July 2012 - Vol 9, No 7
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - There is a pretty good chance that if you live in Currentland, you also live within a Native American tribal jurisdiction or across a state line from one; whether that land belongs to one of the Five Civilized Tribes, an Apache Plains Indian tribe, or one of the 34 other federally recognized tribes located within the great state of Oklahoma. My point being, regardless of whether or not you have an ounce of Indian blood coursing through your veins, the actions of these tribal governments do affect you because you, my friend, live in “Indian Country”.
I live in Tahlequah, home of The Current and Capital of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Nation is debatably the largest federally recognized American Indian /Alaskan native tribe in the United States; and as one can imagine there is a great deal of responsibility that comes with that designation. First of all, the tribe is responsible for managing a hefty chunk of money, including; a budget approaching $1 billion, nine casinos, and a myriad of businesses. Secondly, the tribe is responsible for a large population of Cherokee citizens. According to Acting Cherokee Nation Tribal Registrar, Justin Godwin, there are about 316,324 enrolled Cherokees as of June 7, 2012. The tribe provides an assortment of services to these citizens, everything from health care to education. Thirdly, a responsibility that comes with operating almost any large organization, particularly a government, is handling the media be it local, state or national. National media has a habit of hooking onto stories that have an interesting but negative aspect, because that, is what readers like.
In late June of 2011, the Cherokee nation received a great deal of attention, both negative and positive from the media, over the heated tribal election. The position of Principle Chief was up for grabs and both Mr. Bill John Baker and the incumbent, Mr. Chad “Corntassel” Smith, were eager contenders. There was speculation on who the true victor was after the first count. After multiple recounts produced different results, the Cherokee Supreme Court called for a special election. The result of the special election was announced on Sept. 24, 2011, showing Mr. Baker as the victor, who was sworn into office as Chief of the Cherokee Nation on Oct. 19, 2011. Hard feelings remain about this election and I do not blame those who were disappointed, in either party. The fact of the matter is the election is long over and we have a victor; we have a Chief, a good Chief with a good heart. Cherokee citizens everywhere need to make the humble decision to not only accept this, but work with it. Knowing the Baker family and how close they are to one another, I am confident that if Bill John treats you and me, as Cherokee people, as members of the Cherokee Nation family, half as well as he does his immediate family, then we’re in good shape.
I had a chance to speak with Bill John’s mother, Isabelle Baker, who has dedicated her entire life to improving opportunities available, especially in the field of education, not just for Cherokee citizens, but for all Oklahomans. I could fill every page of this paper writing about Isabelle Baker’s accomplishments, but that’s not all there is to her. She is a very sweet woman with a beautiful and engaging personality; but don’t be mistaken, she is also very strongly willed.
“I told him (Bill John) these people’s lives will be changed forever because of your loving spirit and good heart,” offers Isabelle. The Baker family is an even tighter knit unit than I thought. “Oh we see one another several times a week, I talk to my boys most every day even more so since their father passed; Tim Baker (a Tahlequah attorney) calls in the morning after he gets up and around, and then Donnie Baker (also a Tahlequah attorney and a judge) usually calls me around lunch, and Bill John, well Bill John will call me around 8 or 9, when he is on his way home from the office.” However “B-Belle” made a point of telling me her opinion is biased, saying “I’m his mother, and he’s my youngest; he is my baby.” I think we can take Isabelle’s word as gospel truth, having raised two attorneys (one of them a sitting judge) and now the Chief of the largest federally recognized American Indian Tribe. That’s quite an accomplishment, wouldn’t you say?
So how exactly is Chief Bill John Baker going to exemplify his devotion and love for the Cherokee people? Bill John made some pretty awesome promises during his campaign. He made promises to make every effort toward making business and entrepreneurial pursuits much easier for all Cherokee citizens, such as diversifying Cherokee business endeavors beyond building and operating casinos, and working to create a small grant program that would enable Cherokees to take their skills and start new small businesses of their own. He spoke always and often about his wish to give the Tribal Council more control over the direction of Cherokee Nation Businesses; giving elected officials more influence in the decisions CNB makes. Bill John even addressed issues in the realm of health care; including dedicating casino revenue to funding a more compressive health care system that would cover citizens in cases where the BIA denies funds, and one that would include a dentures and glasses plan. Bill John devoted a large part of his platform to discussing the improvement of education in the Cherokee nation. As a student I have had the opportunity to personally enjoy the benefits of being a Cherokee student. I cannot even begin to imagine how it could get any better. On top of all that he plans to help our elders and to spread and teach Cherokee culture throughout the Cherokee Nation. It sounds like there are great things in store for the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee people.
During his campaign, Bill John had the courage to openly address some of our more controversial issues such as arriving at a positive conclusion to the long- suffering Freedman issue and to do his best to see to it that a more harmonious relationship exists between the Cherokee Nation and the Keetoowah Band, who are both headquartered in Tahlequah. One purpose of this story is to declare to everyone in Northeastern Oklahoma that the Cherokees are doing their best to put election differences and media sensationalism behind them. There is a new Cherokee Chief in town, and his name in Bill John Baker.
In closing, let me say we all know the Chief alone can’t do it all. It will take the whole tribe and all its leaders to bring meaningful and lasting improvements. Don’t forget your responsibility in a democracy in all of this; a huge advantage and responsibility that comes with having a good- hearted man as a leader is that it gives one the opportunity to influence and encourage that leader to make positive change, and to follow through with such change. It is your responsibility if you are a Cherokee citizen to participate. You have a role to play and, for goodness sake, be positive; help carry the water and not just drink from the bucket when it suits you. No matter how much Chief Baker and all our leaders would like to do well in our community, it is pertinent they not only know what the people want, but that they know that the people are behind them, pitching in to help, not only when you agree with them, but maybe more importantly, when you don’t. I think that about says it all; we have the chance to be part of the solution, not the problem, in all that we do.
For more information about The Cherokee Nation, visit: http://www.cherokee.org/