TAHLEQUAH — The COVID pandemic once again prompted Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. to deliver his State of the Nation address virtually on Saturday.
This year’s 69th Annual Cherokee National Holiday — Cultivating our Culture: Language. Literacy. Lifeways — featured both virtual and in-person events. It also honors the 200th anniversary of Sequoyah’s Cherokee syllabary.
Cherokee Nation faced many challenges this past year, the two challenges that drew the most publicity were COVID and the U.S. Supreme Court decision known as the “McGirt decision.”
“What Oklahoma had 113 years to do, we are doing in a matter of months,” Hoskin said referring to the aftermath of the McGirt decision.
The decision said the land in northeast Oklahoma remains the Cherokee reservation. Last month, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled the McGirt decision is still intact, but only applies to current cases rather than a retroactive decision.
Gov. Kevin Stitt’s belief that “McGirt is a crisis that needs to be solved will be met with the fierce and determined opposition of the Cherokee Nation,” Hoskin said.
“Cherokee Nation is the best friend that the State of Oklahoma ever had, but we must be treated with respect,” Hoskin said. “Cherokee Nation remains ready, willing, and able to resolve challenges through cooperative agreements. We have proven we can do so on a win-win basis.”
Hoskin encouraged the Cherokee Nation “to build a criminal justice system that meets our basic obligations under McGirt” and “build the best criminal justice system in the country.”
“Let us build a system that places a true blanket of protection over our reservation,” Hoskin said.
Hoskin cited a system that “puts justice and comfort for victims at its center” and “a system that rehabilitates offenders who are able to return to society.”
“Let us build a system that is worthy of the Cherokee people,” Hoskin said.
He said that system should express the best of the Cherokee Nation and set an example for the rest of the world.
“A sovereignty that focuses only on criminal justice is an incomplete sovereignty,” Hoskin said. “A sovereignty consumed with crime and punishment is a sovereignty that may consume us as a nation.”
The Cherokee Nation needs a sovereignty that serves all people, protects its elders, creates hope and opportunity for its children, and sustains the tribe for the next seven generations, he said.
“My administration will send legislation to the Council of the Cherokee Nation to create opportunities for the Cherokee people, strengthen the communities where they live and strengthen our sovereignty,” Hoskin said.
Hoskin also outlined what his administration opposes — sovereignty built on division and fear.
“We reject a politics based on cynicism, based on tearing each other down like they do too often in Washington, D.C.,” Hoskin said.
Saving the language
In honor of 200th anniversary of Sequoyah’s Cherokee syllabary, Hoskin proposed to expand the tribe’s language immersion program by opening a new immersion school in Adair County.
“The loss of our language remains a threat to our sovereignty and indeed our very existence as a distinct people,” Hoskin said.
Hoskin added “most of these (Cherokee speakers) 2,000 men and women are over the age of 70.
Many simply do not reach out for help so Hoskin proposed a new Speaker Services Program that addresses their needs, he said.
“If we expect our fluent speakers to be there to save the Cherokee language, we need to be there for them,” Hoskin said.
Hoskin called the “passage of time and the fragility of human life” as foes in saving the tribe’s language.
“Saving the Cherokee language is quite simply a mission on which we cannot fail, we must not fail, and we will not fail,” Hoskin said.
Hoskin said more health care and childcare related issues needed to be addressed.
“Our survival means that we must put our communities ahead of ourselves,” Hoskin said. “We must use science, facts and compassion as our guide.”
Hoskin urged very eligible Cherokee to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We must keep investing,” Hoskin said referring to clinic and hospital facilities. “Mental health challenges for our people are not being adequately addressed.”
Hoskin wants to replace the Salina clinic, build a new WW Hastings Hospital, and use the existing hospital building to house the tribe’s behavioral health programs that would house a comprehensive behavioral health system and include addiction treatment.
The Public Health and Wellness Act, is expected to bring $9 million to $12 million into wellness initiatives for Cherokee citizens, including a state-of-the-art wellness center in Adair County, and to replace the Markoma facility in Tahlequah.
Hoskin said the tribe’s Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act is helping with elder housing repairs.
“We can take the successful pilot project in Hulbert and spread it to communities across the reservation so that more elders can enjoy their twilight years without worrying about the conditions of their homes,” Hoskin said.
Other investments are closing gaps in broadband, growing public transit services, and improving water systems.
Hoskin plans on increasing funds to the tribe’s road projects by more than 180% each year over the next three years, pumping an added $35 million into local road and bridge projects.
The Cherokee National Holiday is the yearly celebration honoring the 1839 signing of the Cherokee Nation Constitution and the end of the Trail of Tears. Beginning in 1953, the tribe began the Labor Day celebration with car and art shows, parades, powwow, stickball, Cherokee marbles, gospel singing, pageants and a craft show with traditional Cherokee Nation items.
The events typically draws more than 100,000 visitors on Labor Day weekend.
“Cherokee Nation is the best friend that the State of Oklahoma ever had, but we must be treated with respect.”
--Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.