Ka, nigada itsitsalagi! Attention, all Cherokee! I think every day of my Cherokee father, grandmother and the many elders I knew when I was young. I miss their wisdom, insight, patience, teachings, life lessons, encouragement, their humor, and, yes, even their discipline. I remember how our elders looked at life and the comfort and love they provided all of us was significant and important. Now I am grown and I respect them even more.
When I was a boy, I assumed my elders would always be here. I still have many questions to ask them every day, but the time is gone. My grandparent’s first language was Cherokee. We have much to learn from our elders today. I am grateful for our elders still living who are our culture keepers. We owe both the living and those who have gone before a debt of gratitude.
One thing I remember about my Cherokee father was his compassion for all animals. The animals know things that we do not know. Pigeon in Cherokee is woyi. Gule disgonihi, which is translated as dove, literally means, “he cries for acorns.” In a deeper sense, the meaning is the dove is crying for the people.
Elders then and now will tell you doves and pigeons are our messenger birds, and as such should not be molested or killed without purpose. Doves and pigeons, white birds in particular, are sometimes used for ceremonial purposes. It is of utmost importance the birds are prayerfully respected. The birds and animals fed us through hard times. We should never leave the Cherokee Nation and enter another tribe’s homeland to kill doves and pigeons. Our Cherokee culture tells us to remember a time when we as a people had a flagrant disregard for killing animals. The animals held a council and afflicted us with all manner of disease. The Nation may not be blessed if animals are needlessly slaughtered. The animals, birds and fish provide for us still.
If we forget the Cherokee teachings of our elders, we may unintentionally abandon Cherokee ways. Another recent casualty has been our Cherokee language program at Northeastern State University. I had to ask for a detailed report of the loss of funding to the program. A Memorandum of Agreement is being worked on as this column goes to press. The program funds were diminished and repurposed without a plan in place and without Tribal Council knowledge or consent. The new “plan” must take place soon if the program is to begin in Spring 2015. I cannot stand idly by without questioning this action because I took an oath of office which stated “... I will do everything within my power to promote the culture, heritage and traditions of the Cherokee Nation.”
Our language scholars, teachers and students have worked and are working tirelessly and passionately to preserve our language. We owe it to them, to ourselves, to the ones who have gone before us and to the generations who will follow, our best effort to help our language endure.
As a student of the language program eloquently stated, “The most successful language endeavors are those that employ all strategies available. While we can, it is our obligation to do so.” As a student of the Cherokee language who is always learning, I need this program. As with many of us, I can no longer go to my father or grandmother to talk to them. I am proud of those few who can still speak and write Cherokee. I am proud of those who still are sharing their Cherokee knowledge. I am proud of the language program, the immersion school, students, teachers and families who are committed to Cherokee every day.
I see our people living under a veil of implied inferiority while those in power lord their positions over them. We still have many Cherokee capable of helping. A number of elders helped me with this article, and I could not have written it without them. It is a good thing to seek counsel from our elders, and as our Constitution states, “the guidance of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe.”
Maybe it is not our culture and language which are lost, but us. Perhaps the doves cry still. They cry for us.
A historic part of our past recently became an exciting part of our future.
The Cherokee Nation is back in the bison business. In October we received a herd of 38 female bison from the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The 2-year-old cows will be joined by an additional 10 bulls from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota any day now.
Seeing them released onto their new home was a moving experience and one that will forever stay with me. Right now they are grazing on 66 acres of specially fenced pasture in Delaware County, but about a thousand acres are available to open up as the herd grows. For many of us, bison are an iconic symbol of our great country – free, strong and resilient. Those are the same traits we identify in ourselves as Indian people.
That’s why bison have always represented something deeply spiritual to our Cherokee tribal ancestors and why it’s important for us, as a tribal nation, to reintroduce bison within our homelands.
Most people only associate bison with Great Plains tribes, but woodland bison once roamed the CN and all along the Atlantic Coast. Prior to European colonization, the animals played a critical role for the Cherokee people. Hundreds of years ago when buffalo migrated east of the Mississippi, the Cherokee people survived, in part, by hunting buffalo and using them as a vital food source. It was only after Europeans’ colonization that bison were mostly wiped out from the east and southeast parts of the present-day United States.
