Harsh Oklahoma Weather Means Making Tough Decisions to Serve the Cherokee People

Guest Commentary

Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Oklahoma’s weather can be unpredictable at times. Extreme changes are just about the only thing we can count on in the winter months. These erratic changes in weather affect everyone in the community, including the Cherokee Nation and our government operations. This winter has been particularly harsh, so we’ve had to make some tough decisions about whether to keep our offices open during inclement weather.

I’m proud to say that our 24-hour and emergency operations, such as EMS, Hastings Hospital and the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service, have remained open and in service every day this winter, regardless of the conditions. On the days we’ve experienced inclement weather, we have allowed employees extra time to travel to work, so that our health centers can remain open and continue to serve the sick and those in need. The same goes for other offices, such as housing, human services, career services, registration and the tag office.

The Cherokee Nation is a government, designed to serve the people. That’s our responsibility, and serving Cherokees does not stop when ice, sleet and snow come our way. Instead, we find our people need us even more when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

During these harsh conditions, cold and flu cases increase, more elders experience dangerous slips and falls, and children become sick, so it’s imperative that our health centers remain open to accommodate the influx of patients. Thankfully, our dedicated health staff has remained on duty, even working extra hours, to ensure our people continue to get the care they need.

As the weather turns more frigid and the price of natural gas and propane increase, so does the need for emergency assistance with heating bills. When elders are shivering in their homes, and blankets and plastic around the windows can no longer keep out the cold, the thing they will not see when they come to the Cherokee Nation is a sign on the door that says “closed.” Our housing and human services programs remain open during poor conditions, so they may help those individuals by winterizing homes and providing emergency assistance with heating bills.

Our Cherokee Nation Marshals are another shining example of our employee dedication during difficult conditions. This winter they have pulled cars out of ditches and from snowy embankments, and rescued trapped elders from their homes so that those elders can attend lifesaving dialysis and other critical medical treatments.

While the decision to remain open during inclement weather has been a difficult call to make, I am proud of the fact that the Cherokee Nation has not closed offices during this very trying winter, and even prouder of our employees who show up to work regardless of how challenging the elements are. Our employees are the lifeline to our people. They know their mission is to serve and be accountable, and they do a fantastic job fulfilling that mission. This is the Cherokee way. Serving our people and each other is the Cherokee way, and it is something we must never forget.

Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

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