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 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.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
07/01/2016 12:00 PM
The work of our Cherokee foster parents, child welfare workers and advocates is near and dear to my heart. It is an issue that deserves our daily attention. Cherokee people have always believed our children are sacred and their care is a shared responsibility. Each and every Cherokee child is precious and ensures our collective continued existence. Sadly, there are more than 1,800 Cherokee children in foster care, with 1,100 of those children living right here in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, we are at a crossroad, with more children in custody than Cherokee foster homes available. The importance of placing Cherokee children in Cherokee foster homes is vital. Not only do our children deserve the right to grow up in a safe, loving environment, but they deserve the right to maintain their tribal ties to Cherokee values and culture. Removal of our people from our homelands more than 175 years ago is one of the saddest parts of not just Cherokee history, but one of the darkest chapters in all of American history. The Trail of Tears created a long-lasting trauma for generations of Cherokee people, and we are still seeing the effects of it today. One of the most gut-wrenching ways is the trauma of a child in need of family. Since those dark days of removal, foster care has been a sad but necessary reality, and although it may look different than our tragic historic event, removal is still happening to our Cherokee children when they are plucked from unsafe environments. Unfortunately, there are times when our children are in unsafe situations and need an extra measure of support. Sometimes abuse and neglect can be repeated without interruption across several generations. When this happens, it is necessary to remove children for their well-being in order to facilitate a healing process, with the hope of family reunification. Temporary foster care is critical in the process. It literally saves kids and families, and without intervention there is little chance for family healing. These rights are protected under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which mandate certain placement preferences occur should an Indian child become deprived and warrant removal from their home. In the placement preferences listed, citizens of a child’s tribe are listed as the second consideration, after family. For tribes nationwide, including the Cherokee Nation, protecting our children though ICWA is not simply a juvenile issue, it is also a tribal sovereignty and family rights issue. Just last week, the Department of Interior issued strengthened ICWA regulations that will better protect the rights of Indian children, their parents and their tribes in state child welfare proceedings. The provisions ensure identification and tribal notification when Indian children are involved in state court custody proceedings and recognize Indian children are best served when ICWA is strictly enforced. Most important, the new regulations instruct state courts on how to provide reunification services to meet the ultimate goal in all foster care cases: reunification of the family. If you have ever considered the path of foster care, we need Cherokee families more than ever in Oklahoma and across the nation. For more information on how you can become a Cherokee foster home or other ways to help, please call Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare at 918-458-6900 or visit <a href="http://www.cherokeekids.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeekids.org</a>.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
06/01/2016 02:00 PM
Cherokee Nation citizens in at-large communities across Oklahoma and the United States are a vital part of our tribal government and are critical to our success. The Cherokee Nation has more than 330,000 citizens, and almost 205,000 of our enrolled citizenry live outside the tribe’s northeast Oklahoma jurisdiction. It is important we keep all our citizens as informed and up to date as we can. We recently launched a website www.cherokeesatlarge.org dedicated exclusively to connecting Cherokee Nation citizens residing beyond the tribe’s 14 counties with information on federal and tribal programs and services. The new site features unique information for Cherokee Nation citizens on home loans and IHS health care options. There are details about higher education scholarships available to any Cherokee no matter where you live. It’s a good way for Cherokees to interact, participate and remain connected to our government. I believe our bond as Cherokee people can never be broken, whether you live inside or outside the jurisdictional boundaries. It is important that all citizens be informed of what is happening with the Cherokee Nation. We all share similar values, Cherokee values: a commitment to family and community and a respect for preserving our heritage and culture. Many of our at-large citizens are involved with the nearly two dozen at-large Cherokee community organizations across the country. These groups make up the Cherokee Nation Community Association and are coordinated through the tribe’s Community and Cultural Outreach department. The new website provides vital information on Cherokee community gatherings near you. These are the community groups we visit regularly to share news updates, photo ID cards and voter registration information. In Oklahoma alone there are more than 90,000 Cherokee Nation citizens who reside outside our 14-county tribal boundary. Through our negotiated state compacts, all Cherokee Nation citizens in Oklahoma are eligible for a Cherokee Nation Hunting and Fishing license and Cherokee vehicle tags. The new website has information on both of these opportunities. Improving communication at the Cherokee Nation has been a longstanding goal, and it’s the reason we have launched an award-winning television show, “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People,” which can be streamed online at <a href="http://www.osiyo.tv" target="_blank">www.osiyo.tv</a>. We also mail an award-winning magazine to all citizens called “Anadisgoi.” Both the show and magazine profile exceptional citizens, current events and stories on Cherokee history and cultural preservation. The new site is something I have talked about with folks across the country as I travel. There was a need and desire for more information, so we set out to fulfill it. This administration is devoted to improving our tribe, protecting our families and creating more hope for the Cherokee people. The strength of the Cherokee Nation has always been its people. Passionate Cherokees are driving us forward and deserve every opportunity to better know and understand the tribe.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
