OPINION: Closing a successful 2015, looking forward to a prosperous 2016
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all. It’s hard to believe 2015 is already coming to a close, but time flies when good things are happening in our Nation. We’ve accomplished more this past year than perhaps any other year in the history of the Cherokee Nation.
On the health care front, we’ve opened three of the four health centers we promised to build using casino dollars. Cherokees in Adair, Sequoyah and Washington counties are now being served in more spacious health centers with newer equipment while enjoying a wider variety of services. Cherokees in Delaware County are up next, as the new Sam Hider Health Center in Jay is nearly complete. When I was elected a little more than four years ago, I pledged to make health care a priority, and I have followed through on that promise.
Earlier this year, we became one of the largest employers in Nowata County, practically overnight, when we opened Cherokee Casino South Coffeyville. The casino brought more than a hundred jobs to that community, where jobs are sorely needed. South Coffeyville has welcomed us with open arms, and we are happy to finally have a presence in that corner of the Cherokee Nation.
Not only did we reinforce our sovereign rights to hunt and fish our lands freely this past year, but we also expanded that sovereignty to include hunting and fishing rights across all of Oklahoma. Previously, the patchwork of Cherokee trust land, fee simple land and non-Cherokee-owned land made jurisdiction confusing, and many Cherokees feared receiving a citation from state game and wildlife officers. Likewise, those game and wildlife officers feared unnecessarily citing Cherokees for legally hunting our lands.
Now, with the hunting and fishing compact I signed with Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, there is no more confusion. Cherokees may now pheasant hunt in western Oklahoma, trophy fish on Lake Texoma in southern Oklahoma or deer hunt right here in Cherokee country like our ancestors did, free of concern about boundaries.
Hunting and fishing licenses will be mailed to all Cherokees who are 16 and older and living in Oklahoma beginning Jan. 1. To ensure we have your correct address on file, visit www.Cherokee.org and click on services > citizenship > updating your information.
Also on the natural resources front, we took a major step in protecting and preserving our resources for generations to come. I appointed the first secretary of Natural Resources, Cherokee Nation citizen Sara Hill, to oversee all of the Cherokee Nation’s interests in water rights, fish and wildlife, environmental conservation and more. The position was established by the 1999 Cherokee Nation Constitution but has remained vacant for nearly 20 years. It was time to stop acting like our natural resources are a secondary issue, when in fact they’re some of our most precious gifts.
As Indian people, if we do not protect our resources, who will? I look forward to the strides we will make in this area in the years to come and am eager to share our progress with you as we accomplish great things.
Lastly, I want to thank each and every one of you for your continued prayers and support as Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and I continue to work on your behalf. It was the greatest honor of my life to be re-elected this year to a second term serving all of you. We accomplished so much this past year, and I pledge to work just as hard the next four years.
On behalf of myself, Deputy Chief Crittenden and the more than 9,000 employees of the Cherokee Nation, we’d like to wish all of you a very merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year. Many blessings to each of you in 2016.