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


02/15/2015 12:00 PM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Clay Mayes III has spent a majority of his life running and competing in running competitions. Now, at age of 27, Mayes serves as Bacone College’s assistant track and cross country coach. He started coaching at Bacone in April after buying into Bacone College President Frank Willis’ goal for a cross country team. “Honestly, the reason I’m here is because I truly believe in the president’s statement of helping me support a solid running program,” Mayes said. “He said, ‘Clay, we’re historically a Native American college, yet we don’t fill the full cross country team. I want to change that.’ Seeing his views coincide with mine, it interested me.” Mayes’ duties are not only to help train athletes but also to scout them. “We signed one of the top three Native Americans in the state, and we’re looking to sign one of the other top three as well in the coming month or two,” Mayes said. “At this moment we have three Native Americans on the team and we’re looking to get 15.” Mayes said he learned a lot about runners and their training backgrounds while running for Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma. He said although this helped him learn more about the coaching aspect of running, it wasn’t the only thing that helped. “I would say that a lot of my insight from coaching has came from my failures,” he said. Mayes’ running career started to pick up while he was attending Sequoyah High School-Claremore. “As a freshmen I was picked to win state. I did not win state until my high school senior year,” he said. “It was a lot of trial and error because I was really self-coached for the most part. I learned a lot from actually failing and being resilient to not give up.” In high school, Mayes won state in the 2-mile run with a time of 9 minutes, 43.05 seconds and finished sixth in the 5,000-meter run with a time of 15:11.97 at the Nike Outdoor Championships, earning an All-American spot. In college, he scored for OSU at the Big 12 Championships when he had a time of 31:22.58 in the 10,000 meters and finished eighth. Mayes was part of the OSU team that won the fall 2009 NCAA men’s cross country championship. While at OSU he also finished third in the NCAA men’s cross country in 2007. While attending OU, Mayes was a member of the 2010 group that won the Big 12 Indoor Conference Championships. Now coaching at a school with Native American roots, Mayes said he’s glad he has his Cherokee ancestry. “Honestly, being a Cherokee citizen has been pretty awesome. It’s pretty cool how tightknit the community is,” he said. “The thing with Cherokee Nation is they do an awesome job of actually giving back to the community. That was the easiest tribe to deal with when trying to help my kids get a degree and make it financially suiting because they’re going to be more likely to be not stressed out if they’re able to get the right finances for college.” Mayes said although he is fairly new to Bacone he looks forward to a bright future for the running program. “Since I’m new at Bacone I expect a lot of great things to come,” he said.
Senior Reporter
02/13/2015 09:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation employee Larry Ketcher retired Feb. 6 after more than 40 years of service to the tribe. Ketcher spent most of his career working for Career Services, helping Cherokee people gain access to job training and jobs, first through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, which offered work to those with low incomes and the long-term unemployed, as well as summer jobs to low-income high school students. He finished his career as a Career Services director who handled federal compliance complaints for federal agencies and Tribal Employment Rights Office certifications. He said he enjoyed working with employment training programs over the years and meeting and working with the people he partnered with to do his job. He said he also enjoyed working with state and national organizations in the employment-training field. Ketcher said he would miss working for the CN and associating with the tribe and its programs. He added that he would also miss the staff he has come to know and helping with client services that Career Services provides. A retirement ceremony for Ketcher was held on Feb. 6 at the Cherokee Veterans Service Center. Career Services Executive Director Diane Kelley, who has served the tribe for 37 years and for many years was Ketcher’s supervisor, spoke about the changes and growth the tribe has experienced during Ketcher’s time with the CN. “Larry was talking about his employee number. He said his employee number was 161. Now the employee numbers are in the thousands,” Kelley said. “Larry said this morning, we’ve seen children go through the program back in the (19)70s...and now we’re seeing their grandchildren come through our door. We’ve actually served three generations.” Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden attended the ceremony to honor Ketcher’s service as a CN employee and a military veteran. Ketcher served from 1972-74 in Germany in the Army’s Europe Division with the 2nd and 5th Artillery. Shortly after leaving the Army he began working for the CN on Dec. 16, 1974. “Larry, on behalf of the chief and the tribe, thank you for your 40 years-plus of service to this tribe and all the help you gave our people through those years. It was a job well done, sir. And also thank you for your service to this great country in the military,” Crittenden said. Crittenden gave Ketcher retirement gifts to go with the gifts presented by representatives from the Oklahoma Employment, Training, and Advisory Council; the Cherokee Veterans Service Center; and the Tribal Council. “We are just so honored to be a part of this program today, and we wanted to give him a little memento...a set of Cherokee (syllabary) blocks,” said Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory Jordan. “Larry is my friend. He’s a coworker. He has been such an inspiration for the Cherokee people. Larry we want to thank you on behalf of the council.” The Talking Leaves Job Corps culinary arts class provided cakes and refreshments at the retirement ceremony. Ketcher, who once led the TLJC, thanked the culinary arts students for their work, and he thanked his family and the CN staff people who attended his retirement event. “Thank you staff members for being who you are, for working for the tribe, doing what you do, providing the service that you do. If it wasn’t for you, many times the people of our communities, not only the Cherokees...would not receive the services they are applying for,” he said. “That’s what you do, you make the Cherokee Nation successful.”
