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Study of historical facts clarifies Freedmen citizenship issue

BY Phoenix Archives
03/21/2007 09:21 AM
The controversy over Freedmen citizenship in the Cherokee Nation has led to misunderstanding and misstatement of historical facts. These misrepresentations come from various sources: citizens who are simply unlearned in Cherokee history, politicians who tend to rewrite Cherokee history to serve their own purposes and out-and-out racists.
No matter who causes the misunderstanding or makes misstatements, all promote a distortion of the historical facts, which must be clarified if Cherokee citizens are to make informed decisions. It is time for them not only to face the facts, but honestly to re-evaluate their positions in light of them. Because so much attention focuses on the work of the Dawes Commission and the Dawes rolls, they should consider the background for making Cherokee rolls and what the Dawes Commission did.
The argument that the Freedmen never had full citizenship rights in the CN prior to the Dawes period is spurious. In 1866, for the first time, the Freedmen gained the first citizenship they had ever held. It was the only citizenship they would have until 1901, when the United States made all of the citizens of the CN citizens of the United States as well. The Freedmen's rights in the Cherokee Nation were guaranteed by the Treaty of 1866, which the CN signed and carried out. It did so admirably, considering the racial climate in the adjoining states at the time.
Following the Treaty in 1866, the Cherokee National Council amended the constitution to guarantee the freedmen full rights as citizens. The Nation's own citizenship court and Supreme Court subsequently admitted large numbers of additional Freedmen applicants to citizenship. These were primarily Freedmen who had not returned to the CN within the six-month limit set by the treaty. A good example was the Supreme Court's action on June 21, 1871, which "admitted to Cherokee Rights and Citizenship" 34 Cherokee Freedman households. Without doubt, the court realized the implications of its action: not only those admitted but their hundreds of descendants would be future citizens of the Nation. This was only one of a number of such decisions.
In taking its censuses, the CN listed citizens according to the basis for their rights to citizenship: by blood or by adoption. In the latter category, they listed four groups: Shawnees, Delawares, Freedmen, and intermarried whites. No matter what category a person was in, he or she was still a citizen of the CN.
If the CN did not want the Freedmen as citizens or did not recognize them, why did it, year after year for decades, guarantee their rights by law; willfully admit more of them to citizenship and consistently list them as citizens of the Nation while at the same time keeping separate lists of intruders or people who had doubtful status as citizens? The Cherokee Nation was, in fact, a multi-racial, multi-cultural constitutional nation, whose citizenship was based not on blood or culture but on either birth or adoption.
The freedmen also participated in the economic, social and political life of the CN. Like other citizens, they had access to land under the improvement laws that guaranteed Cherokee citizens the right to occupy as much of the public domain as they could improve so long as their improvements were at least one-quarter of a mile from the next citizen's. Like other citizens, they had elementary schools and a high school, built and supported by the CN. Like other citizens, they were subject to the courts of the CN. In contrast, those black, white and Indian residents in the Nation who were not citizens had none of these rights and privileges and were subject to the United States court at Fort Smith.
When a Senate investigating committee visited the CN in 1878, the senators interviewed Freedman Jesse Ross among others. In response to their questions, Ross testified that the Freedmen had the same rights as other Cherokee citizens: access to as much land as they needed, schools, right to sit on juries and the right to vote. Ross's testimony makes clear that Freedmen participated in the political process.
In 2003, the press quoted the late Julian Fite as saying that the Freedmen had never voted in the CN. Whether Fite made the statement or not, the contrary was true. Like other Cherokee citizens, they voted and ran for political office. Cherokee historian Emmett Starr lists six who were elected and served in the National Council: Joseph Brown, Stick Ross, Ned Irons, Frank Vann, Samuel Stidham and Jerry Alberty. There were probably more. The historical record shows that numerous others from various districts were nominated and ran for office under the banner of one of the two major political parties. A cursory reading of the Cherokee Advocate and other papers from the Nation in the late 19th century shows that Freedmen voters were main players in every election. Cherokee political cartoonist Roger Eubanks even made political hay out of those politicians who courted the Freedman vote. If the Freedmen could not vote, how could they run for political office and be elected?
