http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgActor Viggo Mortensen takes a picture of Cherokee Nation citizen Samantha Isler and actress Meryl Streep in January at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Isler calls it the “best photo ever.” FACEBOOK
Actor Viggo Mortensen takes a picture of Cherokee Nation citizen Samantha Isler and actress Meryl Streep in January at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Isler calls it the “best photo ever.” FACEBOOK

Actress balances Hollywood, high school

Samantha Isler Samantha Isler
Samantha Isler
05/16/2017 08:00 AM
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Samantha Isler’s life is one of maintaining a balance in all things.
Learning about this young woman’s movie-making might make you think “high-profile and Hollywood” — but she’s all about low-profile and Tulsa.

The Cherokee Nation citizen’s latest movie, “Dig Two Graves,” opened in theaters — a couple of weeks before she graduates from Bishop Kelley High School.

She’ll have another movie — appearing in the directing debut of Aaron Sorkin and playing a young version of Jessica Chastain’s character — that’s being pegged for awards-season this fall, at a time when she’ll be a freshman in college.

She’ll tell you that what she really enjoys is attending a game at her school or going out to eat with her family or walking around downtown Tulsa.

But attending the Cannes Film Festival in France or meeting Meryl Streep, well, those aren’t bad either.

“That was just so insane,” Isler said of her January evening at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where she and her co-stars were nominated for “Outstanding Cast Performance” in the acclaimed “Captain Fantastic.”

In the film, she played one of six children being raised in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest by their father, played by Viggo Mortensen, who was nominated for a best-actor Oscar — and who served as photographer for her and Streep at the SAG event.

“That’s the best photo ever,” Isler told the Tulsa World. “I just honestly told her how much I loved her, and I started crying almost immediately.

“I was able to stop and have an actual conversation with her, and I told her that she’s my hero as an actress and in how she uses her platforms to stand up for what she believes in.”

But that’s one night in Hollywood, and Isler’s life is in Tulsa, where she treasures time with her family and friends and where she knows she made the right call to stay, rather than move to California for even more acting opportunities.

Her performances, professionalism and a keen eye for choosing thought-provoking material have made it possible for opportunities to continue coming her way no matter where she lives.

“When I first started acting, I didn’t expect anything, and I was discovered by a manager here in Oklahoma and started getting roles and auditions,” Isler said. “But I’m all about Tulsa because all my family is here and I genuinely love it here.

“I couldn’t imagine leaving for acting ... My family is my life, and education is an important part. It’s been the best decision I’ve made regarding my ideas about a career. I was born and raised here, and I have grandparents who moved here for me and my sister.”

Her roles, ranging from playing the daughter of Sean Hayes on a sitcom to a patient on “Grey’s Anatomy,” have given her a glimpse of other young actors who made the move to Hollywood.

“I meet aspiring actors, and I see how they have given up things like education, and I come home and it’s so nice being around all these really humble people who have dreams of being a doctor or a good soccer player and not worrying about how famous they are,” Isler said.

“Every day I know I made the right decision, coming back home to normal life.”

Her latest movie, “Dig Two Graves,” is being released four years after it was filmed and shortly after she had first made “Home Run,” a 2013 faith-based sports drama shot in Okmulgee when she was 14.

“It was kind of a crazy ride for (“Dig Two Graves”), and we thought it might not come out beyond some film festivals,” Isler said. “But then a distributor got involved, and it’s now in select theaters and on iTunes, and I’m really proud of that film.”

Her first starring role came in this supernatural suspense thriller in which a young girl is given a brutal choice that could result in bringing her brother back to life — if she will agree to someone else taking his place.

“I really enjoyed the character, Jake, because she’s a tomboy, and she’s strong-willed and fearless, and her priorities are very different than most 14-year-olds in movies these days,” Isler said.

“She’s dealing with loss, and with making a hard decision, and in films and TV shows too often a girl this age is complaining about school and guys and is very stereotypical.”

The role offered new challenges, like gutting a deer (“That wasn’t too bad at all”) and acting in a water tank for an underwater scene.

“That was one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life, going 12 feet under, and strapped in with scuba experts with me, and then I hear ‘action’ and drop the breathing apparatus ... It was crazy and my mother was scared to death,” Isler recalled.

“That makes it hard to stay in character, but it all worked out.”

Most things are working out for Isler these days, and she’s making plans for a fun summer: traveling that includes rafting, hiking and going to the beach, taking in some concerts and just generally being in the outdoors.

But not before graduation, as well as talking to a Circle Cinema audience with her “Dig Two Graves” director in tow to answer questions about the film and about her acting experiences.

