CN volunteers to begin free tax prep Feb. 1

Former Reporter
12/27/2016 01:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – It’s almost 2017, and the new year means tax season. And the Cherokee Nation will once again help individuals within its 14-county jurisdiction with tax preparation through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service.

Cora Lathrop, CN mortgage loan officer and VITA coordinator, said each year the tribe works with the Internal Revenue Service to train volunteers how to provide free, basic, income tax return preparation for low-to-moderate income taxpayers.

She added that the IRS has contracted with a different software company, Taxslayer Pro Online.

“This change means tax preparation will take a little longer for each person as there is no carryover of information,” Lathrop said. “We will rely on persons to bring last year’s tax return as we no longer have any access to previous returns prepared in Taxwise.”

She said the tribe generally offers aid to all people, not just its citizens, who annually make $54,000 or less and need assistance preparing tax returns.

“This is an IRS program. Cherokee Nation partners with IRS to offer free assistance because we want to help community members save the exorbitant fees charged by businesses,” Lathrop said. “Many (businesses) charge between $50 and $400 for simple forms that VITA sites can prepare. This program is designed to help lower-income people save tax preparation fees.”

The tribe’s VITA service is expected run from Feb. 1 to April 13 at 13 locations: Tahlequah, Stilwell, Claremore, Sallisaw, Salina, Westville, Catoosa, Jay, Muskogee, Vinita, Ochelata, Nowata and Pryor.

“VITA sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries and other convenient locations,” Lathrop said.

All locations are by appointment only excluding the Tahlequah location, which takes walk-in filers.

When filing this year, Lathrop said the Affordable Care Act, known as ObamaCare, would play a part in people’s 2016 tax returns.

“You will need to answer if everyone in your household had insurance during 2016. Each individual has to have insurance, adult and child or be eligible for an exemption,” Lathrop said.

She said volunteers not only prepare and file tax returns but they also inform taxpayers about special tax credits for which they may qualify such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.

The 2016 Earned Income Credit depends on several factors. The maximum income with three or more qualifying children is $53,505 with the maximum credit of $6,269.

Lathrop also said tax returns are filed electronically, which allows refunds to be deposited into taxpayers’ accounts within 10 days if using direct deposits.

“The IRS has announced that no one will receive tax refunds before Feb. 15. The IRS is working hard to reduce tax fraud. Some refunds can take up to 21 days while the IRS is double-checking returns. Returns claiming Earned Income Credit and the additional Child Tax Credit will be affected,” she added. “You can use the Where’s My Refund? tool and the IRS2Go phone app to check the status of your refund.”

Sandy Long, who prepared taxes many years at CN, retired from the VITA program in 2016. Any people whom she has helped with tax prep in the past will need to bring the following items because someone new will be preparing their tax returns this year: photo identification; Social Security Cards for you, spouse and dependents; wage and earning statements (form W2, W-2G, 1099-R, 1099-Misc) from all employers; interest and dividend statements from banks (form 1099); all Forms 1095, Health Insurance Statements (forms 1095A, 1095B, 1095C); copy of previous year tax return; proof of bank account routing and account numbers for direct deposit such as blank check; total paid to daycare provider with Tax ID number; and if itemize on Schedule A, statements of expense from charities, mortgage lenders, property tax and medical expenses.

For more information, call 918-453-5536. To find a VITA site anywhere in the United States, call toll free 1-800-906-9887 or visit

What You Need To Bring

Proof of Identification (photo ID)

Social Security Cards for you, spouse and dependents

Wage and earning statements (form W2, W-2G, 1099-R, 1099-Misc) from all employers

Interest and dividend statements from banks (form 1099)

All Forms 1095, Health Insurance Statements (forms 1095A, 1095B, 1095C)

Copy of previous year tax return

Proof of bank account routing and account numbers for direct deposit such as blank check

If Married Filing Jointly, both spouses need to be present

Total paid to Daycare Provider with Tax ID number

If itemize on Schedule A, statements of expense from Charities, Mortgage Lenders, Property Tax, Medical expenses.

