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Guest Opinion. Recently, Cherokee Nation First Lady January Hoskin and I attended the annual chili cook-off and advocacy day by the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA). We were happy to be at this event at the Oklahoma State Capitol, not only to enjoy the chili, but to support the important mission of OICA.

For more than four decades, OICA has been a leading voice for Oklahoma children. The organization was founded in reaction to terrible stories exposing abuses of kids in state custody – a situation that was all too similar to the long suffering of Native American children in federal boarding schools. Without advocates in the community to shine light on these abuses, it can be far too easy to ignore the plight of our most vulnerable children.

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Thankfully we have made many improvements since those dark days, but today’s youth still face huge challenges and need our support. According to the most recent data, 1 in 5 children in Oklahoma is living in poverty, and more than 180,000 kids in this state can’t always get enough nutritious food.

That’s why Cherokee Nation has stepped up to provide the Summer EBT program that distributes a monthly $40 per child over the summer months when kids aren’t getting meals through school. The funds come on a card that can be used at many grocery stores, and they are available to all families who are eligible for free or reduced price school meals, whether or not they are tribal citizens. We’ve provided this benefit on the Cherokee Nation Reservation for years, and we are now also working with Muscogee Nation to reach families across their reservation.

The state of Oklahoma declined to participate this year, but tribal nations including Cherokee Nation, Muscogee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, and Choctaw Nation are working together to make sure all eligible families on our Reservations get this important help.

OICA has been a good partner in advocating for this program. They’ve also helped bring SoonerCare information to schools and daycares across rural Oklahoma to inform families about getting health insurance for their children. While Cherokee Nation provides health care to tribal citizens at no cost to patients, getting more patients insured helps reduce wait times and expand the services we can offer. Our success at building the largest health system in Indian Country offering world-class care would not have been possible without SoonerCare expansion.

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr.

Also on OICA’s agenda this year are bills aimed at improving child care affordability, expanding parental leave, and giving parents, educators, school staff, and the kids themselves more resources to stay safe and healthy. Cherokee Nation is proud to stand with OICA to move the needle for children.

Throughout my time in office, First Lady January Hoskin has been a strong champion for these causes as well. She reminds me, despite the many conflicts and distractions that come up in politics and government, to never lose sight of the world we are creating for our children and grandchildren, and for Cherokee children everywhere.

Too often, children are used as political pawns in what are really disputes between adults. True child advocates, like First Lady Hoskin and OICA, stay focused on the essential questions: what do our children need, and how do we help them get it?

Chuck Hoskin, Jr. is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation

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Author: Chuck Hoskin JrEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.