Today, we have an extraordinary opportunity to reconnect the modern CN with a prominent part of our history and our cultural roots from our traditional homelands. There is a nationwide resurgence by tribes, including the CN, to reconnect with these animals.
This Native renaissance with bison is being led by the InterTribal Buffalo Council, an organization that we proudly support as one of 60 member tribes. It’s through the ITBC that we were able to secure these surplus animals from the national parks.
We hope to qualify for more surplus bison in the future. Our Natural Resources Department has been preparing for nearly two years to successfully acquire this herd. We have strategically planned how to sustain and grow it, and we are prepared to take additional herds. The ITBC staff generously consulted with our staff to plan for the herd’s arrival and helped provide funding for the special 7-foot-fencing and supplies to maintain the animals. These bison will continue to be monitored by our Natural Resources Department and our specialized veterinarians. The Nation’s Natural Resources Department manages 22,000 acres of tribally owned land in northeast Oklahoma, and this herd of bison will be housed on 1,000 acres near Kenwood.
Historically, bison provided more than an essential source of protein for tribes. Every part of the bison was used for food, clothing, shelter, tools and ceremonial purposes. For future generations of Cherokee people, these newly acquired bison will help revive some ancient cultural traditions, as well as provide expanded economic opportunities.
The economic benefit bison can have for the CN is profound. There is great potential for a boon in regional tourism. The bison can provide an extra tribal destination for tourists to experience. That will only enhance our current cultural and historical offerings we provide through CN museums, art galleries and historical sites.
We know bison is a lean protein, and down the road we may look at bison as a locally produced food source for our Cherokee citizens and senior citizen nutrition centers. Healthy, nutritional food to counterbalance the modern epidemic of obesity and diabetes affecting Indian people could change that current trajectory.
Bison are the beginning of a new chapter to a familiar story for the Cherokee people, and we are eager and proud to share it.
Who says you can’t have it all? Lately my reality has been just that. However, I haven’t been doing it alone.
During the past year I have experienced several changes. All of which have changed not only my life, but my family’s, too.
In March 2013, I had the opportunity to finally purchase my own car, a new model. That was exciting. I had been having trouble with mine and I badly wanted to purchase a new car. I never thought I could, but I did and that was a fantastic blessing.
Two months later, my family and I moved into a new house built by the Housing Authority of Cherokee Nation under the tribes’ new home construction program. My in-laws allowed us to purchase a small piece of property from them north of Tahlequah for the home to be built upon.
I filed for the program the week of its inception in April 2012, and a year later we moved into our first new home. That was a dream come true. Without that program I’m afraid it would have been far longer for me to buy a home, a new home at that.
In June, my then-partner Mike Murphy and I discovered we were expecting our second child. So together we have four children. This news was quite surprising, but great. We thought having another child wasn’t a possibility any longer considering we’d tried for nearly two years, but we were blessed with another boy. I thought I had my hands full with one in the home (the other two live outside the home). So on Jan. 27, we welcomed the newest Murphy, Austin.
So after all these changes and the welcomed surprise why not go ahead and throw another one in the mix. Mike and I finally got married. I had taken my maternity leave a week before going into labor. So my last week of my leave we planned a small, nice ceremony on the Cherokee Nation Courthouse grounds beneath a beautiful magnolia tree. And the ceremony was just that, beautiful. CN citizen David Comingdeer officiated.
So on April 8 at 4:08 p.m. on the grounds of the historic courthouse, David gave the prayer and welcome in both Cherokee and English and proceeded with the marriage ceremony.
I have waited nearly seven years to marry Mike and for whatever reason in the past it just wasn’t the right time. So on that day I walked to a floral archway where Mike stood as Jami Custer and we left that ceremony as Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murphy.
Now I’ve returned to work, a much-awaited return in my eyes. I have missed the past three months without writing for the Cherokee Phoenix and contributing to what I feel is a much-needed news outlet for our Cherokee people. It feels great to be back working again.
Even though we’ve spent the past seven years as a couple, I want to try and be as a good of a mother and wife as I can. Why wouldn’t I? But life is a lot of work.
In today’s society, many women and men attempt to do it all. They want to work, bring up babies, have personal relationships and still try to find the time for themselves. I tell you, it’s not easy. It can be done, but there’s a lot of help behind the scenes that many don’t see.
