Bill John Baker

Back in the home construction business

BY Phoenix Archives
08/13/2012 09:23 AM
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief

As you may have heard, the Cherokee Nation is back in the home construction business.

Earlier this year, the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation was re-launched and started taking applications from across the 14 counties. The first families are about to start moving in to their respective homes and the HACN is still wading through the more than 900 applications received as of July’s council meeting.

Although the work our Commerce Department’s Mortgage Assistance Program does is to be commended, it is not necessarily the best option for every citizen. With a Nation as large and diverse as ours, a “one size fits all” approach does not always work when dealing with assistance programs.

Additionally, these homes have the potential to help alleviate a couple of issues within the CN. Granted, they are not a cure-all by any stretch of the imagination, but they are an important step forward.

These homes are being built right here within the Nation. We’re not using a factory in another state or another country to cut out parts for pre-fabricated buildings. These jobs are an opportunity to put our citizens to work in our communities. It’s no secret that unemployment is still high and as a Nation, we should jump at any chance to bring quality jobs to our citizens, especially in our poorer areas where new employment opportunities of any kind are generally few and far between.

In addition to providing jobs to our citizens, these homes have the potential to provide additional money for our badly underfunded public school districts.

Since these homes are being built on what is considered “Indian land” by the federal government, they bring Impact Aid money to the local school districts. We are all aware that our school districts are scraping for every dollar possible right now and this long-standing federal program compensates districts for property within their areas that are not necessarily subject to state property taxes. The money that comes with each child living in one of those homes is outside the formula used by the state to determine school districts’ funding and can be used in any way the local school district wants. For some schools, it may make the difference between retaining or firing a teacher or keeping a bus route running.

As we continue to move this Nation forward toward a proud future, I firmly believe that every Cherokee citizen should have access to safe, affordable housing without having to leave our communities across northeastern Oklahoma. By providing an opportunity for our citizens to live, work and play near their extended families, we can keep our language, culture and traditions strong for our future generations.

