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New Cherokee Nation community center will provide Head Start, health programs, space for traditional tribal games

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Cherokee Nation / provided
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Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. speaks during the groundbreaking of the Woody Hair Community Center in Kenwood, Okla. on March 25, 2022.

Cherokee Nation and local community leaders broke ground on Friday for a new community center in the small northeastern Oklahoma town of Kenwood.

The 33,000-square-foot Cherokee Nation Woody Hair Community Center is estimated to cost $10 million and will provide services such as health and wellness programs, a Head Start program and elder nutrition programs. The center will also be home to indoor and outdoor basketball courts, new softball fields, a walking path and space for traditional Cherokee games like stickball and marbles.

Chuck Hoskin Jr., the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, said the nation has multiple reasons to support smaller communities.

“For Cherokee people and for the Cherokee Nation we don’t look at in terms of strictly those hard cold stats, we say Kenwood is a community where our language is still spoken,” Hoskin said. “Kenwood is a community where our lifeways are still handed down to those little kids going to Head Start by their grandmothers and grandfathers.”

Hoskin said the nation is also focusing on creating a similar center in Marble City, a small town about 29 miles southeast of Cherokee Nation’s headquarters in Tahlequah. The tribe also wants to replace city community spaces across the reservation and continue a $40 million effort to replace its Head Start programs.

For Hoskin, these projects help inject vitality into small towns like Kenwood, which is good for the state and the Cherokee Nation.

“I really think these investments are going to be part of a strategy to save our language, to save our lifeways and to keep these communities that Cherokee people founded long before there was a state of Oklahoma, to keep them alive,” Hoskin said. “That’s what really motivates me and our deputy chief every day.”

Named in honor of the late Woody Hair, a first-language Cherokee speaker who was part of the Kenwood community, the center is expected to be open in the summer of 2023.

Anna Pope was an intern at KOSU between May 2021 to May 2022.
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