“I think it’s nice to be able to do this, to let people know about the movie,” Isler said. “I’ve done these and found it interesting how much people really do care about a movie and how much they want to know how we feel about the movie.

“I think that’s really nice, and, of course, it’s nice that I’ll probably have many friends and family in the theater.”

Because family, and Tulsa, are what really matter to this young talent.


Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
08/17/2017 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Approximately 70 youths in first through fourth grades were athletically evaluated on Aug. 12 at the Boys and Girls Club of Tahlequah’s flag football combine held on the infield of Tahlequah High School’s track. Testing included speed evaluations, route running as well as passing and catching a football. Boys and Girls Club of Tahlequah CEO Dennis Kelley said the combine testing is crucial to selecting evenly matched league teams. “It’s for all kids across the county. You don’t have to be a Boys & Girls Club member. We have 13 clubs throughout Cherokee County in almost every school except Hulbert and Shady Grove. Our club stats for Cherokee County show we’re at about 70 percent Native American. So anyone who wants to sign up can. Boys and girls are welcome.” Kelley said the fee for joining is $45. “We try to keep it as low as we can. Plus, if someone can’t afford it, we try to scholarship them in. Cherokee Nation helps us with some money throughout the year, so we try to use that money for scholarships for kids who can’t afford to pay,” he said. Cherokee Nation citizen Julie Deerinwater Anderson said bringing her son to try out was a mutual decision. “I brought my son out today because he was very interested in flag football. It’s an opportunity for him to be a part of a team. Plus it’s his first year, so he can learn some skills without the risk of tackle football,” she said. “It’s healthy and it’s outside. It’s important to me that my son has healthy options.” For more information, call the Boys and Girls Club of Tahlequah at 918-456-6888.
08/15/2017 12:00 PM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen and professional bull rider Ryan Dirteater will meet fans on Aug. 25 at the Cherokee Casino Grove and Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. he will be at the Cherokee Casino Grove, and from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. he will be at WRD. A Hulbert native, Dirteater has been living and breathing the rodeo scene since he was born, quickly fell in love with the sport, a CN Communications release states. It states he made the decision to go pro while he was in high school, which led to his career in the Professional Bull Riding circuit. Accroding to the release, Dirteater has a strong physical resilience and must maintain a healthy build. He has sustained injuries while riding such as a dislocated knee, a broken finger, torn ACLs, a broken femur and a broken jaw, the release states. Despite the setbacks, Dirteater went on to the 2016 Built Ford Tough Series World Finals. He successfully rode all six bulls for more than eight seconds each in this event, a perfect performance, the release states. Dirteater hosts “Ryan Dirteater’s Ropin’ for Wishes,” a charitable event that raises funds for the Tulsa Area Make-A Wish Foundation and Rider Relief Fund, according to the release. Cherokee Casino Grove is located north of Grove on Highway 59 and East 250 Road. Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs is located 3 miles east of Claremore on Highway 20. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or call 918-283-8800. All guests must be at least 21 years of age.
News Writer
08/14/2017 08:15 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Five Cherokee Nation citizens who are students of CN citizen and internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano opera singer Barbara McAlister were recently selected for the Tulsa Opera’s 2017-18 season. Megan Jacobs, 17; Phillip Bruch, 16; Katelyn Morton, 17; and Haley Hitt, 14, were accepted into the Tulsa Youth Opera, while Steven Osborne, 47, was selected for the Tulsa Opera Chorus. Aaron Beck, TO music and education administrator, said the TO is “proud” to have a revitalized relationship with the CN, and McAlister is the reason. “Her long and storied career as a professional opera singer, combined with her love for her homeland and the Cherokee Nation is inspiring an entire new generation of Cherokees to love and respect music,” he said. “They all bring a remarkable work ethic, high level of respect and supreme talent to our organization, which speaks highly of the Cherokee Nation’s investment in the artistic training of its citizens.” Each year the TYO selects singers ranging from grades third through 12th for a tuition-free training program estimated to cost $6,000 per student. Those selected learn the basics of singing and performing with the TO staff, and at the end of the training year they perform a full-length children’s opera at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. “We have about 100 kids audition, and we have about 50 to 60 spots, so it’s pretty competitive. A lot of the kids study privately with people like Barbara, while some don’t at all. But it’s just a lot of fun to work with all of them,” said Beck. Bruch said he’s excited for the opportunity and grateful for the “push of confidence” McAlister gave him to audition for the TYO. “Actually, I didn’t know I was signing up for opera. I thought it was vocal lessons. I listened to Megan sing and I thought ‘OK, maybe I should give this a try.’ I honestly didn’t think I could do it at first but Barbara told me ‘you can do it. You have potential, so don’t be nervous.’ She gave me that push of confidence I needed,” he said. “When I found out that I was accepted I was so excited, but I’m still really nervous because I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work. But I just have to push through it.” In honor of the TO’s 70th anniversary and the TYO’s 20th anniversary, Beck said there are big plans and that the TO is close to revealing the upcoming performances that will include its singers as well as TYO performers. Beck said Osborne would be with the TOC, which is part of the TO productions. “The Tulsa Opera Chorus is for people who know how to sing and perform already,” he said. “If you ever seen an opera, its kind of like a musical. A lot of times you’ll have a chorus on stage that plays the townspeople or something. So we have a chorus that is a professional-level ensemble that does our main productions during the year, and so that is what he (Osborne) is going to be in this year.” Osborne said he became interested in music in high school, but knew he enjoyed opera after his high school music class attended a TO dress rehearsal. He said it was like a “light bulb” turned on, and he knew opera is where he wanted to be. “I kind of gave up on music at one point, got married, (had) children, and I began working as manager in food and beverage at the Hard Rock (Hotel & Casino Tulsa) for almost 10 years,” he said. “Then I got the opportunity to study with Barbara. Now I am going to be performing. It’s kind of a lifelong dream to be singing with an opera company and to also be signing with the Signature Symphony this year. So I am going to be singing quite a bit. Hopefully for me, this is a jumping off point, kind of a late start but a beginning to bigger things.” McAlister said with her students’ acceptance into the opera programs, she’s excited and proud that her instructions are helping them reach their goals. “We have such amazing talent within the Cherokee Nation. I have probably 20 to 22 students just from the Cherokee Nation. They learn to sing in German, Italian, French and Cherokee. They have to memorize all these songs in whatever language it is and know what they’re singing by the time they perform it,” she said. “This year, four auditioned and all four got into the Tulsa Youth Opera from the Cherokee Nation. And Steve is the only Cherokee to audition for the Tulsa Opera Chorus and be accepted, so it’s a great honor for all of them.” Auditions for the 2018-19 seasons for the TYO and TOC are set for May and June. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or email Beck at <a href="mailto:"></a>.
08/12/2017 02:00 PM
MESA, Ariz. – On Aug. 9, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development honored seven Cherokees as members of its 2017 class of “Native American 40 Under 40.” This award is bestowed upon individuals under the age of 40, nominated by members of their communities, who have demonstrated leadership, initiative and dedication and made significant contributions in business and their communities. The seven Cherokees receiving the honor are: • Roy Boney: Cherokee Nation, program manager at the CN Language Program, from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, • Hope Huskey: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, associate director of The Sequoyah Fund Inc., from Cherokee, North Carolina, • Jacob Reed: EBCI, economic analyst for the EBCI Division of Commerce, from Whittier, North Carolina, • Laura Sawney: CN, compliance and performance officer at Osage Nation Health and Wellness, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, • Tralynna Scott: CN, Cherokee Nation Businesses attorney, from Broken Arrow, • Shaun Shepherd: CN, CNB board of directors member, from Catoosa, Oklahoma, and • Jessica Tyner Mehta: CN, self-employed business owner, writer and teacher, from Hillsboro, Oregon. Award winners will be honored Sept. 6 during the inaugural Northwest Enterprise Development Conference at the Tulalip Resort Casino in Tulalip, Washington. “The 2017 40 Under 40 award recipients are comprised of a diverse group of young men and women cultivated from across American Indian and Alaska Native communities, each of whom have devoted their skills and resources to enhancing their communities,” NCAIED President and CEO Chris James said. “Whether it’s in business, tribal government, journalism, academia or nonprofits, 40 under 40 winners shining examples for all of us to follow. It is an honor to recognize these exceptional individuals and leaders who will continue to define success for the future of Native American Business.”
News Writer
08/08/2017 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tasha Atcity is preparing to compete for Miss Oklahoma USA 2018 in December, using the platform of inspiring disadvantaged youth. The Cherokee Nation citizen wants to be a voice by sharing her story and encouraging youths to defy stereotypes, as she did. Competing in one, let alone three pageants, isn’t what Atcity dreamed possible five years ago while living at the Oklahoma United Methodist Children’s Home in Tahlequah after losing her home and income. She said she persevered and strived to “motivate and inspire individuals to pursue their dreams and goals” “Five years ago if someone told me I would be competing in my third pageant, I would be like ‘oh goodness, you’re crazy’ because I didn’t know that was a possibility. But once I saw that it is a possibility that’s when I really opened my eyes. I realized that if I thought that stuff, then there are so many people that can think that way, too,” she said. While living at the children’s home, Atcity received housing and support she didn’t have previously. She graduated