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


Reporter – @cp_bbennett
06/26/2017 08:00 AM
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. – Since 1995, Safari’s Sanctuary has provided refuge to exotic animals that cannot be taken by zoos or returned to the wild. Cherokee Nation citizen Lori Ensign-Scroggins founded the nonprofit volunteer wildlife sanctuary and cares for more than 180 animals including lions, tigers, bears, snakes, lemurs, wolves and monkeys. It took her purchasing an exotic animal from a breeder to open her eyes to the consequences of doing so. “They ran ads in the Tulsa World for bobcats for sale, and I thought it was cool,” she said. “I was 18, and that just seemed awesome. So I bought one and had it in Tulsa city limits in my bedroom, litter box-trained as a pet.” What the breeder did not tell her was that owning a bobcat inside city limits was illegal. “In a nutshell, I was one of the bad people,” she said. “It was ignorance. I did not know. The breeders don’t tell you when they’re selling them. They want the money, so you have to learn it all yourself. You don’t get an owner’s manual.” Ensign-Scroggins said exotic animal ownership has skyrocketed since the internet’s rise, which makes it easy to have an exotic animal delivered to a home. Most of her animals come from roadside zoos, exotic animal auctions or individual owners, and because of either domestication or injuries, they can never enter the wild. “These guys have been in captivity their whole life,” she said. “They’ve been in human hands since the day they were born. They don’t know wild. They don’t miss it because they never had it.” A tiger named Two Paw was a family pet before finding sanctuary with Ensign-Scroggins. His name stems from the condition of his back left paw, which lacks several digits after the family that purchased him tried to have him declawed. “They just assumed that it would be an extraction of the nails just like a regular domestic cat and they’re much deeper,” she said. “They’re cutting off the digits and they didn’t follow through and it got infected and they had to go back and amputate. He’s permanently disfigured.” A fellow Safari’s Sanctuary tiger is Hemi – a 9-month-old, 170-pound cub with an affinity for the tub of water in his enclosure. Ensign-Scroggins said she saved Hemi after his breeder quit making money off him as he aged. “He was going to get incinerated,” she said. “The guy who owned him had an incinerator on his property and just constantly bred tiger cubs so he can have them on hand so he can make millions of dollars.” The sanctuary is also home to wolves, including River and Apollo, a mated pair owned by an older couple that became physically and mentally unable to care for the animals. “They never cleaned their cage, and it was over a foot and a half deep in feces and urine,” said Ensign-Scroggins. “They had burns up their legs from urine. Their hair was falling out. They mostly fed them leftovers so what they got was carbs, bread, pasta, junk. They were super skinny, super afraid.” For these animals, Ensign-Scroggins said sanctuaries like hers are the last stop before euthanasia. “Big zoos cannot take them,” she said. “They only have a set bloodline, so they won’t take a rescued tiger or whatever because they don’t know the bloodline to the wild for breeding purposes.” Joe Barkowski, Tulsa Zoo vice president of Animal Conservation and Science, said accepting exotic animals is rare for his organization because of various factors, including available resources and genetic diversity. “The Tulsa Zoo works with law enforcement and regulatory agencies when needed to assist with confiscated exotic animals, however, the zoo does not regularly accept unwanted exotic animals from the public,” he said. “Our breeding programs, too, are carefully coordinated in compliance with the standards of our accrediting body, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, and with genetic diversity in mind.“ For individuals interested in owning exotic animals, Ensign-Scroggins suggests coming to her sanctuary and volunteering to get their fix or at least a hands-on experience. She said if individuals did either, it would likely deter most from wanting an exotic animal because of logistical factors. “You have to research it, know their diets, know what you’re going to be doing, knowing where you’re going to be living, if you’re going to have the caging for it and housing in the winter. It’s a lot of little things you might not think about up front,” she said. Ensign-Scroggins said she would eventually like to leave her sanctuary to someone affiliated with the CN in hopes that the tribe would continue her work. The sanctuary is partly funded by a “Zoo 2 You” program, which for a fee brings certain animals to parties and events to educate the public. For more information, visit <a href=" " target="_blank"></a>.
