Julia Coates

Preconceived ideas about at-large Cherokees needs examination

BY Phoenix Archives
05/10/2012 09:56 AM
BY JULIA COATES
Tribal Councilor

The Cherokee Phoenix’s recent article about the work of the tribe’s Community Organization Training and Technical Assistance or COTTA Program with the at-large Cherokee satellite communities highlights the strong effort the program has made in the 4-1/2 years it has been doing such work. The attendance of at-large Cherokees at the 2011 COTTA conference was a highlight for many of the 35 people who participated, and I still hear many positive remarks about their experiences in making connections with other Cherokee communities.

However, the article also exhibited many common, preconceived notions of who at-large citizens are. As a scholar who has worked with at-large Cherokees for the past 15 years, I have conducted extensive interviews with at-large citizens as part of my dissertation and post-doctoral research. I have been involved in forming and analyzing at-large groups since 1999, and I developed the model that COTTA used in helping to organize the majority of the satellite organizations.

I would offer a different perspective on the at-large people from the rather homogenous descriptions that were provided in the article and strongly suggest to the new administration and the workers at COTTA, that they not overlook the real qualities of this particular segment of the Cherokee population.

The article emphasized the “disconnect” and the lack of cultural knowledge on the part of the at-large people. It was even stated that when one is “here,” i.e., the 14 counties, one “feels” and “understands” what it means to be Cherokee, but that when one leaves the area – poof! – that understanding and feeling is gone. One organizer stated “You can tell. When I go, I feel it.”

Corresponding statements stressed the cultural programs that have been brought to provide accurate information, which will then “bleed” into the at-large people, which they will then incorporate into their daily lives. As someone who studies and teaches community organizing and development, I am skeptical of the rather top-down, unidirectional nature of these statements. I’m not convinced that the flow of information is only valuable in one direction.

These preconceived beliefs about the at-large people are widespread among those in northeastern Oklahoma. For instance, in community meetings in Wichita, Kansas City and Denver several weeks ago, the new principal chief and new director of Community Leadership voiced many of the same expressions that the COTTA personnel stated in the article.

With a better knowledge of my constituents, when I walk into a meeting of at-large Cherokees, I actually don’t “feel” the differences as much as I understand the similarities. I wondered if the administration realized that in the crowds were not only those who are somewhat disconnected (just as there are in northeastern Oklahoma), but also at-large people whose grandchildren attend the Cherokee Immersion School, who were themselves members of ceremonial grounds, who create and promote Cherokee art, who work in Indian education nationally, who serve on state Indian commissions and boards and who work regularly in Indian Child Welfare, repatriation, opposing fraudulent groups and other legal issues.

While the focus of the administration and COTTA has been what kinds of cultural information they can transmit to the at-large people, several people in the groups asked, “What can we do for the Cherokee Nation?” to which the chief had no response. I suggest that answers to this question should be developed, for as much as the at-large desire to receive from the Nation, they also have things to offer the Nation. The “bridge” we are building needs to be a two-lane road based on real understandings of these citizens, not unexamined, preconceived ideas.

julia-coates@cherokee.org


918-772-0288

Election

BY STAFF REPORTS
07/10/2015 11:42 PM
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>.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
06/01/2015 11:00 AM
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.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
05/04/2015 04:00 PM
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.
BY CHARLIE SOAP
Cherokee Nation Citizen
05/01/2015 04:00 PM
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. <strong>Health care</strong> 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. <strong>Housing</strong> 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. <strong>Education</strong> 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>
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
04/01/2015 12:00 PM
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.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
03/02/2015 10:00 AM
Helping our employees at the Cherokee Nation meet both work and family obligations is a good guiding principle, and it is the right thing to do. That’s why the CN has adopted a new Human Resources policy regarding maternity leave to support family values and working Cherokee families. The new plan includes eight weeks of fully paid maternity leave for CN government employees who’ve been with the tribe for at least one year and who are on the Nation’s insurance plan. Unlike the old policy, and what is typical in other workplaces, no sick or vacation days must be used before paid maternity leave is utilized. The fully paid maternity leave program will benefit Cherokee families and position the CN as one of the most sought-after places of employment for women. While the CN Family Medical and Leave of Absence policy ensures new mothers won’t lose their jobs by taking maternity leave, it does not guarantee pay during the time away. The U.S. Department of Labor says 70 percent of women with children at home are in the workforce, yet only about 16 percent of employers offer fully paid maternity leave. That means many families take on significant and burdensome debt from the birth of a child. That’s a sad fact and a sad reflection on the priorities of our society. This progressive policy by the CN, however, puts families first and places us at the forefront of a much-needed evolution in workforce policy. More than 70 percent of our tribal government employees are women. Once again, CN is proving to be a leader by showing our state, other tribal governments and all of the United States our real commitment to our talented workforce. We need modern policies for a modern workforce, and this progressive change will be good for business, for the regional economy, for community health and, most importantly, for Cherokee families. We will be one of the few tribes nationally that offer this benefit to staff, and implementing this policy places us far ahead of Oklahoma government and business entities. It’s been shown internationally that forward-thinking human resource policies, like expanded maternity leave, reduce employee turnover and training costs and provide overall health care savings to both the employer and employee. Sadly, the United States lags far behind other developed nations in providing paid maternity leave. The CN has long been the employer of choice, and we will not lose talented potential employees by failing to ensure access to paid maternity leave. Recruitment and retention blossom with ensured job security. That means economic stability for our workers, but for our tribe it can also mean a renewed since of loyalty and increased productivity from our employees. While there is a logical economic argument to support and justify this CN policy, it is more important on a moral and human level. Time with a newborn is irreplaceable and nothing can ever break those family bonds established in the first days of life. Our dedication to building a healthier CN must start in infancy. As a father and grandfather, I know a healthy life and a healthy family start then. Parents with an early hands-on role in their children’s lives will be more involved for years to come and their children will be healthier. Additionally, having that safe and uninterrupted time means higher rates of breastfeeding and immunizations and regular health visits for the infants. It also means lower risks of postpartum depression, as those bonds within the home and family are able to be built without undue outside stress. Candace, who works in our Human Services, is expecting her second child this year. She says the new policy will allow her to concentrate on her family and newborn without worrying about bills. Having that economic security will be a huge relief to her family in those crucial days. Building a strong, healthy government means we won’t have to find and train new workers to replace our talented staff. Building a strong, healthy family means our staff can prioritize their values appropriately. I am proud we are putting our people first and truly promoting family values.