Decision Day event recognizes EBCI high school seniors 

by May 14, 2021NEWS ka-no-he-da



One Feather Staff 


The 1st Annual Decision Day event, honoring Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) high school seniors, was held at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds on the evening of Thursday, May 13.  The event recognized the post-high school choices of the seniors and was sponsored by the WCU Cherokee Center and the EBCI Higher Education and Training Program.

“This is the official first annual EBCI Decision Day celebration with, hopefully, many more to come,” Sky Sampson, WCU Cherokee Center director, said to open Thursday’s event.  “We are so excited to recognize the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians high school seniors that have made the special decision to further their education – whether it’s at a college, university, technical college, trade school, or military pathway. We are honoring these students today from Cherokee High School, Smoky Mountain High School, and Swain High School.” 

Rosa Reyes, left, a senior at Cherokee High School, is recognized during the 1st Annual Decision Day event at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds on the evening of Thursday, May 13. Reyes, shown with Miss Cherokee Amy West, will attend Southwestern Community College this fall. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photo)

She added, “Our hope with this event is to share the special career plans and choices of our graduating EBCI seniors with the community as they are about to enter the professional world. We would like to thank each of you who are joining us today, both in-person and online.”

Renissa McLaughlin, EBCI Higher Education and Training Program director, spoke about her own academic journey leading to one master’s degree with another almost completed.  She also spoke of the historical impact that the current academic situation means for EBCI tribal members. 

“So, what did boarding schools do? They took away our choice. So much of our history as Cherokee people has been built on other people making decisions for us, forcing choices on us. And, these students lined up today are joining over 500 enrolled members that are attending universities all across the United States.” 

McLaughlin went on to say, “Can you imagine what our ancestors, even our great grandparents, would have said if they knew that we had the means to send all of our beautiful, Indian children to school? So, them making this choice today is reparation for all the decisions that were taken away from Cherokee people.” 

She then spoke of the importance of the student’s current decisions.  “So, I congratulate all of these students and all of the parents and family members that are here with them today. Nine percent. This nine percent is the number of Native American students across the country that are going to school. An even smaller percentage is the EBCI students that are going to school and walking across the stage without owing any money. That’s a blessing. That is truly reparation for the needs that have been put upon us and the choices that have been taken away from us.  I’m so happy that you all are here with us. And, I’m so proud of all our enrolled members that have made this choice.”

The following students were recognized during Thursday’s event: 

  • AJ Allison, Southwestern Community College
  • Jonathan Frady, Gardner-Webb University
  • Dakota Siweumptewa, Universal Technical Institute
  • Destiny Mills, Southwestern Community College
  • Rosa Reyes, Southwestern Community College
  • Maria Reyes, East Tennessee State University
  • Christina Saunooke, Western Carolina University
  • David Bushyhead, Full Sail University
  • Dreyton Long, University of Oregon
  • Maya Cruz, Stanford University
  • Zoey Walkingstick, Lees-McRae College
  • Kalista Luther, Southwestern Community College
  • Hunter Swayney, Universal Technical Institute
  • James Davis, Western Carolina University
  • Aiyana Lambert, University of North Carolina – Asheville
  • Hayley Keever, Gardner-Webb University
  • Dustin Pheasant, Project Search at Southwestern Community College
  • Andy Watty, Project Search at Southwestern Community College
  • Taya Littlejohn, Western Carolina University
  • Devi George, Southwestern Community College
  • Willa Bible, Southwestern Community College
  • Tishara Sneed, Lenoir-Rhyne University
  • Damian Rattler, University of North Carolina – Charlotte

The following students were unable to attend the event.  When known, their post-high school choice is noted: 

  • Eeyannah Catolster
  • Tariq Underwood
  • Deante Toineeta, University of Virginia – Wise
  • Emma Wolfe
  • Rosa Pirnero
  • Braden Taylor, Belmont Abbey College
  • Caden Pheasant, University of North Carolina – Asheville
  • Naomi Smith, University of North Carolina – Charlotte
  • Scotty Branning, Western Carolina University
  • Usti Younce, United States Air Force
  • Jeb Shuler, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
  • Darius Bigwitch
  • Dawsin Bradley
  • John Crowe
  • Jacob Hill
  • Marcela Garcia
  • Samantha Cole
  • Shashoni Panther