Friday, February 9, 2018

Efforts in health care financial management equate to more services, more assistance for Cherokees

Cherokee Nation Health Services offers our citizens some of the best care available in Indian Country. Folks in northeast Oklahoma know this, but recently we changed a few things that are creating more and better health services for Cherokee families. I am proud to say we are reaping the benefits of those efforts.

When someone comes to a Cherokee Nation health center and needs something that our own clinics do not provide, like a knee replacement for example, we send them to a specialist who is outside our network of Cherokee Nation doctors and health care providers. Under that system, we negotiate with insurance companies, hospitals, doctors and other vendors and pay for those services.  When patients have a primary insurance, Medicare Part A and Part B, or Medicaid we are able to spend significantly less on the required service and then spend those dollars on other patients.

In our recent history, the growth of referrals for care like this have been dramatic. In 2004, our system averaged 87 of these referrals per day. In 2017, those referrals had grown to an average of 410 per day. Because of this growth in needed referrals, our programs have had to manage their available resources. Some of the services that were being declined over the past year include elective orthopedics and some of the related diagnostic tests to those procedures.

To help address some of the recent limitations we had on issuing referrals for outside costly, nonlife-threatening treatments, we changed our records system, moving all patient health and medical records to a digital format. When a patient comes in, our newly installed software communicates with all payment systems, including IHS, private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid.

The new efficiency has helped enable the tribe to collect almost $9.5 million in the first three months of FY2018 in third-party billing. Those additional funds will translate to more contract health dollars to approve referrals for surgeries, MRIs and other related tests and help cover a portion of more elective orthopedic referrals for our patients, who visited Cherokee Nation Health Services more than 1.2 million times last year.

It also allowed us to measure quality outcomes and efficiency, so doctors can earn more incentives when patients are treated and get what they need. The strategic changes in the physician salary structure reward our doctors for the quality and quantity of patients they see. Quality is up across the board at Cherokee Nation Health Services, and we have more funds dedicated to contract health needs.

I am proud of the strategic efforts we made to modernize our health system and collect more from private insurance, Medicaid and other third-party billing streams. The increase in collections also comes from our successful outreach to sign up more patients for Affordable Care Act marketplace insurance, SoonerCare and Medicare. These aggressive efforts to enroll more Cherokee Nation Health Services patients have been successful and are helping provide better health care services for our people.

Our patients have more health needs than we could ever possibly meet, so we are evolving with the times. There is constant growth in health care, especially as the “baby boomer” generation matures and needs more and more care. We want all our patients—Cherokees as well as other Natives in northeast Oklahoma—to live healthier lives. To address these growing challenges, we have been resolute in committing more gaming revenue dollars specifically for contract health services, which now is an annual commitment of about $7 million.

We feel that these changes will set Cherokee health on a path for unprecedented financial security and open up more dollars for specialty care, including visits to cancer doctors and heart doctors and a return to covering a range of bone and joint surgeries.

Soon we will open the largest tribal health care facility ever built in America. A topping out ceremony is planned on March 9, and in 2019, when the facility (located at the W.W. Hastings campus in Tahlequah) is opened, it will house more health care specialists of our own and have two MRI machines. Currently, Cherokee Nation does not have either of those specialty services in-house, and we use contract health dollars to help pay for citizens needing those medical services.

Patients can get more information about additional coverage options by contacting their patient benefits coordinator at any Cherokee Nation Health facility or visiting

Monday, February 5, 2018

Cherokee Nation seed bank preserves Cherokee food history

Preservation of Cherokee heritage comes in a wide array of forms. We have Cherokee Nation preservationists in areas like language, which is spoken and written. We have song and dance traditionalists, and we have master artisans devoted to traditional Cherokee arts like carving, pottery and basket weaving. However, during my tenure as Principal Chief, one of the most popular and highly participatory efforts has been food preservation through the Cherokee Nation seed bank program.

Our effort, led by Senior Director of Environmental Resources Pat Gwin, is something that just about any Cherokee nationwide can do and enjoy with their family. For Cherokee Nation citizens, it is a way to perpetuate crops that Cherokee people have relied on for generations.

Despite a difficult growing season in 2017, Cherokee Nation’s seed bank will offer an assortment of seeds this year. In 2017, we issued about 3,785 seed packages to tribal citizens and estimate to do about 5,000 this year. Requests for heirloom seeds will run through the end of April.

The heirloom seeds possess traits that any grower desires, including being drought and pest resistant and having low fertilization needs. The seed bank, which originally started in 2006, has a supply stock that is healthy, strong and unique to the Cherokee people.

