http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgCotton is a golden doodle that works with her handler, James Bywater, a licensed professional counselor, in the Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health department. She is a service dog and a certified therapy dog. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cotton is a golden doodle that works with her handler, James Bywater, a licensed professional counselor, in the Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health department. She is a service dog and a certified therapy dog. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Cherokee Nation therapy animals assist citizens

The Cherokee Nation’s Animal-Assisted Therapy Program – which Cotton’s handler, James Bywater, helped write – requires animals wear a clearly identifiable service or therapy vest and a photo identification badge when working. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Unali, a golden retriever named after the Cherokee word for “friend,” is an emotional support dog for the Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare. She will receive additional training in the coming year to receive her therapy dog certification. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Teenagers who are getting treatment at the Cherokee Nation’s Jack Brown Treatment Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, feed carrots to Ambrosia – one of three miniature horses donated to the CN to provide equine therapy to Native children at the center and Indian Child Welfare. WENDY BURTON/MUSKOGEE PHOENIX
The Cherokee Nation’s Animal-Assisted Therapy Program – which Cotton’s handler, James Bywater, helped write – requires animals wear a clearly identifiable service or therapy vest and a photo identification badge when working. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
07/27/2017 08:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Whether helping a patient during counseling or comforting a child transitioning into a foster home, therapy animals in Cherokee Nation programs are assisting tribal citizens in ways people cannot.

“It’s a positive benefit to each of the programs, and if anybody is going to use an animal, a tribe should be the one to do it,” James Bywater, a CN Behavioral Health licensed professional counselor, said.

Bywater owns 2-year-old Cotton, a golden doodle that is certified as a service and therapy animal. She works with Bywater in his office every Thursday and Friday, assisting patients directly and indirectly as they work through topics such as death, addiction, rape and suicide.

“She’s really intuitive,” he said. “She doesn’t go and jump and want to roughhouse with someone who’s grieving. Matter of fact, she’ll go over and she’ll just rest her chin on their knee, and it helps to comfort them. Things that I don’t even pick up on, she’ll pick up on. She’s a perfect mirror to people. So if they’re anxious, if they’re angry, she’ll step back.”

Bywater began researching the benefits of service and therapy animals before deciding to purchase Cotton with his funds.

“This is all research-based and evidence-based,” he said. “There’s lots and lots of benefits to having an animal in therapy. It has really been an eye opener to me.”

Bywater can cite studies that show having a therapy animal sitting in on sessions can help a patient overcome fear and anxiety.

When Bywater purchased Cotton in 2015, the CN did not have a policy written for service or therapy animals. So he wrote the Service Animal Laws and Information pamphlet for Health Services and the Animal-Assisted Therapy Program policy. It requires the completion of 100 hours of specialty training for a service or therapy animal designation.

Therapy animals are usually dogs or horses, though the category is not limited. The animals must receive strict training to work in schools, nursing homes and hospitals. Dogs must also pass the American Kennel Club’s Good Dog Citizen exam.

Service animals have training related to providing a service for an individual with a disability, such as alerting their handler to an oncoming seizure.

Emotional support animals are not required to have training, though their handler must obtain a letter from a licensed professional stating the individual suffers from psychological trauma or a disability such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.

Indian Child Welfare has an emotional support animal in its golden retriever puppy Unali, named after the Cherokee word for “friend” and donated to ICW by the organization PuppySpot.

“Right now her job is just to let people love on her and her love on other people,” Nikki Baker Limore, ICW executive director, said.

Unali’s responsibilities will grow as she does and receives added training.

“Her handler, Connie Webb, will take her, and we want her to become a certified therapy dog so she learns additional techniques in order to help nurture these children,” Limore said. “It takes a lot to be a service dog. They have to learn it’s not about them when their work vest goes on.”

Limore said ICW hopes to use Unali to comfort children in various situations, including if they must testify in court, after supervised parental visitations or in foster care transitions.

In addition to dogs, ICW also has several full- and miniature-size horses as part of its equine therapy program.

“It’s great to give a child control over an environment and an animal who is wanting to trust them,” Limore said. “We’ve got pictures of our kids when they first started, scared to death of these horses, and then once they get on there and work with them and begin to have love for these animals, you just see them blossom.”

In June, the Jack Brown Treatment Center and ICW received three miniature horses named Kiss-Me Kate, Iris and Ambrosia from Missouri native Barbara Watters. Watters donated the horses after no longer being able to care for them and wanting to make sure they got a good home.

