Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to help undo the damage of the pandemic and build a strong foundation for recovery. I am proud that Cherokee Nation successfully led the effort to ensure tribes receive a fair share of ARPA funding. The act allocates funding directly to Indian Country. Cherokee Nation has so far received more than $1.8 billion in recovery funding.
Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and I have crafted a new Respond, Recover and Rebuild plan to use this money responsibly for the good of the Cherokee people. In coordination with the Council of the Cherokee Nation, we will direct funds to meet the Cherokee people’s greatest needs today and improve our tribe’s long-term health and prosperity.
We know the pandemic has impacted nearly all Cherokee families in some way, whether they lost loved ones, lost income, or struggled with their health and well-being. We can’t bring back all that was lost, but we can try to ease the burden. That’s why the largest piece of those dollars – more than 43% – will be set aside so that every Cherokee Nation citizen receives $2,000 in a single, lump-sum payment. All Cherokee Nation citizens are eligible for this direct assistance, no matter your age, your income or where you live.
Applications for the payment will open during the first week in June and stay open for a year. Please set up your profile in the Gadugi portal – gadugiportal.cherokee.org – as soon as possible. To distribute these funds, we encourage every Cherokee Nation citizen, from our elders to our youngest children, to set up a profile in the Gadugi portal. Parents, however, will be able to use their own profile to apply for the COVID impact payment on behalf of their children. We will develop a special outreach to assist those who lack internet access. We are also adding staff in the registration department and expanding shifts to process citizenship applications more quickly.
Another big piece of Cherokee Nation’s ARPA funds will go to strategic public health investments that address the crisis today and also help Cherokee people for years to come. Cherokee Nation has already built the best health care system in Indian country, with more than $300 million invested in new health centers. However, we still have gaps. We need to replace our oldest health clinic, we need a new hospital, and we need physical wellness centers.
Most importantly, we need to make a major investment in mental health, including new mental health facilities and drug treatment centers. COVID-19 has affected many of us in terms of physical health, and all of us in terms of our mental well-being. Isolation, anxiety and depression touch us all. Substance abuse issues are also on the rise. The Cherokee people deserve a health system that heals both body and mind.
Other portions of the funds will go to high-priority needs on our reservation like housing and education. With an investment of $120 million, we can dramatically improve housing across the reservation. Another $120 million will prioritize our next generation through education. By helping Cherokees with college and career goals and saving our precious language and culture, we can secure a bright future for our tribal nation.
Job training and economic development get $100 million under the plan. Since taking office, Deputy Chief Warner and I have already doubled spending on career training. These new dollars will help build a strong economy for Cherokees and the communities where they live.
For too many Cherokee families, poverty is a generational cycle that’s hard to escape. As a tribe, we all have a stake in that struggle. So, we’re committing $80 million for a plan to erase poverty barriers, called “a-sv-dlv-i,” the Cherokee word for “bridge.” Working in tandem with the Council of the Cherokee Nation, we will develop strategies to break the cycle of poverty and help families finally get on solid ground.
The plan is a framework to build on, and many details must be worked out after we adopt the framework. It will allow us to immediately take applications for the assistance payments to all citizens. This way we can get immediate help to individual Cherokee citizens while we gather input and plan for the other initiatives that are important to our tribe as a whole. We have a chance to heal together and rebuild as a stronger tribe, with stronger and healthier Cherokee families and communities.
We have all been through a very difficult year. Together we faced the worst public health crisis in living memory, and together we will recover. We made it through this year, and we will keep getting stronger by working together – gadugi – because that is the Cherokee way.
Chuck Hoskin Jr. is principal chief for Cherokee Nation.