02/11/2015 10:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Sequoyah High School senior Nolan Philpott was recently named to the Oklahoma Coaches Association All-Star Football Team on account of his outstanding performance during the 2014 season. Philpott, of Tahlequah, is set to play the offensive lineman for the Class 3A team. “Nolan Philpott is a very good football player,” SHS head coach Shane Richardson said. “I'm happy that he was recognized for his play. But, more importantly, in order to get this honor, student athletes must excel off the field as well.” According to a Cherokee Nation press release, each class selects an all-star team of the best 26 senior football players in the East and West divisions. Then, all-state teams are selected from those all-star players. “Nolan did a great job for our team this year on both offense and defense,” Sequoyah Schools’ Athletic Director Marcus Crittenden said. “He also does well in the classroom and is a good role model for our younger students. He deserves this elite level of recognition.” Philpott, 19, was named the District 3A-7 offensive lineman of the year and Muskogee Phoenix All-Phoenix honors. He was also an honorable mention All-State for the Daily Oklahoman and Tulsa World. Philpott is the son of Craig and Waynita Philpott.
02/10/2015 08:15 AM
SALLISAW, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen and Sallisaw High School sophomore Raven Broussard recently received notice that she’s been nominated to attend the Congress of Future Medical Leaders Conference in Boston. The conference is a three-day event set for June 24-26. It is designed for honors-only high school students interested in going into medical research fields or becoming a physician. While attending, Broussard will have the chance to meet and hear National Medal of Science winners and Nobel Laureates talk about leading medical research and have the opportunity to speak with top medical schools deans about what to expect at medical school. Broussard said she was excited when she first received her invitation letter. “I was super, super excited about it,” she said. “I went to my (high school) counselor and I talked to her and she said, ‘Oh, that sounds like a great opportunity, let me see what I can do.’ So, she contacted them. I didn’t really expect for it to come in, and it did, and I was super excited.” Broussard, who carries a 4.0 grade point average and is taking advanced classes, said she’s had an interest in the medical field since a young age. “I originally wanted to be a neurologist or cardiologist and that was my main thing, was to be a surgeon, but some things have happened, and I’ve decided that I want a less stressful kind of job, and so I’ll be a pediatrician,” she said. Broussard said attending the conference would give her an opportunity to learn more about medical-related fields, something she would not normally have the chance to do. She added that she’s proud to represent Oklahoma at the conference. “Not only am I distinguished among my fellow students, but I’m going to be a minority,” she said. “It’s all over the U.S., and I’m one of the few that’s going to be representing Oklahoma.” Aside from having an interest in the medical field, Broussard enjoys preforming with her high school drama class. “I love to act. That’s my thing,” she said. “I’m really artsy and kind of creative. I paint things a lot.” Broussard’s mother and fellow CN citizen, Stephanie, said she is proud of her daughter for wanting to help others by striving for a career in the medical field. “I was really proud of her because it’s something that she has always wanted,” Stephanie said. “My hope is that she’ll do her goals and come back and work for the Nation and kind of help our citizens. Maybe some other young Cherokee Nation girl and boys will see what she’s doing and want to kind of follow her footsteps.”
02/05/2015 03:07 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A Cherokee Nation citizen and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Dustin Butler was one of 10 veterans nationwide who received an all-expense paid trip to Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix. Butler was chosen by the national nonprofit Operation Enduring Respect to attend the Super Bowl, receive free transportation, lodging, food and souvenirs. The veterans also attended a NFL Hall of Fame luncheon with Earl Campbell, Roger Staubach and other former NFL greats. “I can’t really describe the feeling. It’s almost unreal,” said Butler. “I’ve been watching the Super Bowl since I was old enough to remember, and I never expected to ever go in person.” Butler enlisted in the U.S. Marines Corps in 1999 and completed his basic training in San Diego. He served two tours in Iraq and received an honorable discharge in 2005. In addition to serving six years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Butler also served in the Air Force Reserves from 2006 until 2013, when he was medically discharged. Founded in 2009 by Kevin Phelps and Brian McKee, Operation Enduring Respect was established to provide an opportunity for military men and women to attend sporting events they might not typically be able to attend. “Native Americans serve in the military at a higher rate than any other group of Americans,” said Phelps, a CN citizen from Austin, Texas. “Military service by Native Americans is to be honored and exemplified in our unique and amazing way. Operation Enduring Respect hopes to raise the profile of Native American service men and women by taking them to these games and honoring their service.”
