Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

November 16, 2012

A year and counting

TAHLEQUAH — When Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker was inaugurated last November, he never thought about the challenges he might face. He saw only opportunities.

“I see opportunities every single day,” said Baker. “[We have] opportunities to change the system, opportunities to fix things that may have been broken for years, and opportunities to help Cherokee people.”

Baker believes that during his first year in office, the tribe has made great strides in housing, health care and job growth.

“We successfully reactivated the Cherokee Nation Housing Authority, and have built the first homes for citizens in decades,” said Baker. “We’re providing citizens safe, sanitary homes that have three bedrooms, central heat and air, a garage and a yard for $350 a month, including insurance.”

And that means lives are being changed.

“One [home recipient], the single mother of two sons, had been living in an apartment for 18 years. The utilities [costs] were high and the place wasn’t well-maintained,” Baker said. “Once we did the math, adding up what she previously paid in rent and utilities, she now has an extra $500 per month she can use to raise her family. She went from no dream of home ownership to owning her own home, having extra money in her pocket, and $25,000 to $30,000 equity in her property.”

Baker considers it the tribe’s responsibility to aid its citizens in any way possible.

“I’ve always said, for the first Americans to be the last Americans to achieve the ‘American dream’ is just wrong,” said Baker.

He’s also been pleased with the progress in health care services over the past year.

“I was able to present legislation as a tribal councilor to provide a 5 percent dividend from the casino profits to our contract health services to take care of Cherokees who often fall through the cracks,” said Baker. “It’s the first piece of legislation I signed as principal chief, and since then, we’ve put abut $8 million to $9 million into contract health services, which has come from casino profits and the sale of the [private] airplane.”

Baker indicated the tribal council has also approved continued construction at CN W.W. Hastings Hospital, a new clinic at Jay, a rebuild effort at the Sallisaw clinic, a clinic at Bartlesville, an add-on facility at the Mankiller Clinic in Stilwell, and a new surgical hospital in Tahlequah.

“Instead of building a $100 million hotel tower in Tulsa, we’ll take our funds and serve our people,” said Baker.

During the first few months of his taking office, Baker made a number of appointments to Cherokee Nation Businesses Board of Directors, including Chairman Sam Hart, Gary Cooper, Jerry Holderby, Rex Starr, Brent Taylor, Michael Watkins and Tommye Sue Wright.

“I’m very proud of the new board appointments we’ve made at CNB, and we’ve generated an extra $14 million in profits, which is the highest net increase CNB has ever experienced,” said Baker. “We bid on and received over $1 million in 8(a) [government] contracts, and we’ll begin to see the profit in that over the next year. Our economic impact is $1.3 billion in direct funding, and we anticipate it will be $1.5 billion next year.”

Tribal profits equate to more Cherokees being hired, Baker added.

“We’ve had 1,000 Cherokees hired since I’ve taken office,” said Baker. “We’ve also positioned ourselves to create more jobs with the purchases of [commercial] property in Pryor, and most recently, the American Woodmark property. The Pryor site is at 80 percent capacity, and we believe we’ll attract companies that will create jobs for Cherokees.”

Baker is also looking to the future, and hopes to further expand health care, and jobs and services for citizens.

“We’re trying to lock down plans for major hospital construction, and nothing is built in 30 days, but we believe all the construction projects should be completed within the next three years,” said Baker. “We plan on focusing on job creation and gaining more 8(a) contracts. We’re also working on forming a medical school so we can fill our clinics with quality Cherokee professionals.”

Baker said the Cherokee Nation has been collaborating with a couple of groups about the medical school, which is part of the new Hastings Hospital plan.

“The goal is to produce eight physicians a year,” said Baker. “Once we accomplish that, we can look at expanding to dentistry, which is something we really need to work on. Research shows health care costs can be greatly reduced if oral health is maintained. We want to focus on preventive and corrective dentistry.”

Overall, Baker is pleased with what his administration has accomplished in a year.

