MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

September 1, 2013

Chief focuses on improvements

Homes, health and hope themes in speech

By Travis Sloat
Phoenix Staff Writer

— TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee Spiritual Leader Crosslin Fields Smith opened the Cherokee State of the Nation ceremonies with a request.

“Disconnect your minds,” Smith said. “Disconnect from the heat, from whatever negative things you are thinking about and come together as a race. This will qualify you to become the recipient of a divine blessing.”

Several hundred people sat under a tent in front of the newly restored cupola of the Cherokee Nation courthouse on Saturday afternoon to hear Principal Chief Bill John Baker make the annual State of the Nation address.

Baker opened his speech by drawing attention to the revived building.

“It has been 85 years since any Cherokee has seen the cupola on top of this building,” Baker said. “The majority of us today are seeing it in place for the very first time.”

After thanking the crowd for the opportunity to serve the Cherokee Nation, Baker elaborated on the theme for the 61st annual holiday, “Homes. Health. Hope.”

“I am proud to report that our Nation made history when I signed our new At Large Tag Compact with the state of Oklahoma,” he said. “For the first time ever, any Cherokee citizen living in Oklahoma will be able to purchase a Cherokee tag.”

Baker received an enthusiastic burst of applause from the crowd after the statement, as well as many more during the course of his speech.

Jamie Hummingbird, director of the Cherokee Gaming Commission, said he thought the speech showcased the positive direction in which the tribe is going.

“I’m proud to be a citizen of the Nation,” Hummingbird said. “This is a very good time for Cherokees to come together.”

Among the many things Baker covered in his speech, the most well-received proclamations were those concerning the new photo identification program, the Homes Built by Cherokees for Cherokees program, and the improvements to the Nation’s health care system.

“A strong nation must be a healthy nation,” Baker said. “Last year our health system handled more than one million patient visits, and we’re growing. No Cherokee will get second-class care in our world-class health system.”

Baker also promised he wasn’t leaving the “Hope” aspect of the theme to chance.

“My leadership team is focused, hardworking and dedicated, and the results are solid,” he said. “Now, we will build on the successes of the recent past.”

Hummingbird said one of the most important programs to him was the one related to the expansion of the Cherokee language.

“I know they are working hard on expanding and enhancing our language program,” he said. “The spreading of our Nation’s language is important to me.”

Reach Travis Sloat at (918) 684-2908 or tsloat@muskogeephoenix.com.