Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Deciding the future of the Illinois River Watershed

For decades, Cherokees have been noticing a change to our water resources. When I was a boy the Illinois River was pristine, even in the deepest areas, and at Lake Tenkiller visitors and locals alike flocked to the crystal-clear waters during the warmest parts of the summer. Like most people in this region, I treasure the memories of swimming, fishing and catching crawdads in the creeks and rivers that make up the Illinois River Watershed. The entire watershed west of Arkansas is within the Cherokee Nation, making it a uniquely Cherokee water resource.

Today during the summer months when visitors are at Lake Tenkiller they can see only a few inches into the water and the Illinois River is often plagued with thick, green algae that chokes the riverbed. Sadly, after the algae blooms and dies, vital oxygen is removed from the water resulting in fish kills that depend on the delicate balance of the river’s ecosystem.

Parents in our community worry whether their children and grandchildren will even be allowed the simple pleasure of growing up in a place with clean water to fish and swim. That is a birthright for every Cherokee in northeast Oklahoma since our people came here on the Trail of Tears.

Oklahoma has set a standard for water quality on the Illinois River, but just last week an expert panel chosen by Arkansas and Oklahoma politicians got together to review a study on algae in the Illinois River- a study funded entirely by the state of Arkansas. This group, which has excluded the Cherokee Nation and EPA from its decision-making process, will make recommendations on whether to allow even more pollution into the Illinois River in the coming years. It will convene again on Friday, Dec. 2nd at 9:00 a.m. at the Renaissance Tulsa Hotel and Convention Center to discuss what the Illinois River should look like for the next seven generations.

The Illinois River is sacred and deserves to be protected. It is a truly scenic river and outstanding water resource that our tribal culture and communities depend on every day. Cherokees and Oklahomans alike need to be asking questions and attending the meetings of this committee.

We must have the power to decide for ourselves what the future of our water resources will be, and not leave theses decision up to out of state policy makers. Negative impacts to our water resources that happen upstream in Arkansas could harm our natural resources for generations.  We can’t afford to sit idly by and hope that those involved make the right decisions, so we have to make our voices heard on this important issue. These are the waters that belong to the Cherokee Nation and flow through northeast Oklahoma.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Spirit of Native people unbowed at Standing Rock

Recently, I had the fortunate opportunity to visit the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the Sacred Stone Camp, where close to 10,000 people were standing in solidarity with the tribe in its righteous campaign to protect its historic and sacred sites, along with its precious natural resources.

I was deeply touched by the resolute spirit and collective power of the water protectors, and I am so proud the Cherokee Nation is standing united with our brothers and sisters from North Dakota. It was a powerful moment to stand shoulder to shoulder with friends, associates at the Cherokee Nation and tribal citizens from around the country to lend our voice and support for the Standing Rock people in their just fight to reroute a proposed oil pipeline that could harm historic and sacred sites, and potentially contaminate the water supply for 18 million people.

It is simply amazing what tribal people can accomplish when we come together in times of need. We delivered vital supplies, including firewood and winter clothing that our Cherokee Nation Youth Council collected. It marked the third official trip from our government, not to mention the hundreds of individual Cherokees who have traveled to support the cause. We have contributed funds for the legal battle and much needed firewood and supplies for the upcoming winter months, which on the North Dakota prairie can be brutal.

It’s the right thing to do and is a plight worth supporting. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, like Cherokee Nation, has always been a good steward of the land.  Like the Lakota people, we've experienced hardships, removal and termination policies. We’ve had treaties broken, guarantees ignored and our lands and natural resources pillaged time and time again.  It’s an unfortunate history that all Indian nations share in this country and Indigenous populations share all over the world. However, Native people can and should be part of the solution for a sustainable future and for the development of clean, safe energy. We must have a seat at the table before decisions are made impacting the safety, health and natural resources of our communities because economies can no longer be built on the backs of Native people.

At the Sacred Stone Camp, water protectors are prepared for a long winter and ready to peacefully defend the water that sustains so many communities down the river. Like others across Indian Country, I hope for a positive and safe outcome and the federal government truly takes into account all tribal concerns. We pray that the well-being of the community will be prioritized ahead of profit and corporate interests.

This battle is really about more than just one tribe. It’s about protecting our sovereign rights. It’s about defending our precious water and Mother Earth. It’s about all tribal nations coming together for a common cause to say, ‘our rights must be respected and upheld.’

We went to Standing Rock as the largest tribe in the United States to amplify the message and voices that are rallying around this critical cause and to let all of Indian Country know that at Cherokee Nation, our heart and our spirit is with the Standing Rock Sioux people.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Back home: Cherokee Nation secures ownership of Sequoyah’s Cabin

Cherokee Nation was the first tribe to adopt a written language, and the impact the syllabary has had on our people and the advancements of our tribe continue still today. Sequoyah, also known as George Gist, gave us one of the most significant gifts in our history. Sequoyah’s invention of the syllabary had an immeasurable impact on us as a tribe.