bill-baker@cherokee.org


918-453-5618

Opinion

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.
BY BRYAN POLLARD
Executive Editor
02/09/2015 01:16 PM
The 2015 general election season is ramping up and candidates, campaigns and citizens are tuning in to what will likely be a contentious competition for seats in the administration and the Tribal Council. Each candidate will try to convince you of their virtues while their campaign attempts to denigrate their competition. Many things will be said – some true, some not – to win support from voters. Many things will change during the coming months as voters listen and decide how they will cast their votes, and our government has new faces and ideas. But one thing will not change: The Cherokee Phoenix will continue to be a source of accurate and unbiased news and information. Since the passage of the Independent Press Act in 2000, the Cherokee Phoenix has been mandated by law to “report without bias the activities of the government and the news of interest to have informed citizens.” The act does not specify how we should accomplish this mission but provides some tools and direction to reach this goal. In the past 15 years we have gradually added strategic plans, policies and features to add structure and consistency to this mission. The members of the Editorial Board, the executive editor and Cherokee Phoenix staff are prohibited from participating in political activities. This prohibition is specified in the act and although it does not guarantee the removal of bias, it does at least remove the appearance of impropriety. Editorial policies have been enacted by the Editorial Board to provide sound guidance in the acceptance or denial of letters and columns submitted for publishing. These policies have been gradually strengthened in recent years to include prohibitions on untruthful or unverifiable claims, insulting someone’s character and political lobbying. Advertising policies have also been enacted to ensure that political advertisements are labeled to include who paid for the ad and the relevant contact information. This should provide readers and voters with necessary information about who is placing an ad and for what purpose. All candidates for any Cherokee Nation office can publish a free campaign announcement in the newspaper. To avoid the appearance of favoritism, the Cherokee Phoenix does not cover campaign events or rallies. Instead, we offer equal campaign publicity to all candidates through an announcement written in the candidate’s own words. A “Meet the Candidates” guide will be published in the June 2015 newspaper. The guide will consist of responses received to a questionnaire we send to all filed candidates for Tribal Council. This guide provides a level playing field for all candidates to respond to the same questions about issues affecting the CN and its citizens. The Cherokee Phoenix will also host a public debate between the candidates for principal and deputy chief. The debate, which will be attended by a live audience as well as broadcast live on the Internet, will provide all candidates a fair opportunity to respond to questions and offer their perspectives on important issues. In addition to everything mentioned, the Cherokee Phoenix will also be devoting a substantial amount of news coverage to many of the issues raised during the campaign season to provide greater detail or important context to statements that deserve more than just a “sound bite.” The Cherokee Phoenix staff is required to report in a way that honors the journalistic ethics of accuracy and fairness, and this will be true of all election coverage. One element of this coverage will be in the form of a “Truth Report” that will be published as necessary in the newspaper. This report will examine public statements made by candidates, and provide feedback to our readers about its accuracy or authenticity based on our independent investigation of the statement. We began publishing the Truth Report in 2011 at the suggestion of Editorial Board Chair John Shurr, and we have received much praise from readers who value an impartial assessment of campaign rhetoric. These policies and features to ensure fairness did not happen overnight, but are the results of years of journalism experience working within a tribal setting. I believe that ethical reporting and fairness must be the guiding principles that determine how we conduct ourselves and perform our duties. The Cherokee people and our readers have come to rely on us as a vital source of news and information about Cherokee society, history and language. The CN was the first Indian Nation to enact a tribal press and to publish a newspaper for Cherokee people by Cherokee people. The legacy of the Cherokee Phoenix – a legacy that we still forge today – must always be one of truth before rumor, fairness before bias, and principles before politics. The Cherokee people have come to depend on it, and we must always be committed to delivering it.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
01/01/2015 12:00 PM
As we begin a new year, we are blessed to open a chapter of new possibilities and reflect on successes in 2014. The coming year offers us an opportunity to meet the needs of the Cherokee people and deliver services and implement new ideas that will improve lives. We will continue to focus on things that make real and lasting impacts in the lives of Cherokee Nation citizens by providing homes, health and hope. We made a $100 million investment from casino profits to provide better health care for CN citizens. In 2013 and 2014 we broke ground on health centers in Ochelata, Sallisaw, Stilwell and Jay. We are working diligently to complete those new and expanded health centers that will provide service to more than 1 million patient visits in the coming year. In 2015, all four of these health centers will open. The expanded space, coupled with state-of-the-art equipment, allows us to deliver better and faster care. Another bright spot in our approach to health care was the opening of our new Jack Brown Center in Tahlequah. The center offers world-class therapy and care to troubled Native youths and young adults battling substance abuse. We believe in a holistic approach to health care delivery, and helping young people battle addiction is equally as important as treating other diseases. Increasing hope for Cherokee families means access to quality jobs. In 2014, Macy’s broke ground on a fulfillment center in Owasso, creating thousands of jobs. With our CN Career Services leading the recruitment effort, CN citizens will fill many of those