Mary Beth Williams, a Gallogly Family Foundation Public Interest fellow, left, and Yvonne Galey, Oklahoma Indian Legal Services law staff attorney, assist Cherokee Nation citizen William Deerinwater in applying for a “transfer on death” deed on March 14 during a wills clinic hosted by OILS and Oklahoma City University law students in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
OILS, OCU law students partner to serve CN citizens
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, in partnership with Oklahoma City University law students, held a wills clinic March 14 in the Cherokee Nation’s Tsa La Gi Room to help CN citizens write wills and provide other services for free.
OILS Executive Director Stephanie Hudson said OILS attorneys not only help individuals with wills but also with advance directives, power of attorney and with anything to do with assets.
“At OILS we try to make an effort to reach out to every tribe in the state of Oklahoma. We’re not associated with any tribe. We’re funded by the Legal Services Corporation, and we’re nonprofit. We provide services to individual tribal members all over the state of Oklahoma who are having legal issues related to their status as an Indian,” Hudson said.
OILS also assists individual tribal citizens with Indian Child Welfare issues, probates on restricted lands, tribal housing issues and tribal court issues.
“The services are free. They’re based upon a person’s income, and we do an interview with them to make sure they meet the income guidelines,” Hudson said.
Kace Rodwell, a CN citizen and second-year OCU law student, said she contacted CN officials to set up the clinic.
Hudson said the law students are members of the Native American Law Student Association and Public Interest Law. She said it was “wonderful” they chose to participate in an alternative spring break and give their time to serve others.
Rodwell said this is the second year the wills clinic has been held but the first time at CN.
Originally from Tahlequah, she said she knows the need for these types of services in the area.
“I know there’s so many people in this direction that doesn’t have access to legal services,” Rodwell said. “I’m…hoping that we can reach out and provide services that we don’t really have access to, especially my own family who talk about how they wouldn’t even know how they would go about getting a will done and how much it cost, and that was a big issue. I know different tribal nations, it’s really costly to get legal services and so for us to provide it for free, I think really (we’re) doing something to help.”
CN citizen William Deerinwater attended the clinic to get a “transfer on death” deed. He said upon his death, the deed would allow for smooth transition of his property to a beneficiary without the need for legal action.
“This is the first time I’ve tried it. Me and my daughter was talking about it. So I told her I might check into it,” he said.
Deerinwater said he knew he had to get a deed but was not sure about how to obtain one. He said OILS staff attorneys helped him by explaining the process in a way he understood.
Rodwell said OILS is located in Oklahoma City, and most tribal citizens are not able to travel there. She said OCU law students and OILS hoped to reach as many tribal citizens as they could with the clinic and to come back next year.
“I went to law school so I could help my tribe. I planned to hopefully get my law degree and come back one day to help serve the Nation, and this is kind of part of it, I think. That was the reason I wanted to come here because I was like ‘well, I’m there getting my education so I can help, but this also an opportunity and a program that I could be helping right now before I get that law degree,’” Rodwell said.
For more information about the wills clinic, call OILS at 1-800-658-1497.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Elders in Need program helps elderly tribal citizens 60 years and older with utility payments twice a year.
In 2012, Principal Chief Bill John Baker initiated the program to help elders offset the financial burden of utility costs in their homes.
Every February and August, applications are open for elders to apply. Those who qualify receive two payments of $200 toward the utility of their choice.
“The income guidelines are federal poverty (level) plus 50 percent. So you can make a little more than poverty level, but not much more, 50 percent. For example, if you had one in the household they could earn $1,471 dollars a month,” Lisa James, CN Family Assistance manager, said.
James said those who receive help from the tribe’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program are already eligible for EIN funds. She said LIHEAP has to pay for an elder’s heating source such as propane, and if an elder uses central heat and air and needs to pay for their electric, then EIN payments can go toward that source or another such as water.
“I’m confident though that if we were able to get up to a higher level than what we are funded then we’ll get more so we can continue this program because it’s really helpful. It’s really good because…the elders will get LIHEAP and then they’ll turn around and get an EIN payment,” James said.
The program started helping approximately 1,200 elders in 2012 and is now helping about 1,400 elders.
CN citizen Lillie Perry has utilized the LIHEAP and EIN programs for about four years.
“I think it’s really a program that’s needed. I feel like if it wasn’t there, then you’d have elderlies out there that’s on a fixed income that wouldn’t be able to provide their utilities. I feel like it’s good program,” Perry said. “I’m glad Cherokee Nation’s there for us to come to, to help out.”
