Principal Chief Bill John Baker
Inter-Tribal Council shows unified front
BY Bill john baker
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.
Wado to all Cherokee Nation citizens who participated in the recent elections for principal chief, deputy chief and Tribal Council. Regardless of whom you supported in the election, if you took time to vote, you expressed your voice and participated in our democratic process, which is critical to our future success. I thank God, my family, my friend Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and our supporters for the honor and opportunity to serve another term.
I invite you all to the inauguration ceremony at 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 14 at the Sequoyah Schools gymnasium, “The Place Where They Play.” The address is 17091 S. Muskogee Ave. in Tahlequah.
It’s critical that our citizens engage in our leadership selection process. I encourage all Cherokees to become involved and learn about the issues and processes that shape our government.
Moving beyond the election, we now return our focus and attention to what truly matters, and that is the future of the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee people. Another term in office will allow us the opportunity to keep building upon the progress we’ve made together during the last four years.
We have multiple projects in motion that will be absolute game-changing endeavors for our future, and over the next four years we will continue to focus on building a better world for all Cherokees.
The most important issue for our future is access to quality health care. Four years ago, Cherokees agreed our tribal health care was at a crisis point, so we invested $100 million from casino profits into health care expansion and improvements. Our record-breaking gaming profits should be utilized to benefit Cherokee Nation citizens. That is the reason we pursued gaming in the first place 25 years ago. This has allowed us to build new clinics in Jay and Ochelata and expanded health centers in Stilwell and Sallisaw. Soon, we will break ground on a 450,000-square-foot facility at the W.W. Hastings Hospital site in Tahlequah. The planned facility at that location will provide space for 1,200 new employees who will, in turn, provide quality care for our people.
Once the facility is built, we can launch our own medical school, where we hope to partner with Oklahoma State University to provide hands-on education right here in the Cherokee Nation. This means we will educate and train health care professionals who will one day staff our clinics and new hospital.
We will keep advancing our economic growth and finish major retail and entertainment expansion projects in Tahlequah and Catoosa. Additionally, we will implement statewide hunting and fishing licenses for all Cherokee Nation citizens near the end of year. We are also investing in our iconic structures by making a major renovation to our tribal headquarters in Tahlequah, a project that has been ignored for almost 40 years. Along with that, the refurbishing of our historic Cherokee capital building in downtown Tahlequah shows our commitment to the future.
It’s imperative that we convince even more Cherokee Nation youth that a college education is possible with our tribal scholarships. No qualified student who applied last year was turned down, and we supported nearly 4,000 Cherokees in college, a record number. We will help even more students in the future, honoring our ancestors’ deep commitment to education.
We want more Cherokees to enjoy the American dream of homeownership and put our Cherokee tradespeople to work building these homes. Hundreds of folks are taking advantage of our housing program, and thousands of Cherokees are now employed building those homes, including cement finishers, carpenters, bricklayers, roofers and plumbers.
Financial success for Cherokee families is equally important. We will keep advancing job development and driving the economy of northeast Oklahoma. We have a talented staff that is adept at securing federal grants to create jobs, programs and provide services for Cherokee people. Additionally, increased diversification of Cherokee Nation Businesses in our jurisdiction will continue to create cash flow for our tribe and increase self-sufficiency for our citizens.
Over the next four years, we will keep up that momentum and continue building on this successful foundation. We will continue looking for partnerships that create opportunities for our people, such as the Macy’s expansion in Owasso that is creating thousands of good jobs for Cherokees and non-Cherokees alike.
We’ll be sharing even more updates and more exciting news during the Cherokee National Holiday State of the Nation address. Please make plans to join us this coming Labor Day weekend for our annual homecoming event the first weekend in September.
With great enthusiasm and pleasure, we look forward to serving you, the Cherokee people, for another four years.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to the Cherokee Nation Election Commission, the new election for the Dist. 14 Tribal Council race between William “Bill” Pearson and Keith Austin will be held on July 25, the same day as the runoff races for the Dist. 6 and At-Large Tribal Council seats.