Recently, Cherokee Nation finalized the purchase of Sequoyah’s Cabin, near Sallisaw, from the state. We are so proud to assume ownership and management of the historical site and have the opportunity to give it the respect and reverence it deserves.

It’s unimaginable that sites, like Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello or George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, would be operated by anyone other than the United States government. Likewise, it is only fitting that Sequoyah’s Cabin site, which is a vital part of our story, would be operated by the Cherokee Nation.

In our tribe’s long and unique history, Sequoyah made an everlasting impact and truly changed the way our people communicate, share ideas and preserve history. He was a genius who advanced the Cherokee Nation and our rich culture. Sequoyah is one of our most well-known statesmen and historical figures, and his contributions to the Cherokee Nation are immeasurable. The Cherokee syllabary is the single most important contributor to the advancement of the Cherokee people and Cherokee society.

He reshaped the future of Cherokees and all Native people, not just seven generations but infinite generations.

Cherokee Nation Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin, in his role as a state legislator, singlehandedly led the effort to secure Sequoyah’s Cabin for our people. We are so fortunate that his strong relationship with the Oklahoma Historical Society and its executive director, Dr. Bob Blackburn, helped pave the way for our purchase of this important piece of our history.

We commend the state for being such good stewards of the 200-acre site and former home, and now it is time for Cherokee Nation to lead the preservation effort. Our relationship with Dr. Blackburn and the state’s historical society is a true partnership and will allow this project to advance for the benefit of the Cherokee Nation, the state of Oklahoma and the thousands of tourists that visit this historic site each year. Yes, it is unfortunate that after 80 years the state no longer has the resources to manage and maintain the property. But that’s where our tribal government can step in and ensure the preservation meets the highest standards. Together, we will guarantee this beautiful and historic site thrives and continues operation forever.

It is a historic achievement to add this land and site back into the tribe’s land base and bring Sequoyah’s home back to the Cherokee Nation and place it under our cultural protection. Our operation of the cabin and the surrounding land will enable us, as Cherokees, to tell the story of Sequoyah through a uniquely Cherokee perspective. We will be able to do it in our own words and in our own language, which Sequoyah helped advance. 
Signing the certificate of transfer with Dr. Bob Blackburn.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Diversifying the Cherokee portfolio through federal contracts

Cherokee Nation’s entertainment venues are thriving these days and provide budget dollars that fund services for our people.  That is a good thing for all of northeast Oklahoma.  However, real, long-term success for the tribe and for our future cannot hinge on just one industry. Diversification is essential.

At Cherokee Nation, it is important to become less dependent on gaming dollars, so our businesses are making a concerted effort to diversify, broaden and expand.  Today, we have 35 active business enterprises with a far-reaching scope of services.

In fiscal year 2015, about 33 percent of CNB’s revenue was earned by diversified businesses. That represents about $312 million in annual revenue.  

We have worked diligently to expand and diversify our economic mix. Federal contracting for tribes, or 8(a) contracting, is a critical part of our business portfolio for the future. For the Cherokee Nation, there is no faster growing industry.

Recently, we hosted the national conference of the Native American Contractors Association, and our vice president of government relations, Kim Teehee, was elected to be the president of this important group in the upcoming year. Cherokee Nation Businesses ranks among the top five largest tribal federal contractors in the nation. We remain a leader among tribal nations in this arena.

We are proud to play an important role in some of the nation’s biggest and most important research, scientific and defense stories.

We have been providing services to the Department of Defense through CNB’s federal solutions sector. We have secured contracts for unmanned aerial vehicle research on how hurricanes form. We have completed construction projects for Bureau of Indian Affairs schools as well as military installations. We have secured contracts to help the Internal Revenue Service with data management and security.

Our ability to secure these federal contracts means the federal government has confidence in us to provide the highest quality of work.  We have plans to build on our capabilities and secure federal contracts that match our management expertise.

These advancements mean jobs. We want to fulfill these federal contract obligations by hiring our citizens to execute the contracts.  CNB has always been committed to filling employment opportunities with qualified Cherokees. We have about 11,000 direct employees and support thousands of other jobs related to our business endeavors. The opportunity to impact the lives of Cherokee citizens and grow the economy of northeast Oklahoma is our motivation and greatest gratification.

When the Cherokee Nation succeeds, so does all of Oklahoma.  It means improved health care, better schools and access to new and safer homes.  

The Cherokee Nation is in an exciting new era. Cherokee Nation Businesses’ portfolio of tomorrow will be greatly diversified with our business lines serving private and government clients.