Kuruks LLC workers install an access floor on Oct. 12, 2016, at the new Cherokee casino in Grove, Oklahoma. Kuruks, which is owned by Cherokee Nation citizen Mike Henson, has worked with the CN on several facilities. COURTESY
Henson successful in construction business
Kuruks LLC employees work on an expansion project on the Stone Wolf Casino for the Pawnee Nation on Dec. 27, 2016, in Pawnee, Oklahoma. COURTESY
PAWNEE, Okla. – At a young age, Cherokee Nation citizen Mike Henson followed in his stepfather’s footsteps working in construction. That eventually led him to create his own construction company in 2010.
After finishing a project for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers they offered him a $4 million contract.
“So that was really predicated on my past performance working for the Army Corps of Engineers, working on multiple projects in different states. So that’s why I created my company. I never really thought that I would be an entrepreneur, and it has since then just ballooned,” he said.
Henson said he has worked in construction since he was 15.
“As I got into college, it was a means for me to make ends meet. Our family didn’t have a lot of money, so I was responsible for everything that I had to do to make it through school,” he said.
Henson graduated in 2002 from Oklahoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in construction management technology.
“I had five internships at that point in time. So when I graduated, I had a lot of opportunities to go anywhere in the world…doing construction,” he said.
He chose to stay in Oklahoma because of family and built his company in Pawnee.
With a new company, he said getting capital to grow the business was difficult and he needed a backer to get access to larger contracts.
“I caught wind of the Pawnee Nation’s interest in diversifying their business portfolio. So I basically negotiated with the Pawnee Tribal Development Corporation for a year. We finally came to terms last February, and they acquired the majority interest of my company, and with that allowed the company to grow. We had access to more capital. We had more resources,” he said.
Originally, Henson’s company was called Elohi LLC. Elohi in the Cherokee language means earth. But since the Pawnee Nation acquired the majority interest, he said the company went through a rebranding process to reflect the change in tribal affiliation, and the company name was changed to Kuruks LLC. Kuruks is a Pawnee word meaning bear.
Kuruks performs a plethora of construction-based work, including construction management, general construction and specialty construction.
“We have strategic partners on the sub-contracting side. We currently partner with three different sub-contractors because we bring to the table a skillset that they don’t necessarily have, and they also bring a skillset that we don’t have so it’s a perfect union for us because we’re a small company. We’re able to help one another get access to contracts, but we also focus as a prime contractor on doing work on our own,” Henson said.
He said the company focuses on Native preference when it comes to skilled labor, technical trades and hiring Native-owned subcontracting businesses.
Kuruks has worked with the CN and Cherokee Nation Businesses on projects such as the Sam Hider Health Center in Jay, the gaming and access floor for the Cherokee Casino Roland and the access floor for the new Cherokee Casino Grove.
He said there are opportunities in the construction trade and roughly 8 million construction jobs are not going to be filled in 2017.
“We really do focus on trying to find the best top Native talent. There’s not a big pool...for all of construction,” he said.
Henson said Native Americans have always been building their lodging and things they need. He refers to it as “brown building” and encourages young Native Americans to look at the construction trade.
“There’s a movement on the environmental side called ‘green building,’ but we’ve been green building all along, and I call it ‘brown building.’ So it’s in us. It’s innate in us to be builders and to work with our hands and do those things. For those young people who aren’t interested in going to college, there’s many opportunities to go to a technical trade school and have a great career doing construction,” Henson said.
For more information, visit www.kuruks.com
, email email@example.com
or call 405-481-5001.
OKLAHOMA CITY – A love for the outdoors prompted Cherokee Nation citizen Gaylon Cornsilk and his brother-in-law Travis Smith to create Woodsman Trading Co., an outdoor lifestyle store.
The two opened on Nov. 26 to share their love for nature.
“We’re kind of an old-fashioned store. We really try to emphasize quality goods,” Cornsilk said. “If we don’t believe in it, we don’t sell it. If I sell something here, I’ve used it, tried it. I know it inside and out.”
Cornsilk’s love for the outdoors began at a young age when he and his father spent three months camping in Alaska and Canada. “I think it kind of put something in my heart that I never forgot.”
Located at The Village, Cornsilk said it’s a kind of store not “typically” seen in the area.
“You feel like you’re either in Santa Fe, New Mexico, or you feel like you’re in Colorado. I think that’s the kind of vibe you can get in here. It’s almost like urban meets woodsman,” he said. “We sell trendy cloths for men and women, but they’re also functional and practical. You can take it out on the trail during the day, out in town during night.”
Aside from clothing, the store offers mugs, caps, blankets, knifes and instructional children’s books about camping and other outdoor activities.
