TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner signed the amended Career Readiness Act legislation Monday.
It will infuse $10 million to start building a new Career Readiness Campus on Highway 62 in Tahlequah and help train thousands of Cherokees in career trade programs while expanding overall funding for the program.
“In 2019, Deputy Chief Warner, the Council and I established a firm policy that career training should be every bit as valued as a college education and we have put over $30 million toward that effort,” Chief Hoskin said. “Three years later we are taking this idea to the next level and constructing our own career-readiness campus right here in Tahlequah, where we’ll continue to work with our partners in the region in career tech centers, but we’ll have our own career tech campus for some of our unique programs, in turn helping improve citizens’ lives and employability, making our communities stronger and making our Nation stronger.”
The Career Readiness Act doubles the tribe’s investment of its own revenue into career training programs. The tribe also committed over $29 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to assist Cherokee citizens in attending career training programs through December 2024.
“I think the Council understands that college isn’t for everybody and there are different paths to take,” said Council of the Cherokee Nation Speaker Mike Shambaugh. “I can’t even tell you how many lives this will affect by giving our citizens training to go directly into jobs, get apprenticeships and start earning a living and supporting their families. Anything we can do to bring more services to the Cherokee people we should support.”
The career readiness campus will be located at the former Cherokee County fairgrounds southwest of Tahlequah. Cherokee Nation acquired the property – more than 20 acres – after Cherokee County officials announced plans to build a new fairground in a new location.
The $10 million investment represents Phase 1 of the campus. A second phase, likely exceeding an additional $10 million, will be needed as the campus expands.
The amended legislation signed September 19 also extends the Career Readiness Act through the end of fiscal year 2025, at which time Chief Hoskin said tribal leadership should review the law.
In addition to continuing the funding boost established in the 2019 act and authorizing the career readiness campus, the legislation sets a goal of placing Career Service offices within 30 miles of every Cherokee citizen within the Cherokee Nation’s 7,000-square-mile reservation. Cherokee Nation opened its ninth Career Services satellite office earlier this month in Wagoner as part of this ongoing effort.
“The Career Readiness Act has allowed us to offer some training programs that we actually never thought about going into,” said Diane Kelley, Executive Director for Career Services which oversees the programs. “It has allowed us to get some good paying jobs for trainees who go through them, such as the fiber program which we actually started. The lineman program has also been very successful these last three years, and we couldn’t have done it without the Career Readiness Act being put together. Now we are flourishing as a result.”
Kelley said Career Services hopes to have satellite offices in every county of the Cherokee Nation Reservation by next year.
Cherokee Nation citizen Robert Loudermilk, of Talala in Rogers County, enrolled in Tulsa Tech’s Emergency Medical Technician program and progressed to the paramedic program with help from the tribe’s Career Readiness Act.
“Today I’m proud to say I’m a licensed paramedic in the state of Oklahoma. I was hired by the city of Skiatook as a paramedic firefighter in November 2021,” Loudermilk said. “Without the continued assistance and support from Cherokee Nation, I may not have been able to achieve my goals. Now, I will be able to provide a better life for my family and serve the Skiatook community for many years to come.”
Deputy Chief Bryan Warner, who attended the signing ceremony, said the legislation is a way to make positive generational impact on the Cherokee Nation.
"Quite simply, whether it is a college scholarship or the Career Readiness Act, helping the Cherokee people train for lifelong careers not only impacts their lives, it sends a message to young Cherokees that we, as a society, place a high value pursuing rewarding careers," said Warner.
For more information on Cherokee Nation programs and services, including how to participate in opportunities provided through the Career Readiness Act, visit www.cherokee.org and visit the Career Services section of the website.