My name is Tara Hocker and I am the Director of the Office of Environmental Management. I am a member of the Navajo Nation, Walker-River Paiute, and Washoe Tribe. I am passionate about environmental justice and socioeconomic resilience. I have gained knowledge of the importance of tribal sovereignty, cultural importance of usufructuary rights, and cultural ecological knowledge. In my culture there is esoteric teachings of Mother Earth for a Navajo woman. It is taught at a young age to have reverence and practice “ke,” kinship with our environment by maintaining a spiritual relationship that requires you to acknowledge all four directions and give daily appreciation for basic elements of life. As a youth, I participated in the Native Americans in Biological Sciences Summer Camp at OSU from 1993 to 1996. It was funded by a Howard Hughes grant. I studied ecology, ethnobotany, hydrology & water management, biology, micro-biology, and agricultural science. I’ve worked in science labs under the guidance of scientist’s and conducted DNA tests, water testing, and other testing samples to gather and collect research data. It was a valuable learning experience that made me aware of my environment. I grew up on the Navajo reservation and carried water daily from a near-by stream and by truck filling water barrels from windmills. I lived close to an abandoned uranium mine and became concerned about air, water, soil, and the quality of livestock (sheep, horses, and cattle). I helped my grandparents irrigate alfalfa fields, plant a vegetable & fruit garden, and assisted with the fall harvest. Environmental issues affecting my tribal community inspired me to study Federal Indian Law. It inspired me to make a difference in the management of natural resources and the environment by having knowledge of federal, state, local laws, regulations, codes, policies, and procedures related to environmental management and environmental activities on Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma tribal land jurisdiction.
I hold a:
• Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law degree
• Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management
• Associate of Applied Science degree in Business
• Associate of Applied Science degree in Secondary Education
• Associate of Applied Science degree in Pre-Education
• Minor in Marketing
I am a:
• Certified Human Resource Technician
• Oklahoma Public Notary
• Certified Child Welfare Specialist
• Two years of work experience working for a non-profit in tribal land management, tribal economic development, agriculture, compliance ensuring permits, licenses, and training were up-to-date.
• I have four years of classroom experience studying biology, physical science, chemistry, and Environmental Law in Indian Country.
My main objectives for the OEM Department are to create a new Environmental Assessment that will give us new data on the environmental compliance of the worst polluters in and near our tribal jurisdiction. We will also consult with the area law firm on updating the Ponca Tribe Environmental Regulatory Act.
My name is Aliayah Danielle Buffalohead. My Indian name is Wi Nazhe Ta Wi meaning Rain given to me by my grandparents. I am an enrolled Ponca Tribal member and am of the Hisada clan. I come from The Buffalohead, Collins, BlueBack, Big Elk, and Giveswater families.
I am 17 years old, a senior at Tonkawa High School, and a member of the National Honor Society. I am also concurrently enrolled at NOC and plan to continue my education with a degree in the medical field. My career focus is to become a Physical Therapist to help our elders and other Native Americans to recover from their injuries. Some of my other accomplishments are lettering in academics for the past 3 years and receiving an award for Outstanding Native American Student.
I want to be a great ambassador for our tribe.
I want to thank the Ponca Princess Sorority and the Ponca Powwow Committee for giving me a chance to represent the Ponca People. This opportunity has been a goal of mine and I will represent to the best of my ability. I pray everyone has a great year, continue to be safe, and protect our children and elders.
Our Old people told us that we (Poncas) are a Sacred people who have strong beliefs that are tied to our lands and our sacred ceremonies. Because of who we are there are some responsibilities that we owe to ourselves and to God the Creator. An old spiritual sacred law among true traditional natives is; “Whenever the Great Spirit bestows upon you a sacred gift, YOU have a Responsibility to Perform and to take care of Your Special Gift”. We Ponca’s know and believe that this way of life was given to us directly by Wakonda. Other tribes may perform this dance, but this dance belongs to us!
Again, all precautions are to be taken. Much of our community has been vaccinated and there will plenty of wash stations and masks provided. Most of all, if you feel unsure and uncomfortable attending, then please remain home or wherever you feel safe. Most of all, if you don’t feel well, by all means stay home. May the Great Spirit continue to bless our Ponca People.
