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Telling Story of All Americans

Jul 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

It was April 19, 1995, and KOCO-TV reporter Cherokee Ballard thought she would get a manicure before heading to work at the ABC affiliate in Oklahoma City. She saw black smoke rising from the downtown area, and her phone began ringing. Without even looking to see who it was, she answered, “I’ll be right there.”
As the shocking news broke of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people, Ms. Ballard got on the air and stayed on for the next 22 hours, the beginning of a week of nonstop, commercial-free coverage for most of the stations in Oklahoma City.
Six years later, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed by lethal injection at a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., and Ms. Ballard was there to cover the story. She has been witness to eight executions, the most recent just last month. The inmate had specifically requested she interview him four days before his death sentence was carried out for the murder of a young student in a bombing.
With more than 25 years of broadcast journalism experience and a shelf full of awards, Ms. Ballard, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is a fixture in Oklahoma City TV and one of the few Native American anchor/ reporters in the U.S.—a number she estimates at fewer than a dozen.
“Native Americans are storytellers, and I’ve always liked to write and dig for the truth and tell people stories,” said Ms. Ballard, a former board member and mentor with the Native American Journalists Association. “Journalism sent me in that direction.”
She graduated from the University of Oklahoma in Norman as a radio, television and film major in the journalism department, and got an internship in the consumer unit of KFOR-TV, the NBC affiliate, where she later got a paying job, starting at the minimum rate of $3.35 an hour. After several years as an associate producer of “In Your Corner,” she began a brief reporting stint at a station in the small town of Ada, Okla., while also reporting on weekends at ABC affiliate KOCO-TV, Channel 5, where she was based for the next 16 years.
Nine years ago, Ms. Ballard was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While undergoing successful treatment, she did a weekly series of reports on cancer, which aired every Wednesday night for nine months. “I took viewers through what people go through, from surgeries to chemo, and what it felt like on my 34th birthday to have my hair falling out, and to be shaved,” she said. “For a Native American woman, to be bald is traumatic. Hair is so much part of your identity. You feel so vulnerable, so naked.”
She is active in charity fundraising, and in March was named woman of the year by the Oklahoma Leukemia & Lymphoma Society after raising nearly $25,000 for the group. This month Ms. Ballard, a dancer since age 3 who was on ballroom dance teams in junior high and high school, took part in a celebrity dance contest to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network to benefit hospitalized kids in Oklahoma.
In 2005 she returned to KFOR. Since its inception last year she has co-anchored the 9 p.m. newscast with Ernie Paulson at its sister station, KAUT-TV, Channel 43, in addition to reporting for the early newscasts and the 10 p.m. broadcast on KFOR, NewsChannel 4.
“Cherokee is a tremendous example of the true Oklahoma spirit—courageous, hard-working and honest,” said Mary Ann Eckstein, senior VP and news director of KFOR-TV.
“I always thought I would end up there,” Ms. Ballard said of KFOR. “This is my TV home. This is where I’m supposed to be. It’s been a great experience.”
“There’s a Dakota saying, ‘We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.’ Cherokee’s tracks are very strong and deep, and what a variety,” Ms. Eckstein said. “Not only is she a reputable anchor and reporter, she’s a great newsroom resource and leader. Cherokee is deeply committed to quality journalism and does her best to mentor our student interns and new employees.”
Ms. Ballard was honored by the Associated Press, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters for her stories on 2½-year-old Kelsey Briggs, who was beaten to death. The girl’s mother and stepfather were imprisoned on child-abuse charges, and the case motivated the passage of “Kelsey’s Law,” which changed the way judges are held accountable in child-abuse cases and gave the state the ability to hire more caseworkers.
Ms. Ballard is writing a book about the case.
And she’ll soon be bidding adieu to her TV colleagues and audience, but they will still see her on the air in her new job, as public information officer and legislative liaison for the Oklahoma state medical examiner’s office.
“As a journalist, I’ll be able to get the full story, and can help bridge a gap between a press release and coverage, bring a better understanding, and be a voice for the dead. I can provide insight into different crimes that the media are interested in.”
So while the Oklahoma City market will lose a highly regarded broadcast journalist in the anchor chair, the state will gain someone with a wealth of experience who is excited to begin a new chapter in her career.

84 Comments

  1. I would love to see you do an updated story on Synthea Chaddlesone. She goes to trial in early September.
    There is a benefit powwow for her legal defense also. This information is posted on the HelP Synthea myspace.
    http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=152211714
    thank you for your service to native people and others with challenges!
    wado,
    Kim Tiger

  2. I am trying to find Cherokee to speak to her about a situation involving the OKC probation office and a convicted felon that is on probation for a gun charge and is currently going to court in Logan Co. for drug charges and has left the state. The probation office has said they don’t care what this person is doing. I think the taxpayers of Oklahoma need to know what is happening. If there is any way that Cherokee can get this info and email me back, I think this would prove to be very interesting. Thank you.

  3. I remember, so well, Cherokee’s cancer diagnosis and treatment; because I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time. I had 7 biopsies; two surgeries before my persistent physician realized that it was cancer–because all tests came back negative. I had 6 mos. of chemo and 28 radiation treatments and the care from Integris doctors was excellent.
    Aside from congratulating Cherokee about his overcoming this illness, as I have, I want advice or suggestions from her as how to accomplish something.
    We adopted our daughter, who is now 43, out of Baptist Hospital and just ten years ago, via the internet, she and her birth mother found each other. Since then, we have all met several times and she gave us the name of the birth father.
    We learned that he is native american heritage and since the massive roll sign-ups, all of his family have been on the Kaw Rolls. My daughter found that she is also of Kaw heritage and feels it is her birth right to be put on the rolls. The Kaw Hdq. say all that is needed is that the natural father has to sign the form acknowledging paternity.
    He says he does not need a DNA to prove it because he knows he is. However, it has been 7 years since he was first approached and given the paper and he has not signed–even with constant reminders. The natural mother did not put his name on the birth certificate because she was only 18 and very embarrassed about her situation.
    Our daughter has always studied and loves Indians and the Indian Culture and was so happy to learn that she was also Indian by blood. When in college she wrote a paper about her search for her great, great, great grandfather (W. E. Hardy) who became famous for his part in the Indian struggle in Oklahoma. The professor, said that for the first time in 41 years, he had given a perfect score on the paper, but hers deserved it.
    I am certain you are a registered Native American and have a great deal of insight and knowledge about these things.
    Can you advise us what we might try to do next.
    Also, my best friend has just been diagnosed, from a bone marrow biopsy, to have some type of cancer. I am going to tell her about you and your fight and survival.
    Any suggestions you can provide will be very much appreciated.
    Sincerely,
    Ann Miruski, adoptive mother of
    Michele Ann Miruski

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