“I am Native American, I am not extinct, I am Muscogee.” – Cho Werito
Byline: Braden Harper/Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma – Education is an essential topic across every culture. This includes where you send children to school, who instructs them, and what they will learn. The students in Cholakocee Werito’s (Mvskoke) classroom receive a quality education while learning about Native American Cultures. In light of these efforts, Werito was recently named the 2022 Oklahoma Council for Indian Education Teacher of the Year.
Werito is a kindergarten teacher at Eugene Field Elementary in the Oklahoma City Public School System. She is a Muscogee (Creek) Citizen and has Navajo ancestry. She has taught in the OKCPS for twelve years and serves as the Native American Student Services Teacher Representative. Werito’s teaching method is unique in how it authentically represents different Native American Cultures.
Her grandfather inspired Werito to pursue a career in education. He saw it as a way to give back to his people. When Werito started her college education, she was not quite sure what career path to follow but knew she enjoyed working with children.
“I really like working with younger children,” Werito said. “Early childhood fit perfectly.”
Growing up in the Oklahoma City Public School System herself, Werito did not have a lot of Native influences outside of her family. She understands what it means for students to see a woman of color as a teacher and role model.
“I know the importance of having Native teachers in an urban school,” Werito said. “That has really led me to stay within the district.”
Werito has found creative ways to implement Native Culture into her curriculum. She believes that representation is essential not only for the Native students she instructs but the non-Native students as well.
“A lot of the literature and a lot of the curriculum doesn’t have a huge Native presence,” Werito said. “I think there’s an increase now, but before, there was not.”
A missing element of the standard curriculum Werito noted was how Native people were not correctly differentiated by tribe; instead, they were depicted as monolithic. As a Native herself, Werito makes sure each tribe she discusses is appropriately identified. This includes correctly identifying the tribal affiliation of her Native Students as well.
Some of the ways Werito teaches about Native Cultures is through pop-up books and maps. Specifically, she will point out the location and tribal affiliation of the authors of the books that are read in her class. The Muscogee (Creek) and Navajo nations are commonly featured in her lessons. One of the most important lessons she teaches is that Native People are still here; they are not merely relics of the past.
“I had a student a few years ago tell me that Native Americans were extinct, so we had to go on this long journey saying that’s not true,” Werito said. “I am Native American. I am not extinct; I am Muscogee.”
To create a more personal connection to modern-day Natives, Werito shares personal pictures of her and her family in traditional Muscogee clothing. Specifically, she believes her students must see other children their age in traditional attire.
Werito also teaches the Mvskoke language as part of the cultural lesson. Although Werito is not a fluent speaker, she still teaches Mvskoke words and phrases.
When she was selected as the 2022 Indian Educator of the Year, Werito said that although she does not typically seek out praise, it was nice to be recognized for her work in the classroom.
“Having that is seeing that people recognize the work that I put into it,” Werito said. “My biggest thing is helping children learn and helping them get more knowledge about Native Americans in the process.”
Werito continues to further her educational career by pursuing a Master of Arts in Social Foundations of Education at Oklahoma State University. Her research interests include Native American representation in early childhood literacy, professional development, and early childhood advocacy in education.