Cherokee storyteller Candice Byrd interacts with children during the “Stories on the Square” event on July 19 in downtown Tahlequah. CHANDLER KIDD/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Tahlequah native helps preserve art of Cherokee storytelling
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Since 2014, the Cherokee Nation has hosted “Stories on the Square” to provide the Tahlequah community with traditional oral storytelling shared by Cherokee and other Native storytellers.
This event helps pass down Cherokee oral traditions in downtown Tahlequah each Wednesday morning during the summer months.
Tahlequah native Candice Byrd, 28, is Quapaw, Osage and Cherokee. She helps preserve Cherokee storytelling by participating in the event and telling stories such as “Mockingbird” to children and other regular attendees.
Byrd earned a bachelor’ degree in film, drama and television from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa and earned a master’s degree at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. She has been performing in theater productions since high school, and the subject of her thesis was Native American storytelling.
“I created a one-woman show with three stories based on traditional Native American cultures. I took the Cherokee Spider Story, Osage Spider Story and the Wyatt people’s Spider Story,” she said.
Byrd became interested in storytelling as a child in grade school. Cherokee storytellers Robert Lewis and Choogie Kingfisher had a profound influence on her storytelling, she explained. Her storytelling career began with the Cherokee Heritage Center.
“In 2013 I started working as a villager by playing the flute, being a tour guide, and I began to tell stories there,” she said.
Byrd also grew up with her grandmother who told her Quapaw and Osage stories that have helped shape her oral history of Native cultures. She explained that preserving the tradition of storytelling among the Cherokee and other Native tribes gives the people a purpose.
“What I like about Cherokee and other Native stories is there isn’t necessarily always a happy ending. For example “Mockingbird” isn’t necessarily a happy story,” she said. “Someone makes a decision to upset the balance of something, and there are consequences to be paid.”
To hear Byrd and other storytellers share a piece of Native history, “Stories on The Square” will be offered at 10 a.m. on the lawn of the Cherokee Capital building through July 26. For more information, go to visitcherokeenation.com
WEST SILOAM – Tulsa resident Elizabeth “Beth” West manages an hour and a half commute to Cherokee Casino West Siloam Springs each workday but still makes time to give back to her community. The YMCA of Greater Tulsa recently awarded West with an award for her dedication to the organization.
“I started off as a contributor but quickly realized that I wanted to do more to help children and families in my community,” West, a food and beverage manager at Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs and Cherokee Nation citizen, said. “The Y helps people in the community in so many different aspects, from early education and after school programs to families affected by cancer.”
West is originally from Colcord, where she graduated high school. She received a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University in 2008. She then started her career at Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs, accepting positions at various Cherokee Casinos through the years, including Cherokee Casino Ramona, Cherokee Casino South Coffeyville and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.
“Beth has been an asset to our department since returning to the property in 2015,” Don McClellan, property director of food and beverage at Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs, said. “She explains to newly hired employees that she started here in 2008, and that if they want additional responsibilities and to be able to be promoted, the opportunities are available. It has been a pleasure working with Beth and watching her navigate her career path. We are very proud of her dedicated work in the community.”
West began supporting the YMCA of Greater Tulsa as a donor but quickly grew into the role of campaigner by helping to raise awareness of the organization’s cause and by finding those willing to help support. West was honored as the 2017 Goal Buster Campaigner of the Year for the YMCA Community Services Campaign.
The annual campaign unites volunteers, donors and participants to build upon the strengths of each individual in our community. Financial assistance is made available from the annual support campaign to any individual or family who wants to participate in YMCA programs or activities but may not be able to afford the fee.
“As we move into our 2018 campaign season, we are thankful to have Beth’s big heart and passion for change. Our community services goal this year is $15,000, and we are confident the funds will be raised to ensure programs continue to be available to those who need them most,” Emma Sikich, senior director for community initiatives at YMCA of Greater Tulsa, said.