To qualify, an applicants needs to bring in his or her tribal citizenship card, a form of identification, Social Security card, the utility bill with his or her name and address on it and must live in the 14-county jurisdiction. Only elders in the household who are 60 years and older are counted on the income guideline.
“They (elders) just love the program, the EIN program. The elders…are appreciative. They’re just proud that someone thought about them and that the tribe’s think about them,” James said.
For more information, call 918-453-5241.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program helps low-income elderly and disabled Native Americans annually with winter heating and summer cooling costs.
Family Assistance Manager Janet Ward said summer cooling funds are for elders 60 years and older and for disabled people who received LIHEAP assistance during the winter. Payments are made directly to electricity sources.
“We will send out an update form for them just to fill out for their electric company just to make sure that’s good. We usually make our payment about the end of July, first part of August,” she said.
Family Assistance also has an air conditioner loan program for those in need of refrigerated air.
“We have an air conditioner loaner program that if someone has a medical condition and requires that they have refrigerated air…they cannot have a working central heat and air or an air conditioner already in their home. We can’t supplement it,” Ward said.
She said air conditioner program applicants must be completely without any type of cooling source and meet LIHEAP eligibility.
To qualify for LIHEAP, participants must be at the national poverty level plus 50 percent. For example, a family of one must not make more than $17,655 annually.
Ward said LIHEAP is funded through the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and funding can change year to year, depending on how much the federal government funds the block grant distributed to Oklahoma tribes. Payment rates for heating and cooling sources through the CN’s LIHEAP for the elderly and disabled can change yearly.
This past winter, Ward said the program helped more than 1,900 participants with payments to their heating vendors. This included the elderly, disabled and non-elderly and non-disabled participants who met LIHEAP requirements.
“Regular winter LIHEAP, we do that in October and November for the elderly and disabled, and then in December we open it up to everyone else,” Ward said. “There are families, especially when you talk about the elderly and disabled people who are on a fixed income, if they did not have LIHEAP to help them then they would have to be making the choice between whether to stay warm or cool, or food, or a lot of times to pay their medical expenses.”
She said participants have been “grateful” for the program.
“To be truthful, there would be a lot of our elders who would be really hot during the summer time and cold during the winter because they would be trying to conserve just as much as they could. It just gives them a kind of jumpstart and keeps them going and carries them through for a little while. It does cut down on what portion they would have to pay,” Ward said.
The required documents to apply for LIHEAP include a tribal citizenship card from a federally recognized tribe, Social Security card, verification of household income (includes all household members and income such as social security, disability, working income and child support) and utility bill of main heating source to verify vendor.
Participants must live in the CN jurisdiction and bring a document to verify their 911 addresses.
Ward said appointments are scheduled and mailed out to elders and disabled who previously received LIHEAP to make applications to renew their payments.
For more information, call 918-453-5327.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials have said that after five years of hard work and strategic changes, the tribe’s Registration Office is processing tribal citizenship applications in as little as one to two months.
Officials said five years ago more than 23,000 citizenship applications were pending and another 15,000 CN citizens were awaiting Certificate Degree of Indian Blood cards under the previous system.
“When I took office, one of the most common complaints I received was, ‘Why does it take so long to get my child’s tribal citizenship?’ It made no sense that there was a two- or even three-year wait on some of these cards,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “So one of my top priorities was to make the process simpler, more efficient and, most importantly, faster. I’m happy to say that after several years of hard work, we’re finally there.”
Officials said that backlog is now wiped out and a system is in place to keep pace with the number of applications submitted, which is about 1,500 citizenship applications a month.
To lower waiting times on those applications, officials said the CN added nearly 2,000 square feet to the Registration Office for more employees. The department also received a budget increase, which now stands at $2.1 million for fiscal year 2017, more than twice the budget from FY 2011. The additional funding added 22 full- and part-time employees.
Employee responsibilities were also realigned, officials said, as five operators were assigned to answer applicant questions, and others were assigned to type or process files, address special projects and work on backlogged applications.
Officials said Registration’s database application was also updated in 2013 to more efficiently process citizenship and CDIB cards. New processes were also developed to provide employees with documents that had been scanned and filed in an electronic database, officials said.
Officials said as a result, citizenship and CDIB applications filed with all necessary documentation can now be processed in as little as one month, compared to previous wait times that often stretched out for two years or more.