“I’m finding more and more people, as they’re starting to plug in with the outdoors they’re getting their children involved,” he said. “We have books to help children learn how to camp for the first time, how to cook on a open fire, setting up a tent, things that help them understand that being outdoors is enjoyable.”
Cornsilk said promoting other small businesses is important, so a lot of products offered do that.
“We carry a hat line by an artist named Abby Paffrath. She’s out of Jackson, Wyoming. She’s a painter, and what she’ll do is she’ll do a painting and then eventually they’ll put that print on their clothing lines,” he said. “We just try to work with handcrafted stuff, a lot of USA products, and I love working with other small businesses.”
Cornsilk said building relationships with customers is driving business factor, as well as ensuring customers buy the right products to fit their needs.
“If a customer says, ‘hey, I want a camping knife.’ I want to know what are you going to use that knife for? I don’t want to just sell them a product, I want to help him meet his needs,” he said.
Cornsilk said he’s “proud” of his Cherokee heritage and the respect for nature it gave him.
“I grew up with my dad’s side of the family a lot, so I’ve been around Native American communities my whole life. I’m extremely proud, it means a lot to me,” he said. “I think even with the Native American background, respect for nature, creation, there’s a lot of things that’s always kind of stuck with me.”
Cornsilk said the store also gives him a chance to promote being able to “unplug” and connect with nature.
“I think being outdoors is healing for your heart, for your soul, for your body. I want to see more people spend time outdoors if they can,” he said. “We live in such a fast-paced society, we’re always on our smartphones, and I’m guilty of it. Sometimes I think we just need to take a pause, unplug maybe connect with the outdoors.”
Woodsman Trading Co. is at 9705 N. May Ave. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. For more information, “like” Woodsman Trading Co. on Facebook, “follow” it on Instagram or visit <a href="http://www.woodsmantrading.com" target="_blank">woodsmantrading.com</a>.
SALLISAW – The former horseracing track Blue Ribbon Downs has continued to serve racehorse trainers from all over, including Cherokee Nation citizen Andy Gladd.
Gladd said because the majority of people who “run” horses in the community are Cherokee, it’s good to see the CN keep BRD open for training purposes.
Purchased from the Choctaw Nation for $2.5 million in December 2009, Cherokee Nation Entertainment opened the nearly 100-acre property as a racehorse-training center in late 2010.
It’s equipped with barns, stalls and a seven-eighths-of-a mile track, which can be rented for training. It has 354 stalls and currently has approximately 180 horses training there.
Gladd has owned his racehorse training business called Gladd Racing for nearly 12 years, but has used BRD for the past three years. He said at BRD he is able to rent stalls and use the track to run his horses for a better price than if he built a training facility.
“The stall rent is so much cheaper than we could build a facility. People that have small stables can come here, and Gary Dale Brooks (BRD stall superintendent) helps people to gates, get horses schooled and gets them ready to run,” Gladd said. “This place has really been great for to come to. The people here on the ground are really good to us. Anytime we have any type of problems they’re there at our barn to fix it.”
Brooks, a CN citizen, said more than half of the people who bring horses to train at BRD are Cherokee, but people from out of state use the facility, too. “We have a bunch of local trainers from Sequoyah County, and we have a bunch that came from Iowa. We even have some trainers that moved in and brought 30 head of horses from Canada.”
Since the training center is in an area home to a lot of trainers, Brooks said BRD serves a great purpose.
“Every Wednesdays here we have time works, and it just saves lot of time and money on everybody especially the local people,” he said. “If they couldn’t do that they would have to go to another race track, and the closet one is Claremore and it’s an hour and 20 minutes from here. Then you have to realize you got to get a rider up there, and sometimes you can’t get a rider and your whole day is wasted, and you got to come back home and go back and do it again.”
Gladd said he’s been training 30 horses at BRD and will be taking 28 horses to the CNE’s Will Rogers Downs in Claremore to compete in this year’s racing season beginning in March.
PARK HILL – The Cherokee Phoenix visited Nancy’s Homemade Pies and Café for its first installment of Cherokee Eats, a series highlighting Cherokee-owned eateries and their specialties.
Namesake Nancy Bryan said the realization of her establishment took decades and several jobs in between, but when she finally opened in 2017 the effort was worth the wait.
“I had the desire to start a business at a young age, when I started baking with my nanny,” Bryan said. “She taught me how to make pie crusts when I was probably 11-years-old and from that time on, every time I went to visit her we would make pies. I would think, ‘someday I want to do this. I want to have my own business.’ And after working at Keys Public Schools for 32 years, I decided to retire and open up a little shop with pies.”