The EC scheduled the Dist. 14 election after the CN Supreme Court on July 8 determined that a winner could not be determined with mathematical certainty.
Pearson was certified the winner of the Dist. 14 race after the June 27 general election by one vote. Following a recount on July 2, his lead had been extended to six votes.
However, Austin appealed the recount results to the Supreme Court alleging that ballots were cast that should not have been accepted, ballots were cast that should have been accepted and two absentee ballot envelopes could not be found.
“There is one challenged ballot that was rejected that should have been accepted; there are eight voters who live outside of Dist. 14 who are incorrectly registered to vote in Dist. 14 who voted; there are two voters who voted by absentee who ballots were rejected that should have been accepted; there is one voter whose absentee ballot was accepted, but the commission cannot locate his affidavit envelope and there are two absentee voters who the commission has not given voter credit to,” Austin’s appeal stated.
After hearing testimony, the court ruled in Austin’s favor and ordered the EC to schedule a new election.
According to an EC statement, the EC will accept absentee ballot requests from CN citizens registered to vote in Dist. 14 through July 13. It also states that in-person absentee voting, or early walk-in voting, will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on July 18 and July 21-23 at the Election Services Office at 22116 S. Bald Hill Road. EC officials also said a secured drop box for the personal delivery of absentee ballots would be available at the Election Services office from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on July 21-25.
EC Chairman Bill Horton said voters who received an absentee ballot in the first election would automatically receive one for the July 25 elections. However, if a CN citizen didn’t vote in the general election wants to vote absentee on July 25, then he or she must complete an absentee ballot request.
Precinct locations for Dist. 14 and 6 will not change for the upcoming elections.
Dist. 14 covers parts of Rogers, Craig and Tulsa counties. Precinct locations are at the Rogers County Building’s Front Room located at 416 S. Brady in Claremore, the Boys & Girls Club located at 119 N. Ash St. in Chelsea and the Oologah Assembly of God Church located at 13462 S. Hwy. 169 in Oologah.
The Dist. 6 runoff is between Natalie Fullbright and Bryan Warner. The district covers the eastern part of Sequoyah County.
Precinct locations for that district are in Sallisaw at the United Methodist Church located at 2100 McGee Dr., in Belfonte at the Nicut/Belfonte Community Center at 474894 State Hwy. 101, in Marble City at the Town Hall located at 120 A N. Main St. and at the Cherokee Community Center at 603 N. Main St. in Muldrow. For a precincts map, go to <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/Portals/0/Documents/ElectionCommission/2014/precinct%20map%2010-14-14%20approved.pdf" target="_blank">http://www.cherokee.org/Portals/0/Documents/ElectionCommission/2014/precinct%20map%2010-14-14%20approved.pdf</a>
The At-Large runoff is between Betsy Swimmer and Wanda Hatfield. It has no precinct and is voted by absentee.
For more information, call 918-458-5899 or toll free at 1-800-353-2895 or email <a href="mailto: Election-Commission@cherokee.org">Election-Commission@cherokee.org</a>.
Economists at Oklahoma City University recently released a report detailing the Cherokee Nation’s economic impact in northeast Oklahoma. The results were what we expected and already knew for the most part – business is booming in the Cherokee Nation. What we didn’t expect was to what extent our economic footprint had grown – by more than 50 percent during the past four years.
Dr. Russell Evans of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University prepared the report. It showed in 2014 CN had an impact to the tune of $1.55 billion on our 14-county jurisdiction. That doesn’t even include spillover effects on the rest of the state. The same economists previously prepared economic impact reports for the CN. They showed in 2012 that number was $1.3 billion, compared to just over $1 billion in 2010. Clearly, the CN is growing by leaps and bounds.
But what does a $1.55 billion impact really mean to the Cherokee people? Perhaps most importantly, it means jobs to our economy. The CN was either directly or indirectly responsible for 15,610 jobs in northeast Oklahoma in 2014. Folks, that’s an impact that can’t be understated.
