Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Inter-Tribal Council shows unified front

BY Phoenix Archives
04/09/2012 03:01 PM
BY Bill john baker
Principal Chief

Last month, Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden and I, along with a few members of the administration and Tribal Council, visited our nation’s Capital for the National Congress of American Indians’ winter session.

As you all may have heard, while in Washington, I met with my counterparts from the Muscogee (Creek), Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole nations to discuss resuming the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes. Muscogee (Creek) Chief George Tiger and I – the two newest heads of the bunch – were elected president and vice-president respectively.

As sometimes happens, the organization fell by the wayside several years ago as each tribe went its own way. However, as our predecessors acknowledged more than 60 years ago when forming the council, there are many issues facing Indian Country today that are bigger than any single tribe. Health care access, language preservation, education, water rights and preservation of our natural resources are just a handful of the concerns facing all Indian nations. With that in mind, we are making another attempt to resume the council in an effort to support each other and present a unified front on key issues when needed.

In keeping with that goal, one of the first moves by the newly re-established council was to bring together the nearly two dozen tribes based in eastern Oklahoma for a meeting with Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk. The NCAI is a wonderful opportunity to network and share concerns, but it does not lend itself well to extended conversations about mutual issues facing multiple tribes from a single region.

Although bringing together that many heads of state is not an easy task, it is a lot easier and more financially responsible to ask a handful of people from the federal government to come to Oklahoma versus have the leadership from all of eastern Oklahoma’s corner of Indian Country travel to Washington.
Along with my fellow chiefs from the Inter-Tribal Council, I was pleased to see representatives from more than 15 tribes at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino last month for a successful meeting with Secretary Echo Hawk. As wonderful as it was to meet with leaders from across the United States the previous week at NCAI, there is something special to be said about getting together with our neighbors.

I sincerely hope that this is only the beginning of a new era of cooperation to better advance the interests of Natives across not only Oklahoma but also Indian Country as a whole. Although we may have our differences, they are far outweighed by our shared similarities.