“We do have a lot of little kids, so our goal is to take them and teach them basic horse information with an animal that’s on their eye level,” Limore said.

She said the equine therapy gives children something to look forward to in a time of uncertainty.

“They don’t know what’s happening in their life. It’s all up in the air. So if we can give them a little bit of fun in the meantime or something to look forward to then that’s a step in the right direction,” she said.
About the Author
Brittney Bennett is from Colcord, Oklahoma, and a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band.  She is a 2011 Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient and graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and summa cum laude honors.
 
While in college, Brittney became involved with the Native American Journalists Association and was an inaugural NAJA student fellow in 2014. Continued mentorship from NAJA members and the willingness to give Natives a voice led her to accept a multimedia internship with the Cherokee Phoenix after college.  
 
She left the Cherokee Phoenix in early 2016 before being selected as a Knight-CUNYJ Fellow in New York City later that same year. During the fellowship, she received training from industry professionals with The New York Times and instructors at the City University of New York. As part of the program, she completed a social media internship with USA Today’s editorial department.
 
Now that Brittney has made her way back to the Cherokee Phoenix, she hopes to use the experience gained from her travels to benefit Indian Country and the Cherokee people.
brittney-bennett@cherokee.org • 918-453-5560
Brittney Bennett is from Colcord, Oklahoma, and a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band. She is a 2011 Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient and graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and summa cum laude honors. While in college, Brittney became involved with the Native American Journalists Association and was an inaugural NAJA student fellow in 2014. Continued mentorship from NAJA members and the willingness to give Natives a voice led her to accept a multimedia internship with the Cherokee Phoenix after college. She left the Cherokee Phoenix in early 2016 before being selected as a Knight-CUNYJ Fellow in New York City later that same year. During the fellowship, she received training from industry professionals with The New York Times and instructors at the City University of New York. As part of the program, she completed a social media internship with USA Today’s editorial department. Now that Brittney has made her way back to the Cherokee Phoenix, she hopes to use the experience gained from her travels to benefit Indian Country and the Cherokee people.

