Cherokee Nation citizens Adam Childress, left, and Amanda Ray, along with actor and Northeastern State University Drama faculty member Chris Miller star in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on Feb. 15 at the NSU Playhouse in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. ROGER GRAHAM/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Ray stars in ‘Virginia Woolf’ production
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen and Sequoyah High School drama teacher Amanda Ray starred in Northeastern State University Drama’s production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” which ran Feb. 15-18 at the NSU Playhouse.
Ray, a NSU graduate, said as an acting teacher she’s a firm believer that if she’s going to teach it she needs to do it well.
“I think coaches should play a game every once in a while. I think it’s good for you.” Ray said.
“In my career I have been fortunate to inhabit numerous different roles, whether it was a straight drama or a fun musical, but no experience comes close to playing Martha in Edward Albee’s Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, ‘Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ It has been one of my favorite plays and by far my favorite role, and one I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to play. NSU Theatre Company, which is my home stage, gave me that chance this past February, and I can’t thank my director, Dr. Robyn Pursley, enough for choosing me for this role.”
Ray said it was “exhilarating” being on the stage again in a role that was “emotionally draining and so rewarding.”
“It meant so much to me that so many of my students, friends, family and a few of my fellow faculty members were in the audience. I don’t think a lot of people are aware of how much work goes into a production like that and also that the heart of theater is to make you think, feel, contemplate, and that supporting the arts is more than just getting off your duff and going to see a play, but as teachers it is setting an example for our students. The heart of the theatrical experience is empathy. A concept so basic and yet so fleeting in this day and age that we have classes devoted to learning what empathy actually is and how to implore that emotion.”
She said the arts can be overlooked in this part of the state yet they are beneficial.
“My former speech/debate/drama students are excelling at the college level at NSU, Harvard, Brown, NYU (New York University), OU (University of Oklahoma), OSU (Oklahoma State University). Some, but not all, are pursuing theater degrees, but what they have in common is a work ethic, a broad and exploratory intellect, writing and public speaking skills that were utilized and enhanced through their involvement in the performing arts. I love what I do, and feel so extremely lucky to have a career in the arts in Tahlequah.”
Ray started working at Sequoyah in 2008. She started its speech and theater program. Her classes range from acting, theater history, musical theater, Native storytelling and performance, speech/debate and honors competitive speech/drama/debate, which are devoted to preparation for the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association’s speech/debate tournaments.
Along with teaching full time, she directs, creates costumes and choreographs one act plays and main stage productions each year for Sequoyah. She also oversees a traveling troupe that performs Cherokee children’s play and puppet shows at the Cherokee Heritage Center, as well as elementary schools.
PARK HILL – Cherokee Nation citizen Cooper Keys is a 4-year-old with a passion for motocross. Born in 2013, Cooper began riding his 2004 Yamaha PW50 in February after finding tri-cycling slow and monotonous.
With half a dozen races under his belt on the peewee dirt track at Jandebeur’s Motor Sports Park in Okmulgee, he’s notched five third-place finishes and one second-place finish.
Cooper competes in the 50cc shaft drive/air cooled and 50cc beginner divisions and is the only 4-year-old racing against 5-to 7-year-olds.
“We got him a starter balance bike when he was about a year and a half old,” CN citizen and Cooper’s mother Emily Keys said. “Balance bikes don’t have pedals or training wheels, so he just kind of pushed himself around until he eventually got to where he could ride around without using his feet.”
Emily said Cooper soon began riding down hills, balancing perfectly on the bike that was designed for pushing around the yard.
“When he outgrew the balance bike, we got him a bicycle that resembled a dirt bike, which he mastered in no time,” she said. It was around then that Emily and her husband, Justin, began thinking that Cooper’s abilities” weren’t “normal.” Cooper’s agility was only surpassed by his constant request for a real (motorized) dirt bike,” she said.
“He was just gung-ho, and would not be quiet about it. My husband had a mini-bike when he was little but only rode it around the field, so we really knew nothing about dirt bikes or the sport,” Emily said.