bill-baker@cherokee.org


918-453-5618

Opinion

BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
01/01/2017 02:00 PM
The Cherokee Nation recently filed a lawsuit against the federal government to uncover details about how the United States throughout history managed the tribe’s trust fund, which includes money, property and other resources. The claim was filed in federal court in the Western District of Oklahoma on the 231st anniversary of the Treaty of Hopewell, the first treaty between the Cherokee Nation and the United States government. In the Treaty of Hopewell, the United States agreed its actions would be for “the benefit and comfort” of the Cherokee Nation. Sadly, the United States violated this treaty and every other treaty signed with the Cherokee Nation’s government. This current lawsuit is about holding the federal government accountable; it is about making sure there is an accurate accounting of the vast Cherokee trust fund, the money and natural resources, including the land, coal, timber, water, grazing, and oil and gas, that the federal government agreed to hold in trust for the benefit of the Cherokee Nation. As a trustee, the federal government managed the Cherokee trust fund, handling the money earned off the land and resources. The federal government’s reports state that Indian trust funds were handled with a “pitchfork.” As a result, many of the recorded transactions are lost or scattered across the country in epically disorganized accounting books. Our hope and desire are to address the information and management gap at the core of the federal government’s mishandling. At different times throughout history, Cherokee lands in Indian Territory were taken, sold or leased by the federal government, the most powerful and sophisticated government in the world. Yet, because of the federal government’s management, we cannot get an accurate accounting of what it did with the revenue from our natural resources. The resources relate to the treaty lands of the Cherokee Nation, including the current 14-county jurisdiction of our tribe. The federal government can’t tell us what it did with our trust fund resources; it can’t tell us what profit was realized from the sale of those resources; it can’t tell us where the money went or whether it was fairly and justly allocated to the tribe as negotiated and agreed upon. We believe the United States government should live up to its word, and we think most Americans feel the same way. This is a tremendous opportunity for the United States to reconcile its management of the Cherokee trust fund over the centuries and to finally account for the resources that it was legally obligated to manage for the benefit of the Cherokee people. We believe the Cherokee Nation is in a position of strength in this litigation and that the Nation is able to pursue its legal interests to hold the federal government accountable. Yes, lawsuits by nature are adversarial, but this is a chance for the government of the United States to do what is right. This can chart a path of healing and of stronger cooperation between our governments going forward. The United States has a trust responsibility to the Cherokee Nation, and similar duties to other tribes nationwide. In the recent past, the United States was sued by other tribes seeking an accounting like the Cherokee Nation seeks in this lawsuit. The United States, ultimately, never provided any accountings in those other cases, but instead it has paid other tribes the values of the trust funds for which it cannot account. To date, there have been dozens of such settlements spanning the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. Without a doubt, this lawsuit is overdue, and as Principal Chief it is essential for me to hold the United States accountable for the promises made. As a leader among tribal governments, we hope Cherokee Nation’s lawsuit helps all of Indian Country move forward. We have very strong claims, and we are hopeful for a positive outcome in the courtroom. This suit will mean a brighter future for the Cherokee Nation. Learn more at <a href="http://www.brokentreaties.com" target="_blank">www.brokentreaties.com</a>.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
12/01/2016 12:00 PM
Cherokee Nation was the first tribe to adopt a written language, and the impact the syllabary has had on our people and the advancements of our tribe continue still today. Sequoyah, also known as George Gist, gave us one of the most significant gifts in our history. Sequoyah’s invention of the syllabary had an immeasurable impact on us as a tribe. Recently, Cherokee Nation finalized the purchase of Sequoyah’s Cabin, near Sallisaw, from the state. We are so proud to assume ownership and management of the historical site and have the opportunity to give it the respect and reverence it deserves. It’s unimaginable that sites, like Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello or George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, would be operated by anyone other than the United States government. Likewise, it is only fitting that Sequoyah’s Cabin site, which is a vital part of our story, would be operated by the Cherokee Nation. In our tribe’s long and unique history, Sequoyah made an everlasting impact and truly changed the way our people communicate, share ideas and preserve history. He was a genius who advanced the Cherokee Nation and our rich culture. Sequoyah is one of our most well-known statesmen and historical figures, and his contributions to the Cherokee Nation are immeasurable. The Cherokee syllabary is the single most important contributor to the advancement of the Cherokee people and Cherokee society. He reshaped the future of Cherokees and all Native people, not just seven generations but infinite generations. Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin, in his role as a state legislator, singlehandedly led the effort to secure Sequoyah’s Cabin for our people. We are so fortunate that his strong relationship with the Oklahoma Historical Society and its executive director, Dr. Bob Blackburn, helped pave the way for our purchase of this important piece of our history. We commend the state for being such good stewards of the 200-acre site and former home, and now it is time for Cherokee Nation to lead the preservation effort. Our relationship with Dr. Blackburn and the state’s historical society is a true partnership and will allow this project to advance for the benefit of the Cherokee Nation, the state of Oklahoma and the thousands of tourists that visit this historic site each year. Yes, it is unfortunate that after 80 years the state no longer has the resources to manage and maintain the property. But that’s where our tribal government can step in and ensure the preservation meets the highest standards. Together, we will guarantee this beautiful and historic site thrives and continues operation forever. It is a historic achievement to add this land and site back into the tribe’s land base and bring Sequoyah’s home back to the Cherokee Nation and place it under our cultural protection. Our operation of the cabin and the surrounding land will enable us, as Cherokees, to tell the story of Sequoyah through a uniquely Cherokee perspective. We will be able to do it in our own words and in our own language, which Sequoyah helped advance.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