When we build roads, bridges, waterlines or homes, we’re employing people. The CN is making it possible for the good people responsible for those projects to provide for their families. We make it possible for them to have good insurance and opportunities to send their kids to school and enjoy an improved quality of life.
In addition to employing people to build those projects, we have to get the supplies from somewhere. That means the CN is purchasing lumber, concrete, pipes, paint and everything else that is needed to improve infrastructure for the Cherokee people. When we purchase those items, we’re supporting local, small businesses, allowing them to hire more people to meet our demand.
Likewise, our casino operations are providing opportunities we could not have imagined 10 or 15 years ago. We recently opened a new casino in South Coffeyville, bringing more than 100 jobs to Nowata County. In a county with barely more than 10,000 people, that’s huge. The boost of 100 jobs there will mean more paychecks pumped into local businesses and more out-of-town traffic that will bring new dollars to the area.
As is true with all our casinos, we need supplies ranging from food and beverage, uniforms, cleaning materials, furniture and other goods to meet our guests’ needs. Much of that is purchased locally, all across the 14 counties and from TERO-certified vendors. Every employee at every casino is guaranteed at least the CN minimum wage of $9.50 per hour, with many earning much more than that. Every full-time employee is also eligible for full medical, dental and vision insurance as well as 401(k) and paid vacation and sick leave. Where else in the CN can a restaurant server enjoy the same generous benefits as the CEO of their organization?
But a $1.55 billion impact also means services to our people. When our businesses succeed, services such as housing, health care, education and elder care are better funded and access is expanded. It means we reach more people with more services. Since restarting the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation in 2012, we’ve built more houses than in the previous decade. In 2014, we sent more college students to school on CN scholarships than ever before. And I’m proud to say we are treating more people through contract health services than ever before.
This is proof of what a 50 percent increase in economic impact means over just four years. It means expanded opportunities and new services for Cherokees and, as a by-product, for all Oklahomans. Folks, our future is bright and getting brighter. With many new projects in the works, we look forward to expanding our impact to employ more Cherokees, support more Cherokee-owned business, send more Cherokees to school and build more Cherokee homes in the future.
In the interest of transparency, we’ve put the full report online for you to view yourself. It can be found at <a href="http://www.CherokeeNationImpact.com" target="_blank">www.CherokeeNationImpact.com</a>. We hope you visit the website and see for yourself the progress we are making by leaps and bounds.
Part of my sworn oath as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation is to preserve, promote and advance the language and culture of the CN. We’ve seen some wonderful examples of that recently. Our Cherokee Language Immersion School children successfully competed in a language competition at the University of Oklahoma; we showcased our culture to the world at the Smithsonian’s Cherokee Days; and we’ve done something no other tribe has done – introduced a television and online program called “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People,” which highlights the stories, language, history and culture of the Cherokee people.
Last month our immersion school kids traveled to Norman to compete in the 13th annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, a competition that showcased the skills of young Native speakers from more than a dozen Oklahoma tribes. They made all of us so proud, as they brought home awards and recognition from many categories.
This is a testament to the efforts and achievements of our Cherokee language programs. Our immersion school teaches children from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade all the subjects required by Oklahoma, but entirely in the Cherokee language. The school has become a model for all other tribes in the preservation and advancement of Native languages.
Other language programs are paying off as well. Our translation department has worked with technology giants like Microsoft, Google and Apple to bring the Cherokee language into the 21st century. Their most recent achievement was getting Cherokee on Android smart phones.
Our newest endeavor is one I am excited about. We just launched a Cherokee language master-apprentice program that provides one-on-one instruction to adults for 40 hours per week, so they can go back into their communities and teach it to others. These programs, in addition to online classes, community classes and satellite programs in schools, ensure our Cherokee language is not just preserved, but advances.