Contrary to what some people say, in the Dawes period the citizenship of the Freedmen in the CN was not questioned. The argument that the Dawes Commission somehow "palmed" the Freedmen off on the Cherokee Nation is a distortion of the historical record. So is the idea that blood quantum on the Cherokees by-blood roll had some special meaning in determining exclusive citizenship in the Nation.
The CN's agreement with the Dawes Commission was ratified by the Cherokee electorate - including the freedmen - on Aug. 7, 1902. Regarding the making of rolls it stated, "The roll of citizens of the Cherokee Nation shall be made as of September first, nineteen hundred and two, and the names of all persons then living and entitled to enrollment on that date shall be placed on said roll by the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes." It did not say "citizens by blood" or "citizens and Freedmen" or "citizens and others."
The roll that the Dawes Commission made was a roll of Cherokee citizens according to the means by which they acquired citizenship: by blood or by adoption.
The Dawes Commission had actually begun enrolling Cherokee citizens in 1896, at which time and thereafter the CN insisted that the Commission use the CN's own authenticated roll of 1880 as the base roll for enrollment. The 1880 authenticated roll listed five categories of citizens according to the means by which they acquired citizenship: Cherokees by blood, adopted Shawnees, adopted Delawares, adopted Colored and adopted Whites. The Dawes Commission simply followed the CN's directions in making what became the final roll of citizens. Thus as of Sept. 1, 1902, the Freedmen were citizens of the CN, according to the CN and the Dawes Commission. In the last elections held in the Nation before 1906, the Cherokee Freedmen, like other citizens of the Nation, voted for the offices of chief and national council, just as they had done in decades past. The form the Dawes roll took made no change in their status.
Much is made of the blood quantum - or lack of it - listed on the Dawes rolls. Blood quantum was a method devised by Indian policy makers, such as the Dawes Commission, to lay the groundwork for separating the citizens of Indian nations from their assets. It was rooted in the virulent racism of the late 19th century, which said that the whiter one was, the more civilized he was. By the time of Cherokee enrollment, the theory was commonly accepted. It laid the basis for restrictions on the sale, or alienation, of homestead allotments. The idea was that those who were more than half Cherokee were incompetent to manage their own affairs and would therefore become wards of the Department of the Interior.
In recent years, full blood has held a premium value. Cherokee family stories commonly tell how an ancestor on the Dawes roll is listed as half blood when he or she was really full. Most of those stories are probably true. Knowing that they would likely be labeled incompetent, many Cherokees probably chose voluntarily to lower their blood quantum.
Subsequent historical events suggest that the Dawes Commission could also have had a motive to do so. Congress's primary purpose in creating the Commission was to guarantee the transfer of land from the common Cherokee National title to individual ownership. That was a preliminary step to the ultimate goal: to transfer the land from Cherokee hands to the hands of "real" American settlers, as whites were generally called by the politicians of the day.
The blood quantum designation had no useful purpose in determining who was a Cherokee citizen or who received an allotment. It was simply a device to determine which Cherokee citizens would become the first marks for American land buyers and which citizens would become wards of the Interior Department, which would manage whatever resources might be on or below the surface of their allotments. By the time the Cherokee Nation-Dawes agreement was drawn up, there was a public clamor for removal of restrictions on the sale of allotments in Indian Territory. In 1904, only two years after the agreement, restrictions were removed from the allotments of Freedmen and intermarried whites. The next land to go in the CN was allotments of Cherokees listed as half blood or less, from whose allotments the restrictions were soon removed.
Removal of restrictions did not affect the citizenship of the allottee. When the Five Tribes Act was passed in 1906, it applied as much to the Cherokee Freedmen as it did to the adopted Shawnees, adopted Delawares, intermarried Whites and Cherokees by blood. If the "full force and effect" clause of the act has validity for Cherokee descendants today, it has validity for descendants of the four other classes of Cherokee citizens in 1906. If the CN rejects the descendants of the Cherokee Freedmen without simultaneously rejecting the descendants of the adopted Shawnees, adopted Delawares, and intermarried whites, it will be guilty of attempting to legalize racism, for all were equal participants in the CN according to the Dawes rolls of citizens.
