- By Chuck Hoskin Jr
Guest Opinion. Many decades before Oklahoma became a state, the Cherokee Nation was building public infrastructure on this land, ranging from roads and schools to the oldest public building in the state, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Building, which is now serving as a historical museum. But Cherokee Nation’s role in building essential infrastructure is not only our history. Across our 14-county reservation in northeast Oklahoma, we continue to build the infrastructure to serve Cherokees present and future.
As a sovereign government, the Cherokee Nation is aggressively building new homes, constructing new community centers, making broadband more accessible, and creating safer roads, bridges and water systems. We try to prioritize projects that will improve living standards and pay off with long-term economic growth, as well as create high-quality construction jobs.
That is the focus of the recently reauthorized Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act. With this act, the Council of the Cherokee Nation, Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and I developed a plan for investing $120 million to build homes and increase homeownership among Cherokees, as well as modernizing and expanding community centers across the reservation. We also worked with the Council of the Cherokee Nation to add over $20 million for local infrastructure projects such as roads and water system improvements over the next few years.
Our plans are grounded in what the people want at the community level. Deputy Chief Warner and I know that often the best we can do for Cherokees is to ensure our citizens have the resources to do what they do best, which is to take care of each other. Community is what inspires us during good times and supports us when we need it most. A strong community improves both our physical and mental health.
}In Marble City, located in Sequoyah County, we recently started our efforts on a new community center that will be located where the school’s gym used to be. The 22,800-square-foot space will house a clothing resource center, a food pantry, wellness space, meeting areas and classrooms, and a teaching kitchen. It also will include new playground equipment, a basketball court and a covered outdoor gathering space, as well as needed improvements to local water infrastructure.
In Tahlequah, we are assisting the Illinois River Area Community Organization with a building. The future site will be used for community gatherings, cultural activities, entertainment and shelter. We are also building 16 new rental units called the Birdtail Addition, located across from the Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center. The $4 million development will replace duplexes built in 1969. The project kicks off over $60 million in new affordable housing across the reservation over the next few years.
In Kenwood, located in Delaware County, a pilot project by our Cherokee Speaker Services Program is helping reduce housing insecurity for first-language Cherokee speaking elders. We have already moved Cherokee speakers into safe homes and are working to expand the program and identify others who may need assistance. Even better, these homes are located a short distance from our $10 million community center, Head Start and a park facility, currently under construction.
We broke ground on much-needed water infrastructure upgrades in the communities of Roland and Gans. These will significantly improve water sanitation and storage capacity for the local communities. Modernizing water systems means healthier communities that are better prepared to grow.
Other infrastructure endeavors include a new walking trail in Muskogee for physical and mental wellness and a new food distribution center in Vinita, which represents the eighth center the tribe operates. We also recently dedicated a bridge replacement in Collinsville that will make travel safer for all people in Rogers and Tulsa counties.
We have so many community-impacting infrastructure projects underway that there is not enough space here to name them all. From remodeled community buildings in Greasy, Dewey and Bell, to a new community building in Bowlin Springs, to an upgraded water system in Cherry Tree, to public restroom facilities in a half-dozen public parks, the list of wonderful projects goes on and on.
Our commitment is this: We won’t leave any community behind. Look across the 7,000-square-mile Cherokee Nation Reservation and you will see many tribal projects. Whether it’s new construction, refurbished existing buildings, improved water or better roads, we are investing in what the Cherokee people have asked for. It has been important to Deputy Chief Warner and me to deliver on those requests.
One of our Cherokee values is that we’re supposed to check in on one another. We do that as Cherokee Nation, and we do that as individuals. No matter who we are or what resources we have, we can always check in on our neighbors so that no one is left isolated and unsafe. This has been a rewarding part of my role as Chief, and it’s something all of us can do.
Chuck Hoskin, Jr. is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
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