We also just returned from Cherokee Days, hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The three-day event was a joint effort between the CN and our brothers and sisters from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to showcase our shared culture and art forms, as well as each tribe’s unique traditions and cultures that developed following the Trail of Tears.
More than 25,000 people visited the museum over the weekend, taking in live art demonstrations, Cherokee storytelling, traditional dance and melodies of the Cherokee National Youth Choir and Eastern Band performers. Exporting our culture to our nation’s capital is a priceless opportunity. Visitors from countries around the world come to the three-day event for the specific purpose of learning about Cherokee culture and customs. These are people who’ve never been to the CN and may never visit, but now they know our accomplishments and legacy, and what it means to be Cherokee. Many visitors were so impressed they are already planning a trip to our CN to learn even more. This could be an economic boon for our tribe and the local economy.
This was our second straight year of participation in Cherokee Days, and it’s something we hope to continue with the Smithsonian for many more years to come.
Another new effort to share our culture and educate others has been through our new television and online program, “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People.” Our third episode debuted in April to much praise. It’s an endeavor unlike anything the CN or any other tribe has ever undertaken. The show introduces us to Cherokee people who are excelling in their fields, making a difference in their communities or inspiring others to greatness. It also tells the true history of the CN and the figures who helped shape our tribe and make it what it is today. But perhaps most importantly, it tells the stories of what a true Cherokee looks like and what his or her daily life is like. It shows Cherokee people are a modern people who contribute to and value their communities, while preserving our priceless culture, language and heritage.
The program airs in northeast Oklahoma, northwest and western Arkansas and southwest Missouri. Full episodes, individual segments and local showtimes can be found at www.Osiyo.tv. The positive feedback over the last three months has far exceeded our expectations. If you have not watched this program yet, I urge you to do so.
All these efforts combined make me so proud to be Cherokee, and I know each of you shares that same feeling. I want to thank all of you for your contributions to our tribe, our culture and our many successes. God bless each and every one of you, and God bless the CN.
The race for principal chief isn’t about who can raise the most money. It’s about leadership. Leadership is running an honest, fair government for our people. Leadership is treating all tribal citizens in our communities, at-large Cherokees and Cherokee Nation employees with dignity. Leadership is making sure our people receive top-quality service overall.
People who know me know that I have spent my whole life working side by side with Cherokee people and communities to address the issues they believe are important. As I have traveled through the communities of the CN and visited with at-large Cherokees across the U.S., I have asked them to tell me which issues they believe we need to address. Three major concerns have emerged consistently: health care, housing and education.
People tell me that our health care needs the most work. Cherokees need efficient and effective access to our health care system. Elders often comment it would be nice if they could have Cherokee speakers to assist them in communicating with the staff. Our health care system should be state-of-the-art with the amount of money we’re putting into health care. Our people shouldn’t have to go to Tulsa because we lack the technology or expertise needed. We need enough staff and the best technology and care here.
In the past we had success with helpers who worked with patients and guided them through the system. These helpers know the system and they get answers to questions, help patients with paperwork and government funding, setting appointments and clearly explaining what is happening at each step in the process. All of our facilities need these sorts of helpers. Each facility should have at least one who speaks Cherokee to help our elders who don’t speak English.
We also want to explore greater use of technology in our facilities. But we don’t want technology to be used as a barrier between Cherokee people and their caregivers. When Cherokee people call one of our facilities, they should be able to speak with a human being and not a robot.
Cherokees should be living in affordable, safe homes that are big enough for their families’ needs. We need to look at our entire housing program and figure out why it isn’t working. We need to design a program that is fair.
But this isn’t a short-term problem with one easy solution. We’ll need to look at the programs already in place, whether it be self-help homes, mortgage assistance or having the Nation build a home for you. We need to look at many housing options, from stick-built homes to modular units, and make sure that the option selected meets the family’s needs.
We also will explore the use of geothermal energy systems in the houses we build. While I was Community Services leader for the CN, we built a geothermal homes project in Redbird. Those homeowners tell me that the geothermal systems cut their monthly energy costs in half and give them predictable and affordable energy bills month after month. I want the CN to be a model for other nations in the use of green energy for our people.
