Presenter Biographies

Gary Bess, Ph.D.

Gary holds a doctorate in social work from the University of Southern California (USC). He has taught in graduate schools of social work at the University of California, Los Angeles, USC, and California State University (CSU) in Long Beach and Chico. Gary provides technical assistance for SAMHSA-funded Circles of Care planning grants for Native American tribes and agencies. From this experience, he co-authored two articles for the Journal of the National Center for American Indian, Alaska Native Mental Health Research on the life cycle of the evaluation process and on process evaluation among Native American communities.

Schon Duncan, BS (Cherokee Language Teacher)

Born and raised in Stilwell, OK, ᎤᎶᎩᎳ Schon Duncan is a product of early language work provided by elders/teachers in his Head Start and kindergarten classes. Growing up, Schon was fascinated with Cherokee and always longed to learn more. He is a proud member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and Cherokee language advocate.

After completing his undergraduate degree from Northeastern State University, he became a youth worker in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Schon returned closer to home when he was accepted into the Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program. Thanks to the patience of fluent first-language speakers, Schon completed the program in 2019 and accepted the first apprentice intern position at the Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program. Schon spent the following months assisting the program’s Master Speakers and developing program curriculum.

Recently, Schon began his teaching career as a Cherokee Language Teacher and Resource Officer at Dahlonegah Public Schools in rural Adair County. Dahlonegah is situated in one of the few remaining Cherokee community strongholds of first-language speakers. Schon continues to grow his language skills and advocate for community language efforts.

Maria Griffin, MA (Spokane Tribe of Indians)

Maria Griffin (Spokane Tribe) is the Center Director for the NLCC T/TA Center. She provides leadership for the Training and Technical Assistance (T/TA) Director and the Project Coordinator and ensures that all staff, subcontractors, and consultants work together to provide quality training and technical assistance for the recipients.

As the Senior Project Director at Sister Sky Inc., Maria provides oversight to most of the federal contracts that Sister Sky Inc. holds. In addition to managing federal contracts and in-house professional writer/editor, Maria serves as back-up to the T/TA Director and provides T/TA in community engagement, grant and proposal writing, grant and program/project management, finance management, cultural competency, social and economic development, employee development, project/program planning and development, organizational alignment, and wellness education.

Maria holds a Master of Arts in English, emphasis in Rhetoric, Composition, and Technical Communication from Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry both with the emphasis of Biotechnology from Eastern Washington University.

Wyman Kirk, MA (Cherokee Language Immersion Charter School Administrator)

Wyman Kirk was raised in Marble City but resides in Cherokee County with his wife and two sons. As a child, he grew up in a Cherokee language-speaking home, which influenced his passion for teaching and preserving the language. Wyman’s mother, who worked at the Cherokee Immersion School as a translator and teacher’s aide, passed away in February, and she has been the one who still inspires Wyman and his brother.

Kirk graduated from Northeastern State University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English. He also received a master’s degree in cultural anthropology from Indiana University in Bloomington. Wyman has more than 25 years of experience in Cherokee history and language curriculum development as a coordinator for strategic intelligence, assistant professor, lecturer, cultural specialist and independent contractor. He has also worked as an instructor for Cherokee language courses in the Department of Cherokee and Indigenous Studies at NSU. 

Wyman has served on the NLCC Community Language Board, whose mission is to oversee the strategic vision of the Cherokee Nation’s language programs. Most recently, Wyman has become the ᏣᎳᎩ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ Cherokee Language Immersion Charter School Administrator. As Administrator, Wyman hopes to help make the school a place where we build our children into Cherokee people with our language at the core. Some of this work will be visual (how things look) while some will be behavioral (how we do things) and some will be philosophical (why we do what we do), but what matters is the fact that we do it and that we do it together.

Jim Myers, MSW

Jim has been with Gary Bess Associates since 2001 and is the Director of Evaluation and Research at Gary Bess Associates where he oversees evaluations and applied research projects. He has taught courses in research methods and program evaluation in the School of Social Work at California State University, Chico. For the last 10 years, Jim has been conducting evaluations with programs working towards integrated health care. He also has been/and is concurrently the local evaluator SAMHSA-funded Circles of Care planning grants for Native American tribes and agencies and is currently evaluating other Native American programs. Jim’s expertise is in quantitative and qualitative assessment. As a macro practice social worker, he is experienced in survey question development, data coordination, data organization and analysis, and development of final reports.

Cree Whelshula (Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians)

Cree Whelshula (Coeur d’Alene Tribe/Colville) is the Training and Technical Assistance (T/TA) Director for the Native Language Community Coordination (NLCC) Center. She serves as in-house expert on native language revitalization efforts, second language acquisition, and best teaching practices. Cree utilizes her diverse experience in mentor- apprentice, immersion, early childhood development, and administrative partnerships to support the needs of the NLCC cohort in various capacities.

Cree earned an Associate of Arts Degree from Salish Kootenai College, and then moved on to earn her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies- Anthropology, Linguistics, and Economics from Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA.

As Sister Sky Inc.’s in-house expert on Native Language, Cree builds relationships with grantees, community members, and others interested in Native languages. She focuses her work in language revitalization and works to identify best practices for language knowledge transfer that effects change in fluency levels in different communities. She provides T/TA through several modes such as email, phone, or in-person technical assistance and virtual or on-site training. If she doesn’t know the topic, she will find the answer and refer.

In addition to her work at Sister Sky Inc., Cree voluntarily provides language lessons on everything through grammar, conjugation, orthography, etc. through her Facebook groups to the Native language community at large.