She added that it was eventually her parents who sprang for Cooper’s first dirt bike, as a Christmas present. She said she thought he would just want to ride around the field with it. But that wasn’t the case. Cooper wanted to ride all the time.
“We were concerned about him racing at such a young age, so we just started at the bottom, learning everything we could on teaching Cooper how to ride safe and smart. We purchased every piece of safety gear a kid could have. Now the poor (child) looks like (a) mix between an astronaut and the Terminator when he’s all suited up to go,” Emily said. “He’s had some crashes but that hasn’t deterred him in the least.”
Cooper’s father and CN citizen Justin Keys said Cooper’s can-do attitude was only one of the qualities he noticed.
“It makes me really proud that he has such good sportsmanship and how he strives to make himself better. I mean he’s pushing himself more than anybody. He gets out there with a ride, ride, ride attitude and he never gives up. More than once, I’ve seen him fall down, get up and want to go again. You can’t teach that.”
“We don’t want him hurt, and it is scary putting him on such a fast bike, but we’ve done all we can,’ Emily said. “We continue to teach him about safety, and we can’t let our fears get in the way of something he’s that passionate about.”
TAHLEQUAH – Students with the Native Explorers program participated in various traditional activities while visiting Cherokee Nation landmarks on May 22-23 as part of the program’s mission to increase Native Americans in science and medicine.
“The older generations had a lot of knowledge in medicine and we think we can contribute as Native people to the current medical world,” Native Explorers Executive Director Jeff Hargrave said. “If we can get Native kids interested in medicine we can hopefully get them into medical school and they’ll be doctors and return home to Indian Country and service their fellow citizens.”
Founded in 2010 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Native Explorers is offered through the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. It partners with educational institutions and entities, including the Cherokee Nation to encourage Native American youths to explore how their cultures can intersect with science and medicine.
Barbara Girty, Cherokee Heritage Center board and staff liaison, said she helped craft a “specialized itinerary” for the group during its stay.
“They actually slept in the houses in Diligwa Village on the ground, and it’s a one-of-a-kind experience,” she said. “They also took a tour of the different Cherokee Nation museums around town, the John Ross Museum, the Supreme Court building, the jail. They went over and toured the Native Gardens. They were immersed into the Cherokee culture, and we hope that this will help them in their future endeavors when they go on to become doctors hopefully in our (W.W.) Hastings Hospital (in Tahlequah) taking care of our own Cherokee people.”
The Native Explorers also participated in archery, blowgun and stickball competitions, as well as ate at a hog fry and witnessed ceremonial friendship and social stomp dancing.
Girty coordinated the visit with program co-founder Dr. Kent Smith, professor of anatomy and associate dean for the Office for the Advancement of American Indians in Medicine and Science at OSU’s Center for Health Sciences.
Smith said nine students participated this year and represented various tribal nations, including Cherokee, Comanche, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Standing Rock Sioux.
“The group is made up of undergraduate students as well as professional medical students and graduate students,” he said. “The medical students and the graduate students in the group serve as mentors for the undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing a career in science and medicine. Some of our medical students participate in clinical rotations as well as residency programs at W.W. Hastings with the Cherokee Nation.”
Smith said program costs are covered for students, and in addition to the learning and networking opportunities students earn three hours of college credit from OSU.
Cherokee Nation citizen Jacalyn Hulsey, an East Central University student in Ada, said he was eager to participate in the program. “It’s really important to me to be in this program because it gives me an opportunity to learn who I am and get more college credit than I’ve already gotten, and it allows me to interact with other cultures besides my own.”
Hulsey said she knew before gradating high school that her interest was within the medical field.
“I actually knew before I graduated high school that I wanted to be a physical therapist, and so that’s kind of where I’m going in life,” she said. “I would definitely encourage anybody to do this because it’s not just learning what I know already, but I’m getting to learn other stuff about different cultures I never would have known. It’s a very wide range of stuff we’ll get to learn.”
