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The women who built me: Lisa Turtle’s role model

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2022-23 UNITY 25 Under 25 Awardee
Written by: Chelbie Turtle, Cherokee


Parental genetics scientifically define parts of who we are, but it is not the only factor. From a young age, I have strongly resembled my mother, and I proudly smile each time someone reminds me of our similarities. However, each one of those smiles represents much more than physical similarities, but rather all of the loving encouragement she has abundantly given me, shaping me into the person I am and will continue to become.

From the very beginning, my mother has always made it a priority for me to know my culture and where I come from. She instilled in me the importance of walking in both of my worlds – my Cherokee heritage and the modern 21st century, every day. At the young age of three, my mother enrolled me in the Cherokee Nation Immersion School. As she signed my enrollment papers, not only did she begin my educational journey, but ultimately began the foundation of my entire life. Upon my kindergarten graduation, I could read, write, and speak the Cherokee language fluently. Shortly after, my family relocated miles away from the heart of the Cherokee Nation. However, my mother continued to prioritize our heritage, whether that be helping me with language lessons or traveling with me to participate in various Cherokee Nation leadership organizations. As I reflect upon her selfless actions, I realize that it is because of her that I have become the person I am today.

Beyond tangible actions, my mother is my role model simply because of the person she is and the values she holds. All my life, I have watched my mother embody strong values of character including love, dedication, grace, commitment, service, empowerment, and compassion, among many others. Furthermore, she is one of the most selfless individuals I know, always striving to assist and serve others. My mother is the epitome of a hardworking, strong, resilient Indigenous woman, continually sharing her knowledge with both myself and others. Watching and learning from my mother throughout my entire life, she has heavily contributed to my personal growth and development. Each day, I strive to resemble the characteristics and values that she so steadfastly remains true to. Simply put, I would not be the person that I am today nor the one I will continue becoming without the constant love, encouragement, guidance, and teachings of my mother.


Chelbie Turtle, Cherokee – Chelbie is a proud citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She is a junior at Northeastern State University pursuing a double major in political science and criminal justice. She is a member of the NSU Honors Program, the Northeastern Student Government Association where she serves as Student Body President, and the Oklahoma Federation of Indian Women, among other campus and community organizations. Chelbie recently completed her year of service as Miss Cherokee 2021-2022, is a former President of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council from 2017-2021, and is a 2022 recipient of UNITY’s 25 Under 25 award. She enjoys basket weaving, pottery, playing traditional Cherokee games, and volunteering within her community. Upon completing her undergraduate studies, Chelbie intends to further her education by pursuing a Juris Doctor and plans to continue serving Indian County throughout her career.

The UNITY 25 Under 25 is a national youth leadership recognition program. The awards program is designed to celebrate the achievements of Native American and Alaskan Native youth ages 14 to 24 who embody UNITY’s core mission and exude living a balanced life developing their spiritual, mental, physical, and social well-being. Honorees are recognized during the UNITY National Conference, with each receiving a hand-made beaded “25 Under 25” medallion. In addition to being recognized, each awardee will receive special training by UNITY over the period of one year that is designed to build on their individual achievements. The class is recognized as UNITY ambassadors, serving as stellar examples of Native youth leadership in Indian Country today.