Historically, our people have always been exceptional agriculturalists, and our ancestors farmed these same crops for hundreds of years. It connects who we are today as Cherokee people to our rich history, is something we can share with our kids and grandkids, and promotes healthy food consumption and physical activity. Anything we can do to encourage a new generation of Cherokees to connect with their tribal heritage is worth pursuing.

Applicants are limited to two varieties of seeds, and each request must include a copy the Cherokee Nation tribal citizenship card, as well as proof of age and address.

To submit an order, visit and create an account. Follow the instructions to see a complete list of available seeds and to place and track orders. For more information, email or call 918-453-5336.

The seeds that are available this year include:


Cherokee Flour (a large flour corn)

Colored (multicolored)



Cherokee White Eagle (a dent corn)


Cherokee Long Greasy

Trail of Tears (a small jet black bean)

Turkey Gizzard Black

Turkey Gizzard Brown


Georgia Candy Roaster (a long storing squash that can be prepared as squash, sweet potatoes or pumpkin)





Buffalo Gourds

Trail of Tears Beads

Indian Corn Beads


           Native Tobacco (ceremonial tobacco, not smoking tobacco; restricted to those at least 18 years of age)

 Native Plants


Cutleaf Coneflower



New Jersey Tea

Possum Grape

Purple Coneflower

Rattlesnake Master



Wild Senna






Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Inter-Tribal Council plays important role for Five Tribes

The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes is an organization that unites the tribal governments of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations, and it represents approximately 750,000 Indian people throughout the United States. Together our tribes represent about a quarter of the entire population of American Indians throughout the United States. This year, I proudly serve as president of the council. The other executive board members are Seminole Nation Principal Chief Greg Chilcoat, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton and Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd.

The ITC meets quarterly at revolving locations hosted by member tribal governments. Its mission is to protect our tribal sovereignty and advance issues critical to our people. It is one of the oldest and largest tribal organizations in America.

These quarterly gatherings are a unique opportunity for our tribal governments to convene and share ideas and best practices. We are stronger as tribes when we share in one another’s success and hear the important things we are all working on for our citizens. As tribal leaders and senior staff working for our respective nations, we all benefit from this time together. It strengthens Cherokee Nation’s efforts when we are able to collaborate with other tribal governments to promote an agenda at both the federal and state levels.

A spirit of cooperation fuels our collaborative work at ITC, and the joint resolutions we create support issues that ensure we continue to protect our inherent tribal sovereign rights. At the staff level, multiple committees—including housing, education, health care, cultural preservation, government relations and communications—offer an opportunity to share best practices and ideas between the five tribal governments. ITC ensures our five tribes remain united in important decision making on issues important to our collective populations.

The council, which was originally founded in 1949, had gone dormant for many years, but in 2012, we worked hard to rejuvenate the ITC and fulfill the mission of the original founders, who created a constitution with a clear and noble goal for the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole:

“…to secure to ourselves and our descendants the rights and benefits to which we are entitled under the laws of the United States of America, and the State of Oklahoma; to enlighten the public toward a better understanding of the Indian race; to preserve Indian cultural values; to enhance and promote general educational opportunity among members of the Five Civilized Tribes; to seek equitable adjustments of tribal affairs; to secure and to preserve rights under Indian Treaties with the United States; and other-wise to promote the common welfare of the American Indians…”

Tribal issues are both national and statewide, and that means our tribal governments must work as equals with both the federal and state governments.

We have taken a formal position on a wide range of issues on the federal and state spectrum, including funding issues, voting rights, cultural preservation and increased access to quality health care. We believe in protecting our tribal rights and will always be an advocate for our tribal sovereignty. Through the ITC, we have in the past, and will again in the coming year, create a progressive legislative agenda for our five tribal nations. In 2018, that is just as important as it was in 1949 when this organization was founded. A spirit of togetherness and unity defines the council. We are all very distinct tribal governments with unique histories and cultures, but the five tribes have similar issues and concerns, including protecting our right to self-govern and providing critical services to our citizens.

I look forward to working for this organization this year as its president. Together, we can do more good for our people, our governments and our state.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

CNB investment allows Cherokee language program to expand

Preserving the Cherokee language is preserving Cherokee identity, as the heritage and traditions of the tribe are rooted in our language. Our language allows us to pass along traditional Cherokee knowledge and values to our children and grandchildren. That is why I am so proud that Cherokee Nation Businesses has pledged unprecedented financial support to the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program.  

