One of the first projects of Wilma Mankiller’s many years of service to the Cherokee Nation focused on bringing water to Cherokee communities. In an era when Cherokee Nation had few resources besides the ingenuity and hard work of our citizens, she and her future husband, Charlie Soap, organized the Bell community to install a 16-mile water line, bringing running water to this Cherokee community for the first time. They garnered national acclaim for this project four decades ago.
Today, I am proud to continue their legacy through the Wilma P. Mankiller and Charlie Soap Water Act. I worked with Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and the Council of the Cherokee Nation on this legislation, which will inject $2 million annually into improving access to clean water across the reservation. This effectively doubles the tribal revenue we commit to water and sanitation projects. Additionally, I’m fighting for increased federal funding to ensure that our water infrastructure needs are addressed.
We are committing the resources to make the repairs and improvements necessary to have water systems serving our people for generations to come. It is just the beginning of the work we intend to do toward infrastructure development. In the coming year, we will leverage more dollars for water-related development than at any time in the history of the Cherokee Nation. That’s the least we can do to honor the legacy of Wilma Mankiller and Charlie Soap.
The act calls for the tribe’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure to conduct regular studies that identify Cherokees who lack access to safe and clean water and then develop a plan to make sure they get access. The law focuses specific efforts on the Cherry Tree Rural Water District in Adair County — home of the Bell water line — where we’ll do a comprehensive infrastructure analysis with recommendations and cost estimates for necessary improvements.
Gadugi — everybody working in tandem for a greater, universal good — is a very Cherokee philosophy. It means putting the needs of the community ahead of individual interests. This is at the heart of the Mankiller-Soap Act. It’s also part of the enduring legacy of the Bell water line. Before she entered politics, and early in his career, then community organizer Wilma Mankiller and Cherokee Nation employee Charlie Soap rallied Cherokees to a great cause. You don’t need to hold public office to make a huge and positive impact on the world. As Cherokees, we all have a role to play in the name of Gadugi.
There should never be people within our reservation without access to safe, running water. There should never be an unsafe rural water district or inadequate municipal water system in the Cherokee Nation, regardless of whether the tribe runs it or not. If our citizens use it, it is going to be on our radar. We are going to put our resources forward to solve problems, to knock down barriers, and to make sure water is plentiful for our people and our communities. The act doesn’t say we should achieve this goal, it says we must achieve this goal.
I have long admired Chief Mankiller and believe she set the bar high for every chief that serves from here on out. Thanks to the strong foundation built by Chief Mankiller and other Cherokee leaders and public servants, we are fortunate that we have more money today to invest in our communities. Our determination to continue improving the lives of people on our reservation is just as strong. Wilma Mankiller and Charlie Soap’s work with Cherokee communities set a precedent that we are proud to continue.
Chuck Hoskin Jr. is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.