It is only through a knowledge and understanding of Cherokee history that a resolution of the impasse now facing the CN can be bridged. Nothing is to be gained from a repudiation of that history without giving it a hearing. Could all of the Cherokee leaders who averred the Freedmen's right to citizenship from 1866 to 1906 have been wrong? Both sides must become as informed as possible and must raise public awareness and understanding of the subject. Sadly, court decisions are rarely about morality or right or justice. They are about what words mean. As the Freedmen mark the 140th year of their citizenship in the CN, it behooves everyone to seriously consider the words of the historical records.


Dan Littlefield is the director of the Sequoyah Research Center, which houses the American Native Press Archives, at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He has written "The Cherokee Freedmen" (1978), "Africans and Seminoles" (1977), "Africans and Creeks" (1979) and "The Chickasaw Freedmen" (1980). He will complete a book on the Dawes Commission during the next two years.
Dr. Littlefield has been called on to discuss the subject of the Freedmen of the
Five Tribes on numerous occasions and was called as an expert witness in the recent Creek-Freedman case in Muscogee (Creek) District Court in August.

Opinion

BY KEITH AUSTIN
Tribal Councilor
04/03/2018 12:30 PM
In today’s world, the term “information super highway” refers to the internet. While this term is modern, the idea behind it is as old as civilization. The idea is to create the shortest and most efficient route to move information. For as long as a thousand years, Indigenous people have used a route of travel not far from here because it was the most efficient route to deliver information and supplies. This route has been referred to at various times as the Osage Trail, the Seminole Trail, the Texas Road and the Military Highway. A decade before the Trail of Tears, the Cherokee Nation’s first Supreme Court Justice, John Martin, brought his family from their home in New Echota, Georgia, to Indian Territory. His son, Joe, was only 8 years old in 1828 when they settled on the Grand River. He took to his new home quickly. In 1840 when he was just 20, he had already established a ranch that would become known as Greenbrier near the community of Strang. To call Greenbrier a ranch is a bit of an understatement. By the time the Civil War started in 1861, the Martin family ranch and the river beside it both could be referred to as Grand. It consisted of around 100,000 acres of leased Cherokee land, about the size of what is now Mayes County. On this land was a good portion of the route then referred to as the Texas Road or the Military Highway. Before the war, the route saw many cattle drives from Texas to Kansas. As the war progressed, it was described as “a critical route for information and supplies” for troops of both the North and the South. It was the shortest route from Fort Scott, Kansas, to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, and Fort Worth, Texas. Two battles during the war were fought on the route. The North was the victor of the first battle. A year later the South had a much bigger victory by capturing hundreds of mules and wagons. This victory also interrupted supplies bound for Fort Gibson valued at over $1.5 million. After the War Between the States ended, Greenbrier never regained its former glory. Today there is little more than a few historical markers to prove it once was there. Within a few years of the end of the war, the KATY Railroad followed the route from Kansas to Texas. In the early years of statehood the route developed into what is now known as U.S. Highway 69 and remained a critical route for information and supplies. In recent years, technology giant Google established a data center complex in Mayes County. This data center could be described as a key component of the “information super highway.” It is fitting that the data center sits a short distance from the Grand River, within sight of Highway 69 and the railroad once known as the KATY. Now, as then, this route can accurately be described as “a critical route for information and supplies.”
