OPINION: Reflecting on successful 2017, welcoming new year ahead

BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Former Principal Chief
12/01/2017 12:00 PM
As we wrap up 2017 and begin 2018, we can reflect on our multitude of achievements in the past year and look forward to the coming year’s opportunities. We can see where we have been in the past 12 months and what possibilities the future holds. This reflective time of year reminds me to think about what truly matters to us. When the holidays come around, our lives take on a larger meaning than simply living for ourselves. We think of our loved ones, our extended families, our long-lost friends and our neighbors. As principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, I think of our almost 360,000 citizens around the world and want the best for every one of them.

A good government makes life better for its people and for future generations. That is what we are striving for at the CN. In 2017, we reached significant heights and accomplished historic achievements. First, we broke ground on the hospital expansion project at the W.W. Hastings Health Campus in Tahlequah. It will be a historic day for the tribe when we open our Indian Health Service joint venture facility. The 470,000-square-foot facility, which will be the largest Native health care facility in the country, is on target to open in 2019. The four-story facility will feature 180 exam rooms and an ambulatory surgery center. About 350 construction jobs and more than 850 new health jobs will eventually be fulfilled over time.

We also released the results of our latest economic impact study on the Oklahoma economy. The tribe strengthens the state’s economy through investments and jobs. Our fiscal footprint exceeds $2 billion, and we will strive to ensure that continues. Our newest entertainment facility in Grove, the 10th in the Cherokee Nation Businesses gaming portfolio, was opened on Grand Lake, and it created about 175 good jobs in Delaware County.

We filed a lawsuit against opioid distributors and large chain drugstores that have flooded our communities with dangerous pills. Over the past two years these companies have flooded CN with enough prescription opioid painkillers to provide every man, woman and child 153 doses each. In 2017, CN also filed a lawsuit against the federal government on claims the United States mismanaged the tribe’s trust fund. The suit asks the U.S. government to provide an accurate accounting of the Cherokee Trust Fund, which includes property, land, funds and other resources the federal government may have mismanaged over decades.

One of the most pressing things we focused on in the past year is the conservation of our air, land and water. The CN worked with the state to get an emergency order to halt the disposal of radioactive waste near the Arkansas and Illinois rivers, and we vowed to reduce the tribe’s carbon footprint at our complex and all buildings. It is our responsibility to preserve our natural resources by executing policies with long-term sustainability in mind. That’s why I am committed to making CN’s complex more friendly to renewable energy sources. We constructed a solar energy charge station and purchased electric cars to add to our fleet.

In cultural preservation, our Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program graduated its first adult students. This program is designed to create a generation of adult speakers and teachers for the Cherokee Immersion Charter School. We also officially reopened Sequoyah’s Cabin Museum after the tribe acquired the property from the Oklahoma Historical Society. We will now manage the homestead of the legendary statesman and inventor of the Cherokee syllabary.

We announced a new foster care paid leave policy that is the first of its kind in Indian Country, and one of the first in Oklahoma. Employees who foster can receive five days paid leave for fostering Cherokee children. That is time that families can set aside for appointments such as doctors and daycare and for the bonding that is needed.

Finally, a decision came down in the longstanding Cherokee Freedmen case from the federal court. As I said during my State of the Nation address during Cherokee National Holiday, the CN will not appeal the decision. We have started processing citizenship applications, and now we are beginning the healing for all parties.

I hope 2018 offers us just as many opportunities to fulfill the needs of the Cherokee people and to deliver and execute ideas that will improve lives. In the coming months, we plan to break ground on the new Cherokee Casino Tahlequah and we will open a 4,000-square-foot, open-air pavilion near the historic Cherokee National Capitol building.

We are proud of what we have done and enthusiastic about what can be accomplished in the upcoming year. We will continue to focus on the things that make real and lasting impacts in the lives of our citizens. From my family and the family of Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, we want to wish you a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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