Monday, September 28, 2015

Cherokee Warrior Flight serves as reminder for us all

Honoring the sacrifices and service of our brave men and women who defend this country and our freedoms is a philosophy that’s rooted in our Cherokee history and our Cherokee values. Like most tribal nations, the Cherokee people have always held the highest regard for those who are willing to go into battle to protect and defend all of us.

To say thank you, we have coordinated the second annual Cherokee Warrior Flight. Eleven World War II and Korean War veterans have the opportunity to see the memorials recognizing their valor, provided free of charge by the tribe. They will travel to Washington, D.C., and tour the U.S. Capitol, WWII monument, Korean War monument and other national monuments honoring military service. 

The Cherokee Warrior Flight was created last year to honor these brave men. We want to let them and others who served so bravely know their sacrifices are forever appreciated. Time is critical for us to deliver that message of thanks to these men. Statistics from the U.S. Veterans Administration show there are fewer than one million WWII veterans still alive today of the 16 million who fought in that epic war, and almost 500 WWII veterans pass away every day.

These are the men who embody the traits that make the United States of America the strongest and best nation in the world – a dedication to service and a willingness to accept great responsibility in the darkest of circumstances. 

Last year during the first Cherokee Warrior Flight, the outpouring of support our Cherokee veterans received from total strangers was humbling for the veterans and for the assisting volunteers. They did not expect the level of appreciation and attention they received at the airport, hotel or even in massive crowds of D.C.

The 2015 Warrior Flight has 11 Cherokee Nation veterans representing all military branches from all over the country. We are honored to host a Pearl Harbor survivor, a set of four brothers from Adair County and another pair of brothers living in different states but reuniting for this trip. They range in age from 82 to 94.

The flight includes the following WW II veterans: Navy veteran Bill Durall, of Green Valley, Arizona; Marine Corps veteran Dean Durall, of Mapleton, Utah; Navy veteran Winfred “Wink” Chamberlain, of Texas City, Texas; Army veteran Virgil Carter, of Tahlequah; Navy and Coast Guard veteran Charles Scott, of Palo Alto, California; Army Air Force veteran Gerald Zellner, of Big Cabin; Navy veteran Valentine “Tino” Burnett, of Eucha; and Army veteran Monroe Hembree, of Stilwell.

Korean War veterans include these brave men: Army veteran Dan Hembree, of Westville; Air Force veteran Alfred Hembree, of Westville; and Army veteran Ivan Hembree, of Bunch.

These are humble men who have done and seen amazing things, and they deserve all the respect we can give them. For our Cherokee Nation staff, our Veterans Center and the volunteer guardians assisting on the flight, this project is truly a labor of love. It shines a much deserved spotlight on these members of the greatest generation.

To the Cherokee Warrior Flight veterans, thank you for your service. On behalf of the Cherokee Nation, I can proudly say we will never forget your duty, your valor or your sacrifices. God bless all these brave men, and God bless every veteran who’s served for us to live free.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Record budget benefits Cherokee people and programs

The largest comprehensive budget in the history of the Cherokee Nation means more and better services for Cherokee Nation citizens. In the coming fiscal year, we will spend $767 million on the programs to improve Cherokee lives.

The increase of about $35 million from last year’s budget will allow us to put more Cherokees into new homes and help place more of our people in quality jobs. We have allocated more funding to assist Cherokee elders, and we will make unprecedented investments into education and health care for our families and our youth. This landmark budget includes significant increases to the programs that are making our families happier, healthier and stronger:
  • $30 million increase for Cherokee Health Services
  • $3.5 million increase for our Commerce department
  • $3 million increase for Cherokee Nation Human Services
  • $2.5 million increase for the tribe’s Career Services department
  • $1.5 million increase for higher education scholarships for college-bound Cherokee students

Through our concerted fiscal management efforts and vision for our people, we are taking tribal money and investing where it should be invested. I am so proud that we are expanding our capacity to fulfill the needs of our citizenry.

The extraordinary financial growth is directly attributable to the success of Cherokee Nation Businesses, coupled with strategic investments and a renewed effort in third-party health care billing. 
Additionally, our push to pursue more federal grant funding opportunities has been successful, and today we can offer our citizens even greater access to health care services in new and expanded facilities. 

Our overall excellent financial stewardship means we will better serve the Cherokee people for the future, and that is something we can all be take pride in.

We have come so far. I remember when our tribal government as we know it passed a new constitution.  Back then, the entire budget was only $2 million. It is amazing where our tribe is today in comparison to our recent past. We are blessed, and we will continue to prosper and move forward. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Electronic health records make Cherokee Nation health care easier, more seamless

With today’s modern technologies, it seems almost everything can be done online. Now, count your Cherokee Nation health care among those things done with greater ease, thanks to technology.
Transitioning Cherokee Nation data into the modern era is critical for the tribe to be proficient in providing critical services to our citizens. That’s why we’ve made recent digital upgrades a critical priority.

