Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Cherokee Nation’s economic impact grows to more than $2 billion; growth means more services for citizens

Oklahoma’s core is firmly rooted in its 38 federally recognized tribes. Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma have a unique history based on our shared identity and heritage. According to a new study commissioned to the Oklahoma-based Economic Impact Group, our tribe and its businesses are responsible for more than a $2 billion impact annually on the Oklahoma economy.

Today, more than ever, the Cherokee Nation is an essential part of the economic fabric of our great state. As the largest tribal government in Oklahoma, there is no doubt Cherokee Nation makes undeniable and positive impacts on the state.

Cherokee Nation supports more than 17,000 jobs, and more than 11,000 of those jobs are through direct employment with our tribal government or one of the tribe’s businesses. We have more Cherokees working for the tribe than ever before, and we are proud of that. During the past year, we invested millions of dollars in expanding our economic footprint in northeast Oklahoma, which is essential to developing stronger and safer communities across Cherokee Nation’s 14-county jurisdiction.

The success we are experiencing today will have a positive impact for years to come. As a sovereign tribal government, Cherokee Nation makes positive differences in the lives of our citizens, which helps alleviate the burden on state finances and resources.

Cherokee Nation Businesses, the tribe’s corporate holding company, generated a record-setting $1.02 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2016, the year studied by economists. The profits allow the tribe to continue to expand essential services to the Cherokee people.

Oklahoma is our home, and we are proud to be a partner in its success. We invest in roads – 77 miles in our 14 counties;  public schools – $5 million to 107 public school districts;  health care – more than 1.1 million patient visits annually to Cherokee Health Centers; higher education – more than $13 million for academic scholarships this year; and infrastructure – public water line repairs and installations.

During my time as Principal Chief, I’ve seen firsthand the changes we are making in families and communities throughout northeast Oklahoma. Just some of the examples include:

  • In Delaware County, we invested $30 million in a new casino that created 175 new jobs. In South Coffeyville, we collaborated with the state to attract Star Pipe, a manufacturing company, creating another 75 quality jobs.
  • In Tulsa County, our Career Services Department continues to help Macy’s fulfillment center with staff recruiting and training.
  • In Cherokee County, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, we attracted several new businesses, announced the construction of a $200 million health facility, preserved our iconic capitol building and expanded the Cherokee Nation tribal complex.
Those activities don’t just benefit Cherokees; they represent an investment in our home, Oklahoma. A strong Cherokee Nation equals a strong Oklahoma. Our success is the state’s success. Cherokee Nation remains strategically positioned to lead Oklahoma into a brighter and better future. As we prosper and create jobs, we play an essential role in keeping Oklahoma strong and vibrant, ensuring it remains the best place to live, work and raise a family.

That symbiotic spirit improves the lives of everyone throughout northeast Oklahoma. We are expanding our businesses and increasing our profits to do more, help more citizens improve their lives and make more of a difference from one generation to the next. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Preservation efforts ensure Cherokee heritage remains intact

Cherokee Nation’s most endangered buildings teach us about the history of our people – the stories and histories of our ancestors who lived here and flourished before we were ever born. We have made a concerted effort to preserve, restore and rehabilitate our most iconic and historic places that have played key roles in Cherokee Nation’s history in northeast Oklahoma. Preserving and protecting important historical elements of Cherokee Nation’s heritage are important to me and to all of us as Cherokee Nation citizens, and it is a value that, as Cherokees, is deeply ingrained in each generation.

Preservation is a responsibility that we all share as citizens of our communities. It’s a part of who we are. While it reflects our past, it also heralds our future. Buildings and iconic places speak to our shared roots. Our work in restoration was recently recognized by Preservation Oklahoma, a nonprofit group committed to historic preservation statewide.  Just a few of our most notable projects include the following:
  • We have overseen the renovation of important cultural projects, including the Cherokee National Capitol. By removing more than 2,000 old and decaying bricks and replacing them with replica bricks and mortar, it strengthened the structure while maintaining its historic look. This effort, coupled with replacing the cupola atop of the structure, has reinforced its place as Cherokee Nation’s most renowned building. Originally built in 1869 and located on the main town square of Tahlequah, this building housed all three branches of Cherokee government until statehood in 1907. Soon it will be the crown jewel in the tribe’s growing cluster of museums.
  • We purchased Sequoyah’s Cabin from the Oklahoma Historical Society when the state of Oklahoma was no longer able to operate the national historic landmark. The structure, which was built in 1829, sits on a 200-acre site and hosts more than 12,000 visitors annually. By preventing the cabin’s closure, we are able to tell the story of Sequoyah through a uniquely Cherokee perspective.
  • We partnered with Northeastern State University to begin work on the rehabilitation of the school’s oldest and most historic building, Seminary Hall. Built in 1888 by the Cherokee Nation, it was the first female institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi River. After a renovation and repurpose by NSU, Seminary Hall will become a multipurpose building that will highlight its cultural heritage and Cherokee roots.
We owe it to our children to make these investments and conservation efforts a priority today, so that tomorrow they may better know, understand and appreciate our iconic and historic treasures in Oklahoma. As a fourth-generation Oklahoman, I know how important our preservation efforts are, and now my great-grandson, who is the seventh generation, will soon be experiencing our history and heritage.