The program, which ran from May 21 to June 1, visited educators from the Chickasaw Nation, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the National Park Service in addition to Cherokee Nation staff. The group also visited select environmental regions across Oklahoma t0 study topics such as anatomy and paleontology.
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.nativeexplorers.org" target="_blank">www.nativeexplorers.org</a>.
MUSKOGEE – When Cherokee Nation citizen Mandy Scott took ownership of the Harmony House tearoom in 2017, she kept things business as usual.
“I have the same wait staff. Some have been here five, six, seven years. The kitchen staff is exactly the same. Everybody has pretty much stayed on since I’ve taken over,” she said. “Everything has just been really smooth and a good transition from the previous (owner) to me, and it’s just been great.”
Scott said she always dreamed of owning a restaurant, and once Harmony House became available, she approached the previous owner without hesitation. “I’ve always kind of wanted my own restaurant, and this was a perfect opportunity for me, just for its history here. It’s a very prestigious landmark for the city of Muskogee. I’m a dreamer, and I believe if it’s something you want to do, you at least need to try it.”
Scott said the building is more than a century old and functioned as a home, bank and church before being converted into a tearoom lunch spot. “It’s a tearoom where ladies from all ages come in and have lunch with their best friend or mothers or daughters. It’s definitely a woman’s atmosphere, but we have a lot of men that come in here too because our food is just so good.”
Harmony House is known for menu items such as hot chicken salad and its namesake club sandwich, though Scott said the “top” item is the grilled chicken sandwich made with chicken, cheese and homemade honey mustard dressing on homemade pita bread.
Daily specials are also offered. “Every day you get a special. It comes with soup or salad and you get a dessert included with that,” she said. “Everybody has their special days where they want to come in on ‘their’ day for their favorite.”
Harmony House also has offerings for those with a sweet tooth. “Our cupcakes are offered every day and then cinnamon rolls. Bread pudding every day as well, and then we have a pie every day. One of the top-selling (items), besides cookies, are lemon bars, and those are made fresh every week. Those are kind of our staple desserts, and then I try to add in some other kind of bar, like a monster bar every now and then,” Scott said.
Friends Kristie Testerman and Martha Hogner have eaten at Harmony House every Tuesday for the past 12 years.
“We love the food, the atmosphere, the people,” Testerman said. “I think it’s the only kind of tea house or tearoom-type restaurant that is left in Muskogee. The old owner started it, and then when Mandy took over, nothing changed. The transition was good.”
Testerman said she’s a fan of the homemade curly fries, as well as the burgers and desserts.
Hogner, who also brings her husband to Harmony House, said she has her favorites dishes, too.
“You can’t beat the cookies and their dessert,” she said. “Their bread pudding is to die for. We also like the special, the hot chicken salad, and we just learned to love the Katie’s Creation. That’s our new favorite. Service is great. Everyone is very friendly.”
Harmony House is also certified with the CN Tribal Employment Rights Office, and of its 13 employees, at least half are Native American, including the two top bakers.
“Over half my staff are Native American, so that’s important to me as well,” Scott said. “It’s important because I feel like we’re unique. We are not, per se, traditional Cherokee food, but we do have a different type of food that would be good to incorporate in any party or event that Cherokee Nation would have, especially for our desserts.”
Harmony House is located at 208 S. Seventh St. Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Cherokee Eats highlights Cherokee-owned eateries and their specialties. Send suggestions to <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.
AKINS – Visitors to the first “Sequoyah Day” event held May 20 experienced all things Cherokee such as art, music, lectures, performances, demonstrations and National Treasures all on the grounds of the historic Sequoyah’s Cabin Museum where the Cherokee syllabary creator lived.
“This is a chance to celebrate Sequoyah’s life and his legacy,” Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism Director Travis Owens said. “We’ve had a flute-playing performance, the Cherokee National Youth Choir performed. We had the Girty Family Singers and presenters on our language today.”
