- By Chuck Hoskin Jr
Guest Opinion. Last year, I signed the Wilma P. Mankiller and Charlie Soap Water Act into law at the Cherokee Nation. The endeavor’s aspiration is to upgrade access to clean water across the Cherokee Nation’s reservation in northeast Oklahoma, which will improve the quality of life for so many citizens, both Cherokees and our neighbors.
Working in tandem with the Council of the Cherokee Nation, Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and I are prioritizing the water quality needs of Cherokees across the reservation. The new money doubles the amount of general fund revenue Cherokee Nation spends on these kinds of infrastructure development projects. During fiscal year 2021, Cherokee Nation invested $8.8 million in into essential water and wastewater infrastructure. That includes projects that directly help Cherokee families and communities across the reservation. More than 154 individual families and 12 rural communities have been positively impacted from making safe water a priority. Because we have successfully pushed for tens of millions of new federal dollars for Indian Country, we expect our water infrastructure efforts to grow even stronger in the coming year.
And as we continue this essential work, we need to hear from the people living within the 14 counties. So, we are asking for residents to be a part of a water quality study the Mankiller-Soap Water Act, which was named in honor of former Chief Mankiller and her husband Charlie Soap who focused on bringing clean and safe water to Cherokee families and communities in the 1980’s. We have also made improvements to Cherry Tree Rural Water District in Adair County, where the historic Bell water line was laid by Mankiller, Soap and local Cherokees inspired by the couple’s leadership, a top priority.
We are asking citizens living within the reservation to take a short survey online. Having the firsthand feedback will help us better strategize how to map out which homes are experiencing poor water quality issues. The survey, which takes less than five minutes to complete, is now accessible by visiting the Gadugi Portal at https://gadugiportal.cherokee.org and selecting “Applications.” From the Applications page, select “Water Survey” from the available listings. Responses are confidential and anonymous.
Among the water related questions, we are focused on water supply and water quality, as well as any wastewater issues.
Access to clean water and sanitation is essential to staying healthy. When people are regularly exposed to available, safe water, they are better able to stay healthier. It impacts elders down to school-aged children when they have good water flow and sanitation. That’s why we are addressing and eliminating barriers to safe water. It will improve the lives of Cherokee people today, as well as for years to come.
Nobody within the Cherokee Nation Reservation should have to live without access to safe, running water. Cherokee Nation’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure is committed to developing work plans directly related to what we learn via the online survey. Funding will also support community water system projects, with the tribe prioritizing rural water systems based on infrastructure deficiencies.
We are working aggressively to solve this issue once and for all, as we have allocated funding and have a committed team of planners and builders. Safe water should be plentiful for our people and our communities.
Chuck Hoskin, Jr. is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
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