11/01/2016 10:00 AM
At Cherokee National Holiday this year, I spoke of a renewed effort for Cherokees to become stewards of our land. To advance that effort, I appointed the first ever secretary of natural resources. We also established the Cherokee Nation Fish and Wildlife Association. Now, we’ve expanded that effort into another arena: clean energy. The Cherokee Nation owns about 4,000 acres of agricultural pastureland around the site of the former Chilocco Indian boarding school near Newkirk in Kay County in north central Oklahoma. After more than 10 years of studying the feasibility and environmental impact of such a project, the Tribal Council approved a lease of that tribal trust land to wind farm developer PNE Wind to develop a wind farm and help lessen the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. A wind farm isn’t just good for the environment and for the United States as a whole. It will come at a great benefit to Cherokee people by bringing in a considerable amount of new revenue for the Cherokee Nation. Our ground lease agreement with PNE Wind will generate about $1 million per year, on average, for tribal programs and services over the life of the lease. This is a much-needed boost for our tribal programs, as we always try to stretch every dollar as far as it will go to help Cherokee Nation citizens. The development of a wind farm is a great step toward advancing clean energy and moving away from coal-fired power. This is what it means to be stewards of our land. Wind energy is pollution free, doesn’t require fuel or water, and the land beneath the wind farm will still be used for agricultural purposes. Currently, we collect lease payments from farmers and ranchers who run cattle on that pastureland, so this project will help us collect lease payments for both operations. PNE Wind is also obligated to restore the land to its present condition should the company ever cease operations. Chilocco Indian School operated from 1884 to 1980. The Cherokee Nation and several other tribes have owned parcels of land in the area since the 1980s, and there has been much discussion over the years about how to best utilize those parcels. After careful thought and consideration about the environmental impacts, and what is best for the Cherokee Nation operationally, the current agreement is by far the best scenario. This agreement brings us in line with other tribes in the area to develop a project that is profitable for all involved, while maintaining the integrity of the land. I am proud the Cherokee Nation is part of the clean energy movement sweeping our country, and I applaud the Tribal Council for agreeing it is in the best interest of our tribal people, and for future generations, to explore energy options that leave our land, our water and our air in better condition than we found them.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
10/03/2016 10:30 AM
Creating jobs and economic opportunities for our citizens in northeast Oklahoma is critical to Cherokee Nation’s continued success. We are creating Cherokee Nation jobs as we expand our businesses and reach into new markets and new industries. But equally important is our growing tendency to partner with the Oklahoma governor’s office and department of commerce to position the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation as an ideal place to grow, expand and relocate. Recently, the tribe’s career services department hosted a job fair for the Macy’s fulfillment center in Owasso. While Macy’s has announced some of its U.S. stores will close due to increasing online sales, more Americans shopping online is actually good news for the fulfillment center. The center has the capacity to stock, pack and ship as many as 250,000 packages a day for shoppers all over the United States during the peak holiday shopping season, and they’ve asked our staff to help find more than 3,500 workers to meet that increased demand. That’s up from the 2,500 employees we helped recruit last holiday season. Those new jobs are in addition to the 1,000 full-time positions created when Macy’s opened its 2.1 million-square-foot facility last year. The company has made hiring Cherokees a priority, which is why we worked so hard to recruit Macy’s to Oklahoma. This success story was the result of a partnership between Cherokee Nation, the city of Owasso, Tulsa County and the state of Oklahoma. Without Cherokee Nation at the negotiating table, the deal would not have worked out and the center may have gone to Texas. It speaks volumes that a respected 100-year-old retailer has come to understand the value of working with a Native American tribe and has put faith in us that we’ll deliver. The Macy’s partnership has been transformative for Oklahoma, our communities and our families. We recently announced similar good news in Nowata County. With the help of Cherokee Nation, 260 new jobs will soon be coming to South Coffeyville. Star Pipe Products, a Texas-based company that specializes in manufacturing, casting, machining, metal fabrication, assembly and production of customized cast iron and ductile iron products, will grow its workforce from its current staff of 88 current workers to nearly 350.The company’s direct investment will be more than $40 million into the local community, and we will play our role in ensuring their new staff is trained and prepared to fulfill the opportunity. Like Macy’s, Cherokee Nation’s career services department helps Star Pipe recruit and train a quality workforce so that many of those new hires will be Cherokee. Star Pipe will infuse critical payroll and infrastructure dollars into South Coffeyville and all of Nowata County. That will improve the lives of area families for years to come. Star Pipe, and the new jobs coming with it, is again directly attributable to the collaborative efforts between the Cherokee Nation and state and local governments. We have proven our willingness to play our role in training or helping with infrastructure needs if it will help grow the area’s economy. Together, we all play a role in making economic opportunities possible. Attracting new business, industry and investments to the region remains a priority for the tribe. Good, quality jobs make our families, our schools and the entire Cherokee Nation stronger. Securing the Macy’s and Star Pipe expansions are both big wins for the Cherokee Nation and our communities. It shows that with the power of partnerships anything is possible in Oklahoma’s effort to expand economic development. Every job created in our 14 counties doesn’t have to be a Cherokee Nation job. As long as Cherokees are gainfully employed, that’s a step in the right direction. For more information on career services programs or to find out about job fairs in your area, call (918) 453-5555 or email <a href="mailto: career-services-dept@cherokee.org">career-services-dept@cherokee.org</a>.
BY KALIA THOR
Dietetic Intern
09/01/2016 02:00 PM