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
04/01/2018 02:00 PM
As the chief of the Cherokee Nation and the son of public schoolteachers, it has troubled me to see the inaction at the state level as teachers across our great state struggle. The time for action is now, and the CN is taking the lead by granting our certified teachers the pay raise they deserve. Recently, I proposed – and the Tribal Council approved – a lump sum payment of $5,000 to all certified teachers, effective immediately. Additionally, certified teacher pay will increase by $5,000, effective the beginning of teacher contracts in fiscal year 2018-19. Over the past decade, the state of Oklahoma has made drastic budget cuts to public education. At the same time, teachers continue to meet additional demands beyond simply fulfilling the daily lesson plans. From monitoring student safety to test preparation to finding ways to help students in need of food or school supplies, Oklahoma teachers go above and beyond the call of duty each day and with fewer resources each year. We have the best colleges in Oklahoma (several in our jurisdiction such as Northeastern State University and Rogers State University), which train our brightest minds for the educational workforce. Yet, sadly, when they graduate, they often leave to teach in other states or are forced to leave the children they love teaching for higher-paying jobs. The state absolutely must address teacher pay this legislative session because we are in a crisis. However, the CN will not wait any longer. This pay raise is in keeping with the CN’s longstanding commitment and support of public education. We started the first institution of higher learning for females west of the Mississippi River. We established a system of free public education well before Oklahoma statehood. We continue to achieve excellence today at Sequoyah High School, the Cherokee Immersion Charter School and through our support of public schools and students across northeastern Oklahoma. In addition, we recently issued $5.4 million to 108 schools through our car tag compact. The amount given annually has doubled since 2010, and since 2003, the CN has contributed more than $50 million to public education through the compact. The CN is unwavering in its commitment to public schools, students and teachers. Our pay raise reaffirms that commitment and, I hope, sends a message to state leaders that they should follow the CN’s lead and raise pay for all certified teachers in the state. The CN understands the role of teachers. It is a profession that we know is of extreme value and importance. Teachers impact so many lives and should be rewarded as such.
BY KAREN COODY COOPER
Cherokee Nation citizen
03/03/2018 12:00 PM
In the Cherokee language we have called ourselves aniyunwiya, the Real People. According to one author, “…the Cherokees, in common with the Caucasian race, had a high regard for their tribe, and were not too modest to proclaim themselves the ‘principal people’” (Walker 1931:2). Since our beliefs have served us well and our ancestors’ tenacity has done the same, our strong ego is an earned quality. The Cherokee language is in the Iroquoian language family. Various Iroquoian speaking tribes now live in the eastern Great Lakes region of the U.S. and Canada. Although there are shared tenets among most American Indians, Native nations experienced different histories, spoke different languages, were comprised of a variety of compelling individuals and lived in particular environments all of which serve to provide particular qualities and practices making each nation profoundly unique. According to early Cherokee oral history our arrival in our homeland involved travelling over a sea, or through a flood (Meredith and Sobral 1997: 33). The displaced Cherokee population ultimately settled in the forested terrain of what is now the southeastern United States. Surrounded by tribes speaking other languages, we were compelled to display superior strength in order to thrive. Our successes at adapting to change proved useful throughout time. James Mooney, an early anthropologist, cited a remark provided by a Cherokee man in late 19th century, “…the animals and plants were first made . . . we do not know by whom (Mooney 1898: 240).” The lack of commitment to a single creator is often noted in early Cherokee thinking. The flood story includes statements that Cherokees “commenced to repair the damage done by the gods.” It was also noted they sought to build a structure reaching to the heavens. It seems Cherokees believed they could live equally with their gods and maybe the reference refers to the building of mounds, which could be useful if a future epic flood occurred. Large earthen mounds were serving as Cherokee ceremonial centers when European colonists arrived in the Americas. Cherokee governance in early colonial times consisted of clan council representatives electing a war chief and a peace chief in each village, and groups of villages linked within geographic districts. As the U.S. government developed after the Revolutionary War, we Cherokee immediately emulated the new U.S. government model by electing a principal chief, legislative representatives and forming our own supreme court. Our history with Europeans includes Hernan DeSoto in 1540, serving