Monday, April 25, 2016

State Question 777 is bad for Oklahoma communities and farmers

Protecting the environment and our precious natural resources are priorities for me as Chief of America’s largest tribal nation. Through our traditional values we embrace our natural world. It’s so important to me and the Cherokee people that we recently named the tribe’s first ever Secretary of Natural Resources. This will ensure the next seven generations of Cherokee people have continued access to all that we have  today – clean air, abundant fresh water and fertile land where we can grow our crops and raise our livestock.

Sadly, State Question 777 contradicts what we hold so dearly for our air and water and land. The proposed change would add a new section to the Oklahoma Constitution that would prevent our elected policymakers from passing any law that “abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.” However, Oklahoma law already protects farmers, and this constitutional amendment is not needed.

Corporate farming interests want to use our state and our valuable resources without being subject to any state regulation or oversight. That’s irresponsible, and all of us have a God-given obligation to protect what we hold so dearly.

Oklahoma has already seen polluted water from concentrated animal feeding operations. There is no reason to believe that tying the hands of the legislature will make Oklahomans more safe or prosperous.

We have to take our stewardship of our world and our future seriously. As our Cherokee elders have taught us and we must teach our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Mother Earth is what sustains us all and God has created us to live in harmony with the rest of creation.

This proposed constitutional amendment will only serve to shield that small percentage of corporate agricultural operators who seek profit at the expense of others and will deplete our natural resources. State Question 777 would allow a large and poorly run hog operation to move in next door to your family’s farm, and there will be no recourse for the contamination of your water or the depletion of your resources. There may not be a compelling state interest involved, leaving your family’s investment and land utterly destroyed.

Unregulated practices could happen on land next door to our jurisdiction and affect land, water and wildlife located inside the Cherokee Nation in the heart of Indian Country.

Locally here in Oklahoma, we have witnessed the gradual demise of family agriculture as a result of the modern movement of mass-grown food production.  In typical fashion, proponents of this issue are cloaking it in buzz words that will appeal and confuse voters. Oklahomans already have the right to farm. This is about a larger profit for a small amount of corporate agricultural companies, pure and simple.
In essence, it would not only take away the power of the legislature and municipal governments to regulate agricultural practices and our rights to legal recourse, it effectively takes away the power of the people to vote on changes.

Things in the agricultural world change, and this amendment would hamper our abilities to respond to new threats. In the 1920s, state farmers tilled up huge swaths of land in the Oklahoma panhandle to grow wheat. Then in the 1930s, Oklahomans began to realize this common agricultural practice was leading the entire country toward an environmental disaster. Lawmakers were able to respond. With this constitutional amendment, the Oklahoma legislature will be unable to make new laws to protect Oklahoma citizens from agricultural practices that are hurting Oklahoma families and communities.

Even if the legislature does make a new law to protect Oklahomans, they may find themselves hopelessly tied up in court against big agricultural companies and conglomerates who are happy to waste taxpayer money on frivolous litigation while their companies continue to rake in huge profits at the expense of ordinary Oklahomans.  As anyone can see from looking at the Illinois River litigation, courts are no place to get quick answers to important questions when your community is being impacted by pollution.

This state question is designed to be exploited by huge agribusiness and corporate farms. Dodging oversight and polluting our land and water are not in the heart of what an Oklahoma farmer is all about, and they are most definitely not at the heart of what it is to be Cherokee.

I hope you will join me in voting no against 777 in November.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

On U.S.Treasury removing Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill

Andrew Jackson defied a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and forced the removal of our Cherokee ancestors from homelands we'd occupied in the Southeast for millennia. His actions as president resulted in a genocide of Native Americans and the death of about a quarter of our people. It remains the darkest period in the Cherokee Nation’s history. Jackson's legacy was never one to be celebrated, and his image on our currency is a constant reminder of his crimes against Natives. It's been an insult to our people and to our ancestors, thousands of whom died of starvation and exposure and now lie in unmarked graves along the Trail of Tears. 

This is a small but meaningful vindication for them, and for our tribal citizens today. The Cherokee Nation applauds the work of Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, the U.S. Treasury and all those who recognized the injustices committed at the hands of President Jackson, and worked to replace his image with the image of Harriet Tubman, whose legacy represents values everyone can be proud of.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Strengthening the American Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act is important for Cherokee Nation

Cherokee artisans are some of the most talented in Oklahoma and across all of Indian Country. They preserve our culture and heritage through their work across various mediums. It’s critical for us as Indian people to ensure Indian art is truly created by enrolled citizens of federally recognized tribes.

That’s why Cherokee Nation, along with the leadership of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Nations, is supporting Oklahoma House Bill 2261, which is being considered now in the Oklahoma State Senate after passing the Oklahoma House of Representatives by a 90-0 vote. The bill is authored by Rep. Chuck Hoskin (D-Vinita) and Sen. John Sparks (D-Norman), Cherokee Nation citizens, and proposes a change in the definition of who can sell Indian art.

The proposal defines “American Indian tribe” as any Indian tribe federally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and, further, defines “American Indian” as a citizen or enrolled member of an American Indian tribe.

This issue is important for us because it ensures people who falsely claim tribal citizenship will not be able to market themselves and their crafts as Native. Oklahoma should take a strong position in preserving the integrity and authenticity of American Indian arts. As the home of 39 federally recognized tribes and more than 500,000 tribal citizens, Oklahoma should be the pacesetter for protecting tribal culture. Each of the 39 tribes in Oklahoma is a sovereign government with a unique history and culture and has  been acknowledged and confirmed by the U.S. Constitution, treaties, federal statutes, executive orders and judicial decisions.