05/02/2016 04:00 PM
Cherokee artisans are some of the most talented in Oklahoma and across all of Indian Country. They preserve our culture and heritage through their work across various mediums. It’s critical for us as Indian people to ensure Indian art is truly created by enrolled citizens of federally recognized tribes. That’s why Cherokee Nation, along with the leadership of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Nations, is supporting Oklahoma House Bill 2261, which is being considered now in the Oklahoma State Senate after passing the Oklahoma House of Representatives by a 90-0 vote. The bill is authored by Rep. Chuck Hoskin (D-Vinita) and Sen. John Sparks (D-Norman), Cherokee Nation citizens, and proposes a change in the definition of who can sell Indian art. The proposal defines “American Indian tribe” as any Indian tribe federally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and, further, defines “American Indian” as a citizen or enrolled member of an American Indian tribe. This issue is important for us because it ensures people who falsely claim tribal citizenship will not be able to market themselves and their crafts as Native. Oklahoma should take a strong position in preserving the integrity and authenticity of American Indian arts. As the home of 39 federally recognized tribes and more than 500,000 tribal citizens, Oklahoma should be the pacesetter for protecting tribal culture. Each of the 39 tribes in Oklahoma is a sovereign government with a unique history and culture and has been acknowledged and confirmed by the U.S. Constitution, treaties, federal statutes, executive orders and judicial decisions. Today, the sale of American Indian art and craftwork in Oklahoma is regulated by both federal and state laws, and strengthening our state laws guarantees the integrity of Native American art and the artists themselves. Oklahoma Indian artisans are renowned worldwide for beadwork, jewelry, basket weaving and fine arts like painting, pottery and sculpture. As the popularity of Indian art expands, so does the sale of items misrepresented as authentic American Indian products. Purchasing authentic American Indian art and crafts in Oklahoma from an enrolled citizen of a federally recognized Indian helps preserve our rich and diverse cultures, and it significantly increases entrepreneurship and economic development in Indian Country. H.B. 2261 will provide a direct economic benefit to Cherokee artists by helping to decrease the availability of fraudulent Cherokee art in the market. Additionally, if the availability of fraudulent items decreases, the demand for authentic art will increase. Closing the loophole about who can sell Indian art will protect not only the artists but individual consumers, galleries, art collectors and museums, especially smaller museums with fewer financial resources. Nothing in H.B. 2261 prevents individuals who claim to be tribal descendants from selling arts and crafts in Oklahoma. However, the claim “Indian made” or “Indian art” simply would not apply. I strongly encourage you to contact your state senators and ask them to support H.B. 2261.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
04/04/2016 12:00 PM
Osiyo. It was a historic achievement for the Cherokee Nation recently as the tribe negotiated, finalized and signed a Joint Venture Construction Program agreement with Indian Health Service to provide a new world-class health facility at our W.W. Hastings Hospital campus in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Later this spring we will break ground on the new facility, which is planned to be more than 450,000 square feet. Cherokee Nation will construct the facility at a cost of between $150 and $175 million. IHS will provide the staffing, including doctors, nurses and other professionals, a cost estimated to be more than $80 million annually for at least 20 years and likely longer. This historic project will be transformative for generations of our citizens. Our plan was to take a big step forward for Cherokee health care. Instead, we took a giant leap of faith and surpassed anything we could have hoped for. Once complete, sometime in late 2019, this will be a state-of-the-art health care center and the absolute crown jewel in our health care system. This is far and away the largest project IHS has ever helped a tribal government achieve. Our hospital is twice as big as the next largest IHS joint venture. It is something monumental, and it’s something we should all be proud of. IHS will work through Congress to secure the funds for staffing and operations for the life of the building. IHS saw Cherokee Nation as a good partner to deliver quality care, and together we are making the health of Indian Country our top priority. During my tenure as principal chief, no issue has been as important to me as ensuring our health care services continue to grow with our tribe. It’s been my mission to help drive down the extreme health disparities our Indian communities face. I’ve worked with passion and purpose, and today we are aggressively striving to improve the wellness of our tribe, both individually and collectively. We wisely invested $100 million of our businesses’ profits to expand and refurbish smaller clinics, and now we have a significant public-private partnership in place with IHS that will create construction jobs, health care jobs and an enormous positive economic impact in our region. This is the next step to ensuring Cherokee health care is the best in Indian Country and that our citizens reap the benefit. Cherokee Nation operates the largest tribal health system in America, and we desperately needed a new hospital, as the current 190,000-square-foot facility is more than 30 years old. It serves nearly 400,000 patient visits per year when it was built to handle only about 60,000 per year. This agreement will allow our health department to better meet the demand and needs of our Cherokee Nation citizens and other Native Americans who access our health system. A special thanks goes to the leadership in Congress who championed our cause. U.S. Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) led a bipartisan effort to reopen this IHS construction program, as well as Cherokee Nation citizen and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) for representing our needs with the federal agencies. It’s a golden moment in our Cherokee history. In three short years when we dedicate this new massive health complex, we will know in our hearts that the next several generations of Cherokees – our children and grandchildren – will have a better future. They will have more opportunities to live healthier lives. They will have access to cutting-edge, modern medicine. There is no better feeling in the world than knowing this is on the horizon for you and the ones we all love so deeply.