folk style or men’s collegiate wrestling where wrestlers usually lie on a mat trying to pin their opponent’s shoulders for a win. Each winter the WCWA holds a tournament. In 2014, Drum place fifth in the tournament and this past February placed sixth. She said her competitors were well prepared and “determined.” “The girls that wrestle are very, very tough. You get all different types of girls from all different places of the country,” she said. “We’re nowhere near what the boys have now, but I think it’s a rapidly growing sport and it’s going to continue to grow because it’s really fun. Seeing women do what the men have done is quite an accomplishment for women.” Drum said she does a lot of conditioning such as sprints and running to stay fit for her matches. She is also mindful of what she puts in her body. “It’s not just what we are able to do in the practice room, it’s what you do on your off time, too. If you’re going out and putting bad things in your body that you shouldn’t be, you’re not going to wrestle well and you’re not going to perform well,” she said. “You have to live the wrestling lifestyle...or you’re not going to feel good when you step on the mat.” She is studying exercise science at MBU, and after she obtains her bachelor’s degree she wants to continue her education by studying physical therapy. Academics are important to her, she said, and she’s not one “to go out and party.” She understands she needs to stay fit to wrestle and to do well with her studies. “My family is not well off, and I knew at a young age that I needed to keep my grades up and get somewhere to better myself and come back and help my family someday, so that’s what I’m trying to do,” she said.