These places are more than brick and mortar; they are places where our ancestors struggled and thrived. That spirit dwells in all of these structures, all extraordinary places that are part of the fabric of our tribe and a tribute to those who were here before us. Preserving them is worth the time and investment. It is an important responsibility, and we take great pride in ensuring it is done well for future generations.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Cherokee Vote campaign sees success in getting tribal citizens registered

Cherokee Nation has invested time and resources in ensuring our citizens are registered to vote in tribal, state and federal elections.  Cherokee Vote launched in 2013 to drive participation in the electoral process.  Since its inception, our voter engagement program has registered 5,585 tribal voters and 1,160 state and federal voters.

Those numbers have been even more impressive in the first three months of 2017, as we have registered 700 voters for tribal elections, which is more than the entirety of 2015. These numbers demonstrate that Cherokees are becoming an influential voice in their communities and in our state. It is critical for our citizens to participate in elections, including tribal, municipal, county, state and federal. We continue to raise this conversation because so many people are still unregistered and many who are registered fail to cast their votes.

Our employees and volunteers routinely travel across the 14-county jurisdiction to tribal community meetings and events to register voters, answer questions and speak to the importance of engaging in the political process. We have a Cherokee Vote presence at local nontribal events as well, like the state and county fairs where we talk to Cherokees and non-Cherokees about the importance of voting. Additionally, we have operated a voter registration booth for the past several years at all Cherokee Nation at-large community gatherings across the country. The Cherokee Vote effort is closely associated with the National Congress of American Indians’ national Native Vote campaign.
It wasn’t until 1924 that Native Americans were recognized as U.S. citizens with the right to vote. That means for 150 years of this nation’s history, American Indians had no vote or say in damaging policies. Almost 10 percent of the Oklahoma population are enrolled citizens in one of the state’s 38 federally recognized tribal governments. With 350,000 citizens, Cherokee Nation is a powerful voting bloc. When we register and get out the vote, Cherokees and Native people can make a huge difference.

We will continue to provide our citizens with up-to-date information on issues that impact Cherokee Nation. Our hope is that each of our Cherokee citizens recognizes their collective power to influence decisions at all levels of government. It is critical to stay engaged and to exercise your right to vote so that elected officials hear your voice and act to protect tribal sovereignty and honor treaty and trust obligations.  I hope sending a message to Cherokee people that voting is important also teaches our children the importance of civic participation. Hopefully, parents will take their children to the polls and voting will be a regular family event and a lifetime habit.

Monday, April 3, 2017

STEM emphasis will create the professionals Cherokee Nation needs in the future

The lack of diversity in the sciences is not a new problem, but we live in a day and age where we can help bridge that gap. At Cherokee Nation we are committed to encouraging, supporting and mentoring our youth so we can substantially increase the numbers of Cherokees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) studies and careers.

Across America, STEM fields are one of the few areas where there is continued job growth. Almost 80 percent of the fastest growing occupations depend on some mastery of science or mathematics.  For Indian Country, and especially here in our home in northeast Oklahoma, we must ensure our students are prepared for the 21st century global economy.  Kids who excel in science and math aren’t just smart, but they will be the world’s creative problem-solvers going forward. Every time we address workforce development for Indian people and for Oklahoma, STEM absolutely must be part of the discussion. Those careers – researchers, engineers, health care providers – are essential to our health, happiness and safety. They are the cornerstones of our future.

We need boys, and we, especially, need girls in the STEM pipeline. We have to get away from the stereotype that boys are better than girls in math and science, so we need more women in these STEM-related fields to ensure innovation, creativity, competitiveness and, in the long run, economic growth.

Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce but only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce. To change this statistic, Cherokee Nation has pledged to be a partner in mentoring more Cherokee girls to consider careers in STEM. Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor, a certified public accountant, is on the advisory board of the Native American Council for the Million Women Mentors, a group committed to increasing the interest and confidence of girls and young women to pursue STEM careers. Efforts by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society are also targeting Native girls for STEM careers.

Cherokee Nation has some of best and brightest minds in America. We need to continue exposing them to what is possible through STEM education. Starting early to inspire children to consider careers in STEM fields is essential. K-12 outreach summer programs for girls play an important role in inspiring them to pursue science and engineering in middle school and high school.

Right now at Sequoyah High School, nine young ladies are on the robotics team, and this fall, Cherokee Nation provided robotics kits to dozens of schools within the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction to encourage STEM activities. Robotics teams at six area schools that we helped sponsor will compete in the VEX Robotics World Championship later this month, and I am so proud to say Bell Elementary School from Adair County earned a top 10 worldwide score during the state competition.

From competing in robotics to a fulfilling and challenging career in STEM is a short jump if we can create a pipeline of students, find passionate mentors and support our kids through college and into the workforce.  A more diverse scientific workforce with plenty of Cherokee Nation citizens in the labor pool will be better for all of us and for advancements in technology and sciences.

And, the perfect place for STEM students to launch their careers is in our 470,000-square-foot outpatient health facility at the W.W. Hastings health campus in Tahlequah, which is under construction. Once it is opened in 2019, we plan to hire more than 800 health care professionals – doctors, nurses and medical specialists. We have agreed to partner with OSU Medical School to offer localized education and classes, with a hope of developing Cherokee medical practitioners.

We are ready for more Cherokee women to be involved in science and math and pursue new frontiers in technology. Mary Golda Ross, a Cherokee from Park Hill and an engineer and rocket scientist who helped America’s space program reach the moon, was ahead of her time in the 1960s, but in the 21st century, our children can see any achievement is possible and attainable through passion and hard work. As leaders and adults, it is our job to make sure they dream big and reach those destinations.