from Northeastern State University in 2015 becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college. “They (children’s home) helped me overcome the generational boundary of education along with helping me understand that my ‘mess’ was my message. They gave me the start I needed to become a confident young women,” she said. “I have a wonderful family, but because my parents were so focused on how we were going to make ends meet, there was a lot of questions I had that I didn’t know how to ask. And if I did ask, I’m not sure they would have been able to answer. So to give them the opportunity to be proud of who I have become, and for them to know they did every thing they could for me to be successful, and God did the rest, means so much to me.” She grew up believing she could never be successful and remembers thinking she didn’t have the “capabilities to change her life.” “When I was younger I would look at other people and think ‘wow, I could never be that successful.’ But those were just boundaries I was putting in place of myself. Nobody put those boundaries up. But now that I took those down, they can never come back up unless I put those road blockers in my way again,” she said. Atcity competed in her first pageant on Nov. 5, 2013, winning the Miss NSU crown. In 2014, she competed for Miss Oklahoma, all the while maintaining her platform for disadvantaged youth. “During my time at the children’s home and through my participation in the 2013 ‘Remember the Removal’ bike ride, I realized how extraordinary people can be and how you can truly use your life to impact others and inspire them,” she said. “So my goal was to compete in pageants to gain a title so that I could use that title to promote the platform to help disadvantaged youth and youth who are very advantaged, to understand that no matter what situation they were born into, what family they had or what situations they have been a part of in the past, right now they a have a decision to change their life and to impact the lives of others.” She said competing for Miss Oklahoma USA would give her the opportunity to be the role model she wished she had growing up. “I want to give young girls around me and in Oklahoma communities someone to look up to and say, ‘You know, her parents weren’t doctors, and she didn’t come from a family with a lot of money, but because of hard work and determination and because she believes in herself she was able to accomplish things she has set out to do,’” Atcity said. “A lot of the time we look at people’s social media, and we think ‘wow they were born perfect’ or that they must have had these situations given to them and that’s why they look so successful. But that’s not the case, so my goal is to go around a break those stereotypes and make people understand that it really is up to them whether or not they pursue a successful future.” As part of the pageant, contestants will be judged in personal interview, on-stage question, fitness/swimsuit and evening wear, and Atcity said she’s preparing daily. With the pageant alone costing $1,200, plus interview preparation, wardrobe, beauty accessories and coaching, the dollar amount to compete can be expensive. To help achieve her goal, Atcity opened a GoFundMe account for anyone willing to support her. “Literally anything can help at this point. Pageants are very expensive. The entry fee alone is extremely expensive, but it’s worth it,” she said. “At this pageant I am representing Cherokee County. When I walk on that stage I am not there just for me, I’m there representing every young person who doesn’t know how important they are and how much they can make an impact.” She also said she’s available for public speaking engagements. “I have four months to prepare, and in that time I really want to get out into the Cherokee County area and inspire and break down all those stereotypes that say ‘because you come from a specific background you don’t get to have this particular future.’ So I would love to share that with the community if they have opportunities for me share something like that and even if it’s on a personal basis with a young person.” The Miss Oklahoma USA 2018 pageant is Dec. 15-17 at The Grand Casino Hotel Resort in Shawnee.
News Writer
08/04/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen David Hampton has researched Cherokee genealogy for 56 years and has formed a database with more than 120,000 names and pieces of information. “My database is about 120,000 names, not all are Cherokee however, many of those are spouses of Cherokees and their parents,” Hampton said. “On Cherokee lines we can trace back, in some cases, to the early 1700s. Most full-blood lines trace back only to the early 1800s or later 1700s.” For the past nine years, Hampton has also provided the Cherokee Nation’s “Remember the Removal” cyclists and staff with their genealogies. He’s able to trace their ancestors to pre-removal and give dates and years to when and where those ancestors were born and died, as well as the names of their spouses and children. With his help, cyclists can determine their ancestors’ home sites along the journey. Hampton also links cyclists by telling them how they are related, if they have common ancestors. Not only does he research the riders’ genealogies, he also researches genealogies for the public. “I didn’t have many clients before, but as people hear about me and see what I do, it has gotten to be more and more,” he said. Hampton grew up in Broken Arrow. He served in the Army during the Vietnam War as a Laotian interpreter. He later graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in accounting before working as an accountant until he retired in 2011. Since then he’s been a committed