Tahlequah Daily Press

July 19, 2012

Chief’s trip to Martha’s Vineyard sparks comment

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — A trip this week by Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker to the East Coast to meet with U.S. senators and President Barack Obama has drawn criticism from some area residents, while others see value in making federal-level contacts.

Cherokee Nation citizen and former tribal employee Felicia Olaya, in a letter to the Daily Press, asked who was footing the bill for Baker’s meeting.

“Bill John Baker is reported to have gone to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., to a meeting with 20 U.S. senators ... Who is paying Bill John’s way? Is he attending the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee function where, to get in the doors, [it] requires a $30,400 [donation] and requires a three-night stay? Did he tell the [Tribal] Council? Did he take that money from the casino?”

Olaya pointed out that Baker was critical of former Principal Chief Chad Smith’s earlier donations to Obama’s campaign, and wondered whether Baker was making similar donations using tribal funds.

CN Director of Communications and Government Relations Jim Gray confirmed Baker’s trip to both Washington, D.C., to meet with Obama, and to the Majority Trust Retreat held by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“Chief Baker did go to Martha’s Vineyard,” said Gray. “But he did have council approval. The resolution approving the contributions were approved by the tribal council in May and or June. I say that because state contributions were approved one month, and federal contributions were approved the other.”

In 2009, several tribal councilors, including Baker, were critical of Smith’s $50,000 campaign contribution. At that time, Smith asserted the importance of maintaing a presence in Washington, D.C., to represent Cherokee interests.

On Wednesday, Gray said he agreed maintaining that presence is important for the Cherokee Nation.

A number of tribal councilors attended Obama’s inauguration, including Tribal Councilor Chuck Hoskin Jr.

In a Daily Press report about making the trip to D.C., Hoskin said he, too, believes it’s important the Cherokee Nation’s voice be heard in the U.S. capitol.

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