VITA Locations and Information

Tahlequah: O-Si-Yo Room, 17695 S. Muskogee Ave., 918-453-5536
Open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday by appointment and walk-in

Pryor: Career Services, 2945 Hwy 69A, 918-342-2607
Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday

Westville: Westville Public Library, 116 N. Williams
Open for walk-in only from 9 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 21 and 23 and March 7 and 28

Stilwell: Wilma Mankiller Clinic, Hwy 51 East, 918-453-5536
Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday

Sallisaw: Housing Authority, 2260 W. Cherokee, 918-774-0770, ext. 221 and 222
Open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday (not Feb. 20)

Catoosa: Housing Authority, 310 Chief Stand Watie, 918-342-2607
Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday

Claremore: Housing Authority, 23205 S. Highway 66, 918-342-6814 or 918-342-6807
Open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday (not April 13)

Jay: Housing Authority, 1300 W. Cherokee Apt. 111, 918-253-4078
Open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday

Salina: CN Food Distribution Site, 904 Owen Walters Blvd., 918-207-3939
Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday

Muskogee: Three Rivers Health Clinic, 918-316-7697
Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday

Vinita: Vinita Health Center, 27371 S. 4410 Road, 918-316-7697
Open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 21 and Feb. 28, March 21 and March 28

Ochelata: Cooweescoowee Health Clinic, 39500 W. 2900 Road, 918-316-7697
Open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 7, March 7 and April 4

Nowata: Will Rogers Health Clinic, 1020 Lenape Drive, 918-316-7697
Open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 14, March 14 and April 11

History of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program

More than 30 years ago, the Cherokee Nation’s Career Services Learning Center helped CN citizens by preparing simple tax returns. The program has been moved through several departments and is now administered by the Commerce Department’s Mortgage Assistance Program.

The program was originally founded 1971 by Gary Iskowitz at California State University Northridge. The concept was to provide local taxpayers with free tax return preparation by accounting students, in effort to provide both a valuable community service and a powerful hands-on learning experience for the accounting students. The program grew from a small group of dedicated accounting students to what is now a nationwide program that serves thousands of taxpayers and provides a valuable learning experience for accounting students. Iskowitz (now a prominent CPA, and former IRS agent) recently was commended on the 40th anniversary of the program.