Services

BY STAFF REPORTS
02/17/2018 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Phoenix is now taking names of elders and military veterans to provide free subscriptions of its monthly newspaper. In November, Cherokee Nation Businesses donated $10,000 to the Cherokee Phoenix’s Elder/Veteran Fund. The fund provides free subscriptions of its monthly newspaper to elders 65 and older and military veterans who are Cherokee Nation citizens. Subscription rates are $10 for one year. “The Elder/Veteran Fund was put into place to provide free subscriptions to our Cherokee elders and veterans,” Executive Editor Brandon Scott said. “Some of our elders and veterans are on a very limited budget, and other items have a priority over buying a newspaper subscription. The donations we receive have a real world impact on our elders and veterans, so every dollar donated to the Elder Fund is significant.” Using the Elder/Veteran Fund, elders who are 65 and older as well as veterans can apply to receive a free one-year subscription by visiting, calling or writing the Cherokee Phoenix office and requesting a subscription. The Cherokee Phoenix office is located in the Annex Building on the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex. The postal address is Cherokee Phoenix, P.O. Box 948, Tahlequah, OK 74465. To call about the fund, call 918-207-4975 or 918-453-5269 or email justin-smith@cherokee.org or joy-rollice@cherokee.org. No income guidelines have been specified for the Cherokee Phoenix Elder/Veteran Fund, and free subscriptions will be given as long as funds last. Tax-deductible donations for the fund can also be sent to the Cherokee Phoenix by check or money order specifying the donation for the Cherokee Phoenix Elder/Veteran Fund. Cash is also accepted at the Cherokee Phoenix offices and local events where Cherokee Phoenix staff members are accepting Elder/Veteran Fund donations. The Cherokee Phoenix also has a free website, <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeephoenix.org</a>, that posts news seven days a week about the Cherokee government, people, history and events of interest. The monthly newspaper is also posted in PDF format to the website at the beginning of each month.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
02/13/2018 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s Human Services Burial Assistance Program continues to help families with funeral expenses. For nearly 20 years, the program has helped provide tribal citizens financial aid to bury family members who have passed with the Bureau of Indian Affairs paying a portion of those expenses. “It’s for people that have little or no resources to bury a loved one,” CN Family Assistance Manager Angela King said. In fiscal year 2017, BAP provided aid for 395 burials, and so far in FY 2018 (Oct. 1 to Jan. 31) the CN has aided with 80 burials. The tribe’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. The program is designed to alleviate financial stress that comes with funeral costs for low-income families. The deceased’s immediate family’s income must not exceed greater than 150 percent of the National Poverty Level income standards. To be eligible, the deceased must be a citizen of a federally recognized tribe: have resided in the CN jurisdiction six months prior to date of death: must not, or family must not, have resources that exceed $2,900, which include life insurance, veteran’s benefits, savings, checking or prepaid burial; and must select a funeral home that has an active burial contract with the tribe. The CN is contracted with 76 funeral homes in Oklahoma. The CN and BIA pay depending on two options offered through the BAP. Option 1 is restricted to CN citizens, if eligible, and services will be paid in full to eliminate financial burdens. This service provides at minimum a 20-gage steel casket, concrete outer container/grave liner, tent and cemetery set up, memorial package, death certificate, burial notice in a local newspaper and traditional professional services provided by a contracted funeral home to conduct the service. The CN and BIA payout for the Option 1 contracted service must not exceed $3,600 for the service to be paid in full. Option 2 is available to any citizen of a federally recognized tribe, who must meet all income and eligibility standards. The selected funeral home will provide services for any eligible non-CN citizen, as negotiated by the funeral home and the family. The CN will make a single payment up to $2,800 toward the service’s total cost. The family is responsible for the remaining balance due toward the funeral home costs. An eligible Cherokee family that wishes to switch from Option 1 to Option 2 may do so under the negotiation between funeral home and family. The CN will make a single payment of $2,800 toward funeral costs with the family responsible for the remaining balance. King said the reason some families switch is because a family member wanting a different service not provided in Option 1. She said the family is allowed to switch but is responsible for any extra expenses. “Since this is an income-based program it has to be someone outside of the household that is responsible for the remaining amount. Because we don’t want that family owing a funeral home because if they really can’t afford a funeral they’re going to pick the option 1 where they don’t owe anything,” King said. For more information, call 918-453-5000 or email <a href="mailto: human_services@cherokee.org">human_services@cherokee.org</a>. <strong>Burial Assistance Eligibility Guidelines</strong> 1. The deceased must be a citizen of a federally recognized tribe, verified by a tribal citizenship card (blue card for Cherokee Nation citizens). A Certificate Degree of Indian Blood card is not proof of citizenship and will not be accepted. 2. The deceased must have been a resident of the CN jurisdiction for six months prior to date of death. 3. The deceased and his/her immediate family many not have resources (life insurance, veteran’s benefits, cash, savings accounts, etc.) exceeding $2,500. 4. The deceased and his/her immediate family may not have income for the previous month greater than 150 percent of the National Poverty Level income standards. For example, for a household of two, income cannot exceed $2,003 for the previous month or $24,030 for the past 12 months. 5. The family must select a funeral home that has an active burial contract with the CN. <strong>Needed Documents</strong> 1. Residential verification that the deceased has lived within the Cherokee Nation jurisdiction for the past six months. The document must verify the physical location of the residence (utility bill or a rent receipt with the physical location listed), Department of Humans Service statement, statement from a nursing home, 911 statements or any other document including a physical address. 