Everything Bryan makes, including pies and cakes, comes from family recipes.
“I made everything from a recipe, nothing in a box,” she said. “My mother also taught me more skills on making homemade cakes. So from that time on, growing up it was always a treat to me to make something for someone coming into my home.”
Bryan said her customers have their favorites, including coconut and chocolate pecan pie, but she likes to experiment. “We are known for some that I have, as we say, come up with my own self, like the Almond Joy pie, lemon pineapple, chocolate banana. We have different types that you don’t normally get when you go somewhere that I’ve just thought of and put together, and people really enjoy them.”
While Bryan is known for her sweets such as brownies and pumpkin rolls, she also offers appetizers and entrées.
“On the entrées that we have here, we specialize in our chicken and dumplings every Friday with our cornbread salad,” she said. “We have our potato soup every day. That’s something we will always have every day, and we have a different type of soup with that. Everyone wants to come in and have something warm. Then we also have chili as another entrée and our chicken pot pie is really popular.”
Because she spent time selling specialties out of her home, she said she’s grateful to have a physical space for customers to sit and enjoy her food.
“I really enjoy what I’m doing here,” she said. “One of my purposes of opening Nancy’s was also to make sure, when they came in, our customers would feel like they were at home. I want them to know that they’re welcome, and when they’re eating I like to go and visit with them.”
Nancy’s Homemade Pies and Café is at 26426-26484 S. Indian Road. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays and Tuesday through Thursday. On Fridays and Saturdays it’s open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
MOUNDS – With hopes of getting Cherokee jewelry in fine jewelry stores worldwide, Greg Stice, owner and artist of Cherokee Copper, is on his way to doing just that with a key part of his jewelry consisting of copper and pearls.
“Our goal is to take the Cherokee, our tradition to the world…so that you can walk into any fine jewelry (store) and you will be able see Cherokee fine jewelry,” he said.
Stice said he takes traditional Cherokee jewelry pieces and brings them into the 21st century by using modern tools such as engravers.
“In using that technology, as the engraving machine, is the way that we can take technology and produce something very unique and customized and everything is handmade. I mean, printed on the engraver, but once I pull that off every keychain, every cuff will be a little bit different because it’s (crafted with) my hands,” he said.
Stice credits his grandmother, Pebble Ross, for his creativity. “My grandparents were always making things for a large family.” And family still plays a large part as Stice’s children and wife help design, create, test and market the jewelry.
“It’s a way that we as Cherokees express our love for our family, and that’s one big thing within Cherokee (culture), it’s all about family. That’s how we really got started with Cherokee Copper. It’s a family business. It’s a family jewelry company that takes Cherokee traditions and metals and pearls and gemstones and puts a modern twist to it,” he said. “We all get to do something that we all enjoy doing because everybody has a special part into making that piece.”
Cherokee Copper creates anything from cuffs with Oklahoma-shaped outlines to necklaces with pearls and copper, and includes pieces for women and men. Stice said he also has a Heritage Collection incorporating the Cherokee syllabary.
“One of the nice things about our Heritage Collection is that we give 5 percent of all profits to Cherokee scholarships. So all of our heritage stuff is going to create a scholarship for Cherokees annually,” he said.
Stice said he’s also promoting a Valentine line with freshwater pearl and copper heart necklaces, rose quartz necklaces, cuffs and more. “That is what our Valentine line is, is the expression of love.”
Cherokee Copper also helps with fundraisers by creating custom pieces for schools or civic organizations. “We can work with them to create a custom piece,” he said.
When a jewelry piece sells, Stice said he enjoys the smiles it puts on the buyer’s face.
“That’s what I enjoy is when they…get that jewelry, it’s the smile when they wear it,” he said. “It’s traditional Cherokee. It’s copper. It’s freshwater pearl. It doesn’t get any Cherokee more than that.”
Cherokee Copper creates pieces starting at $20 with higher-priced items typically being custom. Stice said he could create custom pieces for individuals, clubs or even for mass production in stores.
Cherokee Copper will have a booth set up at the Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival on Feb. 9-11 in Glenpool. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeecopper.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeecopper.com</a> or search “Cherokee Copper” on Facebook or email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.
TULSA – Cherokee Nation Technology Solutions is one of six companies awarded a $249 million indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract supporting research activities at four Army medical agencies during the next 10 years.
“We are proud to support the Army and to serve an integral role in maintaining and promoting the health and well-being of our service members and their families,” John Hansen, CNTS operations general manager, said. “This award builds on our existing relationship with the Department of Defense and our growing reputation as a premier provider in the field of medical research.”
