By Bill John Baker
Every Cherokee Nation citizen deserves a long and healthy life. I believe that means access to quality health care, and as Principal Chief, I made a commitment to our people to address this critical issue.
Last year, we increased the percentage of our profits that fund health care services by an additional 5 percent. But that wasn’t enough. I am proud to announce the Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB) authorized $100 million, primarily from casino profits, to fund renovations and expansions at four Cherokee Nation health centers and build a new 100-bed surgical hospital in Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation.
For the first time ever, we are directly utilizing our businesses’ profits to grow tribal infrastructure and improve the health of our people. We are at a moment in time when we can make the right kind of choices that will reap benefits for generations of Cherokee citizens. This investment sets a national precedent for a tribal sovereign government making strategic long term investments in systematic health care solutions, all directly funded by profits from our casinos and other businesses.
Our goal is to reduce wait times, improve the lives of elders, ease the burden of those with chronic illness, make childhood screenings easier, treat those suffering from behavioral health issues and improve the overall health of Cherokee citizens. There is no greater resource for the Cherokee Nation than our people, and investing in our health is investing in our future.
We created economic opportunities through CNB to make the Cherokee Nation stronger. Financially, we have succeeded and we are experiencing robust growth across all CNB platforms — hospitality and entertainment, security and defense, information technology, construction, real estate, health care services and telecommunications. We have laid a strong foundation for long-term financial stability. Aside from annual dividends, this is the first major investment the tribe’s businesses have made directly to tribal infrastructure.
As a business philosophy, we seek smart investment opportunities that pay back profitable dividends. That is what we are doing now with this investment in health care. The Cherokee Nation is the largest sovereign tribal government in the United States and operates the largest tribal health system, with more than 1 million patient visits annually.
CNB’s construction division will serve as the project’s prime contractor and construction manager. By managing this project in-house, our construction division grows its capabilities and gains an invaluable experience that can be used to help secure future projects from the federal government and private developers. Growing the economy, creating jobs and improving health care access, it is an all-around winning model for the Cherokee Nation.
With the expanded facilities and additional services, we will have a historic opportunity to dramatically improve the well-being of all Oklahomans living in the 14 county jurisdictional boundaries of the Cherokee Nation — Cherokee citizens or not. When we improve and upgrade Cherokee Nation health centers, it helps alleviate the burden on other health care providers. That benefits the entire state of Oklahoma. In addition, we can provide a greater focus on prevention and awareness, helping to save lives with critical wellness education. Investments in prevention will make our health care system more efficient and will have a lasting effect.
As an elected tribal leader, my stewardship is built on my commitment to the Cherokee people. We have created a responsible plan that gives greater control to citizens and allows them to better address their individual needs. A strong nation is a healthy nation, a nation with access to quality health care.
Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.