We want Cherokee people to have the best education, no matter whether they live in a city or in a rural community. We will work with our communities to create the local education systems that best meet their needs.
We need to leverage existing programs, like the federal Head Start Program and the foundation-supported Educare to assure our kids are ready to succeed when they start school. These programs exist in Oklahoma City and Tulsa and they work.
Our Nation can offer opportunities, with training and paths to higher pay even without or while pursuing a college degree. We need a well-educated workforce to attract businesses with high-paying jobs to our communities, like when Google built a new data center in Pryor in 2007, bringing with it $700 million in local investment.
Speaking of technology, our schools can be wired for high-speed internet and have up-to-date technology for our students to learn on so they are prepared for the world they will live in after graduation.
As I campaign for our great nation’s highest office, I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I know I can work effectively with the Cherokee people, in the spirit of gadugi, to address the issues that matter most to them and to build an even stronger CN together.
<strong>Charlie Soap, of Stilwell, is a lifelong resident of the CN. Charlie has served as Housing Management specialist and acting director of the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation, director of the CN Community Development Department and group leader of Community Services. He is the director of the award-winning feature film, “The Cherokee Word for Water,” which tells the story of the Bell Waterline Project and the collaboration of Charlie, his late wife Wilma Mankiller, and the Bell community. Charlie’s campaign web site is votesoap.com.</strong>
Prior to being elected principal chief, I sat on the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council for 12 years. Early on in that time, my good friend Chuck Hoskin Sr., representative for Nowata County at the time, took me to the South Coffeyville area to teach me more about that neck of the woods. He joked to me that Nowata County and South Coffeyville really are part of the Cherokee Nation.
He was kidding, of course, but he made a good point. I realized at that time that some of our more northern areas, like Nowata County, often feel somewhat disconnected to the goings on in the Cherokee Nation. That became even clearer when I was elected to serve as principal chief in late 2011. I visited the area, spoke with people in Nowata and other northern counties, and I could feel their frustration. They saw economic development happening in other regions of the Cherokee Nation but not in their backyards.
I pledged then and there we would change that. We would provide the same opportunities for our northern Cherokees as we’d provided for Cherokees in West Siloam Springs, Roland, Sallisaw, Fort Gibson, Tahlequah, Claremore, Catoosa and Ramona.
I’m proud to report we delivered on that pledge last week when we opened the new Cherokee Casino South Coffeyville. It added 135 jobs to the region, with 100 of them going to Cherokees. And on the day it opened, northeast Oklahoma had just been hit with the heaviest snow of the year. But guess what—not a single employee called in due to weather. They were so eager to work that they put on their new Cherokee Casino uniforms and braved those conditions just to make it to their first day on the job. That is dedication.
Cherokees in Nowata and surrounding counties know the value of a good-paying job. That’s because the unemployment rate in the area has been higher than we’d like for quite some time. The area has been ripe to employ people who want to work, Cherokees who want to work. So to have 135 jobs come to a town of just a few hundred people has an immeasurable impact on so many families.
There are now 135 families bringing home paychecks from well-paying jobs. A hundred thirty-five families who now have access to world-class medical, dental and life insurance for the entire family. A hundred thirty-five families who are saving for retirement and now have a pathway to move up while working for their tribe.
It warms my heart to know the Cherokee Nation can have that kind of impact on our people. And every corner of the Cherokee Nation deserves that opportunity. As the tribe continues to prosper, we will continue expanding economic opportunities to other parts of the Cherokee Nation, including non-gaming opportunities as well.
We’ve come a long way since I made that trip to Nowata County, but I know we have further to go. I look forward to fulfilling that same promise in other areas of the Cherokee Nation so that no Cherokee feels left behind and no Cherokee feels like our tribe isn’t there for them.
God bless all of you, and God bless the Cherokee Nation.