the British during the French and Indian War, fighting colonists in the Revolutionary War, allying with Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812, suffering removal to Indian Territory after President Jackson refused to enforce a U.S. Supreme Court ruling respecting Cherokee sovereignty, the divisive Civil War, which split the Cherokee Nation into two armies, joining a plan to create an Indian-run U.S. state of Sequoyah, but instead being made citizens of Oklahoma. There are currently three federally recognized Cherokee governments (one in North Carolina and two in Oklahoma). Through generations of turmoil, the CN played the cards it was dealt, persevered and today has over 350,000 enrolled citizens, and is one of the major financial engines fueling northeastern Oklahoma. Lt. Henry Timberlake observed of the Cherokees in the 1760s, “As to religion, every one is at liberty to think for himself; whence flows a diversity of opinions amongst those that do think, but the major part do not give themselves that trouble (King 2007, 34).” During colonization a number of Cherokee women married Scotsmen and Englishmen. In a matrilineal society, children born to Cherokee women were members only of the mother’s clan without regard to whether the father was Cherokee or not, however, matrilineality began to erode along with clans. Cherokee leaders initially resisted missionary incursions, and then relented by accepting missions that would provide schools. It is difficult to sort out the natural threads of culture from the introduced threads at a time when traditional practices were being driven underground. Anthropologist James Mooney concluded, “There is change indeed in dress and outward seeming, but the heart of the Indian is still his own (Mooney 1898: 12).” As the Cherokee faced the 20th century, he noted, “there are still several thousand full-blood Cherokee… who speak only their native language and in secret bow down to the nature-gods of their fathers (147).” A polytheistic (belief in many gods) doctrine should not have been disparaged or forbidden, but missionaries generally termed such beliefs as pagan and savage. The work of missionaries was sometimes deemed by early Cherokee traditionalists to be a self-gratifying undertaking whereby foreigners passed judgment and imposed their own will upon a people imperiled by colonialism. Many Cherokee did become willing members of Christian churches (Moravian, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian). Some congregations encouraged hymns in the Cherokee language, and Cherokee-speaking preachers existed (and continue to exist). Some Christian churches accepted that their congregants would also attend traditional stomp grounds, while some pastors forbade such attendance. New generations often yearn to revive what was lost. Redbird Smith began an effort at the end of the 19th century to re-establish traditional Cherokee stomp grounds. Smith ultimately focused on reclaiming seven ancient wampum belts from the CN archives to establish ceremonies based on what was remembered of those belts’ original messages. He and his sons prepared a stomp ground where he rekindled a sacred fire for the revivalist movement he called Nighthawk Keetoowah. Altogether 22 ceremonial grounds were developed and thrived for a time. Modern life and political strife, however, served to reduce the movement. It continues today among a number of traditional Cherokee adherents, and the ancient wampum belts reside in their care. Smith noted before his death in 1918, “I have endeavored … for my people to remember that any religion must be an unselfish one… This religion does not teach me to concern myself of the life that shall be after this, but it does teach me to be concerned with what my everyday life should be (Hendrix 1983: 76-85).” The following tenets, noted in our mythology have been, and are, important components of Cherokee core beliefs. <strong>· All living things play a role in a dynamic world.</strong> Cherokee stories detail close relationships with animals and plants. So close that one story cites tracking a bear and seeing its footprints become human. Another cites a wife who transforms from deer to woman and back. Another wife and mother saves her starving family by becoming the gift of corn, and another cites strawberries lightening the heart of a woman after an argument with her husband. Science now tells us that we share DNA with all living things. <strong>· All natural parts of the world are sacred.</strong> In addition to animals, other natural components are essential. Earth, water, air, minerals, the sun and stars deserve our respect because we are all interdependent in our relationships. One enduring practice of Cherokee traditionalism is “going to water.” At the start of each day, adherents attend a source of water to rinse their faces in a sacrament of connection. Early Cherokee villages were located on a water source and the community’s council house faced the water, as does today’s historical Cherokee Capitol Building in Tahlequah (Tellico/Diligwa), completed in 1869. The form of the building may have changed to one made of brick, but its spiritual and social contract was preserved. Benny Smith, Cherokee professor and spiritualist, after being asked if the surviving ancient Cherokee wampum belts are sacred, simply stated, “everything is sacred” (Smith, Strickland 2010, 24). <strong>· Cherokee women warrant respect equal to Cherokee men.