For example, purchasing my new car couldn’t have been achieved without my employment with the Cherokee Phoenix. Working for the past seven years has allowed me the opportunity to establish better credit and work steadily and that afforded me the opportunity for the new car.
My home would not have been possible without the help of CN citizens William and Deborah Smoke. They have helped us more than words can express.
And finally, the old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” I think can be linked to our relationships. Many people have had a hand in my and Mike’s seven-year courtship, both good and bad, but either way all leading us where we are today, married.
We can have it all. But when you look at it, really look at what you’re accomplishing, I don’t think you’re doing it alone. Many people are there helping, some we can’t even see.
Thanks friends, family and extended family for all you’ve done behind the scenes.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
The Christmas season is here and it reminds me to think about what truly matters to all of us. Some people worry the Christmas holiday has become more and more commercial, and each year we get a little further away from the essence of what makes it important.
I hope this season we all feel the warmth of love and kinship, the realization of our noble wishes and see the true possibilities and purpose of the Holy Spirit.
When the holidays come around every year, our lives suddenly take on a larger meaning than simply living for ourselves. We think of our loved ones, our extended families, our long-lost friends and our neighbors. As chief of the Cherokee Nation, I think of our 320,000-plus citizens and want the best for each and every one.
One of the lessons I reflect on every Christmas is how much more important it is to do for others than to do for yourself. Somebody recently asked me to relay my favorite Christmas memory. I have a lifetime of wonderful stories and memories, but one recollection stands out.
One of my favorite Christmas memories revolves around my Grandmother Audie Baker. She was a school teacher at Briggs and every Christmas season was a special time for this rural Cherokee County community. Every year the holidays began with a community pie supper to raise money for presents for the school’s students. It was the kind of pie supper where the person who bought the pie, got to eat it and enjoy it with the person who baked it. Grandmother always gave me money to buy a pie.
The money was then used to buy gifts for the kids in my grandmother’s room, which consisted of fourth through sixth graders. She would divide the money up evenly and we would gather around the catalogs from OTASCO and Western Auto down at my granddad’s barbershop. We would look through them and she would ask my advice on what to get the boys. It was usually 500 .22 shells or 25 .410 shells or a nice hunting knife. But she always knew what each boy owned and what would make the right gift for them. That was just the life of a rural school teacher back then. Being a rural school, Briggs usually started before we did at Tahlequah Public Schools so I’d go with my grandmother and I got to know all her students. Also during the Christmas season, I helped my dad make huge pans of peanut brittle. We would fill sacks with hard candy, apples, oranges and peanut brittle and deliver them with the other gifts at grandmother’s school.
These memories are lasting to me because it was so great to see the children light up with joy over the gifts we picked out. It’s amazing what just a few dollars will buy. As a child, it was also special because my grandmother valued my opinion on what her students would like best. It taught me the ultimate lesson: that it truly is better to give than receive.
As a boy, I learned this universal truth from my grandmother: when you give to others, you emerge with a renewed sense of hope for yourself and for the world. To me, that is the spirit and essence of the Christmas season and that is a value that guides me every day.
From my family and the family of Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, I want to wish you a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
The Cherokee Nation, with more than 320,000 citizens, is the largest sovereign tribal nation in the United States and the economic engine that drives growth in northeast Oklahoma. The power of tribal governments and tribally owned businesses fuel economic development in the region.
I am proud to announce the Cherokee Nation made a $1.3 billion economic impact on our state last year.
During my time in office, the Cherokee Nation and its businesses have made significant investments in roads, schools, law enforcement, health care, education and infrastructure that benefit all Oklahomans, whether you’re Cherokee or not. In the past year, we played a role in multiple business expansions, startups and relocations into the Cherokee Nation jurisdiction.
We strive to continually raise the level of hope in Oklahoma – hope for a better and brighter future. The Cherokee Nation plays a critical role in ensuring Oklahoma remains a great place to live and raise a family. We proudly reinvest our business profits in people, services and facilities to build a better and brighter future for today, tomorrow and the next seven generations.