“Beth is a great example of someone who works hard, plays hard, but gives more. She is a key player in ensuring the YMCA’s Community Services campaign is a success,” Sikich said.
The staff at YMCA of Greater Tulsa is passionate about making a difference in their communities and bettering the lives of the people around them, and that has inspired West and the other 16 campaigners to do more.
“I feel it’s my responsibility to ensure that others are afforded chances and opportunities to do more, to grow and learn, to be everything they hope,” West said. “Strength of character comes from helping people succeed, not in holding anyone down.”
For more information about YMCA of Greater Tulsa, visit <a href="http://www.ymcatulsa.org" target="_blank">www.ymcatulsa.org</a>.
FAYETTVILLE, Ark. – When 15-year-old Gaby Nagel isn’t listening to music she is playing it, particularly on the Native American flute. Her enjoyment and talent with the instrument has led her to playing numerous events and partaking in flute competitions.
Nagel, an Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian citizen, has been playing the flute for five years. She was introduced to it while walking Fayetteville Square and coming across a man playing one. Listening to him play, she said she became mesmerized. Her mother bought her a flute and she began taking lessons from the same man, Jerry Doubting.
She said the flute just came “natural” to her.
“A lot of the tricks it took him years to learn, all came natural to me. He would be sitting there and telling me about a technique, and he would say ‘it’s OK, don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it on the first try.’ Well, I would get it on the first try,” she said.
Nagel has competed in eight flute competitions of all sizes. However, she said the biggest competition she’s won was the Musical Echo’s in Florida. “I was the first female and youngest competitor to ever win. I got a blue ribbon from them and a check. It was really cool.”
In addition to competitions, she’s played at festivals and events such as Indigenous Peoples Day in Fayetteville and the annual Trail of Tears Association Conference this past October in Pocola, Oklahoma. She’s also been invited to play for senior citizens and children at schools to interact with them and share Native culture.
She said her most memorable performance was getting playing for a young girl who was battling cancer. “I played for a girl who had cancer in Chattanooga (Tennessee). She was a friend of a flute maker of mine, and we raised money for her to receive treatment. It was such an honor, especially because they invited me.”
To be able to travel different places, she said she is thankful for having supportive family and friends, especially her mother. “My mom is my number one. She has driven me around so many miles I can’t even count. She is my number one, and she has always got my back.”
Nagel said she is proud to be Cherokee and shares her heritage through the flute. She said her plans for 2018 are to travel more playing the flute and visit more elderly and hospice patients. She said she’s also been learning to play the piano and guitar.
“Playing the flute, I feel like I am honoring my ancestors and what they had to go through so we don’t get hated on for being Native American as much anymore,” she said.
COLLINSVILLE – Since age 5, Cherokee Nation citizen Trett Charles has had dreams of singing and playing guitar. Today, the 23-year-old opens for some of the most popular names in Red Dirt music, including Stoney LaRue, whom he opened for on Jan. 20 at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa.
Coming from a country music-loving family, Charles learned to play guitar from his great-grandpa. With the help of his uncles he started to grow vocally, too.
Charles said his family listened to country music artists such as George Strait, Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley, who influenced him to choose the Red Dirt genre.
“The way I look at Red Dirt music nowadays is it’s pure country to me. I am not the type of person that is big about national music. I like the (19)90s country feel because that just the genre I grew listening to,” he said.
At age 21, he played his first gig at the Hall of Fame in Catoosa. Since then he’s played venues in Tulsa, across Oklahoma and in surrounding states. He’s also opened for Red Dirt artists Thompson Square, Bart Crow Band, Casey James, Read Southall Band and Jason Boland and the Stragglers.
Charles said getting the opportunity to play various places and open for artists has been a blessing and great accomplishment. However, along with accomplishments he also had to overcome struggles. In April, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and spent seven months in chemotherapy. He said taking that in was hard. And even though he couldn’t play shows as much, he said he pushed himself to continue as much as he could.
During his treatments he played the Cain’s Ballroom for the first time.