</strong> In early days, the division of labor found women to be equal contributors to the economy through their work in agriculture, weaving and basketry, and they were especially honored for gestation and childbirth, which provided future generations. The Cherokee population consisted of matrilineal clans, and all children were raised by their mother’s family. Today, Cherokee women attain professional and political lives equal to Cherokee men. <strong>· Elders are keepers of knowledge and respected for having experienced life’s path.</strong> In clan society, extended families cared for elders, and elders spoke their wisdom during council meetings. We are a family of relatives; our genealogies link us to shared ancestors; elders preserve traditional knowledge. Respect for others and listening to people is a courtesy of a united people. <strong>· Family and community are pillars of Cherokee strength.</strong> Although Cherokee clan life diminished due to exogamous marriages, there had been seven long-enduring clans. Seven serves as an important number for the Cherokee, and the CN’s seal and flag depict a seven-sided star. There are seven directions: east, west, north, south, above, below, and here. There are admonishments to make decisions based on how our choices affect seven generations forward. Our community and our children are our future, and remembering our clan heritage is not to be forgotten. <strong>· Ceremonies, legends and symbolism are integral to Cherokee identity.</strong> Cherokee art includes symbols derived from our guiding mythology. Water spider is an enduring motif (she risked her life to bring fire to the beings, and her success reminds us that the smallest among us can often contribute mightily). Social and ceremonial dances are conducted in a circle (unity and eternity) with a central fire (like a sun warming us). The dance circle is an earthen path, the drumbeat is earth’s heartbeat, and the women’s shell-shakers provide responsive rhythm. Sharing food, labor and resources at gatherings is a practice of bonding and commitment to community. Present-day Cherokee arts, crafts and storytelling reflect Cherokee philosophy amidst challenging dichotomies. We cannot remain in the past, nor can we abandon our past. We must maintain the threads connecting us to all that is vital to being Cherokee. <strong>· Technology, knowledge and opportunities should be used to advance Cherokee concerns.</strong> Sequoyah developed letter symbols for syllable sounds of the Cherokee language, and we were able to publish the first American Indian newspaper in our native language at a critical time when information was essential. Early survival arts such as making fire from friction, twisting fiber to make twined bags, knowing when to gather the bounty of wild plants is knowledge that enriches our lives and must be preserved and passed down the ensuing generations. Knowledge of our history is a tool to propel us forward rather than catch us in eddies of repeated errors. Computers and electronic devices can serve Cherokee causes. We must continue to be smarter than those who would harm us. In summary, our ancient gods were not ones to sit in judgment, therefore we did not pine for forgiveness nor did we ask for more than had been provided. There was no afterlife to risk or to bargain for. The gods had no eye upon the sparrow, so there was little need for continuous conversation between citizens and gods. Ceremonies were the rare time to engage in rhetoric, to impress upon the youth and the wayward the lessons derived from our past. We possess vagaries of personality, and being human we err in judgment from time to time. Serving to sustain us as individuals is primarily an act of our fellows, not our gods. Our fellow citizens keep us in line by rewarding us when deserved, and troubling us when we stray. We live for each other, for our family and our community, and strive to keep our world in balance by respecting its elements. There were joyful ceremonies including the Green Corn festival and the mid-winter renewal where we expressed gratefulness for sustainability. We had a mindfulness of the natural world surrounding us. This is how we were and how we should be. While it is possible to embrace an introduced religion alongside Cherokee beliefs, it is not necessary to do so. If we follow basic Cherokee tenets, we will remain the ever-proud Principal People. <strong>References</strong> Hendrix, Janey B. “Redbird Smith and the Nighthawk Keetowahs,” Journal of Cherokee Studies, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Cherokee NC, 1983. King, Duane H. The Memoirs of Lt. Henry Timberlake, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, NC, 2007. Meredith, Howard and Virginia Milam Sobral. Cherokee Vision of Elohi, Noksi Press, OKC, Oklahoma, 1997. Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee, Nashville TN, 1982. Smith, Chad and Rennard Strickland. Building One Fire, Cherokee Nation, 2010. Walker, Robert Sparks. Torchlights to the Cherokees, MacMillan Co., 1931.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
03/01/2018 06:00 PM
