Education has always been valued by Cherokees, and the Cherokee Nation is investing more today in higher education scholarships than at any time in our history. That is why I am honored to report the Cherokee Nation awarded almost 3,450 undergraduate scholarships last fall, thanks to an additional $1 million allocated by the Tribal Council.
That is an all-time high and something each of us should take pride in. All of those students received $2,000 toward their tuition for the fall 2014 semester. Our college scholarship winners embody some of the most important values we hold as a tribe, including personal accountability and community and responsibility.
Principal Chief Bill John Baker
These scholarships are investments in our future leaders and help continue our rich history of placing importance on education. The Cherokee Nation has always been a leader in Indian Country as far as education goes, including building the first institution of higher learning for females west of the Mississippi River and developing a written syllabary to support our tribal language.
An education is an investment that pays for itself many times over in a lifetime. The United States Census Bureau says people with a bachelor’s degree earn more than $24,000 annually than those without a degree. A degree helps our people compete for good jobs, and these scholarships help reduce debt right out of college. As a tribal government, we want our students to have every resource available to them when they pursue a higher education.
I believe in the universal truth that knowledge is power. As the son and grandson of educators, I can attest to this. For the Cherokee Nation, education and learning can build a bridge that connects our past, our present and, more importantly, our future. It is how we continue to lift our people individually and create a bright future for all of us collectively.
Our citizens who pursue and earn college degrees have expanded opportunities and can never be held back. When our Cherokee children are knowledgeable about our world, our history and our heritage, their potential is infinite. They can develop new ideas that move our tribe, our country and our society forward.
To me, that is a true sense of hope.
I am confident the hard work and dedication our kids put in the classroom will one day translate to great success outside of it. The investments we make today are important because we live in a fast, ever-evolving world. Our future leaders will need that preparation to lead our economic sustainability and protect our culture.
Young, talented and educated Cherokee Nation citizens are our tribe’s most valuable asset and will always be our key to a brighter and more hopeful future for our people.
Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.