Officials said CNTS will work to preserve and advance the health and well-being of soldiers and military retirees, their families and Army civilian employees. The four participating agencies — the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, the U.S. Army Public Health Center and the Extremity Trauma and Amputation Center of Excellence — can award task orders through the contract.
CNTS will have an opportunity to provide biomedical research and surveillance, information management, and business operations and information technology activities in support of burn, trauma and combat casualty care and rehabilitation, chemical warfare mitigation and public health services.
For more information on CNTS’ medical research support, email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.
CNTS, formed in 2008, provides technical support services and project support personnel to its defense and civilian agency partners. The company provides a tailored management approach for complex government programs and disciplines, including information technology, science, engineering, construction, research and development, facilities management, program management, and mission support. CNTS is headquartered in Tulsa and is part of the Cherokee Nation Businesses family of companies. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokee-cnts.com" target="_blank">www.cherokee-cnts.com</a>.
STILWELL – January 2018 marked one year in business for two brothers with a dream to start a clothing brand that expresses their love for the outdoors and represents their roots.
Cody Killer, 26, and Dakota St. Pierre, 19, named their brand Baron Fork Outfitters.
The Cherokee Nation citizens and brothers grew up in Stilwell and appreciate being outdoors and engaging in outdoor activities. But it was spending time on Baron Fork Creek that inspired the brand’s name.
“It brings back memories of summers from our childhood we spent with family fishing and swimming in the Baron Fork Creek. It was a big part of our childhood to go and spend family time at there,” Killer said. “And when Dakota presented the name to me I thought this was a pretty sweet name, a name that people from around here would recognize. And for the people that don’t, it sounds like a pretty cool name.”
The idea of starting a T-shirt brand developed more than a year before they launched the company in 2017. Killer said getting the name really got the “ball rolling.” The goal was to create a brand that captures northeast Oklahoma’s beauty as well as the area’s significance to which locals could identify.
“A lot of this is about local recognition. Obviously starting out we aren’t expecting to go big, so we weren’t worrying about other people buying it out of (Adair) county. We really wanted to build it up for the locals,” St. Pierre said.
They designed their first T-shirt after the place that inspired the brand, with a hint of “humor.”
“We wanted our first design to be our signature design, which has the Baron Fork Creek with the old railroad bridge above it. But we also added mountains in the background. A lot of people kind of pointed it out, but we did it as a joke because almost everyone around this area either lives on or near a mountain like Rocky Mountain, Spade Mountain, Killer Mountain, Jackson Mountain. So the mountains represent that,” Killer said.
With name and design in place, printing the shirts was next. But buying equipment and materials to print their shirts wasn’t feasible for the young entrepreneurs, so after saving money they used a relative’s printing business in Tulsa.
However, the brand didn’t take off until its public debut at Stilwell’s annual Strawberry Festival in May. The brothers offered one design in four colors as a test run and sold about 140 shirts.
In a short time, Baron Fork Outfitters went from offering one design to offering 10. The most popular is the “yona” design, which means bear in Cherokee.
St. Pierre said adding Cherokee elements to designs is another way they represent their background. “We wanted to be able to express our Cherokee heritage through the business because that’s a big part of who we are and the area we grew up in.”
In addition to offering T-shirt designs, Baron Fork Outfitters offers beanies, hats, tank tops, long- and short-sleeve shirts and items such as campfire mugs and cups.
“Realistically everything we make from this we turn right around and put it back into new stuff because it hasn’t been about making a profit but more about expanding and making the best products possibly and more affordable for everyone,” Killer said.
Along with receiving positive feedback from locals, Baron Fork Outfitters is grabbing attention beyond the area.
“I go to school at OU (University of Oklahoma) and people are like ‘whoa what’s that shirt? I want to buy it.’ And even through our Etsy page we have received orders from other states. So with the popularity we are gaining we can expand into other markets and offer more outdoor designs as a whole, but still be under the same name that started it all,” St. Pierre said.
Killer said they are going to introduce more clothing items and designs this year, some featuring collaborations with local artists Hilary Hume and Daylon Diver.
“A big part of what we are trying to do is support other locals, too. So coming up with a design and asking artists to draw the artwork for our shirts is a way to promote them and get their name out there too,” he said. “Hilary has been working on two designs. She completed one and is going to represent an area of Oklahoma (where) a lot of people will know what it means. So we are really excited.”
Although Baron Fork Outfitters doesn’t have an official store the brothers sell their products from a Stilwell tax office, but want to offer products to local stores. Eventually they hope to own a Baron Fork Outfitters store equipped with their clothing and supplies.
“It was everything we hoped for and more. As with any business, we, of course, are looking to expand, but we could not be happier with where we are today,” Killer said.