Macy’s jobs. Cherokees can be proud of other retail development projects announced in 2014. Cherokee Springs Plaza in Tahlequah is a $170 million development project that will include dining, retail and entertainment and adjoins Cherokee Springs Golf Course. In addition to the permanent jobs created when tenants begin filling retail spaces, Cherokee Springs will create hundreds of construction and support jobs, as development is projected to span a five-year period. Cherokee Springs Plaza is a nice complement to the upscale retail development we announced in September. We are developing a high-end outlet mall adjoining the Cherokee Hills Golf Club near the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The dining and entertainment options are projected to create 1,000 permanent jobs and hundreds of other jobs during construction. We expect to annually generate $120 million in sales and attract 2 million additional visitors to the area. Our partner, Woodmont Outlets, is spearheading the $80 million development that will increase the number of visitors to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa in the coming years. Cherokee Nation Entertainment broke ground on two casinos is 2014, which will provide hundreds of Cherokee jobs. In Roland, we launched an $80 million project with expanded dining, entertainment and hotel space, which will bring 100 new jobs to the region. In August, we broke ground on the Cherokee Casino South Coffeyville, just south of the Kansas border. This casino will also create 100 jobs in an area that has been left out of CN economic development for too long. A good job leads to family stability. I’m proud that in 2014, I signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for all CN employees. CNB followed suit by passing a similar resolution. The bump to $9.50 an hour was simply the right thing to do for our employees and our people. We have more Cherokees working for our businesses than ever before, so this increase helps them better meet their families’ needs. That’s a source of pride for me, just as the expansion of our car tag program is. In June, a compact with the Oklahoma Governor’s Office allowed us to offer car tags for the first time to Cherokees living anywhere in Oklahoma. People said it could not be done, but I’m thankful we were able to achieve this. In 2014, also saw the CN preserve vital pieces of our culture and history. Bison retuned to the CN through a federal surplus program, and we could not be happier. We have reconnected a piece of our heritage to our bright future. The herd of bison will grow, creating a boon in cultural tourism and other economic development opportunities. The CN was also proactive in working with high tech companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft to incorporate our language and syllabary across multiple user platforms. This guarantees our language will thrive as people use it to communicate in modern ways such as texting and email. I am proud of what we have done in 2014 and look to building on these successes in 2015. As I have said, a good government makes life better for its people and for future generations. When we are healthy and have jobs and home security, we are more hopeful. That is what we are working toward every day for Cherokee people. All these achievements were made possible through the grace of God and because of the team effort of our thousands of dedicated employees, and to them I extend a sincere “wado.” So on behalf of all those at CN working hard on your behalf, I wish you all the blessings of a happy New Year.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
12/05/2014 08:00 AM
We celebrate Christmas to honor the birth of Jesus Christ and his life of service. The enduring and basic message of his life is one of peace and goodwill towards all. So while the Christmas season is a wonderful time filled with family and friends, it is also the perfect time to reflect on the year and see how we’ve helped our fellow man by emulating the virtues of Jesus Christ. No matter your circumstances, this is the time of year for each of us to embrace the virtues of charity, righteousness and goodness in each other and in the world. I hope that whatever your burdens and challenges are, the Christmas season will keep your spirits bright and your soul full. The magic of the season is that the world seems brighter with unlimited possibilities. I hope that holds true for you and yours. As 2014 comes to a close, it’s the ideal moment to count our blessings. Many of our Cherokee citizens have been blessed this past year with additional or improved services. We’ve added more access to better health care, built many safe, affordable houses that our citizens are turning into homes, and are providing greater opportunities for our people to succeed. While the year may not have been perfect, our Cherokee spirit helps all of us rise above any challenge we face. Cherokees are strong and have always been able to look past our trials and come together with friends and family, give of ourselves and share with others, and support those who are truly in need. That’s what makes Christmas extraordinary. That’s the Cherokee way. I know that we are blessed as a people, and with God on our side, brighter tomorrows are inevitable. More than ever, it is important to share this message of hope and inspiration today. In that spirit of grace, let us reaffirm the values that define us as Cherokee – our community, our unity, our responsibility, our traditions and our love and respect for our fellow Cherokee citizens. I’ve been taught by our Cherokee elders that we are each other’s keepers, and have been throughout our history. So let us, as Cherokee people, look to the future with renewed courage, conviction and, most importantly, hope. The positive things we do today will have a ripple effect for Cherokees for the next seven generations. Together, we can foster real growth in our families and communities, we can take shared responsibility for vulnerable children and our tribal elders, and we can keep the true spirit of Christmas – selflessness and compassion – alive in our hearts for Cherokee people in the upcoming year. I wish you and yours the very best for the season and for prosperity in the New Year. I hope you are surrounded by family and friends and feel merriment and joy this holiday season. And for our troops who are unable to be home for the holidays, I wish them Godspeed and that the New Year brings them safely home to their families. May God bless each of you this Christmas, and as always, may God continue to bless the Cherokee Nation.