The Cherokee Nation health system, the largest tribally operated health system in the United States with more than 1 million patient visits annually, recently embarked upon an effort to upgrade to electronic health records. This moves our eight health centers and W. W. Hastings Hospital into a new era of ease and efficiency.

The transition from the old system to the new system requires some patience. Change and modernization are not always easy, but in the end we will be more efficient and effective with the delivery of health care. To me, that is one of the most important things we can do.

Once fully transitioned, this will allow patients to access medical records from their computers or even their smartphones. That means faster and more complete access to test results, diagnostic records and treatment history. This makes it easier for patients to actively participate in their health care by creating more direct engagement and better coordination with their caregivers.

Cherokee Nation health centers will soon have portals for self check-in and patients will be able to schedule appointments and view their records online. Patients will also be able to use the system to renew prescriptions, view X-rays, check medical records, review visit summaries and read instructions from doctors.

This is revolutionary compared to the old system. It also empowers our citizens to be more in control of their health care by having direct access to their own medical data.

Health care customer service for our Cherokee people has been stuck in a bygone era, making it hard for patients and health care providers to communicate and share information. This new system conforms to today’s modern, electronic world.

Currently, half of Cherokee Nation’s patient health records are paper and half are electronic, and many patients have multiple charts at multiple Cherokee Nation health centers. That made it difficult to access all of a patient’s files quickly or even to share information between health professionals.

The new electronic health record system creates one universal chart number for each patient, easily shared not just within our health system, but also with outside hospitals for contract health services.
Lab work and radiology results will post electronically as soon as they’re available. Ultimately, doctors will have more accurate data at their fingertips, which means making better decisions for overall patient health care.

We are excited about these changes and hope you, our citizens, are too. Even though culture and tradition are the foundation of our tribe, it is extremely important for us to use technology to bring our people together and to make our services more efficient and convenient.

I look forward to this new system making health care in the Cherokee Nation more navigable, more pleasant and more efficient.