“When you’re 22 years old and you’re told you have cancer, and you don’t know if you are going to live or die, at first you don’t really know how to accept that. But the biggest thing that helped me push through it is that I am a big believer in God, and I believe he heals. So when I felt good enough to play a show I would push myself to basically get out there. It was really cool to play at Cain’s for the first time even during the time I was going through chemo because the opportunity was a blessing that also kept me going,” Charles said.
Now cancer free, he played at the Cain’s Ballroom for the second time opening for one of his longtime heroes, Stoney LaRue.
“I seen Stoney multiple times at Cain’s, so the fact that I am even getting to open for Stoney, it’s an incredible feeling because a lot of people don’t get that opportunity,” he said.
Although Charles has only been on the Red Dirt music scene a couple of years, he continues to make a name for himself. He said his goals are to travel and play his music for the world. But he also hopes his music will “touch” someone.
“A song can turn your whole day around. My goal is to share the music that I write with people and hope that the music I share touches them in some way,” he said.
For more information, follow the Trett Charles Band on Facebook.
OKLAHOMA CITY – AARP Oklahoma is accepting nominations for its 10th annual Indian Elder Honors to celebrate 50 Native American elders who have positively impacted their respective communities, families, tribes and nation.
Since its inception in 2009, AARP Oklahoma has recognized 450 elders from all 39 tribal nations in Oklahoma.
“The AARP Indian Elder Honors recognizes the extraordinary contribution of Indian elders – many of whom have never been recognized before,” AARP Oklahoma Volunteer State President Joe Ann Vermillion said.
The 2017 honorees from 33 Oklahoma tribal nations included teachers, veterans, nurses, artists, tribal leaders, language and culture preservationists, champion archer and champion arm wrestler.
Cherokee Nation citizens Mary Rector Aitson, Dianne Barker Harrold, Marcella Morton and Joe T. Thornton, as well as United Keetoowah Band citizen Woody Hansen, were honored in 2017 and presented medallions by national and state AARP officials.
“This event celebrates a lifetime of service from these distinguished elders,” AARP State Director Sean Voskuhl said. “The common thread between the honorees, regardless of the contribution, is the commitment to community and service.”
This year’s Indian Elder Honors will be held Oct. 2 in Oklahoma City. Nomination applications are available at <a href="https://www.aarp.org/states/ok/stateeventdetails.eventId=671063&stateCode=OK/" target="_blank">https://www.aarp.org/states/ok/stateeventdetails.eventId=671063&stateCode=OK/</a>.
Nominations may be submitted electronically or mailed to AARP Oklahoma, 126 N. Bryant, Edmond, OK, 73034.
Nominees must be enrolled citizens of federally recognized Oklahoma tribal nations, at least 50 years old and be living. Nominees do not have to be AARP members. For more information, call Mashell Sourjohn at 405-715-4474 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submitting nominations is April 30.
TAHLEQUAH – When shooters took the line for an Oklahoma Archery Shooters Association qualifier recently at Obsession Archery, Cherokee Nation citizen Michael Lackey was among them despite being in a wheelchair.
“I didn’t get to play regular sports like kids that were not in a wheelchair, so my dad got me into archery and I started doing that,” Lackey said. “I’ve been shooting bows since I was about 12 or 13 years old.”
Lackey joined 64 archers competing for bragging rights and prize money at the Dec. 17 qualifier. Shooters received four minutes to shoot five arrows at a five-spot target through 12 ends, or rounds, for a total of 60 arrows. Each arrow had the potential to earn up to five points depending on its target placement.
Lackey shot with the compound bow he uses when hunting. “The compound is definitely easier from a wheelchair standpoint, in my opinion, because I shoot the recurve also and they’re a lot longer than your compounds. So a string will hit the wheel sometimes or you’re closer to the ground, so the limbs will hit the ground. The compound is definitely easier to shoot from a wheelchair.”
Although paralyzed most of his life, Lackey said he doesn’t believe in limits. He’s an avid outdoorsman who often hunts, a skill honed by competitive archery.
