Dancers enter the arena at the Cherokee Nation Cultural Grounds during the Grand Entry of the 65th Cherokee National Holiday Intertribal Powwow.
Published September 2, 2017
TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker urged Cherokee citizens to do their part in helping protect clean water for this generation and many generations to come during his State of the Nation address Saturday morning in downtown Tahlequah.
Hundreds of tribal citizens and visitors gathered at the Cherokee National CapitolSquare to hear Chief Baker’s annual address as part of the 65th annual Cherokee National Holiday.
Each year, the State of the Nation recalls the Cherokee Nation’s accomplishments and vision for the future. It has been delivered by the Principal Chief on the courthouse lawn since the 1950s.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker delivers his State of the Nation address at the 65th Cherokee National Holiday.
“Preserving and defending our culture and values are important to me and my administration,” Chief Baker said. “All Cherokees should feel an innate desire to protect clean water for our current and our next seven generations. This charge is one of our greatest obligations. We do this because water is sacred - the theme for this year’s holiday.”
Just days before the Cherokee National Holiday, a federal court ruled that Cherokee Freedmen descendants are eligible for Cherokee citizenship. Chief Baker addressed the ruling early is his annual speech.
“We are strong. We are resilient. We are the descendants of Cherokees who endured unimaginable hardships. Our Freedmen brothers and sisters made that Trail of Tears journey with us,” Chief Baker said. “We are taking steps to begin the healing for all parties. On Friday, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court issued an order reversing an earlier decision. This confirms Freedmen descendants’ full rights to citizenship.”
Among the steps taken by the tribe to protect water, Chief Baker highlighted an ongoing court case involving Sequoyah Fuels Corporation.
“Earlier this year, when a corporation wanted to permanently store 12,000 tons of radioactive material near the banks of the Arkansas and Illinois rivers, our legal team, led by Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill and Attorney General Todd Hembree, took this corporation to court and prevented that radioactive sludge from being permanently buried in Sequoyah County,” Chief Baker said.
Chief Baker also recently signed an executive order limiting the tribe’s use of Styrofoam, a source of trash that has long-term negative effects for the environment, including water.
“Going forward, we will use recyclable or compostable materials whenever we can so that we’re not leaving today’s problems for future generations to solve,” Chief Baker said.
A second executive order will reduce carbon emissions of tribal operations by 25 percent over the next 10 years. Among other methods to achieve the reduction in emissions, the tribe leased land to a company for the development of a wind energy farm on Cherokee Nation trust land in Kay County near the former Chilocco Indian School site. Construction is expected to begin this fall. A solar canopy car charging station is also being built at the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah in order to reduce carbon emissions.
“Scientific evidence tells us that global climate disruption is threatening our very existence. Continuing to put more pollutants in the air is devastating to Mother Earth,” Chief Baker said. “Instead of being part of the problem, we are taking the lead in becoming part of the solution. As part of our efforts to lower carbon emissions, we have entered into a major wind energy project that will provide 200 megawatts of clean energy. We’re also constructing a solar energy canopy at the tribal headquarters that will provide clean energy to the complex, and let visitors and employees charge electric vehicles.”
Also in the past year, the tribe broke ground on the Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center at the W.W. Hastings Hospital campus in Tahlequah. The new facility will be nearly 470,000 square feet when completed in 2019 and will be the largest tribal health center in the country.
“The $200 million investment from Cherokee Nation to build the facility, coupled with Indian Health Service’s pledge to provide almost $90 million annually for staff and operations is unprecedented,” Chief Baker said. “More than 350 new construction jobs have been created and 800 new health jobs are coming. This project represents a major advancement in our ability to deliver the best health care to our people. We’ve forever changed the way Cherokees think about their health care and reimagined what healthy lives can be for our citizens.”
Cherokee Nation also stepped in to save Sequoyah’s homestead near Sallisaw in late 2016. Faced with drastic budget cuts, the Oklahoma Historical Society planned to close the site, but the tribe was able to acquire the property. Repairs and renovations were completed before the historic site was reopened in June.
“Our operation of the cabin and the surrounding land will enable us to tell the story of Sequoyah in our own words and in our own language,” Chief Baker said.
Another recent accomplishment is the second-story expansion at the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah. The 36,000-square-foot second floor added nearly 50 new offices to accommodate the tribe’s growing workforce and created two new courtrooms for the Cherokee Nation Supreme and District Courts. The tribe’s government office was last renovated in 1992.