Others attending the event included Cherokee National Treasures Lorene Drywater and David Scott, as well as Cherokee artists Roy Boney, Jeff Edwards and Mary HorseChief. Tribal Councilors Bryan Warner and E.O. Junior Smith, and 2017-18 Miss Cherokee Madison Whitekiller also attended.
Another highlight was the Traditional Native Games competition. CN citizen and games coordinator Bayly Wright said “Sequoyah Day” was a great place to hold Cherokee marbles, cornstalk shoot, horseshoes, blowgun, a hatchet throw and chunky competitions.
“Today is the second of the five competitions leading up to the championships, which will be held on Aug. 25, the weekend before the Cherokee National Holiday,” she said.
For more information on cultural events, visit <a href="http://www.visitcherokeenation.com" target="_blank">www.visitcherokeenation.com</a> or call 1-877-779-6977.
TULSA – Cherokee Nation citizens gathered at the Tulsa Drillers ONEOK Field on May 5 for Cherokee Nation Night.
Cherokees enjoyed themselves in the bleachers, as well as the lawn behind the outfield. The evening started with Cherokee Nation Youth Choir singing the National Anthem before Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden threw out the first pitch. Crittenden later led the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch.
“I was kind of drafted,” Crittenden said. “So I have the honor and pleasure of throwing out the first pitch. We’ll see how it goes.”
CN citizen and Tulsa Drillers Vice President of Public Relations Brian Carroll said the business relationship between the CN and the Drillers is a longstanding tradition.
“Our staff has worked with the Cherokees for several years as a partnership on many, many events. It’s a valuable relationship for us, and on that has grown over the years, and has become better and better in that time,” he said.
Various CN departments and entities such as Career Services, Cherokee Heritage Center and Government Relations also attended. Staff members manned booths in the stadium’s main corridor while Cherokee Nation Businesses employees handed out Hard Rock Hotel & Casino drink koozies to Tulsa Drillers and Arkansas Travelers fans.
Miss Cherokee Madison Whitekiller said it’s important for the CN to take part in such events.
“We’re still here, and we’re thriving. We are a fun people. We do enjoy other things outside our cultural boundaries,” she said.
TAHLEQUAH – Whether as a planner, visitor, vendor, artist or administrator, Cherokees played an integral role in all facets of the 2018 Red Fern Festival held April 27- 28 in the downtown area of the Cherokee Nation capital.
From the CN Courthouse Square to Northeastern State University, the streets were alive offering music, food, culture, arts and crafts, as well as a coon hunt and hound dog field trials.
On April 28, CN citizen and Main Street Tahlequah President Shay Stanfill said Mother Nature played a hand in the festival’s success as Oklahoma just finished its second-coldest April as the festival started. “We’ve had beautiful weather both yesterday and today.”
“There’s a strong Cherokee presence everywhere this year,” she added. “There’s Cherokee food vendors, artists and crafters, clothing retailers who are Cherokee Nation citizens all up and down main street.”
Officials said the festival had 110 vendors for its 13th year and an unofficial attendance of 16,000 visitors. Among the festival events and attractions, there were Cherokee National Treasure demonstrations, bouncy houses, a chili cook off and Plein Air painting competition.
Cherokee Nation citizen Callie Chunestudy served as a Plein Air official.
“So Plein Air is just basically outdoor painting, and the Arts Council (of Tahlequah) has collaborated with Red Fern so we have it at the same time so painters can come into town for the festival, go all over town to different sites. So they just paint scenery from Tahlequah.”
CN citizen Ashley Vann said she came to the festival for social reasons.
“I knew lots of Cherokees would have booths, showing their arts and crafts, but I’ve really enjoyed just running into friends on the street.”
For upcoming events or the 2019 Red Fern Festival, go to <a href="http://www.tahlequahmainstreet.com" target="_blank">www.tahlequahmainstreet.com</a>.