06/09/2017 08:00 AM
DURANT, Okla. – Former Junior Miss Cherokee Chelbie Turtle was recently crowned Junior Miss Indian Oklahoma by the Oklahoma Federation of Indian Women and will spend the next year as a goodwill ambassador for Oklahoma tribes. The Junior Miss Indian Oklahoma competition was held in conjunction with the annual Miss Indian Oklahoma Scholarship Pageant in Durant. As Junior Miss Indian Oklahoma, Turtle will promote the OFIW mission fostering friendship among Oklahoma’s Native American women, preserving culture and heritage, promoting education and uplifting younger Native women. Her platform is “The Value of Higher Education.” “I believe education is important. Math, English, science, reading and writing – those core subjects – are important to younger children and really establish their future and how they view the world. I want to promote to kids that education is important,” Turtle, who served as the 2014-15 Junior Miss Cherokee, said. Turtle said she learned the values of being a tribal ambassador from her mother, who is a former Miss Cherokee, Miss Indian Oklahoma and Miss Indian USA. “It’s a great feeling to be honored with the title of Junior Miss Indian Oklahoma, and I’m especially honored to represent Cherokee Nation and every other tribe in Oklahoma,” Turtle said. “I look forward to promoting and sharing about the Cherokee Nation and our culture. During the Junior Miss Indian Oklahoma competition, each contestant learned a lot from each other. I look forward to doing more of that this year as I travel around to represent OFIW, and I appreciate the Cherokee Nation for the support and opportunities it has provided.” This year’s OFIW pageant theme was “Honoring Our Indigenous Women Warriors: Protecting All That is Sacred.” Turtle competed against three other contestants who were judged on a written essay and personal interview with judges along with onstage presence, including a tribal introduction, tribal dress, talent, platform, contemporary dress and impromptu questions. Turtle received her crown from Junior Miss Indian Oklahoma 2016 Chyna Chupco, who also attends Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah. Turtle, 16, is the daughter of Jeff and Lisa Trice Turtle of Tahlequah. She will begin her 10th grade year at SHS in the fall. The Cherokee Nation and Choctaw Nation were platinum sponsors for OFIW’s 2017 events. To schedule an appearance by Junior Miss Indian Oklahoma, contact Faith Harjo at <a href="mailto:"></a>. Learn more about the OFIW, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
06/07/2017 08:30 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – The Cherokee National Historical Society board of directors has selected Dr. Charles Gourd as the Cherokee Heritage Center’s new executive director. Gourd is a Cherokee Nation citizen from Park Hill with a background in nonprofit fundraising strategies, donor relations and Native affairs. As the executive director, Gourd will work alongside the CNHS board to ensure the CHC advances its mission to preserve, promote and teach Cherokee history and culture. “I am honored to be selected for this position and have the opportunity to work with so many others who share my passion and long-term interest in the future of the Cherokee Heritage Center,” Gourd said. “This is also somewhat of a homecoming for me, as I was one of the first tour guides at CHC and also participated in the Trail of Tears drama when I was young. I have worked for the tribe off and on throughout my lifetime, but this position felt more like a calling than a job, so I came out of retirement to serve the Cherokee people.” Gourd has more than 30 years of experience in grant research, writing, management and administration. He previously served as executive director for the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission and serves on federal peer review panels for federal agencies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1971 and a master’s degree in public school administration in 1992 from Northeastern State University. He also earned a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Kansas in 1984. “We are responsible for how our culture is presented to and perceived by the world,” Gourd said. “However, culture is not a static concept. Our history and traditions need to be preserved, but at the same time, we must help the world recognize our advancements so they may view us as the progressive, vibrant people we are.” The CHC is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive.