05/16/2018 08:15 AM
STILWELL – It started as a summer job in high school to make extra money. Today 24-year-old Tyler Fourkiller has a growing lawn and landscaping business called Fourkiller Lawn Solutions that manages more than 140 residential and commercial accounts in eastern Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas. The Cherokee Nation citizen started mowing lawns as a teenager, looking for a way to make cash to buy hunting gear. He started out with a used zero-turn mower his father bought him and a push mower he borrowed from his grandfather. He hauled the mowers around on a small trailer and began mowing five residential lawns. By the next summer, he had a couple more lawns to mow, and by the third summer he gained a few more lawns and was able to save up enough money to buy his own mower. After high school, Fourkiller went to college to play baseball, and his summer lawn work slowed down. It wasn’t until after he graduated from college that things started to “snowball” for him. With a degree in environmental and safety management, Fourkiller wanted to go into the oil and gas field, but the industry wasn’t doing great at the time, so he decided to start a full-time lawn business. “I was like I’m just going to run with it and see what happens,” he said. Since making that leap three years ago, Fourkiller has doubled his clientele and his profits every year. He said while his business has a lot residential accounts he is gaining more commercial accounts, including the city of Stilwell and Historic Cain Hill in Arkansas. He also said his business has provided services to CN’s Three Rivers Health Clinic in Muskogee and a couple of the Cherokee casinos thanks to being a certified vendor with CN Tribal Employment Rights Office. “It’s really helped our business with the Cherokee Nation. Last year we picked up a couple of accounts with them, and now we have a few more this year,” he said. With the success Fourkiller has seen, he’s been able to go from a one-mower lawn care service to a full-service landscaping business with five mowers, three trucks, a skid loader and two full-time mowing crews. He said 75 percent of his employees are CN citizens. “It’s cool to represent my Nation in a positive way and keep other Cherokees employed. That’s definitely something we can look at and smile about,” he said. As a full-service landscaping business, Fourkiller Lawn Solutions provide services such as commercial and residential mowing, landscaping, spraying, leaf, snow and brush removal, skid loader services and sod installation. Fourkiller said he hopes his business grows every year and be “a little bigger and better than the year before.” “Any money I make I invest back into my company as far as getting new accounts, investing in getting new equipment and more equipment. I think that would be a goal for me just to branch out more and have more employees, more mowers and more trucks,” he said. For more information, call 918-905-0362 or email <a href="mailto:"></a> or visit Fourkiller Lawn Solutions on Facebook.
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
04/11/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – Seasoned and newly emerging Cherokee artists gained business information during a Native Artist Professional Development Training on April 4-5 at the Cherokee Arts Center. The First Peoples Fund hosted the training as part of its community workshop program, and its goal is to help Native artists become successful entrepreneurs. The FPF provided the course materials while Cherokee artists Matthew Anderson and MaryBeth Timothy taught the training. “Most of us don’t have that business mind, and so First Peoples Fund comes in and helps us with that,” Timothy said. “I know with me, when I took the First Peoples Fund training here it just opened my eyes to so many things that I wasn’t sure of. Now that I realize that we have so many resources, I’m not afraid to go out and look and ask for help, and I think that’s really important for a lot of artists around here." Training topics included creating a business plan, writing for grants and loans, marketing, crafting a successful portfolio and balancing time between operating a business and being an artist. Each participant was also asked to give a presentation at the training’s end. “It’s a chance for them to step outside the box,” Timothy said. “Some of them have never done that before, and so we give them a little guideline and it shows how to present yourself because part of this whole thing is not just selling your art, you’re selling yourself.” Cherokee Nation citizen Isaiah Soap, who completed both training days, said he attended to learn from established artists. “It’s hard to start, especially being a Native artist and getting your business out there, but the people here are really nice and great with helping,” he said. “I think it will help out a lot of artists around here that took the training because I know they’re already well established, so it was good to get their knowledge.” Soap said he comes from a line of artists specializing in beadwork and realized he wanted to make that passion into a business while attending Northeastern State University. “When I was in college at NSU is really whenever it hit me that I could make money while I was in school because I didn’t have a full-time job, and it would have been a lot to do. It would have been more stress if I had gotten a full-time job, whereas my beadwork was like a stress reliever from school and then I could still make money doing it.” During the training, Soap pitched his artwork and began setting goals. “The training definitely helps us to know where we want to go from where we are now,” he said. “In the training we were taught to set some goals for like five years from now or 10 years from now and where we see ourselves as an artist. It also gave us a lot of insight on how we can promote our work and the clientele that we have and how we can set up our work.” FPF President Lori Pourier said the national program began in the 1990s and that the community training in Tahlequah is made possible because of its “Teach Back” component. “MaryBeth and Matthew are there to do their ‘Teach Back’ because they’ve already gone through the training, and now they’re testing it to see if they want to continue doing it and working with the curriculum,” she said. “Several folks down in that area have gone on to be a trainer and then those folks usually train within the tribe or within the state. I think we have 50 or more certified trainers now across the country from Maine to Barrow, Alaska, to Cherokee Nation.” For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
