- By Chuck Hoskin Jr
Guest Opinion. As the largest Indigenous nation in the United States with more than 460,000 citizens, Cherokees can be found all across the globe. Cherokee Nation Businesses has global reach, too, with trading partners and business operations on six continents. At the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit held in California, I spoke about the unique role that Cherokee Nation and other Indigenous peoples play in the global economy.
I was honored to speak at this international gathering with a specific focus on Indigenous communities. At the summit, I was able to meet with world leaders and advocate for improving Indigenous participation in global economic growth. It also provided an opportunity to engage with Indigenous leaders from APEC member countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada for cultural exchange and learning best practices from one another.
Together, we are dispelling myths, such as the perception that Indigenous communities are stewards of the environment and nothing more. While conservation is crucial and Native peoples have a wealth of knowledge on sustainability, the world must recognize our capacity to advance wealth-building for our citizens, health care access, educational options, expanded connectivity, cultural preservation, and more.
Cherokees have always creatively pursued economic partnerships, from our first trade treaties signed with Europeans in the 1600s to our modern international business operations with an economic impact topping $3 billion. We do all this while maintaining a steadfast commitment to our sovereignty, self-determination, and cultural traditions.
We have great potential to do even more and to invest those profits back into our reservation in northeast Oklahoma. Within the Cherokee Nation Reservation are important free trade zones (FTZs) tied to the Port of Catoosa and Port of Muskogee, where our region exchanges goods with the entire world.
However, navigating international trade is made more difficult by uncertainty around what rights are reserved for Indigenous peoples. Native communities, including the Cherokee Nation, have struggled with a legacy of underinvestment and a lack of clarity for how we fit within international legal frameworks. Too often, Indigenous voices are left out of the intricate negotiations of international trade agreements. At the APEC Summit, we made recommendations for more inclusive trade policies that integrate Indigenous perspectives and needs.
The summit was a great opportunity to make progress on these issues. As we continue to strengthen our government-to-government relationship with the United States and call on the federal government to meet its trust and treaty obligations, Cherokee Nation is stepping into a greater role on the international stage.
Inspired by the Cherokee historical journey from simple bartering to modern international commerce, we are lifting up the economic hopes of Indigenous peoples everywhere.
Chuck Hoskin, Jr. is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
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