http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgPrincipal Chief Bill John Baker delivers his State of the Nation address at the 65th Cherokee National Holiday on Sept. 2 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. COURTESY
Principal Chief Bill John Baker delivers his State of the Nation address at the 65th Cherokee National Holiday on Sept. 2 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. COURTESY

State of the Nation urges water, natural resources protection

BY STAFF REPORTS
09/05/2017 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Principal Chief Bill John Baker urged Cherokee Nation citizens to do their part in helping protect clean water for this generation and future generations during his State of the Nation address on Sept. 2 during the 65th annual Cherokee National Holiday.

Hundreds of tribal citizens and visitors gathered at the Cherokee National Capitol Square to hear the annual address. The principal chief has delivered the speech annually since the 1950s.

“Preserving and defending our culture and values are important to me and my administration,” Baker said. “All Cherokees should feel an innate desire to protect clean water for our current and our next seven generations. This charge is one of our greatest obligations. We do this because water is sacred – the theme for this year’s holiday.”

Just days before the holiday, a federal court ruled that Cherokee Freedmen descendants are eligible for CN citizenship. Baker addressed the ruling in his speech.

“We are strong. We are resilient. We are the descendants of Cherokees who endured unimaginable hardships. Our Freedmen brothers and sisters made that Trail of Tears journey with us,” Baker said. “We are taking steps to begin the healing for all parties. On Friday, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court issued an order reversing an earlier decision. This confirms Freedmen descendants’ full rights to citizenship.”

Among the steps taken by the tribe to protect water, Baker highlighted an ongoing court case involving Sequoyah Fuels Corporation.

“Earlier this year, when a corporation wanted to permanently store 12,000 tons of radioactive material near the banks of the Arkansas and Illinois rivers, our legal team, led by Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill and Attorney General Todd Hembree, took this corporation to court and prevented that radioactive sludge from being permanently buried in Sequoyah County,” Baker said.

He also recently signed an executive order limiting the tribe’s use of Styrofoam, a source of trash that has long-term negative effects for the environment, including water.

“Going forward, we will use recyclable or compostable materials whenever we can so that we’re not leaving today’s problems for future generations to solve,” Baker said.

A second executive order will reduce carbon emissions of tribal operations by 25 percent over the next 10 years. Among other methods to achieve the reduction in emissions, the tribe leased land to a company for the development of a wind energy farm on CN trust land in Kay County near the former Chilocco Indian School site. Construction is expected to begin this fall. A solar canopy car charging station is also being built at the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex to reduce carbon emissions.

“Scientific evidence tells us that global climate disruption is threatening our very existence. Continuing to put more pollutants in the air is devastating to Mother Earth,” Baker said. “Instead of being part of the problem, we are taking the lead in becoming part of the solution. As part of our efforts to lower carbon emissions, we have entered into a major wind energy project that will provide 200 megawatts of clean energy. We’re also constructing a solar energy canopy at the tribal headquarters that will provide clean energy to the complex, and let visitors and employees charge electric vehicles.”

Also in the past year, the tribe broke ground on the Outpatient Health Center at the W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah. The facility will be nearly 470,000 square feet when completed in 2019 and will be the largest tribal health center in the country.

“The $200 million investment from Cherokee Nation to build the facility, coupled with Indian Health Service’s pledge to provide almost $90 million annually for staff and operations is unprecedented,” Baker said. “More than 350 new construction jobs have been created and 800 new health jobs are coming. This project represents a major advancement in our ability to deliver the best health care to our people. We’ve forever changed the way Cherokees think about their health care and reimagined what healthy lives can be for our citizens.”

The CN also stepped in to save Sequoyah’s homestead near Sallisaw in late 2016. Faced with drastic budget cuts, the Oklahoma Historical Society planned to close the site, but the tribe was able to acquire the property. Repairs and renovations were completed before the historic site was reopened in June.

“Our operation of the cabin and the surrounding land will enable us to tell the story of Sequoyah in our own words and in our own language,” Baker said.

Another recent accomplishment is the second-story expansion at the Tribal Complex. The 36,000-square-foot second floor added nearly 50 offices to accommodate the tribe’s growing workforce and created two courtrooms for the CN Supreme and District courts. The tribe’s government office was last renovated in 1992.

News

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