Fifteen years ago, the citizens of Oklahoma approved State Question 712, and the Oklahoma Legislature passed laws permitting the state to enter into gaming “compacts” with the federally recognized Indian tribes located in Oklahoma.
Within a few years, Oklahoma led the nation in the number of tribal gaming casinos and was near the top in terms of gaming revenue. By any measure, Oklahoma’s tribal gaming industry, and its economic impact on our state, have been a huge success and emerged as a big business. As a Cherokee Nation citizen and governor of the great state of Oklahoma, I am proud of what this partnership has accomplished.
Today, tribal gaming is the eighth-largest industry in Oklahoma. We are now the third-largest gaming market in the country, behind only Nevada and California, generating an estimated $4.5 billion in annual revenue for the tribes, and home to the world’s largest casino.
When I first heard it, I didn’t realize it was making an impression on me. I thought I was just watching Saturday morning cartoons. But looking back, “Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit!” was probably the first time I remember hearing classical music.
Granted that scene of Elmer Fudd singing to Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” while trying to get Bugs Bunny might make the classic classical music fan nauseated, I found it funny and I liked the music.
There were others, such as Bugs massaging lotion onto Elmer’s head to Gioachino Rossini’s “Barber of Seville Overture,” a young Daffy Duck quacking to Johan Strauss’ “The Blue Danube” and Bugs fleeing Yosemite Sam to Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.”
The Cherokee Nation was recently bestowed a great honor by the U.S. Navy, which has decided to name its latest rescue ship after our tribal nation. The forthcoming USNS Cherokee Nation will be launched in summer of 2021 and will be a testament to the service and contributions the Cherokee people have made to the Navy and Marine Corps.
The naming of a ship is the highest honor the Navy issues, and as patriots of this great country, we are extremely honored by this distinction. It is a true testament to generations of Cherokee men and women who have humbly and bravely served in the United States military.
Throughout the 2019 Cherokee Nation political campaign for a new principal chief and a new round of new or returning tribal councilors, there has been a dichotomy apparent. These two factions mirror any duality, like the Hero Twins or opposing teams in a game of stickball (A-ne-jo-di).
Stickball is a Cherokee game that was used to resolve problems or settle disputes between tribes, or factions. Historically, one team was declared the winner, and there was no possibility for filing complaints. This game taught our youth that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose but you honor the outcome.
As a student of history, especially Cherokee history, there is no better education and leadership skills development than Cherokee Nation’s annual “Remember the Removal” Bike Ride. Every summer a team of young riders along with mentor riders and support staff from the CN and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians team up and retrace our ancestors’ route from our homelands in the East to modern-day Oklahoma. We are so proud of these Cherokee men and women. They have accomplished something very personal and special and, at the same time, allowed all of us as CN citizens to once again reflect on our history.
Late last week, the Election Commission of the Cherokee Nation in a unanimous decision disqualified David Walkingstick for the upcoming principal chief election because of several seemingly blatant violations of the Cherokee Nation’s election laws. Of greatest concern, the commission’s decision cites overwhelming evidence that in coordination with Walkingstick, a group called Cherokees for Change LLC was a means of utilizing what is commonly referred to as “dark money” in support of Walkingstick. Central to this scheme is reportedly a close associate of Walkingstick, one Rusty Appleton who heads Cherokees for Change LLC.
Walkingstick’s baffling defense seems to be that the U.S. Supreme Court’s heavily-criticized decision in Citizen’s United v. SEC bars the Cherokee Nation from preventing the use of dark money in Cherokee Nation elections. As a matter of settled law, this argument is absurd. Here’s why.
Native children are removed from their homes at a higher rate than most of their peers. Nonetheless, in the recent Texas v. Bernhardt case, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act is unconstitutional because it is race based. The ruling stated that ICWA was unenforceable.
Sadly, this is a blatant attempt to once again strike tribes in our most vulnerable but most vital area by misleading the public about the purpose of this important Federal Act. In reality, ICWA has nothing to do with race but rather was enacted to preserve Native families, protect the unique citizenship rights of Native children and defend the sovereignty of tribal governments. I pray we prevail in the appeal of this legal obstacle course because there is so much at stake.
Every time a tribal citizen registers a vehicle with the Cherokee Nation, they make an investment in public education and our young people. You see, our vehicle tags are more than just a pretty tag. By Cherokee Nation law, 38 percent of the revenues from our tag sales are earmarked specifically for public education. This year, thanks to our flourishing Motor Vehicle Tax program, Cherokee Nation is awarding a record-breaking $5.7 million to more than a hundred school districts in northeast Oklahoma.
Since 2002, Cherokee Nation has contributed more than $56 million to public education. Today, that investment in public education is more important than ever for the Cherokee Nation and the state of Oklahoma.
Telling the Cherokee story – our history, our heritage – is a skill that our people have passed down from one generation to the next. Storytelling is a cornerstone of our culture. That’s why I am so proud we have launched the Cherokee Nation Film Office. It will promote northeastern Oklahoma while cultivating Native filmmaking. The office will provide much-needed cultural and historical consultation on film projects, ensuring our stories are told with cultural sensitivity and accuracy. And it will serve as a way to develop a database of Cherokee Nation locations for film shoots, resources and talent. It’s a bold new endeavor to enhance an ancient tradition.
It had been 14 years and 81 days since I turned 18 years old. It had been that long since I became eligible to vote. I didn’t believe it mattered. I kept telling people one opinion would not make a difference.
That’s how I started the column I wrote that was published in our December 2008 issue. I had voted in the presidential election in November of that year for the first time in my life. I was 32 years old. Since my inaugural vote was cast more than 10 years ago, I have taken pride in voting and knowing that my voice was heard. I have voted in every tribal, city, state and national elections since.
Recent political events from Senator Elizabeth Warren’s DNA results have raised important questions nationally of what it means to be a citizen of a federally recognized tribe. These events—and disparaging statements made by elected leaders and political pundits in response—may cause some to question the value of tribal citizenship.
The right of a tribe to determine its citizenship is the most basic and inherent function of a sovereign government. But citizenship is a concept that many outside tribal governments do not understand.
As I discuss citizenship with non-Native friends, I talk about my family table. During holidays, our family table is shared by my immediate family, and friends we do not get to see that often. They are all welcome and loved as we share food, stories and laughter.