Today, the sale of American Indian art and craftwork in Oklahoma is regulated by both federal and state laws, and strengthening our state laws guarantees the integrity of Native American art and the artists themselves.

Oklahoma Indian artisans are renowned worldwide for beadwork, jewelry, basket weaving and fine arts like painting, pottery and sculpture. As the popularity of Indian art expands, so does the sale of items misrepresented as authentic American Indian products. Purchasing authentic American Indian art and crafts in Oklahoma from an enrolled citizen of a federally recognized Indian helps preserve our rich and diverse cultures, and it significantly increases entrepreneurship and economic development in Indian Country.

H.B. 2261 will provide a direct economic benefit to Cherokee artists by helping to decrease the availability of fraudulent Cherokee art in the market. Additionally, if the availability of fraudulent items decreases, the demand for authentic art will increase.

Closing the loophole about who can sell Indian art will protect not only the artists but individual consumers, galleries, art collectors and museums, especially smaller museums with fewer financial resources. Nothing in H.B. 2261 prevents individuals who claim to be tribal descendants from selling arts and crafts in Oklahoma.  However, the claim “Indian made” or “Indian art” simply would not apply. 

I strongly encourage you to contact your state senators and ask them to support H.B. 2261. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

“Blue Ribbon Tree” helps raise awareness of child abuse

In an effort to bring awareness of the prevention of child abuse in the Cherokee Nation, a tree in front of the tribal complex has been adorned with blue ribbons. This is in conjunction with the Oklahoma State Department of Health to build a "Blue Ribbon Tree" state.

Cherokee Nation’s blue ribbon tree will blossom throughout the month of April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The blue ribbon is the international symbol for child abuse prevention and serves as a constant reminder that all of us have a responsibility to help protect children. This year hundreds of organizations and communities are expected to support the “Blue Ribbon Tree” mission across the state.

It is the first year for the Cherokee Nation to participate in the statewide education awareness effort, and our participation is being spearheaded by the Cherokee PARENTS (Positive and Rewarding Educational Nurturing Tribal Services) program. It is a grant-funded program within the tribe’s Human Services division that helps with in-home training for Cherokee parents in order to provide a safe and nurturing home environment.  

Our efforts are to keep Cherokee homes safe so that children are not thrust into the foster care system.  If we can train and educate families about how to safely care for their children, then we can help ensure families stay together. No one is born knowing how to care for children, and sometimes mistakes are made. But as a parent, relative or even a care provider, we can all learn the skills to make a positive and lifelong difference.

All of us need to work together to stop child abuse because no one ever wants to see a child grow up in fear or neglected. That means state and tribal governments working in tandem to preserve the innocence of our vulnerable citizens. It’s our moral obligation to protect children from abuse and our responsibility as leaders and adults to make sure no child is threatened by violence or assault.

If you are at the tribal complex during the month of April, I encourage you to get a ribbon at Cherokee First and tie it to our blue ribbon tree to amplify our message about protecting Cherokee children.

Additionally, on April 14 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Norris Park in Tahlequah, our Cherokee PARENTS organization is hosting a community picnic aimed to raise public awareness about child abuse prevention. Dinner will be provided as well as activities for children, including games and art.
For more information about Cherokee PARENTS or how you can help, contact program coordinator Amy Thilges at 918-453-5078.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

New homes will build stronger families, brighter futures

Access to a safe home is critical to make people feel secure.  It improves health and raises hope for a prosperous future. I have seen the way homeownership can positively affect a family, including children who have a secure environment. That’s why I am so proud of our New Home Construction Program. It is improving lives of our Cherokee people family by family and home by home.

Recently, in the community of Vian in Sequoyah County, we announced plans to build 30 new homes. This will help 30 Cherokee families become new or first-time homeowners. That will be a monumental achievement for them and it will improve their quality of life, as well as be a boon for local Cherokee builders and contractors. Additionally, every child living within the new homes will take approximately $2,800 in impact aid to the local school system.

The three-bedroom homes in Vian will be about 1,200 square feet each. The housing addition is being built on property owned by Cherokee Nation Businesses and will eventually transfer to the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation. CNB will also manage the construction effort. Part of our mission at Cherokee Nation Businesses is to provide economic development and employment opportunities to Cherokee citizens. This project allows us to achieve both of those goals.

Home recipients will be selected from the waiting list of new home construction applicants who do not own land. It fills a dire need within our tribe, as we have heard from hundreds of Cherokees who need help with a home but do not have the land available to them.

We restarted the Cherokee Nation’s New Home Construction Program in 2012 to help Cherokee families. It is a program that historically is second to none across Indian Country. This program empowers our families, so reestablishing an avenue for Cherokees to become homeowners was one of my earliest goals. Tribal citizens who want and need the tribe’s help to become homeowners should be assisted.

To date, Cherokee Nation has built 343 homes and has more than 300 new homes in various stages of construction throughout the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction. We will soon be creating housing additions in Adair, Cherokee, Craig and Delaware counties. This program is so special because it helps our citizens achieve the American dream, creates economic opportunities and strengthens families.

Good government makes improving the lives of its people and future generations the priority. The new home opportunities play a critical role in making sure the Cherokee Nation government is fulfilling that obligation.

We will continue to focus on ways to make real and lasting impacts in the lives of Cherokees.