OPINION: CN believes in kind investments

BY KEITH AUSTIN
Tribal Councilor
11/02/2017 02:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Keith Austin
In 1897 Lura Rowland, a blind young woman from Arkansas, talked her sister into joining in her dream of starting a school for the blind in Indian Territory. Together the Rowland sisters traveled throughout the territory to gather support. Finally they found support from the Cherokee Nation. The Nation’s Council allowed her the use of an old barracks building.

With a dream to educate the blind children of Indian Territory, a dilapidated building and no budget, the International School for The Blind opened. Lura appealed to Congress unsuccessfully for financial support. Finally, in 1900, the Choctaw and Cherokee nations each appropriated funds to support the school. At statehood in 1907, the school was assumed by the State of Oklahoma, becoming The Oklahoma School for the Blind.

Jump forward more than 100 years to 2010. Cherokee Nation citizen, Hunter Kelly of Claremore, was a handsome 17-month-old little boy with piercing blue eyes. His mother was a little concerned with what she thought was a slightly lazy eye. This began a flurry of doctors’ appointments. Eventually, he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, cancer of the eyes.

Within days, Hunter and his family were on their way to St. Jude’s in Memphis, Tennessee. By this time, he was totally blind in his right eye and the cancer was aggressive in his left eye. Months of chemotherapy, cryotherapy, laser therapy and radiation followed. Finally, a hard decision was made to do what was necessary to save Hunter’s life.

To stop the cancer, his eyes would have to be removed. Hunter turned 2 years old on Nov. 25 and celebrated the last Christmas he would “see” before removing his left eye on Dec. 10 followed by his right on Jan. 31. Finally Hunter was cancer free.

Before Hunter turned 3, he spent his first days on campus at The Oklahoma School for the Blind. At age 3, he entered pre-kindergarten. His first book to read with his fingers was “The Baby Animals,” a touch-and-feel book. Soon he was reading his ABC’s in Braille. The world of books began to open up for Hunter, and before long he was reading big books. Hunter has recently read two of the Harry Potter books.

Hunter’s skill at Braille led him to compete and win in the Regional Braille Challenge. This qualified him for the National Braille Challenge in Los Angeles. Hunter, now 8 years old, and 49 other Braille readers met in June for the national challenge where Hunter won third in his age group nationwide.

Just like the Cherokee Nation recognized the value of Lura Rowland’s dream in 1897, and supported her work, I was glad to recently direct a community assistance contribution to the school. This contribution helped with the travel expenses of the trip for Hunter and his family. As Lura’s story inspires us a century later, I expect Hunter’s story will inspire others a century from now. I am proud the Cherokee Nation still believes in the value of this kind of investment.

Editor’s Note: For more on Hunter Kelley, read the following articles at www.cherokeephoenix.org:
http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/index/4187

http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/index/4207

http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/index/4212

http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/index/6469

http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/index/11190

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