TAHLEQUAH, OKLAHOMA— From new roads to new retail outlets, to the opening of new state-of-the art health centers, tangible benefits to the Cherokee people are evident across the Cherokee Nation, Principal Chief Bill John Baker said during his annual State of the Nation address Saturday.
Chief Baker spoke to hundreds of tribal citizens and visitors who gathered on the courthouse lawn in downtown Tahlequah as part of the 63rd Cherokee National Holiday.
The address touted the tribe’s proven successes during Chief Baker’s first four-year term in office and future plans to ensure Cherokees live healthier and have ample job opportunities and access to homeownership.
“The past four years have clearly shown that this is not an administration that just makes promises. This is an administration that delivers results,” Chief Baker said. “We are embarking on a new Golden Age that envisions a stronger economy where more Cherokees are healthy, live in good homes, and earn good wages at quality jobs.”
Chief Baker pointed to many initiatives to come in his second term in office. A 469,000-square-foot addition at W.W. Hastings Hospital is in the works after the tribe was among seven tribes in the United States to be awarded an Indian Health Service Joint Venture project grant.
Chief Baker announced for the first time the nomination of a Secretary of Natural Resources position to protect and preserve the environment and natural resources on Cherokee Nation land. The cabinet position was originally established by the 1999 Constitutional Convention but never filled.
He announced a new partnership with OSU Medical School for the tribe to recruit, train and then hire its own doctors who are Cherokee to later serve other Cherokees needing care in tribal health centers.
“This new facility will become a bustling hub of training and research as we partner with OSU to establish a medical school here,” he said of the coming project.
The tribe has also seen great success in the past four years. That success includes helping lure a massive Macy’s fulfillment center to northeast Oklahoma. The tribe partnered with the company to build a road at the facility and host its hiring job fairs.
At Cherokee Springs Plaza in Tahlequah, a new and larger Stuteville Ford dealership and a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant are the first to occupy the tribe’s new dining and retail center. Groundwork for utilities and roads is currently underway.
In the past year, the tribe also reached an agreement with the state of Oklahoma to expand tribal hunting and fishing rights to all 77 counties in the state.
“This past year the protection and expansion of our sovereignty have been unprecedented,” Chief Baker said. “One of the ways we have advanced sovereignty is by reaffirming our hunting and fishing rights, established by tradition and guaranteed to us by treaty.”
Cherokee Nation citizens 16 and over living in Oklahoma will get a free Cherokee Nation/state hunting and fishing license that is good starting Jan. 1.
The tribe also built a new health center in Ochelata. One in Jay will soon follow, and Cherokee Nation health centers in Stilwell and Sallisaw have had massive million-dollar expansions to offer a wider array of services.
“As I have said before, this administration does not make empty promises. This is an administration whose actions match its words,” Chief Baker said.