Through a signed memorandum of understanding, CNB is providing $180,000 to cover the costs of a language program called the 14th Generation Master Apprentice Program, a pilot program designed for students who originally learned to speak Cherokee at the tribe’s Cherokee Immersion Charter School.  We hope it encourages language usage as they progress through junior high and high school. CNB’s monetary commitment will further advance the preservation and usage of the Cherokee language, as graduates of the adult master apprentice program are placed in supervised teaching and mentoring roles. 

The new endeavor can be a bridge that unites the mission of our Cherokee Immersion Charter School and the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, which has graduated six students since it began three years ago and is expected to graduate six more students in 2018 and another eight students in 2019. Both programs have proven successful in their respective area, and now we can connect their goals and participants.   

This multigenerational effort will help preserve and promote the use of the Cherokee language for generations to come and fill the gap between the immersion school and high school. Our youth, who have been educated in the immersion school, are among the most valuable Cherokee language assets going forward. We have made significant investments in these children, and we must keep exposing them to language-learning opportunities after completing the sixth grade.

Now that we have graduates of the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, we have developed an expert pipeline and grown the personnel to keep our youth engaged after immersion school graduation. That means language lessons can be utilized at Sequoyah High School as well as within community settings.

Creating new Cherokee speakers, and in turn letting them pass along what they have learned, will keep our language flourishing for generations to come. Supporting cultural education and growing the language curriculum will help Cherokee children succeed on their lifelong journey and allow them to reach their God-given potential in school, in life and as Cherokee speakers.

The 14th Generation Master Apprentice Program already has about a dozen Sequoyah High School students gathering for lessons after school. Plans are in place for a summer program with participants gathering from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for 10 weeks. Those students, if they participate over multiple summers, could potentially get about 2,000 hours of language education just through summer participation.

CNB continues to support the tribe in its pursuit of preserving Cherokee culture and heritage. Without the aggressive commitment from our tribal government and our business endeavors, the future of the Cherokee language would be in jeopardy.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Giving back to your community on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

"Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service." - Martin Luther King Jr.
Reciting the many great words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become a treasured part of the day that commemorates his service to the cause of advancing civil rights. His remarkable gift of the written and spoken word has provided an inspiration to millions of people who share his dream of hope and fairness for all people in America, regardless of race, religion, gender or creed. He was a remarkable advocate for equality for all people of color in America, including Indian Country.
I recently signed an executive order formally recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the third Monday of each January, as a Cherokee Nation national holiday, closing all of the tribe’s government offices and granting paid administrative leave to employees. However, on that day, I encourage all Cherokee Nation employees to dedicate the day in service to others. By devoting this day to service and care of others, we move closer to Dr. King’s vision of living and working together as one community. Through our deeds, we honor Dr. King’s legacy. Going forward, that commitment to service on the third Monday of January will better unite and strengthen each of us, and the entire Cherokee Nation. "A Day On, Not a Day Off" can be a day to connect community service to the social justice issues that Dr. King fought for during his lifetime. On that day, and every day, we should all be an advocate for people who face injustices in their lives.
While we have certainly made positive progress for people of color, we still have far to go to meet true equality and opportunity for all. Now more than ever, we should make standing for the voiceless a priority in our country and community.
Part of Dr. King’s enduring legacy are the seeds of hope he planted in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans that life could be and should be better. That hope carried a generation forward, and it continues to inspire me today. Real hope is believing life will be better soon. It is not a fleeting wish that things will get better, but a true belief that a brighter future lies ahead. At Cherokee Nation, our goal is to build brighter futures for all of our citizens. A brighter future today, tomorrow and seven generations from now.
Dr. King devoted his life to serving others and fighting for justice and equality for all people. Beyond a celebration of his life, MLK Day is also a reminder that every day each of us can play an important role in continuing his work. Dr. King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” We are forever indebted to Dr. King. His fight increased the opportunities and freedoms that we all enjoy today.  And, a most fitting tribute would be for each of us to rise every day and ask ourselves, “What can I do to help someone today?”

Friday, December 8, 2017

Solar canopy, electric cars are Cherokee Nation’s latest investment in green energy

Cherokee Nation continues to lead northeast Oklahoma, as well as Indian Country, in embracing green energy solutions. Recently, we dedicated a new solar power canopy at the Cherokee Nation’s W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah. It will harness the power of the sun to charge electric vehicles and provide additional power to our complex. Cherokee Nation is the first tribal government in Oklahoma to build and utilize a solar canopy like this. We have always been good stewards of the land, and this is another example of exceptional natural resource conservation.