05/31/2017 08:15 AM
NORMAN, Okla. – School may be out for summer, but for Cherokee Nation citizen Ashley Holland her research internship at the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is just beginning. Thanks to a recent Mellon Foundation grant, Holland joins two other interns as they give a hard look at Native American art and history at the museum on the Norman campus. Holland recently completed her first year of doctoral studies at OU in Native American art history. She will support exhibitions development and provide object research on the Cherokee materials held in the museum’s permanent collection. Her research interests include Cherokee art and contemporary Native American art. Holland earned her master’s degree in museum studies from Indiana University. Holland formerly served as assistant curator at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. Joining her are Mark Esquivel and Alicia Harris. Esquivel has completed his first year of doctoral studies in Native American art history at OU. He will be supporting exhibitions development and providing object research on the work of Luis Jiménez, Emelio Amero and the Mexican photography materials held in the museum’s permanent collections. Harris has completed her doctoral coursework in Native American art history at OU. She will be supporting exhibitions development and providing object research on materials made by Native American women held in the museum’s permanent collection. In February, the university announced a $750,000, four-year Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to support an initiative to increase cultural diversity and grow a mutually beneficial relationship between OU’s doctoral program in Native American art and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. The program’s core projects include paid internships for the museum’s Native American art collection and pre-doctoral fellowships, accompanied by a teaching assistantship to students dedicated to the study of Native American art and culture. “We are incredibly excited to have this inaugural cohort of Mellon Foundation Native American curatorial interns working with us this summer,” heather ahtone, the museum’s James T. Bialac associate curator of Native American and Non-Western Art, said. “The application pool was robust and allowed us to choose from among a diverse body of students with broad interests and refined skills. Their support for our exhibitions and collections research will be invaluable.” The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is located at 555 Elm Ave. Admission is complimentary. The museum is closed on Mondays. Information and accommodations are available by calling 405-325-4938 or visiting <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
05/30/2017 08:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Walking up to the front door of the McGavock home and seeing toys peppered across the yard, one would never think Mike and Danielle were ever hesitant to foster and adopt three children. In fact, Danielle admitted to blindsiding her husband with the desire after more than a month of prayer. “My initial reaction was no, but she was praying for me that my heart would change and God started working on my heart,” Mike said. “I started seeing how God had laid this before us and then we just started walking down that path.” That path eventually led the couple to Sally Wilson, an assistant with the Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare. Wilson informs families of the need for tribal foster homes for the more than 80 Cherokee children in foster care, as well as the approximately 1,400 children throughout the United States whose cases are being worked by ICW. “It’s sad when our children are removed,” Wilson said. “They kind of get that sense of being away from their tribe, like the way it is for our citizens who live outside of this region.” Her work and that of ICW prompted the CN on May 16 to issue a proclamation commemorating National Foster Care Month and to raise awareness of the need for more families such as the McGavocks. “It speaks to the tribe and how we are raised,” said Wilson. “We belong to each other and it’s just encompassed right here with this family.” The McGavocks began inquiring about the fostering and adoption process in 2009 and met their first foster child in 2010. His adoption, which was handled mainly by the Department of Human Services, became official in 2011 and was described by the family as an “emotional rollercoaster.” In 2014, they decided to welcome a daughter into their home with ICW’s help. “The Cherokees are our family and it’s been really important to my family growing up, so it kind of made sense that we would go to the Cherokee Nation this time as opposed to the state,” Danielle said. The McGavocks described their second adoption as “smoother” thanks to the ICW’s commitment to foster children. “It’s not anything bad about DHS, it’s just the tribe has made it a priority to adequately fund the Indian Child Welfare offices to where they have a appropriate staffing levels, so that way when we did need something our caseworker could get back with us quickly,” Mike said. After finalizing their second adoption, the McGavocks planned to close their home until their children were in middle school. But when ICW called in July 2016 asking if the family would accept an emergency placement for the biological sister of their second child, the outcome was no surprise. “We fell in love and we said ‘OK,’” Mike said. “In her case, the parents relinquished their rights very early on, so that’s what made her process go so quickly because the parents had said, ‘You know, we’re not going to fight this. We want her to be with her sister.’” The McGavocks are now a comfortable family of five who recognize the importance of a Cherokee family fostering, and eventually adopting, a Cherokee child. “We