Chief candidates take part in Cherokee Phoenix debate

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
04/23/2019 04:30 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Dick Lay, Chuck Hoskin Jr. and David Walkingstick stand before voters and supporters during the Cherokee Phoenix’s principal chief debate, held April 16 at the Tahlequah campus of Northeastern State University. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Former Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. answers a question during the Cherokee Phoenix’s principal chief debate on April 16 debate in Tahlequah. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Dist. 12 Tribal Councilor Dick Lay speaks to the audience during the Cherokee Phoenix’s principal chief debate on April 16 at Northeastern State University. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Dist. 3 Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick responds to a question on April 16 during the Cherokee Phoenix’s principal chief debate in Tahlequah. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – With the general election more than a month away, Tribal Councilors Dick Lay and David Walkingstick as well as former Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. on April 16 participated in the Cherokee Phoenix’s principal chief debate at Northeastern State University.

Preserving Language and Culture

“I don’t really know that we have full assessment of where we should go yet,” Lay said. “The immersion program is probably the most successful that I’ve seen. The outbound programs that we send out speakers to and teach folks in the community and at-large, seem to work pretty well for words and phrases… We need to figure out where we are going. I think we’ve found now that we have about 2,000 fluent speakers left. How do we keep that number from dwindling down?”
Hoskin pointed to development of the Master Apprentice Language Program, which allows adults to spend two years learning Cherokee. He also pointed to needed expansion with more resources, as well as the development of a language program at Sequoyah High School.

Walkingstick said 85 percent of the fluent Cherokee speakers are at least age 65, and that language should be a funding priority, and that immersion efforts needed to be available throughout the tribe’s jurisdiction.

Officials with the tribe’s Community and Cultural Outreach said its current list of fluent speakers numbers just below the 2,000 mark and that 62 percent of the fluent speakers are 60 or older.

Gaming Compact Negotiations in 2020

“The state of Oklahoma is not going to balance their budget on the backs of the Cherokee people,” Hoskin said. “We have to protect the compact, and if there are opportunities to expand it and bring in more gaming and revenue, we’ll do that. We are partners with the state of Oklahoma. It’s a win-win situation.”

Walkingstick said he was worried about “leveraging” – whereby the state plays hardball in negotiations with the tribe as a pretext to establish state regulation of gaming – and that the Cherokee Nation relied too heavily on gaming revenue.

Lay said Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is a CN citizen, which he believed might hold some benefit. He also said it was important to consider the State Legislature’s composition and formulate an approach that accounted for their different perspectives.

More Than $6 Million for Gaming Efforts in Arkansas

“It’s not a good decision when we aren’t taking care of our people back home,” Walkingstick said. “I see many of our elders living in dilapidated homes…When I see those things, I think about re-prioritizing our money – being financially responsible with the Cherokee people’s money. We need to take care of our people first and stop taking care of political elites…. A lot of that money didn’t come back, and I feel like those people in Arkansas didn’t really have our best interests in hand.”

Lay said he understood the concerns of each side. He took issue with the passing of such information to the Tribal Council, claiming he and other councilors were not informed or voted on the “done deal.”

Hoskin defended Cherokee Nation Businesses’ efforts as a defense against Arkansas building state-run casinos along the Oklahoma border and impacting $25 million in revenue and 1,200 jobs at Cherokee casinos in Roland and West Siloam Springs. He further said the tribe “won” by keeping Arkansas gaming development farther east.

Retaining Doctors for CN Health Services

“The (Hastings Hospital) staff we have is doing a lot of (recruitment) now,” Lay said. “I have suggested not only because of the doctors we’ve lost, but because of the health care load of doctors we are going to need at the new clinic, that we form a ‘super staff’ of recruiters, to go out and recruit these doctors. We can’t sit in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, at our desk waiting for a call from a doctor who needs a job. The (Oklahoma State University) program will help six years from now, but we need the help now.”

Hoskin said the Hastings expansion would bring $100 million into the tribal health system over the building’s life, which he said would aid recruiting. Hoskin said compensation needed to be enhanced because the tribe was competing for resources and talent against other health care providers.

Walkingstick said doctors must be “paid what they’re worth,” to recruit and retain professional personnel, and suggested that if the tribe was having trouble paying then it should stop “giving money” to Arkansas or Northeastern State University and to utilize third party billing such as Medicare.

CNB Under Tribal Council Control

“We can amend the Corporations Act, where CNB comes to the Tribal Council and gives a financial report, or an annual budget,” Walkingstick said. “We have CN advisory members on the Tribal Council, but they are advisory. When they make decisions that is outside the control of the Tribal Council. We vote the CNB board in, but they are appointed by the chief. Unfortunately, we need more oversight, and I think the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council needs to be in the budget planning over the Cherokee people’s money at CNB.”

Lay said the CNB should not be place under council control, but said the CEOs for CNB and Cherokee Nation Entertainment should be CN citizens who are knowledgeable about the tribe and live among Cherokees, which he believed would enhance transparency.

Questioning whether successful business ventures should be controlled by politicians, Hoskin said he supported CNB oversight, but added that the board of directors is made up of CN citizens. Hoskin said CNB has grown and increased revenue during the previous eight years.

Changes to Absentee Balloting

“I certainly oppose anything that makes voting harder,” Hoskin said. “I think the Cherokee people consider their right to vote precious. Generations before us, the United States government took away our right to vote for chief or council…. I oppose anything that would suppress the absentee ballot because the absentee ballot helps elders, people who are disabled and people who work on Saturday.”

Walkingstick said at-large voting should be accessible online, but suggested too many votes are being cast absentee and tend to fall disproportionately toward a single candidate in a race. He also said rural candidates can’t cultivate absentee voters as easily as candidates in more populated areas. Walkingstick said he supported requiring voters to state a reason for voting absentee.

Lay said he had been part of council discussions to add rules to absentee balloting, but had been advised of legal issues “and nobody wants to do that.” He suggested possible requirements to send ballots to the Cherokee Nation Election Commission or have it hand-delivered by a designee with assurances that voters’ rights were being protected.

Protection Against Poultry Industry

“I don’t know why we didn’t jump on the idea of suing the poultry industry for polluting our Cherokee lands,” Walkingstick said. “Our administration and attorney general’s office were not sensitive to what they were doing to our culture and our own lands…. (The Cherokee Nation) will go to the state, and we will regulate the poultry industry so that they will not be polluting our lands.”

Lay said it was important to hear the arguments of farmers and residents, but suggested lawsuits would not fix the problem. He wanted the Oklahoma Legislature to tighten regulations to put more distance between production and water resources.

Hoskin said he worked with the state to put a moratorium on new poultry farms, and said the new chief needs a strategy to deal with the concentration of chicken producers and to extend the moratorium, along with continuing to assist in the areas already dealing with the impact of an over abundance of poultry houses.
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