Oliver Littlecook, Chairman
Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma
Pictured left to right: Council Members of Ponca Tribe Business Committee, members Scotty Simpson Jr., Matilda De La Garza, Secretary/Treasurer Carla Carney, Vice-Chairman Robert Collins, member Leota White, Project Manager Brenton Carney, and President Redhawk Construction Kathy Martin. (Photo by Sara Bell)
The Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma is preparing for the construction of a new tiny house village that they hope will help prevent, prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The village will offer five tiny homes to provide housing for tribal elders who are struggling with homelessness, displacement and are at a higher risk for COVID-19. Many tribal members live with other family members. They often move around from one house to another. This is a cultural practice and often not recognized as homelessness. The tiny homes will help reduce overcrowding, thus preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Tribal Chairman Oliver Littlecook shared his excitement, describing the project as “an ode to legacy.”
“Ponca people have always honored our elders for their wisdom and teachings. It is said that a nation that honors its elders will live forever.”
Each tiny house will be less than 900 square feet, complete with a kitchen, dining area, bedroom, living room, bathroom with special safety features such as grab bars and walk-in showers and an outside patio. The tiny house village will reside within a gated area, and village residents will have access to a walking trail complete with picnic areas. The tiny houses will host energy-saving features and completely tiled flooring.
Tribal Administrator Sara Buffalo Head-Bell believes this project presents a sort of homecoming and sees the first five homes as a start of a larger ambition.
“There is power and healing when we gather together. The Tiny House Village Project will allow for some of our elders who reside outside of White Eagle to be able to come home and reconnect with the community.”
The Ponca Tribe began responding to the Coronavirus pandemic on January 22, 2020. Community members were worried about the effects of the virus and many started to prepare by purchasing hand sanitizer and a surplus of food, toilet paper and cleaning supplies. This put a strain on many tribal members’ budgets, and the Ponca Tribe Business Committee members started to receive requests for assistance. The Business Committee responded by giving over $34,000 in assistance for food, rent and utility payments in a four-month span.
This project will be managed by Brenton Carney, Project Manager for the Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma. Carney is currently managing the ICDBG Wellness Renovation and Expansion Project. He has a Master of Science in Management and is currently working on his Doctorate in Business Administration with an emphasis in Project Management. Mr. Carney has over 20 years of construction experience in the oil and gas industry with eight years in a management capacity.
The Tiny House Village will be located inside the gated Walking Trails behind the newly renovated Wellness Center. The Tiny House Village initiative is part of the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG) – CARES FY 2020 with a completion date of September 1, 2021.
\Editor’s Note: On February 25th, 2021, I drove myself to White Eagle Health Clinic. I had never been to the tiny community of White Eagle, which lies just 5 miles south of Ponca City. But in my desperate search to find a vaccine, I reached out to a tribal friend who said White Eagle Health Clinic had extras, and that anyone, including non-natives, was eligible for the leftover vaccines. I made an appointment at 9 am, and by 2:00 pm that same day, I had received my first vaccine. As I sat in the chair, the nurses sweetly asked me how I was doing, if I needed anything, and thanked me for choosing to be vaccinated. Growing up in Oklahoma, every resident in this state is aware of the historic injustices done to native Americans. At the moment I received my vaccine, sitting in that chair, in a clinic I had never been to, the ironic juxtaposition of their complete and utter selflessness hit me all at once, and I began to cry quietly. Here I was, a privileged white woman, receiving a lifesaving vaccine from one of the many tribes who have been historically mistreated in years past. Racial issues are complex, and I have no answers on how to fix them. I will never forget the kindness of the Ponca Tribal members that day. Many of my friends went to the same clinic in the days and weeks after that and were all vaccinated. Because of the WEHC, I received my vaccine one month before I would have been eligible to receive it from the state health department. I wanted to tell the story of how and why the Ponca Tribe chose to vaccinate non-native members.
The First Vaccine in Kay County
Daniel Sherron was the first person in Kay County to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Daniel is also the Director of White Eagle Health Center (“WEHC”) for the Ponca Tribe Indians of Oklahoma and understood that he was setting an example for his tribe and fellow citizens.
“Everyone was kind of hesitant,” Daniel said.
“There was a lot of misinformation out there on vaccines, the positives, and the unknown reactions. To try and help ease that worry, I was the first person to take it in Kay County on December 17. We wanted to be able to film it and post it on social media, and show people that this no different than getting a flu shot.”
Daniel explains that each tribe was given the option to coordinate with either the state or federal government on vaccine distribution. All the tribes of Oklahoma opted to coordinate with the Federal government and worked closely with the Indian Health Services department in October to prepare for distribution.
Daniel says tribal members began immediately receiving vaccinations after December 17th. There were no appointments or signups required. The White Eagle Health Clinic conducted vaccinations based on priority, and people were encouraged to walk in any day of the week, Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm.