02/04/2015 08:22 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) – Cherokee Nation citizen Brian Jackson lifted a 4,387-pound sport utility vehicle off the ground with his breath. In doing so, he became a Guinness World Record holder for the 12th time. There’s your headline material. Stop there and you miss the story. The story is about a drug bust. And balloon animals. And getting knocked unconscious – gloriously so – by an exploding hot water bottle. And being humiliated on national TV. In 2011, Jackson was asked to appear on “America’s Got Talent.” His talent (“I’m full of hot air”) failed him at crunch time. The studio audience booed. “AGT” judge Piers Morgan said: “That’s one of the most pointless things I’ve ever watched in my entire life.” Pointless? Maybe Morgan wouldn’t have used that word if he knew about the big picture. But he had no way of knowing about the drug bust. Or the balloon animals. Or Jackson’s post-show encounter with a “cutter.” One puff nearly sabotaged a man who would someday huff and puff his way into record books. “My best friend offered it to me one time,” Jackson said, recalling his first encounter with marijuana. “I didn’t want anybody to make fun of me, so I tried it. Kids face that all the time. They don’t want anybody to laugh at them. They don’t want to lose any friends. They don’t want anybody to say something about them. It’s easier to fit in. Just take it and go.” Problem: “That thing grabbed a hold of me like I have never had anything grab a hold of me in my life.” Jackson, who grew up in Seminole, was a distance runner who qualified for the state track meet as a high school junior. Then came an introduction to weed. His priorities changed. He said he barely graduated. He did, however, graduate to other drugs, including hashish and cocaine. “When I started snorting coke, I loved coke,” he said. “I could do a gram a day easily. But I also had to make enough money to provide for my habit.” Jackson became a dealer. He said it was nothing to be involved in $70,000 and $80,000 drug deals. His “business” extended all the way to Kansas City. And, 18 months after finishing high school, he said he got caught with 25 pounds of marijuana, eight illegal firearms and more than $1,000 in cash. “My arrest warrant said ‘armed and dangerous, shoot to kill if I resisted’ for a reason,” Jackson said. “One of the drug dealers did me wrong on a drug deal, and I remember waking him up at 3 o’clock in the morning and tying him up, and I took back what I thought was mine.” Jackson said he was part of one of the biggest drug busts in Seminole County. “I was looking at 10 years in prison. The district attorney and a couple of other people saw something in me that I never saw in myself, and they actually gave me a second chance.” Jackson said he got saved while in jail. He also chose to salvage his reputation. He wanted to be known for something other than being a drug runner. Balloon animals provided a “gateway drug” for Jackson to transform from villain to hero. In 2011, he was given the name “The Hurricane” when he lifted a car with his breath on the History Channel television series “Stan Lee’s Superhumans.” The Hurricane’s secret origin? Jackson said he became involved with church projects 22 years ago and his duties included making balloon animals for children. Long, skinny, twistable balloons are used to craft balloon animals. If you’ve ever tried to blow one up, you know it’s a chore. “We were going to an event one day, and we left our pumps at home,” Jackson said. “And it was either blow them up by mouth and make balloon animals, or not make balloon animals and disappoint the kids.” Jackson blew up the balloons and vowed never to use a pump again. He got so good at it that he was able to blow up nine balloons simultaneously. Then he watched a TV program and saw European strongman Georges Christen blow into a hot water bottle until it exploded. Jackson contacted the Guinness folks and said he would like to try to break the record for fastest time to make a hot water bottle (a British Standard hot water bottle) explode. Seven years later, he was still trying. People suggested he give up the quest and spare embarrassment. Jackson took extra hot water bottles with him so he would have a spare in case he failed on the first try. “And I realized I was never giving it 100 percent because I knew, in my mind, I had a second chance or a third chance.” Jackson took just one hot water bottle with him to a 2006 attempt at Tahlequah High School. He told his family he was going to push so hard they would have to carry him out. He wasn’t kidding. “I knew I was getting really close, but when it burst, I don’t remember breaking the world record,” he said. “I remember seeing the ceiling. It hit me so hard it knocked me out and it dislocated my jaw and separated my ribs.” Finally over the hump, Jackson pursued more breath-related records, including golf ball spitting (length is the measuring stick) and most balloons blown up in an hour. He said the Guinness people suggested he try to break a record for inflating a balloon through a fire hose. He did it so well the category was retired. Breaking records made Jackson a wanted man – this time for the right reasons. He was so thrilled to be invited to the Stan Lee (who created Spider-Man and the X-Men) show