Outdoor cultural and traditional games, health information, back-to-school supplies, physicals and haircuts were all part of the Keetoowah Strong event Saturday at the United Keetoowah Band grounds.
“This is the second year we have hosted the Keetoowah Strong event, and we are happy to see it keep growing," said Brittney Bennett, United Keetoowah Band media director.
The event was made possible with funds through the Housing Department and the Henry Lee Doublehead Child Development Center.
Keetoowah Strong is a day meant for family fun and to further strengthen the tribe's community bonds with both tribal members and the public, said Bennett.
Bouncy houses kept kids hopping, while other outdoor activities and competitions were held around the grounds. Cherokee cultural demonstrations included chunkey, a sport older than stickball, as well as stickball.
Nurses talked to visitors about a variety of health issues and prevention, from diabetes to heart disease.
Free hot dogs, shaved ice and popcorn were available from friendly volunteers. Activities for everyone included a kid’s fishing derby, a volleyball tournament and track and field activities.
"We also offer various services to our tribal children and non-tribal children of the community, including free haircuts and school physicals," said Bennett. "For our exclusive Keetoowah children, we are also using the event as an opportunity to distribute back-to-school gift cards and backpacks."
The cards are sponsored by the Henry Lee Doublehead Child Development Center and the tribe.
"Our tribe is a tightknit community, and this event gives us a chance to have fun, visit with one another, and take care of our people. We enjoy opening our grounds up for these activities and hope this event continues long into the future,” Bennett said.
“Keetoowah Strong” means being proud to be a Keetoowah.
"We left the Trail of Tears, and we’re still strong and still here. We want our families to get stronger and our traditions to get stronger. That’s basically why I named it 'Keetoowah Strong' and why I wanted to have this event. It’s a good cultural day and a good family day all in one,” said Richard Vann, housing inspector for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and organizer of the Keetoowah Strong event.
The event started in the Housing Department, and all the other departments got involved. Each department set up at the event to share with the community what they do and the programs they have.
"It’s also a good prelude to our 68th annual Keetoowah Celebration on Oct. 5," said Vann.
Child Care Director Christie Kirk said Keetoowah Strong is about promoting fitness and community.
"We have back-to-school supply cards, physicals for ages 13 and up, SoonerCare signup, free haircuts for tribal members until noon, good and refreshments and fellowship and things for people to do while they're waiting," said Kirk, who was especially excited about a recent award. "We just won the best of Cherokee County."
Winning the competition was so important to the group, and it's planning a community party in August to celebrate.
"We're all really, really excited and want to invite the community to celebrate with us," said Kirk. "We're pretty happy."
Bringing so many services together is also for the convenience of tribal members, said Kirk.
Alicia Bird brought her children to get supplies and some of the services, like a hair cut.
"I always come out here. It helps them get more prepared for school," said Bird. "They enjoy doing everything out here and enjoy all the outdoor activities."
Teacher Jamie Beaver appreciates that the event increases awareness and helps kids feel better about going back to school with hair cuts, some supplies and clothes.
"It boosts their self-esteem," said Beaver. "We've had about 100 come through this morning in the first hour."
Assistant teacher Kaleigh Christie said it encourages them to want to go back to school.
"The haircut is free, they get money vouchers for $125 for clothes, and we've gone through back packs this morning like crazy," said Christie. "Keetoowah Strong is our tribe coming together to do all this, a fishing derby, volleyball, horse shoes all kinds of games."
Christie Mooney, administrative assistant, was registering students as a parent provided information about being enrolled in school.
"I'm glad we're able to offer these services so kids can get what they need to go back to school," said Mooney.
Keetoowah Strong promotes a healthy lifestyle, according to Mooney.
"A sense of physical activity leads to a healthy body which is what we all should strive for, especially with all the genetic conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease," she said.
Any members who couldn't attend Saturday or didn't have all the documents needed have until the end of August to get supplies.