BROKEN ARROW – After serving a four-year term as an at-large representative on the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, Mary Baker Shaw will soon step own and begin a new chapter of her life.
Baker Shaw has expressed satisfaction with many achievements of the council during her tenure, but she often focused on issues of particular import to Cherokees outside the 14-county jurisdiction of the CN.
“I am most proud of the legislation (fellow at-large councilor Julia) Coates and I got through council which provides glasses to at-large Cherokees who have their eyes examined at a Cherokee Nation health clinic,” Baker Shaw said. “This was a huge victory for the at-large, as there was never anything in the way of health care provisions outside of the jurisdiction for at-large Cherokees. This took several months to accomplish, as the funding source had to be identified and it also took a vote of the majority of the council. I really appreciate those who helped make this happen. There is still much to be done for at-large Cherokees.”
A new site has come online, and Baker Shaw said she is “delighted” that cherokeesatlarge.org is available “to provide timely information to our at-large population.”
Another accomplishment Baker Shaw wished to mention was the work of Cherokee Nation Health Services, especially after it confronted the challenge of COVID-19.
“I am really proud of our health care system,” she said. “When I came on council I was elected as chair of the Health Committee. At that time, we had lost 100 out of 125 physicians in a 5-year period. I formed a subgroup to review this and we came up with solutions which were implemented based on opinions and collaboration with the medical staff. Today we have a different health administration and our provider turnover is less that 4%.”
Baker Shaw added her appreciation of the health care providers and staff, saying they are “phenomenal” and the response to COVID-19 was “astonishing.”
“I am so proud of how this has been handled and the Cherokee people owe them a debt of gratitude,” she said.
During her time on the council, not every measure or piece of legislation went the way she hoped. In particular, Baker Shaw wanted Cherokee citizens to get a vote on an amendment regarding the “by blood” language in the tribal constitution. Recent tribal court cases have ruled the requirement is not applicable.
“The constitution is the foundation on which we as Cherokee people govern,” Baker Shaw said. “I’m extremely disappointed that the Cherokee people did not get to vote on the Freedmen issue regarding the ‘by blood’ issue. Once the Freedmen issue came forward, it was the obligation of the administration and the courts to allow the people to vote on an amendment. Three times I tried to schedule a constitutional convention. Issues like this need to be addressed during the next constitutional convention and all Cherokee voices need to be heard.”
As she prepares to leave her post, Baker Shaw offered some counsel to whomever is chosen for her seat, and the other councilors.
“To my replacement, I would encourage you to continue to support the at-large scholarship program with your community funds,” she said. “I have heard so much appreciation from the community on what this has done for their groups and recipients. To the council, I would encourage you to vote as if your life depended on it. Your voice impacts our tribe and will impact the lives of Cherokee citizens for years. Their lives depend on you making rational, unbiased and ethical decisions.”
Of course, Baker Shaw has not termed out by any of the CN’s definitions. She could try to return to the council in 2025 or 2029.
“I love the Cherokee people and I love the job I have been blessed to have,” she said. “At this time, I have family responsibilities that must come first. I would not say ‘never,’ I would say ‘we’ll see.’ It has been a great honor to serve.”