“To no longer have a backlog of applications is a major achievement in the history of the Cherokee Nation,” Registrar Linda O’Leary said. “We have been innovative in the way we serve the people. New technology has saved our staff time and processing applications faster helps other Cherokee Nation departments, therefore helping the citizens.”
Chad and Crystal Jones, of Cherokee County, said they were pleased when they learned enrolling their toddler as a CN citizen could take as little as one month.
The couple visited the Registration Office in March to enroll their 1-year-old son Nathan.
Obtaining CN citizenship and CDIB cards for their older children, 7-year-old Trenton, 4-year-old Amiyah and 3-year-old Sarina, took much longer, they said.
Crystal said enrollment cards are necessary for other tribal services and she is thankful the tribe is completing them faster.
“Nathan’s school needs a copy of his tribal citizenship card and CDIB card, and so does the hospital, so getting them faster will help us tremendously,” she said.
Officials said aside from issuing citizenship and CDIB cards, the Registration Office produces free photo identifications that serve as a dual citizenship and CDIB card. Since 2012, 90,000 photo IDs have been issued, officials said.
For CDIB cards and CN citizenship, applicants must provide documents connecting their lineages to direct ancestors who were enrolled on the Dawes Roll between 1899 and 1906 with blood degrees. CDIB and tribal citizenship are traced through natural parents. In cases of adoption, Indian blood and CN citizenship must be proven through a biological parent to an ancestor registered on the Dawes Roll.
For more information, call 918-458-6980 or email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a> or visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/Services/Tribal-Citizenship" target="_blank">cherokee.org/Services/Tribal-Citizenship</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Lunch & Learn lecture series returns at noon on April 20 in the Osiyo Training Room on the Tribal Complex.
CN cultural outreach specialist JP Johnson is set to speak about Cherokee and Southeast Indian tattoos. Tattooing has been widely used by Cherokees for thousands of years. Johnson will discuss traditional methods, materials and symbols used during this ancient art form.
The presentation is free and open to the public. A complimentary lunch will be provided. For those unable to attend in person, the presentation will be live streamed and archived on the tribe’s YouTube channel at <a href="https://youtu.be/LV3KBgZDDO0" target="_blank">https://youtu.be/LV3KBgZDDO0</a>.
The series is held at noon on the third Thursday of each month in the Osiyo Training Room at 17725 S. Muskogee Ave. For more information, email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Tribal Employment Rights Office held the tribe’s second annual Safety Fair on April 7 at One Fire Field, west of the W.W. Keeler Complex, as a part of Safety Awareness Month.
TERO Administrative Functions Manager Willard Mounce said the fair is important for two reasons. “We wanted the opportunity to thank our EMS people, our fire people, plus provide the public with educational material on fire safety and other dangers.”
Mounce said it’s best to teach safety practices early to children and that he was pleased to see so many children attend. Besides the educational materials that were available, TERO staff members also served hot dogs, drinks and gave away door prizes.
Other organizations participating in the fair included CN Emergency Management, Cherokee Nation Marshal Service, area fire departments, Bureau of Indian Affairs National Forestry Services, CN EMS professionals and CN Risk Management.
Emergency Management Director Jeremie Fisher said events such as the Safety Fair helps his department exhibit the ways they can help in emergencies.
“We can show the community and the Cherokee Nation as a whole that we’re here to support them in any disaster no matter how big or how small. So we brought out our mobile command unit to show them our capabilities and how we can coordinate resources during emergencies or disasters,” he said.
Eastern Oklahoma BIA field technician Sheldon Sankey said his group attended to focus on fire hazards. “We’re here to talk about how to become fire adaptive. We often help a lot of the tribes here in eastern Oklahoma. We’re set up here with Smokey the Bear on how to make your home fire safe.”
CLAREMORE, Okla. – The Claremore Indian Hospital will sponsor a Veterans Affairs Enrollment Fair on May 18 in the hospital’s Conference Room 1.
Hospital officials said the fair is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to assist their Native American veteran patients in applying for eligibility for health care services through the VA.
“We will have Claremore Indian Hospital benefit coordinators and representatives from the VA and Disabled American Veterans to assist with the application processes,” Sheila Dishno, Claremore Indian Hospital patient benefit coordinator, said. “Please make plans to attend and bring your financial information (income and resource information) and DD-214 (military discharge) papers.”
If already enrolled, call 918-342-6240, 918-342-6507 or 918-342-6559 so that hospital official can update your file.