2. Tribal citizenship card. 3. Proof of income for the previous 12 months for the deceased and his/her immediate family. Verification documents include, but are not limited to pay stubs, copies of benefit checks if they cover the previous 12 months, benefit award letters, etc. 4. Proof of all available financial resources including but not limited to bank statements, savings account statements, life insurance police and veterans benefits statements, etc. 5. Social Security Card <strong>Option 1</strong> This option is restricted to eligible Cherokee Nation citizens, and if selected, the service will be paid in full (less any available family resources) by the CN, totally eliminating the eligible family of any financial burden normally associated with funeral expense. This service is limited and cannot be altered. The service shall provide at minimum a 20-gage steel casket, concrete outer container/grave liner (non-biodegradable), tent and cemetery set up, memorial package, one death certificate, burial notice in local paper and the traditional professional service provide by the contracted funeral home conducting the service. If an eligible family selects any type of cremation, the funeral home will explain the contracted options available to the family and if services are within the contract, this service will also be paid in full. <strong>Option 2</strong> This option is for any eligible family where the deceased is not a Cherokee Nation citizen but is a citizen of another federally recognized tribe. The eligible family can select any funeral service the funeral home will sell them and the CN will pay a one-time maximum payment of $2,800 (minus available resources). The family will be totally responsible for all costs above this amount. The family must meet income, resource and residential requirements for this service. This option will also be made available to eligible CN citizens who may have family members (not living in the deceased immediate household) that wish to upgrade the contracted service identified in Option 1. The eligible Cherokee family can select any service the funeral home will sell them and the CN will make the one-time payment in the amount of $2,800 (less available resources) and the family will be totally responsible for paying the balance. Many funeral homes have active contracts with the CN to provide all services outlined in options 1 and 2 identified above. If the family selects a funeral home that is not listed, contact a local Tribal Services office. This list is updated periodically.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/12/2018 04:00 PM
MUSKOGEE – Cherokee Nation officials and ambassadors delivered hundreds of handmade Valentine cards to veterans on Feb. 9 to the Jack C. Montgomery Veterans Affairs Medical Center in time for Valentine’s Day. Deputy Chief and U.S. Navy veteran S. Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., as well as Miss Cherokee Madison Whitekiller and Junior Miss Cherokee Danya Pigeon, gave the cards to dozens of veterans at the medical center as part of tribe’s Valentines for Vets program. Now in its 10th year, the Valentines for Vets program shares handmade Valentines with Cherokee and non-Cherokee veterans across the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction. “We always enjoy going out into our communities and shaking hands with the men and women that served this great country,” Crittenden said. “This program gives us a chance to spend time with veterans and remind them that we care and are so grateful for their service.” This year, Cherokee Nation Businesses, Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council, Cherokee Immersion Charter School and other area schools and churches donated cards. Veterans at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center, Claremore Veterans Center and veteran health clinics in Jay, Vinita and Tulsa benefitted from the handmade cards. For U.S. Army veteran Nelson Brown, 72, the visit was a chance to make some friends on his last day at the Muskogee medical center. “It was such an honor to have a visit with the folks from Cherokee Nation today,” Brown said. “It was fun talking to the Deputy Chief, a fellow veteran, and meeting all of the nice young people. You don’t see much except nurses and doctors in here, so it was a real treat.” The tribe’s Valentines for Vets program was started in 2008 by the late Rogan Noble, a Marine Corps veteran and advocate for the tribe’s veterans’ affairs. The program is held in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Salute to Veteran Patients week. For more information, call 918-772-4166.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
02/12/2018 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH (AP) – After the massive floods that impacted the greater Tahlequah area in 2015 and 2017, Cherokee Nation Emergency Management is taking a proactive initiative to prepare the community in case it happens again. The CNEM worked to fill 10,000 sandbags for use by community members in the tribe’s 14 jurisdictional counties, with the goal reducing the chances of floodwater destruction. “Every year I’ve been here, we have had a flood,” Jeremie Fisher, CNEM manager, said. “So we’re going to be putting them strategically at different locations for our citizens: in the community centers, any of our community partners in our 14 counties that might need them, municipalities and other people who may need some on hand, just in case. The goal is to be proactive and help mitigate things before it happens.” During the past two large floods, homes were lost, families were displaced and businesses suffered serious damage to infrastructure. CNEM was just one of the local entities that witnessed the destruction. While a similar flood would likely cause damage to the city of Tahlequah no matter what, Philip Manes said he hopes the sandbags will prevent him from having to see as many displaced families. “When we were helping people, I don’t think it had sunk in for them, yet,” said Manes. “A lot of them still hadn’t realized what they had lost, and they lost a lot. We were actually pulling out some people in the creek.” In 2017, once the Tahlequah community learned about the flood, emergency agencies all over the area were scrambling to prepare. This year, forward thinking, combined with a new sandbag machine, has made it easier for the CNEM to get ready. “Last year, I took five people down to Sallisaw, and we filled sandbags one afternoon right before the flood came,” said Fisher. “That was all done by hand and it was quite a deal. This machine eliminates a lot of the back work and makes it a lot easier.” The CNEM has already bagged around 1,000 bags after the tribe purchased 50 tons of sand. Fisher said 50 more tons of sand could be needed before all 10,000 bags are filled. There will be no cost for the sandbags, which the tribe planned to begin distributing Jan. 30. There’s no limit to how many bags a person can get, but with each bag weighing approximately 40 pounds, they will be distributed within reason. Ability to receive sandbags is not dependent on a person’s location in the 14 counties. Recipients do not have to be CN citizens. “It’s really a community thing,” said Fisher. “When the river floods, it really doesn’t matter; water runs through Cherokee and non-Cherokee homes the same way. So the idea is that we would just be an asset to our 14 counties and have a resource they may not be able to have.