Monday, February 27, 2017

The dawn of a new day in Cherokee health care

A new day has dawned for health and wellness in the Cherokee Nation, as we recently broke ground on a new state-of the-art outpatient health care facility, located at the W.W. Hastings Hospital campus in Tahlequah. When complete in the fall of 2019, this nearly 470,000-square-foot facility will be full of cutting-edge medical technology, more doctors, nurses and specialists, and will be known as the largest American Indian health center in the country.

I can’t tell you just how monumental this milestone is and what it will mean for future generations of Cherokees and other Natives. It will also be transformative for northeast Oklahoma. Between W.W. Hastings Hospital, this new outpatient facility, Northeastern Health System next door and our partnership with OSU Health Science Center to train residents, Tahlequah is set to be a hub for medical technology in rural Oklahoma.

We have worked aggressively to improve access to quality health care and the wellness of our tribe, both individually and collectively, since the day I took office more than six years ago. Since then we’ve built new health centers in Jay and Ochelata and expanded health centers in Stilwell and Sallisaw. As the final piece of our health care capital expansion plan, the new outpatient facility is definitely the crowning jewel.

For our nation to achieve so much in just a few short years makes this mission extremely personal for me. It means our health services can now adapt with the needs of our tribe, and we can continue to improve the gaping health disparities between our Indian people and other ethnicities.

Thanks to our historic joint venture with Indian Health Service, they will provide about $80 million annually for operating costs and staffing doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. With IHS’s arrangement to pay salaries, we will be able hire more than 800 new medical personnel, almost tripling our current staff.

Cherokee Nation will pay to construct the $200 million facility, which will have 180 exam rooms, a new surgical center with additional capacity for MRIs and endoscopies, and expanded dental, optometry and auditory testing that will revolutionize the services we provide for our people. Much of this is technology we haven’t offered in the past due to space and budget constraints.

It is the largest project IHS has ever helped a tribal government achieve, and it was so badly needed. Cherokee Nation already operates the largest tribal health system in the United States. Our current 190,000-square-foot hospital in Tahlequah is more than 30 years old and was built to handle only one-third of the current patient load it sees every day. That puts a tremendous workload and unjust pressure on our staff and the antiquated building. We have simply overburdened W.W. Hastings Hospital for too long, which has been serving as a health center and a hospital.

In addition to new health care jobs, we anticipate construction of the facility to generate more than 350 construction jobs. New jobs, shorter wait times and better services will positively impact so many lives.

In late 2019, we will gather once again to dedicate this new world-class health complex. And when we do, we will know that the next several generations of Cherokees will have a better future. Our Cherokee people will be able to live longer and healthier lives because they will have real access to modern medicine. This is a wonderful moment in our tribal history and the start of a brighter, better future ahead.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cherokee Nation, state of Oklahoma seek to halt burial of radioactive waste

Cherokee Nation and the state of Oklahoma recently teamed up to file a restraining order to stop the disposal of radioactive material near the Arkansas and Illinois rivers.

Sequoyah Fuels Corporation operated a uranium processing plant near Gore from 1970 through the early 90s. The plant converted yellowcake uranium into fuel for nuclear reactors. After it closed in 1993, more than 11,000 tons of uranium-contaminated waste was left at the site. In 2004, Sequoyah Fuels agreed to spend millions relocating the waste off-site. The radioactive waste has been stored in large bags on top of concrete pads at the site ever since.

Many Cherokees worked at this facility over the years, and many of us know men and women who were employed at the facility, and though memories of Sequoyah Fuels may have faded, sadly the threat of radiation has not. We know the radioactive waste can’t stay where it currently sits, but the Cherokee Nation was informed last month by Sequoyah Fuels that it could not find a suitable place to relocate the waste. The company said it would begin burying the waste in underground cells at the current site.

That’s when our attorney general’s office, secretary of Natural Resources and the state of Oklahoma stepped in. We will not stand idly by and let a private company unilaterally determine the future of two important rivers and the safety of the Cherokee community of Gore. The Cherokee Nation is a staunch defender and protector of our natural resources.

The Arkansas riverbed is no place for radioactive waste. According to scientists, uranium is highly toxic and has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. Our goal is to work with the company, along with the state, to minimize the threat by finding and securing a proper storage solution. 

Protecting the lands and the natural environment is a priority for us today and for future generations who call the Cherokee Nation home. Cherokee Nation established the office of the secretary of Natural Resources last year to address these very specific kinds of issues, because as a tribal government, we have a responsibility to protect the land, water and air. We will unequivocally fight for the rights of our people to live safely in their communities. Our children, our grandchildren and their children deserve to inherit a natural world free of hazardous pollution.

We will do what is best for the Cherokee Nation, Sequoyah County and Oklahoma so we will pursue an expert review of disposal options for the materials and examine the impact to the community and the environment. We need to sit down and negotiate a solution that everyone can agree on. I believe we have the ability to find an answer and an agreement that will be palatable to all parties.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Competitors share tribal heritage, highlight Cherokee Nation’s diverse talent

Over the last year, an elite group of professional athletes shared many successes while proudly representing their tribe. It is true that we have Cherokees in the NFL and MLB, but we also have tribal citizens who are champions in professional sports that are played closer to home on a slightly smaller, but just as prestigious stage.

Watching these Cherokee athletes in their quest to show the world the many talents and skills found throughout the Cherokee Nation and northeast Oklahoma is gratifying and inspiring.

Just some of the Cherokee champions I have seen in action in the past year are Ryan Dirteater, professional bull rider; Jason Christie, professional angler; Haley Ganzel, rodeo performer and trick rider; Jaymee “Ambush” Jones, mixed martial arts fighter;  Kathina “Kill Switch” Catron, mixed martial arts fighter; and Wes Nofire, professional boxer. Their list of accomplishments and well-earned victories over their respective careers is noteworthy.

  • Ryan Dirteater rode in as the year’s fourth best PBR rider in the world and won the 2016 PBR World Finals, the largest event in the sport.
  • Professional angler Jason Christie fished his way to eight national wins over the past five years.
  • Haley Ganzel celebrated 16 years in trick riding and is widely considered one of the best trick riders in the world.
  • Jayme “Ambush” Jones has earned five wins across her professional career, including a knock out win in less than 40 seconds.
  • Kathina “Kill Switch” Catron has earned seven professional wins.
  • Wes Nofire has boxed his way to 19 professional wins in the toughest division of professional boxing, the heavyweight ranks.
These are just some of the professional competitors who highlight the diverse talent found throughout the Cherokee Nation. These athletes train hard, work hard and lead by example. Many of them are from small communities, and there is nothing more important than showing kids from home that they too can fulfill their dreams.

More importantly, they all serve as excellent role models for our youth to emulate and know that through hard work, commitment and character they, too, can accomplish great things. These Cherokee Nation citizens are pursuing exciting careers, and they serve as inspiration to others. They all bring different talents, skills and tenure to their respective sports but share a common desire to represent the Cherokee people, our values and our heritage when they step into the bright light of competition. I believe when they win and when they achieve levels of greatness, which they do quite often, we can all celebrate and be Cherokee proud.