Cherokee Nation Health Services offers our citizens some of the best care available in Indian Country. Folks in northeast Oklahoma know this, but recently we changed a few things that are creating more and better health services for Cherokee families. I am proud to say we are reaping the benefits of those efforts. When someone comes to a CN health center and needs something that our own clinics do not provide, like a knee replacement for example, we send them to a specialist who is outside our network of CN doctors and health care providers. Under that system, we negotiate with insurance companies, hospitals, doctors and other vendors and pay for those services. When patients have a primary insurance, Medicare Part A and Part B, or Medicaid we are able to spend significantly less on the required service and then spend those dollars on other patients. In recent history, the growth of referrals has been dramatic. In 2004, our system averaged 87 of these referrals per day. In 2017, those referrals had grown to an average of 410 per day. Because of this growth in needed referrals, our programs have had to manage their available resources. Some of the services that were being declined over the past year include elective orthopedics and some of the related diagnostic tests to those procedures. To help address some of the recent limitations we had on issuing referrals for outside costly, nonlife-threatening treatments, we changed our records system, moving all patient health and medical records to a digital format. When a patient comes in, our newly installed software communicates with all payment systems, private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid. The new efficiency has helped enable the tribe to collect almost $9.5 million in the first three months of FY2018 in third-party billing. Those additional funds will translate to more contract health dollars to approve referrals for surgeries, MRIs and other related tests and help cover a portion of more elective orthopedic referrals for our patients, who visited CN Health Services more than 1.2 million times last year. It also allowed us to measure quality outcomes and efficiency, so doctors can earn more incentives when patients are treated and get what they need. The strategic changes in the physician salary structure reward our doctors for the quality and quantity of patients they see. Quality is up across the board at CN Health Services, and we have more funds dedicated to contract health needs. I am proud of the strategic efforts we made to modernize our health system and collect more from private insurance, Medicaid and other third-party billing streams. The increase in collections also comes from our successful outreach to sign up more patients for Affordable Care Act marketplace insurance, SoonerCare and Medicare. These aggressive efforts to enroll more CN Health Services patients have been successful and are helping provide better health care services for our people. Our patients have more health needs than we could ever possibly meet, so we are evolving with the times. There is continuing growth in the demand for health care, especially as the “baby boomer” generation matures and needs more and more care. And there are Cherokees retiring from the workplace all over the country and moving back to their roots in the Cherokee Nation. We want all our patients – Cherokees as well as other Natives in northeast Oklahoma – to live healthier lives. To address these growing challenges, we have been resolute in committing more gaming revenue dollars specifically for contract health services, which now is an annual commitment of about $7 million. We feel that these changes will set Cherokee health on a path for unprecedented financial security and open up more dollars for specialty care, including visits to cancer doctors and heart doctors and a return to covering a range of bone and joint surgeries. Soon we will open the largest tribal health care facility ever built in America. A topping out ceremony is planned on March 9, and in 2019, when the facility (located at the W.W. Hastings campus in Tahlequah) is opened, it will house more health care specialists of our own and have two MRI machines. Currently, CN does not have either of those specialty services in-house, and we use contract health dollars to help pay for citizens needing those medical services. Patients can get more information about additional coverage options by contacting their patient benefits coordinator at any CN Health facility or visiting <a href="http://www.CherokeeCare.com" target="_blank">www.CherokeeCare.com</a>.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
02/01/2018 10:15 AM