With summer in season, Saturday mornings are quite popular for local farmers to come to the community and sell their produce. Oftentimes foods that are likely to be found at local farmers markets are vegetables and fruits. At this point, you may be thinking “what’s the difference between buying it at the farmers market versus a big chain supermarket?” There are many benefits and here are the reasons why. When shopping at farmers markets, you are showing support as a community to your local farmers. Farmers often tend to grow these things for a living and only want to provide you with the best products that they have available. With the products that farmers are providing you, you will get the best, freshest and tastiest produce available because those products are sold to you directly from the farm. However, if you purchased it from a big-chain supermarket, those products are shipped from hundreds and maybe even thousands of miles away. It’s always a positive thing to you and your body to know where and how these products are coming from, and purchasing locally is always a great way to support your community. A fun fact is that with the local farmers, they would be happy to explain where their produce came from. You may even get a good story out of it. Another good reason to shop at your local farmers market is because it allows you to enjoy the produce that is in season. For example, during the summer you will more than likely not see farmers selling pumpkins. That will be in the fall, which is the peak of pumpkin season. Also, did you know that your local farmers have some delicious recipes? For the produce that is being sold by your local farmers, they usually will have an idea of what you can do to incorporate their products in a meal. For example, zucchini is a great vegetable to grill in the summertime, but did you also know that you can make lasagna with zucchini? All you have to do is replace the noodles with thin slices of zucchini and it makes a delicious (and healthy) meal. Did you know that if you qualify and are approved for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program you could be eligible to purchase goods with those benefits at the farmers markets? Different states have different requirements for eligibility for this, and luckily Oklahoma does participate in this as long as the state offers equipment that will process those SNAP transactions and the market participates in it. However, if the farmers or the market don’t have the equipment to process these payments, you can also request for manual vouchers from your EBT processor to use at local farmers markets as long as they accept them. With this process and the exception that the farmers market does take manual vouchers, you as the customer would have to sign the voucher for the purchase amount and then the market would then have to mail it in to the EBT processor for reimbursement. So technically you’re able to trade some of your EBT benefits for vouchers to support and shop at your local farmers markets. There are many great reasons to shop at your local farmers markets. Not only will you be provided with great service, you’ll be able to nourish your bodies with great produce that these farmers work hard to provide for you.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
08/01/2016 02:00 PM
It is my favorite weekend of the year. Labor Day weekend always means it is time for Cherokee National Holiday. The 64th annual event, which runs Sept. 2-4 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, will again draw a crowd of more than 100,000 visitors to our capital city. I invite anyone who has never experienced Cherokee National Holiday to join us for fellowship and fun as we celebrate the history, heritage and hospitality of the Cherokee Nation. And, of course, we always look forward to seeing the thousands of friends that return every year, while meeting new friends this homecoming weekend. As we come together this year, we celebrate the accomplishments of our tribal government and our bright future. We share our Cherokee traditions and values. The first Cherokee National Holiday was held in 1953 to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the 1839 Cherokee Constitution. This year’s Cherokee National Holiday theme, “Stewards of our Land,” is a reminder that Cherokee people have, since time immemorial, protected our earth and safeguarded our precious natural resources. Cherokee people were among the first conservationists in this country’s history, and today that spirit lives on in our important work. We proudly celebrate the natural world and strive to keep our land clean, our water safe and our air pristine. Every decision we make is deliberate and with our natural resources in mind. One of the things we achieved in the past year is establishing a secretary of Natural Resources, who’s responsible for shaping a policy to preserve our land, water and air. We also secured a historic hunting and fishing compact with the state and a portion of those earmarked funds go specifically to statewide conservation efforts. We have an inherent responsibility to the next seven generations of Cherokees to leave the world a better place. The 2016 Cherokee National Holiday design, which was created by Cherokee National Treasure Dan Mink, is simply beautiful and ties so many of concepts together in one piece of art. It will be exceptional on a shirt or a poster. At the center is a deer sugar skull decorated with elements of predator and prey. Inside the skull are snakeskin, fish scales and patterns associated with Southeast Woodland design, native to the Cherokee people. The cape feathers directly under the deer embrace the tribe’s 14 counties. The blue background is the horizon over Lake Tenkiller, marked with the seven-pointed star. The circle is encompassed by three patterns, including deer tracks to embody a successful hunt, stylized turkey feathers and scales. The three patterns represent the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. Lastly, the seven Buffalo Carp fish under the circle honor the seven Cherokee clans. Every year the Cherokee Nation offers its citizens and visitors an array of entertainment, cultural and athletic events to participate in. The Cherokee National Holiday has something of interest for all walks of life, from traditional foods and music to competitive marbles, a car show, softball and stickball tournaments and the annual children’s fishing derby, hosted by pro angler Jason Christie. Additionally, I encourage history enthusiasts to explore our local museums during the holiday weekend. They all highlight different aspects of Cherokee events and people. Visitors will be able to experience the annual marquee events like the powwow, parade and state of the nation address. The always-popular Cherokee National Holiday parade travels down Muskogee Avenue in downtown Tahlequah and is the only parade in the state to be announced in both Cherokee and English. The Cherokee National Holiday Intertribal Powwow is also routinely one of the biggest draws of the annual celebration and has been profiled as one of the best powwows in America. The two-night event offers thousands of dollars in prize money for Southern Straight, Northern Traditional, Fancy, Jingle and other dance categories. Friends, I hope you will allow the Cherokee Nation to showcase our vibrant culture and rich history this Labor Day weekend. You’ll find a wealth of kind hearts, determined minds and resilient spirits, while making memories you and your family will cherish for a lifetime. You may even leave town with a cornhusk doll or a woven Cherokee basket. God bless each and every one of you, and God bless the Cherokee Nation. Visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org</a> to find a complete list of the 64th Cherokee National Holiday events.