believe it’s important to keep the culture a part of their lives and that’s one of the reasons we love living in Tahlequah, is because there’s so much culture here,” Danielle said. “It’s at our fingertips.” The family does not shy away from the hardships that can come with fostering and adopting, such as the fear they felt over the possibility that their foster children might not stay. “There’s legal risk that is associated with that and sometimes that is probably the most emotional and difficult thing that people have to deal with in foster and adoptive care, because there’s no guarantees,” Mike said. Yet the family has “no regrets” about the process thanks to ICW’s support. “They always say it takes a village, and Danielle was saying it takes a tribe,” Mike said. The fear of losing a foster child is something Wilson hears about often in her work, though she is quick to offer advice to foster families. “I think you just have to put yourself into a place that this child has been placed in my life for this time, however long that is, and that could be a short time or a long time,” she said. “I think that if we could all work together to facilitate healing for the family, then that is what’s best for the children. But if not, then no one is better than a tribal family.” ICW has five office locations within the CN. Those interested in fostering or adopting should call 918-458-6900 or visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
05/22/2017 02:45 PM
SANTA FE, N.M. – Macy Rose recently received a 2017 U.S. Tennis Association Native American Scholar Athlete Leadership Grant. The 13-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen is the No. 17-ranked girl in USTA Southwest Girls 14 and under rankings. She recently won the Lobo Tennis Club Winter Junior Open, the Jerry Cline Junior Open in 2016 and captured the women’s open title at the USTA Southwest Indoor Championships. She is ranked No. 1 in New Mexico and is pursuing a top 20 national ranking. Originally from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Macy’s mother, Wahlesah Rose, also a CN citizen, was a tennis player at Northeastern State University and has been a section and national-level volunteer for the USTA for almost 10 years. Macy’s father, Eric Rose, is the owner and director of tennis at Shellaberger Tennis Center in Santa Fe. “My mom taught me at the Tahlequah High School tennis courts. I would chase the balls around and eventually I started hitting them. I saw her teaching my cousins and other kids and playing, and I couldn’t wait to start hitting,” Macy said. “My parents let me come to tennis on my own. They both loved it. I told them my dream, and they told me how much hard work it is. I didn’t believe them, but now I do. It’s about the work and dedication each day to something, even when you don’t feel like it.” Along with submitting an essay to the USTA about how the game of tennis has impacted her life and information about her future tennis aspirations, Macy showed that she maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment. She is of the Wolf Clan and attended the Cherokee Immersion Charter School until her family moved to Santa Fe when she was 7. “I’m from Briggs (Oklahoma). I still go home and visit all my family. Each birthday my cousins and friends still sing to me in Cherokee. My mom will yell phrases in Cherokee to me on court and, when she says my Cherokee name, I know she is serious,” Macy said. “It’s in me. It always has been, and it always will be. No matter where I travel to, my home and tribe is always in my heart. My clan is known as the protectors, and I can see that in my family. We are strong women. We enjoy caring for others, and we don’t give up on the tennis court or in life.” The USTA award Macy earned is a $750 grant for tennis training expenses such as travel, developmental lessons, facility usage, apparel and tennis supplies. At her mother’s urging, Macy gives tennis lessons to Native children younger than her in Santa Fe as part of Serve It Up Inc., which provides low-cost or free tennis lessons and clinics to Native American youth. “I enjoy teaching kids because they are so fun and energetic. They are always super happy and willing to have fun,” she said. Along with taking online classes for school to make time for tennis and traveling, Macy trains four to five hours daily, six days a week. “I follow the USTA’s player development plan that is a great guideline for my training so that I make sure not to over train and to make sure I don’t put too much stress on my body,” she said. “I never train seven days in a row because I need to rest and do other non-tennis things like shop or bake.” Her aspirations are to play tennis at Pepperdine or Stanford universities in California. “I love these schools because of their teams, their coaches and their campuses. I love California because their weather is outstanding year round. I want to major in business,” she said. Ultimately, her dream is to play tennis professionally, own a bakery because she likes to bake and start a clothing line. “My parents have always taught me to manage my money and to be responsible for it and to save and earn (money) for things I want,” she said. “I love to bake. Currently, I have my own cupcake business and have modeled for Native fashion designers I love fashion because I can express myself through pieces of cloth.” After her tennis career is over, she said she would “love to travel and watch younger generations of tennis players come up the ranks.” “I’m thinking I would love to be a commentator and open an academy giving scholarships to Native American youth to learn the game. Right now, I help teach and would love to still do that,” Macy said. “I love tennis. I love that I have to come up with the big shots, the big points and dig down deep to find what I need. I love that nobody else can do that for me. It’s just me.”