Friday, September 4, 2015

2015 Cherokee State of the Nation Speech

          It is my honor and privilege to stand before you, the Cherokee people, on this beautiful September day.  Joining me today, as they do at every important occasion, is my beloved family. My rock and the first lady of the Cherokee Nation, Sherry Baker. My mother and my inspiration, Dr. Isabel Baker.  My children and their spouses, who’ve supported me in all that I do.  My grandchildren who are the light of my life. My brothers, who’ve been my strongest allies, and my many nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins and a host of family and friends who enrich my life daily.
          Four years ago, our nation was divided. Passion was running high and tensions were flaring on all sides. When the dust finally settled and I was declared the rightful winner as your Principal Chief, I was faced with the daunting task of unifying our nation. I knew the survival of our nation depended on it. I also knew our success would not be based on words, but on actions. So we rolled up our sleeves and got to work, figuring out the best way to provide homes, health and more importantly, hope to our people.
Now, four years later, it is with great pleasure that I announce our actions have spoken for themselves. Not only is the State of our Nation, strong; but it is stronger today than ever before. 
The success we have achieved over the past four years is extraordinary.  I promised 4 years ago to make health care a priority, and I delivered on that promise by investing $100 million dollars of casino profits to better the health and lives of the Cherokee people.  We have successfully completed the expansion and construction of health clinics in Ochelata and Sallisaw.  We will soon open health centers in Jay and Stilwell and begin a major expansion at W.W. Hastings Hospital. 
The Cherokee Nation was one of only seven tribes in the United States to be awarded a joint venture with Indian Health Service. That partnership allows us to make vast improvements and additions at the W.W. Hastings Hospital. When completed, this addition will be almost 470,000 square feet of new space, more than tripling the size of the present facility. And it will contain state of the art medical equipment. We expect IHS to provide upwards of $60 million dollars every year for decades to help staff and operate this new world-class facility. 
The Joint Venture has set us on a path to advance health care for our citizens for generations to come.  This achievement wasn’t by chance, and we didn’t luck into this project. These major accomplishments in our health care system occurred because we have Cherokee people who truly care about the future of our people playing important roles in our administration. 
This new facility will become a bustling hub of training and research, as we partner with OSU to establish a medical school here. This new Cherokee Nation – OSU Medical campus will train and educate Cherokees to become health care providers for other Cherokees.  
These advancements in the Cherokee Nation health care system happened because four years ago this administration had a vision.  The vision became a plan and the plan became a reality.  The past four years have clearly shown this is not an administration that just makes promises; this is an administration that delivers results.
          Four years ago, I also promised more jobs to our people, and through planning and smart decision making, we’ve achieved that goal as well. More Cherokees than ever before are working for our Nation. But economic prosperity doesn’t just mean the Cherokee Nation is employing more Cherokees, it also means we are creating economic opportunities outside the Cherokee Nation through partnerships. This past year we helped lure a massive Macy’s fulfillment center to northeastern Oklahoma. We promised to help build roads and infrastructure, but we also pledged our help in find thousands of hard workers to fill those jobs. I’m extremely proud to say that our career services department is hosting job fairs for Macy’s and hundreds of those jobs will be filled by Cherokee citizens.
          Folks, this is huge.  Partnerships translate to real dollars in the pockets of real people like you and me. We’re also turning dirt and bringing more big plans to reality in Tahlequah. We announced last year that we were developing Cherokee Springs Plaza, a development that will bring dining, retail and more jobs to Cherokee County. If you’ve driven past the site, you’ve noticed the dirt work.
I’m proud to say that our first partners will include a new and larger Stuteville Ford dealership and a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant. Tahlequah has long been ripe to attract name brand restaurants and businesses, and this is just the start. Our economic development team is working hard to show the world what a hidden gem Tahlequah is, with its hard working people, limitless outdoor activities and beautiful scenery. We look forward to attracting more diverse retail, dining and entertainment businesses to this area. I can’t wait to share that with you as more milestones are reached.
This past year the protection and expansion of our sovereignty has been unprecedented.  One of the ways we have advanced sovereignty is by reaffirming our hunting and fishing rights, established by tradition and guaranteed to us by treaty. Although our treaties with the United States reaffirm these rights, these rights have been ignored.  
I’m proud to say that our rights to hunt and fish where we please not only in the Cherokee Nation, but in all of Oklahoma are no longer ignored, but are now recognized.   
This year we reached an agreement with the State that not only acknowledges our hunting and fishing rights inside our jurisdiction, but expands those rights throughout all of Oklahoma. 
Now any Cherokee citizen over the age of 16 living in Oklahoma can exercise their time-honored right to hunt and fish in all 77 counties of the state.  Cherokees can trophy fish in Broken Bow or hunt for pheasant in western Oklahoma without fear of prosecution or harassment. And because we are good stewards of our resources, the agreement also helps us preserve wildlife habitat statewide.
The Cherokee Nation is stronger because of this agreement.  This agreement is the first of its kind and is already becoming a model for all of Indian Country.
          I am blessed and honored to serve a second term as your Principal Chief. At the end of my term of office what will I say that we have accomplished?  Will we be able to say that we dramatically improved the health care of our people?  Yes.  Will we be able to say that we have put hundreds of Cherokees in homes that would not have otherwise achieved homeownership?  Yes.  Will we be able to say the Cherokee Nation is stronger than it has ever been in its history?  Yes. But what will endure? What will be our legacy?
As Principal Chief, I work every day to address the needs of Cherokee Nation citizens. And to me, that also means protecting and preserving this place we call home.
Cherokees have long considered the impact of our actions on generations to come - a philosophy grounded in responsibility and sustainability.
Our elders teach us about our connection to the plants and animals, and to all the natural elements - the water, fire, air, and earth. We aren’t only stewards of these resources today, but we have an obligation to protect them for the next seven generations of Cherokees.
It’s not always easy to do the right thing.  We know that many people and companies prefer profit at the expense of future generations. But that is not the Cherokee way.
I will not leave the problems of today to our children and their children. I will not sit back and wait for others to come up with solutions to our environmental challenges. I will protect our natural resources and I am prepared to tackle these challenges head-on. Every decision made at the Cherokee Nation needs to start by asking: How will this action affect our natural resources and our future generations? Is what we are doing sustainable for the future? Are we depleting resources that we cannot replace? Are there better options than the ones we’re considering?
Like our other accomplishments, this effort will not happen by chance, or by luck.  We have a vision to better protect our environment and natural resources and we must take action to ensure we reach our goals. 
As I have said before, this administration does not just make empty promises; this is an administration whose actions match its words. That is why I am announcing today the nomination of a Secretary of Natural Resources, and respectfully urge the Tribal Council to swiftly confirm my nominee.
This is a cabinet position originally established by the 1999 Constitutional Convention, yet has never been filled. Our natural and environmental resources are much too valuable and far too culturally significant to ignore any longer and let this role go unfilled.
The Secretary of Natural Resources will work at the highest level of my administration assuring that we are protecting and preserving our natural resources and environment.  I am also sending the Tribal Council a comprehensive Environmental Code that I urge you to pass. Working together, we will develop laws that will enhance the sustainability of our land, water and air for generations to come. 
The Cherokee people deserve clean drinking water that is plentiful. Fresh air that is abundant. And a healthy environment to live, work and play.
Preservation of these assets is necessary to build a foundation for our environmental sustainability and our long-term health. Every acre of land we gain and every stream we successfully manage are victories for the Cherokee people. 
The Secretary of Natural Resources will not only work to preserve our natural resources, but to maximize them for our economic benefit and longevity.
As I said during my inauguration address, we are embarking on a new “Golden Age”.  This “Golden Age” envisions a stronger economy where more Cherokees are healthy, live in good homes, and earn good wages at quality jobs. 
But most importantly, this “Golden Age” will create a sound and sustainable path for generations to come. 
At the end of my term of office, I want to report that our natural resources are better protected and that our environment is safe and preserved for future generations. 

With God’s grace, and your help, I know we can get there.  God bless each and every one of you and God bless the Cherokee Nation.