Friday, March 25, 2016

Cherokee Nation Foundation’s program will increase access to higher education

Pursuing higher education is a financial challenge in this day and age, especially with rising costs and education budget cuts in Oklahoma. However, a new matching program for scholarship endowments from the Cherokee Nation Foundation will create new opportunities for our tribal youth.

CNF has agreed to match $100,000 in private donations. The matching program enables donated funds to have a bigger impact and furthers CNF’s commitment to Cherokee students. With so many talented Cherokees pursuing their academic dreams, CNF wanted to expand its ability to help. Instead of simply asking for donations, the organization came up with a creative and meaningful way to leverage its investment.

Education has always been a cornerstone of our Cherokee values, and, personally, it holds a special place in my heart, as I come from a family of professional educators. That’s why I was proud to be the first to create an endowment in honor of my grandmother, Audie Baker, who was a longtime Cherokee County educator.

These endowments allow donors to watch their gifts create possibility and inspire greatness in Cherokee youth for years to come. In addition to naming the scholarship, donors are able to customize guidelines, such as a specific area of study, a specific school or degree type.

I commend two of our newest Cherokee Nation Tribal Council members, Shawn Crittenden and Bryan Warner, for working together to create a scholarship fund that directly impacts students from their respective districts. There is no better cause than supporting the education of our children, and I hope that others will join us in investing in their future and of the future of the Cherokee Nation.

In 2015 CNF awarded more than $134,000 to 64 students. This year, the foundation accepted more than 200 scholarship applications and plan to announce those winners in just a few weeks. It is encouraging to know the new endowment program will allow even more students to receive aid. Additionally, students can apply for CNF scholarships in addition to funds distributed by the tribe.

The foundation plays an important role within our education programs, and the work they do extends far beyond college scholarships. CNF has partnered with Junior Achievement of Oklahoma to provide financial literacy programs throughout northeast Oklahoma and works with area middle and high school students to increase college-readiness and prepare for the ACT. I encourage parents, students and teachers to drop in and visit with the foundation staff about all of the opportunities that are available for our youth.

If you have the ability and the financial security to establish a college endowment fund at this time, I encourage you to join me. All contributions ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 will be matched by CNF on a first-come, first-served basis, and every donation is tax deductible. Most importantly, the program creates a brighter future for our Cherokee children.

For more information, contact Cherokee Nation Foundation at (918) 207-0950 or Janice Randall at


Monday, March 21, 2016

Women play important roles in Cherokee culture and government

Historically, the Cherokee Nation is a matrilineal society so we have always looked to strong women for guidance and leadership. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, this fact is as true today as ever.

As Principal Chief, I have placed talented women within this administration. Cherokee Nation Treasurer Lacey Horn is an award-winning fiscal manager who has ensured positive growth and responsible stewardship. Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill is raising the profile of our conservation and preservation efforts of our land, air and water. Angela Jones, a Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Justice I appointed two years ago, is the second woman to hold a seat on our highest court.

Within Cherokee Nation Businesses we now have four female vice presidents: Melody Cable (Internal Audit), Amanda Clinton (Communications), Molly Jarvis (Marketing) and Kim Teehee (Government Relations). We continue to diversify the CNB board of directors, and today Tommye Wright and Janelle Fullbright help guide that esteemed board.

The tribe’s legislative body, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, is shaped, in part, by Deputy Speaker Victoria Vazquez and Councilors Frankie Hargis, Janees Taylor and Wanda Hatfield. Their voice, leadership and vision are helping drive the Cherokee Nation into a brighter future. Additionally, many of our tribal programs, service areas and departments are directed by women.

This month is a time to celebrate the women in our lives and in our tribe, including former Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller. The health center bearing her name in Stilwell just underwent a $10 million expansion, and we dedicated a new sculpture there in her honor.

Over the past year, the conversation about removing Andrew Jackson from the twenty-dollar bill has escalated. For generations, it’s been an insult to our history and our ancestors to see his image on currency. It’s also simply not right that we do not have a prominent woman from American history on any dollar bill. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Chief Mankiller, the first female chief of our tribal government, were selected to replace Jackson? 

To create a more female-friendly work environment, last year we expanded maternity leave policies to include eight weeks, fully paid, for expectant mothers who work for the Cherokee Nation. This allows our employees to continuing working for the Cherokee people while meeting their family obligations. 

This month also marked the third anniversary of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act being signed into law by President Barack Obama. At Cherokee Nation, we remain resolute in our commitment to protect women from the epidemic of domestic violence. We created the ONE FIRE Victim Services office to be a beacon of hope and safety.

VAWA-related legislation is being developed for the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council to consider, and by the end of the year, the tribe will be able to prosecute non-Indians in tribal court for domestic violence crimes that occur on our tribal lands.

Cherokee women are proud and powerful and fuel our success as a tribe. We should celebrate that this month and every month of the year.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

In Support of Senate Confirmation of United States Supreme Court Nominee

This week, President Obama fulfilled his constitutional duty by nominating D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The nomination is now in the hands of the U.S. Senate which should fulfill its constitutional duty to consider Justice Garland by evaluating him on the merits, questioning him during hearings, and then ultimately providing an up or down vote on him. The constitution gives both the President and the Senate roles to work together to ensure a fully functioning court.  It does a great disservice to the administration of justice to ignore consideration of a Supreme Court nominee simply because it is a presidential election year. I hope the Senate will do its job and give due consideration to the President’s nominee.      