full-time genealogist out of his home near Hulbert. He’s also a member of the Trail of Tears Association, Oklahoma Historical Society, Goingsnake District Heritage Association and Descendants of Nancy Ward Association, in which he’s served as president for more than 20 years. Hampton said his interest in genealogy began at age 11 when he decided to retrace his family tree. He talked with his grandparents about their families, and ever since he’s been intrigued with discovering the past. “I think the reason why I started so young was because I had all my grandparents alive until I was 35. I also had great-grandparents living at the time and a sister of a great-great-grandparent, so I was around a lot of older people in my family,” he said. “I think me wanting to know more about their lives is why I was so interested at such an early age.” Although he knew he had Cherokee ancestors, Hampton wanted to dig more to find out who they were and from where they came. It was then that he discovered a detail about his family and his genealogical passion. “I didn’t know anything really about my Cherokee ancestors, other than my grandfather. But I found out within the first week or so of doing my family tree that I was a descendant of (Beloved Woman) Nancy Ward. And that was really exciting because at that time she wasn’t as popular as she is today, and I hadn’t ever heard of her before,” Hampton said. Ever since he’s been serious about his research. However, it wasn’t as easy for him to obtain information then as it is today. Before the internet was developed and access to records was almost instant, Hampton spent hours searching countless records, visiting cemeteries and talking with Cherokee elders who provided information that’s been added to his database. “For the first few years a lot of information I got was from other people. I wrote lots and lots of letters to people who knew a lot of information. It just kind of gradually built up to where I started building a good library of records myself,” said Hampton. “I’ve been working at it for so long, and I really geared my interest to making sure I had a lot of information.” Hampton said he’s acquired records that may not even be found on the internet. “Now days there is so much to look at on the internet and digitized records to look at. And there are digitized records that aren’t necessarily on the internet that I have copies of. So I have a lot of stuff to look at.” Because of the internet, he’s been able to research more records and acquire more documentation than ever. Currently, he’s interested in gathering information about Cherokee Freedmen families. “One thing I wish I had more time to go through is the Freedmen records because there is so much information not only about the Freedmen but also about the Cherokees they lived with. There are thousands and thousands of pages of testimonies during the Dawes Roll time that it would be almost impossible to read through all of them. But unless you did there would be no way of knowing the stories and information that may be interesting to know about that person,” he said. He added that there are “lots of cases of (Freedmen) who have a Cherokee parent who is listed on the Dawes Roll.” “One thing I am realizing from looking at genealogy records is how many of the Freedmen are Cherokee, but they didn’t get put on the Cherokee Roll even though they were part Cherokee… There also is going to be cases of people on Freedmen Roll who had a Cherokee grandparent that isn’t listed on their card,” Hampton said. “In many cases people on the Freedmen Roll tried to get on the by blood roll. They (Freedmen) would say, ‘oh no, we’re Cherokee. My father was Cherokee. You have to put us down as Cherokee,’ and they (Dawes Commission) would say, ‘Oh it doesn’t matter what roll you get on.’ So it probably didn’t make any difference to them at the time, but it ended up making a difference to their descendants.” Another issue Hampton sees in his research regards the Cherokee clans. He said he is seeing more people not knowing their clans or where to find that information. “There are no records essentially that lists the clans. So if you say, ‘I want to know my clan and where do I go look,’ well there is no place. In order to know your clan you have to ask someone in your family, generally an elderly female who has the same clan as you.” As Hampton gets older, he’s more concerned about the work he’s done on Cherokee genealogy. He said he isn’t sure what will become of his research after he’s gone, and he’s digitizing records and documents and keeping everything on his computer. “I’ll be 68 next month, and I’ve been thinking about what’s going to happen to all my stuff. It’s generally all computerized records, of course, I have some records from 50 years ago that aren’t computerized that I’ve been trying to digitize so that I have everything on a computer,” he said. “I use a highly sophisticated genealogy program, so hopefully in 50 years someone can still use a computer and read it…because I believe I have some stuff people would be interested in knowing 50 to 100 years from now.” For now, he said he’ll keep doing genealogy until his “fingers won’t type no more” because he enjoys researching genealogy for people and explaining that it’s important for people to trace their genealogies to help understand the past. “I think tracing one’s own genealogy helps give a greater appreciation to historical events. When Cherokee’s today study the Trail of Tears or the Civil War or the allotment period, it gives a better understanding of the events if you understand how it affected your own family,” he said. For more information on Hampton’s Cherokee genealogy research services, email <a href="mailto:"></a>.