JoKay Dowell is an enrolled member of the Quapaw and Cherokee Nations and is of Eastern Shawnee descent. As the IEN Communications Special Projects Coordinator since Nov. 2022, she is on the IEN Newsletter production team, works with IEN organizers to write general topics across the many IEN program teams, and organizes regional workshops and events on issues of concern to Indigenous Oklahoma communities.
She believes that humanity’s most serious problems, like the Climate Crisis, dwindling freshwater sources, industrial colonialism, and ongoing pillaging of Mother Earth, will be resolved only by working across all boundaries and doing it now. In 2017, the Greater Tulsa (Oklahoma) Indian Affairs Commission awarded her the Will Anquoe Humanitarian Award for “humanitarianism and contributions to the Native community, recognizing those who bridge communication and understanding among diverse groups.”
After many years assisting with IEN’s Protecting Mother Earth Conferences in the 1990s, JoKay withdrew from most of her activism to help raise three grandchildren: Bibiana, Kyah, and Wyatt. During that time, she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Northeastern Oklahoma State University. She served as Faculty-In-Residence for the University of Oklahoma National Education for Women’s Leadership Conference. With her daughter and granddaughter, she hauled donated supplies to the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, where they defended tribal lands and waters from the Dakota Access Pipeline. With her family, Eastern Band Cherokee relatives, and 500 protesters, in 2017 at Ft. Sill, OK, where Geronimo and many Apache were imprisoned, she helped to stop the confinement of mostly Indigenous youth, detained and separated from their families at the U.S./Mexican border. In 2021, as Biden declared the first “official” Indigenous Peoples Day, she was arrested in front of the White House with Indigenous peoples and People vs Fossil Fuels protesters demanding the administration declare a Climate Emergency.
As the COVID-19 pandemic began surging across Indigenous communities in 2020, JoKay returned to IEN as a contractor coordinating the Protecting the Peoples Emergency (PPE) Fund. With input from member organizations and community advisers, the former Licensed Practical Nurse distributed nearly 350,000 protective face masks and other PPE to at-risk Indigenous communities in Alaska, Canada, throughout the U.S., along the Southern border, Ecuador, and Brazil. She sits on the board of directors of the DC-based EARTHWORKS environmental advocacy group.
For four decades, JoKay has worked as a community organizer, activist, writer, and photographer. She lives with her family on the Cherokee Reservation near Tahlequah, OK, and the Illinois River, where they spend lots of time swimming and camping. Her favorite activities are sewing traditional Indigenous clothing for her grandchildren, cooking, and growing a variety of vegetables. She especially enjoys the annual Quapaw Powwow in its 152nd year and the General Council of the Quapaw people.