Looking back on a Successful 2014 and Welcoming a Bright New Year Ahead

Happy New YearGuest Commentary

As we begin a new year, we are blessed to open a chapter of new possibilities and reflect on our many successes in 2014. The coming year offers us a fresh opportunity to meet the needs of the Cherokee people and deliver services and implement new ideas that will improve lives. We will continue to focus on the things that make a real and lasting impact in the lives of Cherokee citizens, by providing homes, health and hope.

We made a $100 million investment from casino profits to provide better health care for Cherokee citizens. In 2013 and 2014 we broke ground on health centers in Ochelata, Sallisaw, Stilwell and Jay. We are working diligently to complete those new and expanded health centers that will provide service to more than one million patient visits in the coming year. In 2015, all four of these health centers will open and begin seeing patients. The expanded space, coupled with new, state-of-the-art equipment, allows us to deliver better and faster care to more people.

Another bright spot in our approach to health care was the opening of our new Jack Brown Center in Tahlequah. The center offers world-class therapy and care to troubled Native youths and young adults battling substance abuse issues. We believe in a holistic approach to health care delivery, and helping young people battle addiction is equally as important as treating other types of diseases.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Increasing hope for Cherokee families means access to quality jobs. In 2014, Macy’s broke ground on a new fulfillment center in Owasso, creating thousands of jobs. With our Cherokee Nation Career Services Department leading the recruitment effort, those new Macy’s jobs will be filled by many Cherokee citizens.

Cherokee Nation Entertainment broke ground on two new casinos is 2014, which will provide hundreds of new Cherokee jobs. In Roland, we launched an $80 million project with expanded dining, entertainment and hotel space, which will bring 100 new jobs to the region. In August of 2014, we broke ground on the newest Cherokee Casino in South Coffeyville, just south of the Kansas border. This casino will also create 100 new jobs in an area that has been left out of Cherokee Nation economic development for too long.

A good job leads to family stability. I’m proud that in 2014, I signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for all Cherokee Nation employees. CNB followed suit by passing a similar resolution. The bump to $9.50 an hour was simply the right thing to do for our employees and our people. We have more Cherokees working for our businesses than ever before, so this increase helps them better meet the needs of their families.

That’s a source of pride for me, just as the expansion of our car tag program is. In June, a new compact with the Oklahoma governor’s office allowed us to offer car tags for the first time ever to Cherokees living anywhere in Oklahoma. People said it could not be done, but I’m thankful we were able to achieve this in 2014.

Last year also saw the Cherokee Nation preserve vital pieces of our culture and history. Bison retuned to the Cherokee Nation through a federal surplus program, and we could not be happier. We have reconnected a piece of our heritage to our bright future. The herd of bison will grow, creating a boon in cultural tourism and other economic development opportunities. The Cherokee Nation was also proactive in working with high tech companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft to incorporate our language and syllabary across multiple user platforms. This guarantees our language will continue to thrive as people use it to communicate in modern ways, like texting and email.

I am proud of what we have done in 2014 and look forward to building on these successes in 2015.

As I have said, a good government makes life better for its people and for future generations. When we are healthy and have jobs and home security, we are more hopeful. That is what we are working toward every day for Cherokee people. All these achievements were made possible through the grace of God and because of the team effort of our thousands of dedicated employees, and to them I extend a sincere “wado.”

So on behalf of all those at Cherokee Nation working hard on your behalf every day, I wish you all the blessings of a happy New Year.

Bill John Baker is principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

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