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>.
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.
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.
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.
At our world-class Cherokee Nation health care centers, we are committed to the well-being of our patients. One of the most progressive initiatives we have today is the Hepatitis C Elimination Project. This is a pilot program to screen patients for the disease, with an end goal to cure all those who test positive. I am proud our tribal health department is doing everything possible to eliminate this debilitating disease many of our Cherokee families face.
We are committed to fighting this disease because it touches so many here in the heart of Indian Country. It is a viral infection that can cause serious liver damage, liver failure and even death. About 3.2 million people in America live with hepatitis C, and 75 percent of them don’t even know they are carriers because they are symptom free.
Like with many poor health signifiers, the issue is in even more prominent in our tribal communities. According to the Urban Indian Health Institute, based in Seattle, Indian people are twice as likely to be diagnosed with hepatitis C. Sadly, substance abuse is another contributing factor and critical escalator of our rates with hepatitis C. Opiate abuse is a significant part of the problem, as 73 percent of cases involve intravenous drug use. Unlicensed tattoo artists reusing ink or not sanitizing needles properly are also contributing.
The rates are not good but there is hope, and that’s why we are tackling this issue head on. So far in the Cherokee Nation’s health system there have been 12,000 patients screened, with 4 percent of women and 7 percent of men testing positive. Of those, roughly 300 patients have taken the medicine, which is non-invasive and allows patients to continue a normal routine, and have been cured. We have seen a high success rate with treatments, and our hope is to eliminate this disease entirely through Cherokee Nation Health Services. As Native people and as Cherokee Nation citizens, we must keep striving to eliminate hepatitis C from our population.
Staying ahead of the rate of infection requires vigilant testing, screening, treatment and creative strategies to prevent future cases. We are now screening all tribal health department patients over the age of 20, which avoids the problems of determining which patients to test, and will help identify a carrier even if the virus is dormant.
Through diligent counseling and public awareness programs, I am confident we will drive down exposure to this infection. In the past, a positive hepatitis C test could be crippling to an individual or family, both physically and financially.
We have dedicated leaders within our Cherokee Nation Health Services department who partnered with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Oklahoma Department of Health and the University of Oklahoma on this effort. Additionally, Gilead Sciences, a biopharmaceutical company, donated $1.5 million to this unique partnership that enabled the creation of a prevention and treatment plan. The Cherokee Nation is the only entity in the country working on an elimination project with the CDC.
Our partners are just as committed as we are to cure patients with hepatitis C and work to reduce the incidents of new infections. The historic joint effort between federal, state and tribal governments will help lay the foundation of a national strategy to fight hepatitis C.
A diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence. I hope you will join us in this battle and help us drive out hepatitis C once and for all. Please ask your medical provider to screen you for hepatitis C. It’s not often we can say a disease can be completely eliminated from a citizenry, but it’s something we can absolutely achieve in the Cherokee Nation.
Heroes deserve hope.
That’s a mission that will be fulfilled as we create more opportunities for the brave men and women who have given so much of themselves to our great country through their military service.
A new tribal program launched in partnership between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will ensure Native military veterans have access to safe and secure housing. This partnership is especially significant because it marks the first time the HUD/VA housing assistance program has included tribes. Nationwide, $5.9 million will be distributed among the selected tribal governments.
It’s an admirable goal, and I am proud the Cherokee Nation will be one of 26 tribal governments nationwide to share in federal funding to provide long-term housing for veterans who need a permanent home. We will provide 20 vouchers to Cherokee veterans for rental assistance thanks to $194,000 awarded to our tribe.
As most of us know, Indian people serve in the military at a higher rate than any other group, and this program targets homeless veterans within tribal jurisdictions. There is no better way to honor the service and sacrifice of Cherokee veterans than by making sure they have a roof over their head.
In our communities, homelessness may not be the textbook definition of “homeless.” We don't see as much traditional homelessness in Indian Country as other racial populations because our people take care of one another. We don't kick people out on the streets. However, many Indian families and homes are severely overcrowded. This is one of the examples of “homelessness” within our tribal communities.
Cherokee Nation was selected to participate because we have raised the bar for veteran services. We have a state-of-the-art veterans center, which provides veterans invaluable resources and services, and we have a memorandum of understanding in place with the VA to treat Native veterans with routine health care in tribal facilities.
I applaud HUD Secretary Julián Castro for traveling to Oklahoma for the sole purpose of sharing this news with tribal leaders and for the White House’s efforts to curb the rate of veteran homelessness. This new effort will ensure Cherokee patriots get the assistance they desperately need after serving our country. As Secretary Castro said, we can “create a better 21st century for all Americans.”
We are already working with the VA to identify 20 Cherokees veterans who need adequate housing. My administration has been defined by homes and hope. I am so proud we will be able to do this for our veterans. Anytime you can help provide the basic necessities for a Cherokee Nation citizen and for a veteran, it is the right and honorable thing to do. Heroes deserve hope. I believe this program will be a great success and hope it will perpetuate and help more deserving souls in the future.