Crittenden says run as deputy chief pinnacle of career
S. Joe Crittenden, the outgoing deputy principal chief, speaks Aug. 14 during an inauguration and swearing-in ceremony for new tribal leaders. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Former Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, left, poses for a photograph with outgoing Principal Chief Bill John Baker, right, and U.S. Army veteran Lorie McCoy during the Aug. 12 Tribal Council meeting. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – When then-Tribal Councilor S. Joe Crittenden was elected the Cherokee Nation’s deputy chief in 2011, he was briefly thrust into the role of principal chief following a disputed chief’s race.
“We used to play a game with little kids where you’d spin them around and around for a while, then turn them loose and watch them,” Crittenden said. “That’s kind of the way I felt when I got sworn in. Finally, I got focused, and I thought ‘well, I’m going to try my best to keep this thing between the white lines on the road.’”
Eventually, longtime Tribal Councilor Bill John Baker was elected principal chief in a special election that year, allowing Crittenden to focus as Baker’s advisor. Now 74, Crittenden departed his post as deputy chief Aug. 14 after serving two consecutive terms, noting that he’s spent the majority of his life “serving people in some form or fashion.”
“But this has been the pinnacle, the highlight, the icing on the cake if you want to look at it that way,” he said. “These past eight years as deputy chief have been an honor for me.”
Crittenden and Baker served together before reaching their term limits.
“I am forever honored to have served with a gentlemen, S. Joe Crittenden, a moral compass to this administration,” Baker said. “We focused on homes, health and hope, and I believe that we are leaving the woodpile higher than we found it.”
At the Aug. 14 inauguration and swearing-in ceremony for new CN leaders, Crittenden told Baker, “It’s been quite a trip. You’re a partner. I think it was meant to be, sir. I’ve enjoyed every step.”
First elected to the Tribal Council in 2003, Crittenden is the only CN citizen to serve as a councilor, deputy chief and principal chief. Throughout the years, Crittenden was an advocate for some of the most successful government initiatives that focused on education, improving health care access for Cherokees, expanding the CN car tag program and constructing health care centers, CN officials said.
“Faith and family have been at the core of my service,” Crittenden said. “I’ve often said the strength of our Nation is its people. The people, the Cherokee families, should always be at the center of every policy, every program and every service. I’ve got to help more and see more people get help in these last eight years than ever before in my life. It’s rewarding. It’s touching to see people who get a life-changing home or the health care they need or whatever the service is. I know that Chief Baker and I get credit for achieving many things that have happened across these 14 counties in the last eight years, but that’s only possible because of the hard work and the talent of the employees we have.”
A 1962 Stilwell High School graduate, Crittenden earned a business and accounting degree from Northeastern State University. He retired in 2004 from the U.S. Postal Service following a 30-year career in public service.
A steadfast supporter of military veterans, Crittenden served in the Navy from 1964-67 during the Vietnam War.
“One of the deputy chief’s deepest passions is ensuring Cherokee military veterans are recognized for their service and have all their essential needs met,” his bio on the CN website states. “He helped ensure the new $2 million state-of-the-art Cherokee Nation Veterans Center was completed and opened so that military men and women who served the United States always have a place of honor at the tribal headquarters.”
Crittenden has signed agreements and partnerships with federal agencies related to health care and housing for Cherokee veterans. He has also helped oversee Cherokee Warrior Flights, which enables WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans to visit their respective memorials in Washington, D.C. In addition, he took part in recognizing and honoring Cherokee veterans with the tribe’s Medal of Patriotism during Tribal Council meetings.
“The highlight of the deputy’s office for me has been honoring our veterans,” Crittenden said. “Thank God for the veterans. We’ve honored hundreds and hundreds of veterans, carrying on a tradition that started back during another administration.”
Crittenden hopes to continue serving the tribe with a focus on veterans. He’s been nominated for a new Cabinet-level position called secretary of Veterans Affairs.
“I see the opportunity to devote my full time to veterans,” he said, adding that the Veterans Center has been in “good hands” under Director Barbara Foreman’s leadership. “I want to be part of the team and help those efforts.”
The new position is expected to act on behalf of veterans, oversee the Veterans Center, the Cherokee War Memorial, new and existing tribal partnerships with VA hospitals and the Eastern Oklahoma Food Bank, the annual Cherokee Warrior Flight and other annual veteran events.
Crittenden is a sixth-generation CN citizen whose family has been in the area since the Trail of Tears. He lives in the Peavine community of Adair County with Lynda, his wife of 50 years. They have two daughters and three grandchildren.