Preserving the Cherokee language is preserving Cherokee identity, as the heritage and traditions of the tribe are rooted in our language. Our language allows us to pass along traditional Cherokee knowledge and values to our children and grandchildren. That is why I am so proud that Cherokee Nation Businesses has pledged unprecedented financial support to the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program. Through a signed memorandum of understanding, CNB is providing $180,000 to cover the costs of a language program called the 14th Generation Master Apprentice Program, a pilot program designed for students who originally learned to speak Cherokee at the tribe’s Cherokee Immersion Charter School. We hope it encourages language usage as they progress through junior high and high school. CNB’s monetary commitment will further advance the preservation and usage of the Cherokee language, as graduates of the adult master apprentice program are placed in supervised teaching and mentoring roles. The new endeavor can be a bridge that unites the mission of our Cherokee Immersion Charter School and the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, which has graduated six students since it began three years ago and is expected to graduate six more students in 2018 and another eight students in 2019. Both programs have proven successful in their respective area, and now we can connect their goals and participants. This multigenerational effort will help preserve and promote the use of the Cherokee language for generations to come and fill the gap between the immersion school and high school. Our youth, who have been educated in the immersion school, are among the most valuable Cherokee language assets going forward. We have made significant investments in these children, and we must keep exposing them to language-learning opportunities after completing the sixth grade. Now that we have graduates of the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, we have developed an expert pipeline and grown the personnel to keep our youth engaged after immersion school graduation. That means language lessons can be utilized at Sequoyah High School as well as within community settings. Creating new Cherokee speakers, and in turn letting them pass along what they have learned, will keep our language flourishing for generations to come. Supporting cultural education and growing the language curriculum will help Cherokee children succeed on their lifelong journey and allow them to reach their God-given potential in school, in life and as Cherokee speakers. The 14th Generation Master Apprentice Program already has about a dozen Sequoyah High School students gathering for lessons after school. Plans are in place for a summer program with participants gathering from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for 10 weeks. Those students, if they participate over multiple summers, could potentially get about 2,000 hours of language education just through summer participation. CNB continues to support the tribe in its pursuit of preserving Cherokee culture and heritage. Without the aggressive commitment from our tribal government and our business endeavors, the future of the Cherokee language would be in jeopardy.
BY MARK DREADFULWATER
Multimedia Editor – @cp_mdreadfulwat
01/01/2018 02:00 PM
I am Cherokee. I know this because I have a Certificate of Indian Blood card that says so. I also have a blue card that says I’m a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. I have identified as Cherokee my entire life but I have not immersed myself enough in the culture, or most regrettably, the language. I grew up hearing the Cherokee language, as my dad is a first-language speaker. Cherokee was the only language my paternal grandmother chose to speak on a daily basis. She knew English, but hardly ever spoke it. I heard it so often as a child I was able to understand what my grandmother and dad were saying but never learned to speak, read or write. My granny died when I was 11 and that’s when my knowledge of the language died for me. My dad still spoke it to my aunts and uncles, but for a reason I can’t remember, I stopped really listening to understand it. He would try to get me to learn by giving me directives or asking common questions in Cherokee, but I didn’t take the time to sit down and learn. As an adult, when people ask if I know how to speak, I tell them I was too busy as a kid playing sports and doing other things to learn. I also took Cherokee I and Cherokee II while at Northeastern State University, but none of the teachings resonated with me. Hearing me say that, and now typing it, I’ve come to realize that is a lame excuse. I’ll be honest and say I really didn’t see the need to learn the language. I didn’t think knowing Cherokee would get me any further in life. Other than speaking to a few people, I would rarely use it, so why learn. I’ve worked for the Cherokee Phoenix for 11 years. We publish Cherokee stories in our monthly paper and when time allows, we have the translators record audio of the stories in order for readers to hear it spoken by scanning a QR code from a smartphone. I’ve not paid as much attention to it as I should. It’s a great way to see and hear the language. Now that I’m older, I regret not paying attention to the language growing up and taking the time to learn. I think my generation has made a huge contribution to the downfall of the language. But all is not lost. Although it’s more difficult, it’s not too late to learn. I realize how vital the language is to Cherokees as a people. It is more than a way to communicate. It’s embodies our identity and soul of our tradition, history and the Cherokee way of life. With the New Year fast approaching, my resolution will be to learn Cherokee. The CN has several outlets as well as online options that are available to learn the language. I also know my dad and aunts will be eager to teach me and I believe they will say, “It’s about time.”