“It’s really helped my shooting, getting back into the target shooting,” he said. “It’s made me more consistent for hunting. I like the competition, and I like to improve myself.”
The competition marked Obsession Archery’s first time hosting a qualifier for the ASA, which aims to grow archery through clubs that provide competition, training and education opportunities.
It’s a development Lackey said he appreciates. “It’s harder on people who don’t have the funding to drive clear across the state to shoots. So it’s nice to have somewhere where we can do it here in town, in Tahlequah.”
Obsession Archery owner John Obenrader called the development a “big deal” for his business and customers. “ASA is the main organization that I shoot for. It’s one of the biggest ones in the country. It’s where all your top archers are and at the state level. They hold championships and qualifiers all across the state. They just came to me and asked me if I wanted to shoot since I have a shop with an indoor range.”
Obenrader said he hopes the competition brings in new shooters and their families to get them familiar with indoor and 3-D range shoots. “It’s pretty much a family-oriented kind of sport because a lot of times you’ll see the kids get started in it, and then mom and dad get started in it because they want to do it.”
For Lackey, the qualifier was a family affair as both his children competed in the cub class.
“My daughter Makayla, she’s been shooting for two or three years now. Hayden just got his first compound bow this year,” he said. “They’re both shooting really well. It’s good for them. It teaches them discipline, practicing. You got to be good to make a shot on a deer. You want to deer hunt, you got to practice and get good at shooting.”
In addition to passing his archery passion onto his children, Lackey hopes to see archery grow among others in wheelchairs.
“I don’t see it quite as much as I would like to see,” he said. “It’s a big challenge from sitting in a wheelchair, but I do know a lot of guys that hunt (and compete). It just takes lots of practice because I have to, I don’t have a lot of balance, so I have to kind of position myself where I can maintain my balance while I’m shooting my bow.”
For more information, call Obsession Archery at 918-951-9540.
WASHINGTON – Cherokee Nation citizen Jessica Henry, of Salina, Oklahoma, was one of five women selected to participate in the Global Press Institute’s training-to-employment program – a weeklong training in Washington, D.C., learning the aspects of journalism.
GPI offers Native American women who have no prior journalism experience, and who are enrolled citizens of federally recognized tribes, the opportunity to become journalists and use journalism “as a development tool to train and employ women in developing media markets to produce high-quality local news coverage that elevates local and global awareness and ignites social change.”
Cristi Hegranes, GPI founder and executive director, said graduates receive long-term employment with GPI covering their communities.
Henry, a Northeastern State University graduate with a public relations degree, was a Cherokee Nation Businesses intern when she applied for the program after seeing an article on <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeephoenix.org</a>.
“It wasn’t really that different because I had to do journalism with my degree plan. I had to be with NSU News for a semester. I kind of had a little bit of knowledge about it but not as in depth as we learned in training,” Henry said.
She said she received hands-on experience once training began by learning to conduct interviews and about photojournalism, taking newsworthy photos and ethics and accuracy.
“All of the experts from each department came in talking about verification and source types and how to get the right news angles and the photojournalism. They all came in and directly taught us from that. So it was a lot to take in, but it helped a lot, too. We had a lot of time to just ask questions,” she said.
Henry said she wants to focus on being as accurate as possible in her writing.
“That’s a really big deal, being ethical and accurate in our writing. I think that will be interesting, to see how far I can get with fact checking everything that people say, what’s really true and what’s not because a lot of people believe what they first read and they don’t really look into it for themselves. So I guess that will be a big part of what I want to d0,” she said.
Now home, Henry continues to train through an online forum with GPI editors. She said one of her first assignments was to “pitch” story ideas to editors to learn what types of stories to look for and that her main focus is to write untold stories in the Cherokee community.
“I want to learn things that I don’t know about…and be able to share that information accurately about our community because there is a lot of stories here. It just takes someone to tell them,” Henry said.