Embracing solar panels and adding electric vehicles to our fleet are consistent with Cherokee Nation’s leadership in clean-energy usage and carbon-footprint reduction. We have made an investment in clean and renewable energy a priority. We have embraced ideas that look to the future and how we can be better stewards for our children and for the earth.

These ideas are really just a continued extension of the long tradition that Cherokees have always held. Our commitment to clean energy is rooted in our history, as well as in our values. We look at what our ancestors thought, did and believe, and we try to follow in their footsteps. There is no doubt that our ancestors were among the first conservationists, and we must commit ourselves as they did to protecting the earth. It gives us life, and anytime we can help harness that to make the lives of Cherokees better, we are doing what we're supposed to be doing.

The solar panels cover an awning that can charge eight electric vehicles. The structure’s design also enhances the beautification efforts we have made at the tribal complex. The solar panels can generate 58,000 kilowatt hours per year, which is enough to power three homes for a year. In addition to the charging station, which can charge up to eight cars at a time, Cherokee Nation has incorporated two electric vehicles to its fleet for employee usage. In recent years, we have transitioned many of our fleet buses to CNG vehicles, which are more efficient and cost effective in the long term. By using both electric and CNG vehicles, we are reducing our carbon footprint, stretching our dollars and leading by example.

Preservation of natural resources has been a major theme of our recent accomplishments in the past year. In addition to consciously reducing our carbon footprint within the Cherokee Nation, we continue to lead the fight against the burial of corporate toxic waste within our jurisdiction, have pledged to reduce usage of Styrofoam-like products in our daily operations, and undertaken a business initiative to develop a wind energy farm on Cherokee Nation trust land in Kay County.

Green energy – CNG, wind and solar – is creating jobs and a cleaner, better future for Oklahoma. Cherokee Nation has fully embraced these efforts, and we will remain on the cusp of positive change going forward. It is the right thing to do for the next seven generations.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

CNB’s diversified businesses reach record revenue in federal contracts wins in FY17, success reinvested in Cherokee Nation service programs

Building safe homes, increasing scholarship opportunities and offering accessible health care to our citizens are essential services provided by the Cherokee Nation tribal government. Our ability to deliver vital programs is dependent on our success at Cherokee Nation Businesses. Hospitality and entertainment are the foundation of our economic success, but our diversified businesses, or non-gaming business ventures, now account for about 35 percent of CNB’s total revenue.

Several years ago, we concluded that gaming should be a portion of our economic portfolio but not all we do. We originally called this line of business “diversified” because we had to find a way to lessen our dependence on gaming.

CNB’s diversified businesses, which include 29 companies outside of the gaming industry, achieved more than $1 billion in federal and commercial contract wins in fiscal year 2017. Since 2010, the companies have increased their revenue and profitability significantly, which means they can provide a larger dividend to Cherokee Nation for critical services and programs, like education, housing and health care.

Federal contracting is a market with great potential. The U.S. government is the largest customer in the world, and we will continue creating expertise and securing contracts to bring dollars home to the Cherokee Nation. The hard work of our team, led by CNB’s President of Diversified Businesses and Cherokee Nation citizen Steven Bilby, has made CNB one of the most successful mid-level government contracting businesses in the world.

We have employees in 49 states and contracts in a variety of industries. Whether it is providing disaster relief services for FEMA, serving our Armed Forces through medical readiness exams or helping develop a cure for deadly diseases like the Zika virus, CNB has a significant footprint around the globe and serves more than 60 federal agencies.

Our reputation and results are stellar, and the success brings CNB positive exposure on a national stage.

Yes, we continue to offer hospitality jobs to Cherokee Nation citizens within our 14 counties, but now citizens have opportunities to secure employment in technical and specialized fields across the country.

Helping create career opportunities for Cherokee Nation citizens for the next several decades is essential. It is equally important to instill in Cherokee children the dream of a remarkable career that is with the Cherokee Nation. Creating a highly skilled tribal workforce, along with the jobs, will sustain our tribe for generations.

Our mission always will be to grow Cherokee Nation’s economy here at home, and we have done that, but our mission is multifaceted. CNB’s profits outside the 14 counties help support the tribe through an annual dividend. The more success we have in federal contracting, the better we serve Cherokee Nation citizens. I look forward to an even more successful 2018 as our businesses on all fronts continue to grow and thrive.