that he upped the ante and lifted a car for the first time. TV programs from all over the globe extended invitations, and Jackson got an offer he couldn’t refuse from “America’s Got Talent.” Blowing up hot water bottles was old hat for Jackson by the time he showed up on “AGT.” He burst one in 12.29 seconds in 2010, far below his record time of 51.98 seconds in 2006. He exploded three hot water bottles in 68 seconds in 2009. For whatever reason, he was unable to blow up one hot water bottle during his 90-second “AGT” segment. “I failed in front of 21 million people,” Jackson said. Not long after, Jackson said he went on TruTV and exploded five hot water bottles in under a minute. He calls the “AGT” experience his most successful failure. Jackson isn’t proud of his drug-dealing past or his “AGT” flameout, but he often shares details because he feels like it’s his responsibility to help others, especially kids. A motivational speaker who works with CN Leadership Services, Jackson doesn’t just talk. He performs feats and replays the infamous “AGT” clip. Jackson said just being on the show gives him instant credibility. The clip gives him an excuse to ask questions. How many of you have ever been laughed at? How many of you have been made fun of? How many of you have ever laughed at – or made fun of – somebody else? “Another thing I will ask them is ‘How many of you all have a gift or talent that you think is so silly that you’re afraid to tell anybody because you’re afraid somebody is going to laugh at you?’ My gift and talent is I’m full of hot air. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. And it’s not what you have, it’s how you use it.” Jackson hits the drug subject hard if audiences are older. Once upon a time, bullets whizzed by his head, so he’s got a frame of reference to deliver cautionary tales. You may think you’re a bad boy, but you have no idea how dangerous the drug life can get. Stop. Now. “Most kids feel like when they mess up or screw up, that’s it. I have messed up my life,” Jackson said. “But I got a second chance, and I took advantage of that second chance. I make sure that I emphasize I took advantage of that second chance. I was arrested with seven of my best friends, and seven of my best friends have all been in prison. Two of them are dead today. And two of them are still in prison. “You have to take advantage of that second chance.” Balloon animals are visual aids during Jackson’s presentations. They’re used to reinforce a point to youths. “If you allow us as adults – coaches, parents, teachers, elders – to mold you and shape you and change your direction in life, there’s no telling what we could help you become in life,” he said. “For whatever reason, (a balloon animal) is the most powerful tool I have, but it’s the most silly tool I have. There is no place I go without balloon animals.” Jackson started 2015 with a trip. He and other like-minded folks were invited to China to do what they do best: break records. Wearing tribal gear to honor his heritage, Jackson blew into a hose that was attached to air bags. Uninflated air bags had been placed under an SUV. It took Jackson 36 minutes, but he “blew” all four SUV wheels off the ground by inflating the air bags. He broke a Guinness record for heaviest vehicle lifted with breath and he said it took him more than a week to recover. “There was so much pressure from that car on my throat that it almost blew my throat out,” he said. Jackson said he is retired from the record-setting biz. Challengers are getting younger and stronger. He’s 50, and various feats have taken a toll on his 5-foot-5 body. He said he snapped an arm while breaking bricks and needed surgery after bending steel. Blowing up hot water bottle leaves facial burns (protective eyewear is necessary) and it stresses more than his throat. He pushes hot water bottles against his mouth so hard that he busts his lip. “You are going to push against your neck and your shoulders,” he said. “It’s going to affect your hands, your wrists, your arms, your back. When I’m blowing them up and (leaning forward), it’s like doing crunches. ... To push air into something that is not meant to blow up, whether it takes a minute or takes four minutes, it’s a full-body workout for that amount of time.” Jackson’s fear: Who will listen to me if I stop performing feats? He expects to eliminate hot water bottle inflations from his talks. He has about 800 hot water bottles at his home and said he will keep about 20. He also keeps emails and letters that remind him of the impact he has had on lives. Jackson said he once met a cutter – a girl who said she had been made fun of her whole life. The “AGT” video struck a nerve. She pulled up a shirt sleeve to reveal cuts on an arm. She said she had tried to commit suicide. She wanted to know how he handled the “AGT” ridicule. Young people – too often told they are nobodies who will never amount to anything – are looking for answers, Jackson said. He answered the girl as best as he could. Never quit. Never give up. If you do, “they” will win. And it’s OK to chase a dream, even if the dream is making a hot water bottle burst. “So let Piers Morgan make fun of me,” Jackson said. “Let Piers Morgan say something about me. That’s OK, because it has given me more weapons in my arsenal to reach those kids.”