TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner signed an executive order Tuesday providing all Cherokee Nation government employees with a total of two hours of paid mental wellness leave each month. Chief Hoskin also announced future plans to build walking trails at tribal facilities for employees and citizens to improve their physical and mental health.

The mental wellness leave can be used at employees’ discretion each month and is intended to provide employees with opportunities for personal growth outside of the workplace, including additional family time, health and wellness activities, therapy or counseling appointments, or other activities focused on improving morale and mental wellness.

“Cherokee Nation employees and citizens have faced unique barriers and hardships throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees in all Cherokee Nation departments have taken on additional tasks that have focused on the mitigation of the COVID-19 virus, providing additional services, health care and other life-sustaining resources to our elders and families that go far and above their typical work load,” Chief Hoskin said. “Often with limited staffing to ensure office safety, employees have delivered traditional services and also served more than 10 times the number of citizens with COVID-19 individual assistance over the last year. Our employees have been instrumental in helping citizens who experienced the loss of family members and friends, the loss of income, the loss of a residence and so much more. At the same time, many of these employees were experiencing similar personal circumstances. I believe providing our employees with time to care for their own mental wellness is vitally important to the health and wellness of the Cherokee Nation as a whole.”

The executive order was signed into effect Tuesday morning.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on mental health and wellness across the world, including right here at home among our Cherokee Nation employees,” said Deputy Chief Warner. “I want to commend all of them for the time and effort they put into public service to the Cherokee people, but at the same time, I want to encourage them to really take some time each month to just reflect on themselves and their families. Chief Hoskin and I believe the mental wellness of Cherokee Nation employees, along with an inclusive work environment that encourages employees to identify areas of personal growth and ends the stigma surrounding mental wellness, is of the upmost importance.”

Chief Hoskin also announced on Tuesday plans to construct walking trails and other outdoor spaces at a number of Cherokee Nation facilities throughout the tribe’s reservation, which will offer employees and citizens an opportunity to improve their mental and physical wellness.

To mark the tribe’s efforts to build new walking trails throughout the reservation, Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner re-dedicated the Konrad Holmes Memorial Trail in Tahlequah, named in honor of the courageous Sequoyah High School student who succumbed to a long battle with a rare form of cancer at the age of 19 in 2004. Holmes’ family joined Cherokee Nation leaders to celebrate the trail’s re-dedication during a small ceremony Tuesday.

“The more that I have learned about Konrad, the more I know we are on the right path with this trail and our plans to expand trail access wherever we possibly can,” Chief Hoskin said.

The Konrad Holmes Memorial Trail weaves its way around the Cherokee Nation W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex facilities and the nearby Sequoyah High School campus, and was initially dedicated in 2003 in honor of Holmes’ strength, courage and determination.

“Since its initial construction, portions of the existing trail route have unfortunately fallen into disrepair,” said Chief of Staff Todd Enlow. “As we renew our efforts to encourage Cherokee Nation employees and citizens to take time for mental wellness, we have the perfect opportunity to rebuild this trail in honor of Konrad. He reminded us that no matter what adversities we face, we should always strive to be positive, to love our families and to focus on what really matters rather than taking things for granted. Re-dedicating this trail in his honor will ensure his story is shared for generations to come, while also providing others a place to personally reflect on their lives and improve their overall health.”

Upgrades to the existing trail are expected to begin soon.

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