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/30/2018 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation has provided six vans to four northeast Oklahoma transit service companies that provide rides for thousands of CN citizens and employees each year. The six vans were disbursed among Ki Bois Area Transit System (KATS), Pelivan, Cimarron and Muskogee County Transit, with KATS and Pelivan each receiving two new vans and Cimarron and Muskogee County Transit each receiving one. “Many of our Cherokee Nation citizens rely on these four public transportation services to get to and from work, school, the grocery store and their medical appointments on a daily basis,” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said. “Easy, affordable transportation remains an essential part of life. I’m proud of the Cherokee Nation for helping ensure these transit services meet those transportation needs, not only for our citizens but for non-Cherokees as well.” The Ford 350 Transit vans were purchased through a Federal Transit Administration grant worth more than $321,500, with an additional $46,200 being provided through CN Tribal Transportation Program funds. “Getting two more vans from Cherokee Nation is a blessing,” Charla Sloan, Ki Bois Area Transit System director, said. KATS operates more than 200 buses and vans in a 12-county area providing curb-to-curb, and in some circumstances door-to-door, on-demand transportation. “Replacing two old vans with high mileage with two new vans that are more efficient and safer is better for the riders and KATS,” Sloan said. “Partnering with Cherokee Nation has been great for the people and great for KATS. It helps us maximize funding from the state and federal government that benefits the people with reliable transportation. More vehicles on the road opens the door to opportunity for Cherokee Nation citizens.” In fiscal year 2017, the CN invested nearly $265,000 in federal TTP funding to enhance several area transit program operations, which totaled 102,148 rides. Each year, the tribe uses a portion of its TTP funds to provide additional transit services for CN citizens and the general public. Native Americans and tribal employees can access rides on fixed routes and on demand service transit buses for $1 round trip. For more information on CN Transit Services or the contracted transit providers, call 1-800-256-0671 or visit <a href="http://transit.cherokee.org" target="_blank">http://transit.cherokee.org</a>.
BY STACIE BOSTON
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
01/25/2018 04:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH – With a flex training beginning Feb. 12, officials with the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cherokee County hope to have more area residents help serve needy children by becoming advocates. Liz Rainbolt, CASA advocate coordinator, said while CASA has 24 advocates there is always a need for more. “We just graduated three in November and we’re again starting in February, so we’re hoping to have more than that, but we lose a couple and gain, but we’re hovering at about 24 right now. If we had 100 volunteers I’d be great, but we would still be wanting more. More cases can be done. More kids can be served.” The advocate role, Rainbolt said, is to “speak and be the voice for child in court.” “What that means is they gather information about the child’s current situation. They don’t investigate what happened. That’s already been done because they’re now involved in the court…but what is their current situation? Are they in the best placement? They then gather that information and they put it all into a court report,” she said. “It’s an extra set of eyes independent from any Department of Human Services Child Welfare or Indian Child Welfare.” Rainbolt said CASA’s trainings require 30 hours served in class, online and in court. “We serve Adair County court, Cherokee County court and then two judges in tribal court on two different Fridays. We have them (volunteers) observe each court because they could get a case in any of them,” she said. Aside from the required hours, Rainbolt said CASA deals with Cherokee and Native American children and requires advocates to have a “diversity day” when they tour the Cherokee Heritage Center. “Because we work with Cherokee children, Native American children…we do a diversity thing where we go out to the (Cherokee) heritage center, take the tour through the museum and so forth.” After they complete the hours, Rainbolt said volunteers are sworn in as court officers by judges at the courts they serve. Rainbolt said before becoming an advocate there is an application process, three background checks, reference letters and in-depth interviews that must me completed and passed. An applicant must also be 21 years old. Rainbolt said she’s seen people who have full-time jobs and those who are retired become advocates. She added that advocates create their own schedules so that more people who want to become advocates can do so. “The only thing they have to do is, I can’t change the dockets. They are during the week during the day. Meetings with Indian Child Welfare or meetings with the caseworkers they’re during the day, during the week. But other than that…it’s on their schedule,” she said. She said it’s also important that potential advocates dedicate at least 18 months to the program. “We do ask for commitment of 18 months or more because the longevity of the case statistically last about 18 months,” she said. “We really want a commitment. They’re there to be their (children) champion, their voice in court.” For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeecasa.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeecasa.org</a> or visit CASA on Facebook by searching “Cherokee CASA” or call 918-456-8788. For a list of Oklahoma CASA programs, visit <a href="http://www.oklahomacasa.org" target="_blank">www.oklahomacasa.org</a>.