The Cherokee Nation and its businesses directly employ more than 9,000 people. Due to our operational and economic successes, we support an additional 5,000 jobs indirectly. And we have a concrete plan to bring even more jobs to northeast Oklahoma. Today, we have more Cherokee Nation citizens working for our government and businesses than ever in the history of our Nation.
The Cherokee Nation’s economic portfolio is much broader than gaming, operating in a number of diverse industries. We have successful business interests in the construction, telecommunications, aerospace, defense, advanced manufacturing, technology, real estate and health care fields. This business portfolio continues to broaden as our economic success thrives.
Last year, Cherokee Nation Businesses had its most successful contracting year winning nearly $375 million in federal and commercial contracts contributing to an overall 9.5 percent revenue increase. We have broken all records this year in production output, dividends and number of employees resulting in more money to deliver services to Cherokee Nation citizens and all Oklahomans.
Oklahoma is our home and our success is the state’s success. We are proud partners with the state of Oklahoma and hundreds of county and municipal governments. A strong Cherokee Nation means a strong Oklahoma. A thriving Cherokee Nation means more prosperity and jobs in communities within the tribe’s boundaries and all across this great state.
And we’re not going anywhere. To put it simply, we are a corporate headquarters that is never leaving this state. We want to bring jobs to Oklahoma, not send them out of state. We are the Cherokee Nation and while we were once forced to leave our homelands, no one will ever force us to leave Oklahoma. We are here to stay.
The success of Oklahoma – in job creation, preserving our quality of life – takes all of us working together, and we are proud to continue that legacy.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Cherokee Nation citizens living in all 77 Oklahoma counties can now buy a Cherokee Nation license plate. With a recently signed compact in place, all CN citizens will soon have the opportunity to display Cherokee tags on their cars or recreational vehicles. The CN is the first tribe to sign a compact with the state of Oklahoma that will offer car tags to its citizens statewide.
This is an historic agreement between the state and Nation and a testament to our sovereign government-to-government relationship.
Gov. Mary Fallin is right when she said, “Local schools, county roads and other important priorities will benefit from this agreement.” Revenues from CN car tags are split between the Nation and state and local governments. Nearly 40 cents of every dollar in CN car tag sales goes to public education.
Within the Nation’s 14-county jurisdiction, 38 percent of tax revenues from the sale of tribal car tags is distributed to about 90 public school districts each year. In April, we awarded those schools $3.2 million. The new compact will do the same for even more districts that border the CN, but are technically outside our jurisdiction. Schools in Wagoner, Tulsa, Muskogee, Rogers and Mayes counties all stand to benefit in the same way as neighboring schools.
Outside the 14-county jurisdiction, revenue from the sale of vehicle tags will be distributed to schools and local and county governments in the same manner as state tags.
At-Large CN citizens residing in Wagoner, Tulsa, Muskogee, Rogers and Mayes counties will be able to purchase a tribal car tag by the end of the year. Statewide car tag sales start in June 2014, and can be purchased from any of the five CN tag offices.
Like our tribal photo identification cards, the car tags are a source of Cherokee pride. But the benefits are deeply felt across the CN. So far this fiscal year, more than 100,000 vehicle tags have been issued. Through our partnerships, we are strengthening our sovereignty, creating more jobs, lowering the costs of car tags for thousands of Cherokees and providing even more resources to public schools for our children.
The Cherokee people are the heart of everything we do, and I made a commitment to do more for them, regardless of where they live in Oklahoma. Cherokees living outside of our jurisdictional boundaries have asked for tribal license plates for years, and we are finally able to make good on those wishes. It’s another goal we have achieved for the Cherokee people.
The new compact was successfully negotiated with the governor’s office by CN Attorney General Todd Hembree. I thank him for leading the way for us in these complicated issues. The Nation is stronger today for the work he has done in creating a compact that will benefit not just Cherokees, but all Oklahomans in the coming years. The CN values our government-to-government relationship with the state of Oklahoma, and contributes in other ways as well. We also hold gaming, tobacco and intergovernmental compacts with the governor’s office.
In addition to this latest compact, we’ve expanded health care and housing programs, pumped record amounts into college scholarship programs and created new ways to help our elders.
We are building a stronger Nation, and our car tag program allows us the capacity to keep doing more for our people, and for the people of our great state.