Monday, March 14, 2016

Making tribal housing program more efficient for Cherokees

As Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, I have focused our agenda on prioritizing homes, health and hope. For me it’s more than a phrase that’s on a poster or a magazine. To me, it’s the future of our tribe. We have expanded our health clinics and secured a federal partnership for a new state-of-the-art hospital. We have increased hope with more jobs and more opportunities to pursue education.

On the homes front, we are being just as progressive. Recently, we shifted our housing rehabilitation program under the umbrella of the Housing Authority of Cherokee Nation, which over the past 50 years has proven to be an effective and efficient organization with a strong national reputation across Indian Country.

The Housing Authority has multiple satellite offices across our 14-county jurisdiction, and those field offices will now host our housing rehabilitation staff. This merger of similar programs is logical and will immediately benefit our people. The demand for housing services continues to increase, and now all of our housing programs are in a one-stop shop.

Since fall 2012, the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation has constructed more than 325 new homes for Cherokee families under the tribe’s New Home Construction program. In the coming months, that number will rise as more new homes are completed and we break ground on future homes. The housing rehabilitation program helped renovate or replace 609 Cherokee homes through its department in FY15.

Our housing team has a heavy workload and huge demand continues to climb, but this transition will provide better organization and increase networking and communication, which will result in improved services for Cherokees.

Soon we will address even more home repair issues for elders and the disabled because the Cherokee Nation was awarded an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. We will utilize this funding specifically to assist some of our most vulnerable citizens, and the new HUD money will free up our existing budget to do more housing rehabilitation or replacement homes for all Cherokee families. We can make Cherokee homes more comfortable by making energy-efficient upgrades, fixing a leaky roof or remodeling a bathroom to make it handicap accessible.

Streamlining our capabilities in the housing arena will ensure quality homes keep our Cherokee families safe and secure as they pursue their dreams.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

IHS partnership will improve health care for generations of Cherokees

Signing IHS Joint Venture agreement.
Osiyo. It was a historic achievement for the Cherokee Nation recently as the tribe negotiated, finalized and signed a Joint Venture Construction Program agreement with Indian Health Service to provide a new world-class health facility at our WW Hastings Hospital campus in Tahlequah.

Later this spring we will break ground on the new facility, which is planned to be more than 450,000 square feet. Cherokee Nation will construct the facility at a cost of between $150 and $175 million. IHS will provide the staffing, including doctors, nurses and other professionals, a cost estimated to be more than $80 million annually for at least 20 years and likely longer.

This historic project will be transformative for generations of our citizens in northeast Oklahoma. Our plan was to take a big step forward for Cherokee health care; instead, we took a giant leap of faith and surpassed anything we could have hoped for.

Once complete, sometime in late 2019, this will be a state-of-the-art health care center and the absolute crown jewel in our health care system. This is far and away the largest project IHS has ever helped a tribal government achieve. Our hospital is twice as big as the next largest IHS joint venture. It is something monumental, and it’s something we should all be proud of.

IHS will work through Congress to secure the funds for staffing and operations for the life of the building. IHS saw Cherokee Nation as a good partner to deliver quality care, and together we are making the health of Indian Country our top priority.

During my tenure as Principal Chief, no issue has been as important to me as ensuring our health care services continue to grow with our tribe. It’s been my mission to help drive down the extreme health disparities our Indian communities face. I’ve worked with passion and purpose, and today we are aggressively striving to improve the wellness of our tribe, both individually and collectively.

We wisely invested $100 million of our businesses’ profits to expand and refurbish smaller clinics, and now we have a significant public-private partnership in place with IHS that will create construction jobs, health care jobs and an enormous positive economic impact in our region. This is the next step to ensuring Cherokee health care is the best in Indian Country and that our citizens reap the benefit.

Cherokee Nation operates the largest tribal health system in America, and we desperately needed a new hospital, as the current 190,000-square-foot facility is more than 30 years old. It serves nearly 400,000 patient visits per year when it was built to handle only about 60,000 per year. This agreement will allow our health department to better meet the demand and needs of our Cherokee Nation citizens and other Native Americans who access our health system.

A special thanks goes to the leadership in Congress who championed our cause. U.S. Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) led a bipartisan effort to reopen this IHS construction program, as well as Cherokee Nation citizen and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) for representing our needs with the federal agencies.

It’s a golden moment in our Cherokee history. In three short years when we dedicate this new massive health complex, we will know in our hearts that the next several generations of Cherokees – our children and grandchildren – will have a better future. They will have more opportunities to live healthier lives. They will have access to cutting-edge, modern medicine. For me, there is no better feeling in the world than knowing this is on the horizon for you and the ones we all love so deeply.


Remember to vote on Super Tuesday

Dear Tribal Citizens,

Today, March 1, 2016, is Super Tuesday in Oklahoma. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are having primary elections that will determine the respective nominees for the November general election. This important day gives us the opportunity to have our voices heard, and to shape the leadership of our great nation and our state. Participating in the election process is an important act. By voting, you exercise your voice and that is powerful. 

On this Election Day, please take the time to vote because it will help shape our future, but honors our past. As Indian people, we were not granted the right to vote until the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act. In the voting booth, we honor those who came before us, and fought for our right to participate in the election process. 

You can vote from 7-7 and if you are unsure of where to vote, you can find that information at or you can call your County Election Board for help.
Principal Chief Bill John Baker