04/03/2018 08:30 AM
VIAN – Less than a mile from Interstate 40 and 5 miles from Lake Tenkiller, two Cherokee-owned businesses are thriving in Vian. Morning Sky Boutique and Evening Shade Mercantile are the idea of Cherokee Nation citizens Suzanne Sullivan and Callie Prier, who are also mother and daughter. “We opened this store (Morning Sky Boutique) a little over three years ago, and we carry clothing, jewelry, shoes,” Prier, the daughter, said. “And we have another building, Evening Shade Mercantile, and it’s home and gift.” Prier said her family worked together to make the idea a reality. “Well, originally we bought Morning Sky Boutique, which was the old Vian Sundry Store and many things before that. My mom and I purchased the building. My husband remodeled the building,” she said. Prier said they started with just clothing and jewelry on a smaller scale. “We got good responses from the community and tourism and all that,” she said. “So, a year after we purchased Morning Sky, we purchased Evening Shade Mercantile, and we’ve made that into the home and gift side so the boutique could be women’s clothing, shoes and jewelry and things like that.” Prier said it was her mom who knew about the tribe’s Small Business Loan program. “They (CN) actually helped us a lot,” Prier said. “We got the small business loan quickly, and they have been super helpful with anything we needed afterwards.” Sullivan said she knows the area well. Born in nearby Sallisaw, she’s been a community volunteer and organizer in Vian for the past 30 years. Sullivan said the advice and information she received from Commerce Department Executive Director Anna Knight and Career Services Executive Director Diane Kelly was crucial to her and Prier before making the decision to open the businesses. “They, along with (the) Commerce Department’s Steven Highers, have so much wisdom and knowledge of the area and just how things work. We work really, really hard to find items that are interesting and unique, while varied in price range. We think we have something for everyone here,” Sullivan said. “We’re getting ready to start a new men’s line, but we already carry men’s products. We carry some Pendleton and Ted Baker and some Gentlemen’s Hardware, but we’re really excited about just getting approved to carry Patagonia. Plus, Callie just picked up a line call The Normal Brand.” As for women’s brands, Morning Sky Boutique carries Sympli and Joseph Ribkoff, Comfy and others. “We carry a lot Johnny Was women’s wear. In jewelry, we have French Kande and Love Tokens and many others. We also carry children’s Kickee pants,” Sullivan said. Morning Sky Boutique and Evening Shade Mercantile are located at 106 S. Thornton St. They are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. For more information, call 918-773-5000 or visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or search Facebook.
04/02/2018 12:00 PM
FORT GIBSON – Cherokee Nation citizen Jon Griggs and his friend, Alex Miller, co-own Limitless Nutrition, which recently opened as a one-stop nutrition shop. The two former basketball players said they’ve always been into fitness, which led to an interest in nutrition and a desire to open a nutrition store. Griggs, who is also a real estate agent, said he learned of a storefront rental listing and he could not “pass it up.” “We talked about doing a business together for about seven years. We initially thought about opening a gym, but over the years we realized the importance in fueling your body the right way. Your physical and mental output is heavily dependent on your nutrition intake,” Griggs said. “So our purpose is to provide a healthy solution to anyone interested in improving their health, fitness, mental or physical performance or overall self-image.” Limitless Nutrition is located at 1205 S. Lee St. It offers everything from fitness advice and supplements to nutritional smoothies, shakes and teas, Griggs said. He said they offer pre-workout supplements, proteins, multivitamins, fat burners, natural herbs, energy teas, all-natural skin care products and nootropics, a brain booster for focus and energy. He also said they carry supplement brands to cater to costumers. “We are pretty unlimited to what we can get and what we can carry. If we don’t carry a certain product you’re looking for, we will get it for you.” However, to set it apart from being just a supplement and vitamin store, the team partnered with PowerBlendz, a health and wellness company, to add a made-to-order smoothie bar. Griggs said the smoothie menu consists of meal-replacement, energizer, fat-burner, protein and recovery shakes, as well as shakes geared toward cutting carbs and calories. They also have ingredients to make pre-workout and post-workout drinks made with real fruit, he said. “We don’t use any artificial flavoring. We provide pure protein and zero-sugar products, so our products have less calories per serving. You can get a full serving of greens from our organic greens supplements, and we can add fiber supplements too, so basically you can get like a full multivitamin shake,” Griggs said. Instead of a grab-and-go facility, he said they want to provide the community with a comfortable atmosphere where costumers can enjoy their drinks and complementary Wi-Fi. In addition to seeing the business succeed locally, Griggs said they hope to expand to Tahlequah and across the state. They also are developing fitness plans for those needing guidance, as well as providing delivery services for smoothies and nutrition drinks to Fort Gibson and Muskogee businesses. “A lot of people are doing the meal-replacement shake for lunch, so if a business wants to order our shakes or even a teas we will deliver it to them,” Griggs said. He said they are looking to partner with high school and college sports teams, too. “We would provide them with products to help with performance and recovery, like hydration products, amino acids and protein drinks.” Griggs also said they offer a 5 percent discount to students and CN citizens, as well as military, police and firefighter personnel. Business hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. For more information call 918-777-3315 or follow Limitless Nutrition Fort Gibson on Facebook.