“When our rollout started, we targeted our elders first. They were a top priority,” said Daniel.
Native Americans have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with overall higher rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths than any other racial or ethnic group. As of March, Native Americans were 1.7 times more likely than white Americans to contract COVID-19, and 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized with it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also were 2.4 times more likely to die from the virus, the CDC found.
Daniel says the Ponca Tribe has lost many, many members, but the loss has been especially devastating as many of those lost were elders.
“The COVID-19 virus doesn’t recognize race, or color, or ethnicity. We have a lot of fresh graves at our cemetery that has passed away from COVID-19, and I’m sure the other cemeteries in the area do too. Due to our people’s high rate of comorbidities, along with other minorities, our death rate is higher,” said Daniel.
“After we started going through our tribal priority people, it bothered us, that teachers were not moving on the state’s level of priority,” Daniel said.
Daniel Sherron, in addition to being the Director of WEHC, also serves on the faculty at both NOC and Northwestern, and as a teacher, understood deeply how important vaccinating educators was. Daniel recalls his discussion with Kim Burgess, who is the Public Health Nurse for the Ponca Tribe and leads all COVID-19 responses at the clinic.
“I knew early on there was going to be an influx in vaccinations, and I knew the overall scope was going to change,” said Daniel.
“I talked with Kim, and we both had the same idea. Until our teachers are vaccinated, sending our students to school isn’t safe for our tribal people, because a lot of our kids and tribal members live in multi-generational households. We wanted to help, so we talked to Shelley Arrott and offered our services near the end of January,” said Daniel.
On February 22nd, the state of Oklahoma opened up vaccines to teachers, but luckily by that time, all teachers in Kay County that chose to receive a vaccine had already been vaccinated thanks to WEHC.
Making Vaccines Accessible to Everyone
After educators in Kay County were vaccinated, the question was whether to open it up to anyone in the community or to continue to limit the vaccines.
“I had family on my non-Indian side that had a very hard time getting through the state’s portal. And that is no criticism to them, their target population is just much larger than ours,” said Daniel.
“We had so many vaccines arriving each week, we were of the mindset that we’re never going to allow a vaccine to go to waste. Regardless of the color of arm it gets shot into, if there’s a willing participant, and we’ve exhausted the people we can serve for that week, then it’s time for us to put those into somebody else’s arm. It was our hope that would foster a positive relationship.”
It was decided by the Ponca Tribe that leftover vaccines at WEHC would be available to anyone, both natives and non-natives, of all ages.
Word of mouth travels quickly in a small town, and news of the vaccine surplus at WEHC spread quickly. Many non-native community residents were being vaccinated and large industries were reaching out to WEHC asking if they could request on-site vaccines for their employees and staff. Dorada Foods, QuarterTurn Industries, all vaccinated on-site at their locations by WEHC staff. WEHC made all accommodations possible and vaccinated thousands of people county-wide.
Healing a Historic Divide
“Historically, we have always felt that there is a disconnect between the tribal community and Ponca City, and this was a way for us to reach out and offer something that was lifesaving and would also foster the hope that it would improve relations between our community and town.”
“Our cemetery is directly across the street from the Ponca City landfill,” Daniel says. “When we go to bury loved ones, it’s across the street from the dump. There are veterans buried there that date back to World War I that fought for the United States of America.”
Daniel understands that the decision to place the city landfill in its current location, just across the road from the Ponca Tribal Cemetery, was made over fifty years ago, and he also says he understands the logistics and financial hurdles of moving it are immense, and that it will likely never be moved. Daniel says he uses this only as an example to illustrate the issues of the past. Despite a history of turmoil and disagreement, Daniel says there is renewed hope on both sides to heal the divides and come together.
“My vision and main goal has been for the local tribes and community to have better coordination and communication,” says Daniel.
Partnering to Over the Pandemic
Daniel knows the fight to end the pandemic is not over but is proud of what his tribe has been able to accomplish to save as many lives as possible.
“If you look at the big picture, this is not an “I” [problem], this is a community-wide, state-wide, nationwide problem, and you need as many hands-on deck as you can get. I think you’ll see that statewide, tribes have really stepped up and have moved at a much faster pace than the state has been able to. That is not to knock any county health department, they are doing the best that they can with the recourses they have. A lot of times, we can do things faster, and we have the dollars and the manpower and the desire to help,” said Daniel.
“The ultimate goal for everyone giving the vaccine is to hopefully one day be back to normal. As many people as we can help, while also focusing on our own, to me is just paramount to fighting the pandemic overall.”