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 Cherokee Nation Director of Self-Governance Karen Ketcher with former Self-Governance General Counsel Bryan Shades and Tribal Councilor Keith Austin in Feb. 2018.

STILWELL, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation is mourning the passing of Karen Ketcher, the tribe’s self-governance director, due to complications with COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). A tribal citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Ketcher passed away on Monday, April 6. She was 70.

“Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the passing of our dear friend Karen. This is a shock, both to the many loved ones Karen leaves behind, and to the Cherokee Nation as a whole. As Cherokees, we all feel the weight of her loss, which is tragic and too soon,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. said.

Ketcher’s death is the first reported death from COVID-19 among the tribe’s employees and within the Cherokee Nation Health Services.

“Our prayers are also with the 24 patients within our health system battling this virus, and the more than 1,300 people across Oklahoma who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Hoskin said.

Ketcher began her career with the Cherokee Nation in the Community and Cultural Outreach Department in 2012. Later she became the self-governance director. Prior to coming to the Cherokee Nation, Ketcher had an extensive career at the Eastern Oklahoma Region Bureau of Indian Affairs in Muskogee.

“It was a fortunate day when she retired from the BIA and agreed to come with her time and her talent and kindness and work ethic to the (CN) administration,” said former Principal Chief Bill John Baker, who led the tribe from 2011 to 2019. “She was gold as far I was concerned, and we became really close, like family. It is a sad day.”

The tribe’s health care professionals continue to urge citizens to practice social distancing – staying at least 6 feet away from other persons – in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Other precautions include staying home unless travel is absolutely necessary and washing hands often.

Before going to an urgent care or emergency room, unless essential, those who have symptoms of COVID-19 including cough, fever and respiratory problems such as shortness of breath should first contact their health care provider and ask for a nurse. The Cherokee Nation also has a COVID-19 Call Center at 833-528-0063 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday-Friday.

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