03/13/2018 08:00 AM
LOCUST GROVE – The Cherokee-owned SSLG Trading Group celebrated the grand opening of its family-owned housewares resale business with a ribbon cutting on March 5. SSLG stands for Susan (Standingwater), Stephanie (Standingwater-Cutrer), Lawrence (Standingwater) and Gabriel (Cutrer). Located at 524 E. Main St., it’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday. Standingwater-Cutrer and her father, Lawrence, are Cherokee Nation citizens who worked with their spouses to open the business, which started from the back of a truck and has upgraded to a storefront. The store merchandise sells at lower-than-retail pricing, she said. “At the start of it we bought palletized general merchandise from a warehouse in Arkansas, and it was from major retailers, and we were able to buy it at a decent price. So I decided at that moment that everything I was going to offer for people to buy was going to be half or less (than retail).” Its merchandise includes kitchenware, tables, television stands, dressers, cell phones cases, books and clothing that one can find in Wal-Mart, Costco, Cato’s or Bill’s Sporting Goods, she said. Standingwater-Cutrer added that the business stemmed from wanting to add diversity to the town’s business sector. It will also serve as a resource for people in need. Standingwater-Cutrer said SSLG is networking with the Pryor Area Resource Alliance, a nonprofit organization, to help people pay rent or utilities to buying food or help those in need of substance abuse rehabilitation by connecting them to resources. “I want to be an example for the kids. We’re just ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Or trying to,” Standingwater-Cutrer said. “I’m just trying to be obedient and do what I feel in my heart that I need to do.” She said the community has been supportive of her family’s business and efforts, and there is “not really a competition” between businesses. “Everyone’s wanting to better the community.” She said local residents have also wanted to help the business in some way such as being a cashier or helping with inventory. “We have people that have different talents that want to help us fight what we’re striving for. Everyone else is seeing the bigger picture.” In addition to getting the business thriving, Standingwater-Cutrer said she and her family are looking to add 1,300 square feet of space to the existing 500 square feet where the store resides. Another goal is to become CN Tribal Employment Rights Office certified as an Indian-owned business. “It all started with a couple Cherokees on their homestead. I actually have a lot of pride in being Cherokee. We actually just want to bring networking, diversity and being a resource,” Standingwater-Cutrer said.
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
03/08/2018 08:00 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY – Two Cherokee Nation citizens were recently announced as participants of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma’s 2018 Leadership Native Oklahoma class. Amber Anderson, a University of Oklahoma Health Services Center research epidemiologist, and Brandi Payton, a CN Cooweescoowee Health Center administrator, join 41 other 2018 LNO participants. According to the AICCO, the LNO is a “leadership opportunity” for business and governmental leaders in Indian Country to broaden their networks and sharpen their understanding of self-governance and self-determination. “I am very appreciative and excited to be selected for this year’s cohort of Leadership Native Oklahoma. Past program participants have shared some of their experiences and I am looking forward to collaborating with Native leaders throughout the state,” Anderson said. “Most importantly, my hope is that I will come out of this program with new knowledge, relationships, and skills to better equip me in my effort to help improve the health of our Cherokee people and Indian County.” Payton, who in 2015 helped open the Washington County-based Cooweescoowee Health Center, said she’s also dedicated to the betterment of health for the American Indian population, and it has become the focus of her professional life. She’s also taken interest in tribal sovereignty and policy after finishing a fellowship in 2016 with the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C. “I am honored to be afforded this opportunity. I feel that participating in LNO will further develop my leadership skills as well as will enhance my knowledge outside of my field,” she said. “I look forward to networking with and learning from some of the finest in Indian Country in hopes of continuing to serve my community to the best of my ability.” This year’s LNO course will include seven monthly sessions of team building and educational sessions, including a two-day “Indianpreneurship Course.” The LNO class will also include professionals with a diverse selection of backgrounds and skill sets in hopes of building a bond unrivaled by other organizations across the state. “The value of LNO is especially important for the group to be introduced to tribal policy, sovereignty, and commerce,” AICCO President Bailey Walker (Chickasaw) said. The AICCO is an organization in which American Indian businesses, tribal leaders and other businesses can come together with innovative ideas that will promote and enhance the success of all American Indian people. “LNO is a unique opportunity to foster cohesiveness from a group of tribal leaders and future tribal leaders. The hours spent together will create a bond between the participants based on respect and interaction to identify, evaluate and implement projects that are of value to Native American businesses in Oklahoma, said AICCO Executive Director and LNO Chairwoman Annetta Abbott (Choctaw). “The LNO program continues to grow and has received a great response from the participants and the tribes.”