“It’s amazing what my team has been able to accomplish in the first year,” said Baker. “For 12 years, we’ve worried about security at the Claremore Indian Health Services Hospital. If something happened, our marshals were not allowed on the premises, as they didn’t have jurisdiction. I’m proud to say now, through cross-deputization, our marshals have access, and we’ve also cross-deputized Claremore law enforcement employees to work with us. The same was true at Sequoyah High School. Despite our marshal service being located on the campus, they could take no action if a situation had arisen. Now they’ve been cross-deputized and can respond.”

Baker still holds true to the two mandates he set down for employees when he first took office.

“I gathered everyone together and told them I had two orders of the day: First of all, keep me legal,” he said. “If there’s ever a question, err on the side of caution. The second is to try to find a way to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no.’”

 

To see the complete version of this article, subscribe to the Daily Press e-edition by following the link below.

Click here to get the entire Tahlequah Daily Press delivered every day to your home or office.

Click here to get a free trial or to subscribe to the Tahlequah Daily Press electronic edition. It's the ENTIRE newspaper (without the paper) for your computer, iPad or e-reader.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • ths-jazz-2.jpg THS jazz band gets up early to hone performance skills

    It means getting up an hour earlier, and it doesn’t count as a class, but the jazz band at Tahlequah High School enjoys the dedication of a group of enthusiastic students.
    The THS Jazz Band practices every day at 7 a.m., an hour before the start of classes. It numbers 17, and is led by Director Orien Landis.
    “They have to do this before school and they get no class credit, but we have a full band,” Landis said. “They are really excited about this.”

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Easter-basket-kid.jpg Easter traditions date back centuries

    Some Christians may lament a partial shift of focus, but a Christian holy day - perhaps the most holy of all – is this Sunday, and it will be marked with celebrations all around the world.
    The Christian holiday of Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. For centuries, the observant have fasted, reflected or done penance in the weeks leading to the holiday. But today, many also associate the holiday with the Easter bunny, candy, and kites. In 2013, Americans spent $2.1 billion on Easter candy.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Some oppose minimum wage hike; others decry strong-arming by state

    President Barack Obama and the U.S. Senate recently announced a push to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour, to $10.10. On the heels of the announcement, an initiative petition was introduced in Oklahoma City to raise the minimum wage to the suggested $10.10. If it gained 80,000 signatures, it would be put to a vote of the people.
    This legislative session, a bill passed prohibiting municipalities from setting a minimum was or vacation and sick-day requirements. Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill into law earlier this week.

    April 18, 2014

  • Phone scam takes $500 from couple

    Authorities are warning Cherokee County residents to watch for a costly phone scam that recently targeted a local couple and ended in their loss of $500.
    According to sheriff’s deputies, a couple contacted authorities after losing $500 to the scam. The couple received a phone call from a man who identified himself only as “Mr. Green.” He told the couple they had won $1.5 million through Publisher’s Clearing House, but to collect the money, the couple would have to purchase a $500 money card to cover various fees.

    April 18, 2014

  • Missing local teen found dead

    The body of a missing 17-year-old boy was found in southern Cherokee County on Thursday, sheriff’s investigators said.
    Brikk Pritchett was reported missing earlier this month after disappearing on March 30, a day before his 17th birthday.

    April 18, 2014

  • ts honor flight 1.tif Flight of honor

    World War II veteran Charles Harra flew missions for the Army Air Corps, and if you ask him which flight was his most memorable, he’ll say it was his 35th mission.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Man charged after leading authorities on wild chase

    Prosecutors have formally charged a man who allegedly led authorities on a wild high-speed pursuit across Cherokee County in late March.

    April 17, 2014

  • Sex offender bonds out after failing to register

    A Cherokee County man is out on bond after being arrested last week for failing to register as a sex offender.

    April 17, 2014

  • jn radiator shop.jpg ‘Greenbelt’ progressing

    Crews this week began to demolish an abandoned radiator shop at the corner of South Street and Guinn Avenue.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • ts slut walk.tif SlutWalk shines spotlight on crime

    “Two, four, six, eight, stop the violence, stop the rape; slut, slut, ho, ho, yes means yes and no means no!”
    This was the battle cry across the campus of Northeastern State University, as the student branch of the American Association of University Women held its third annual SlutWalk Wednesday.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

Poll

What to you think of a state Legislature proposal to forbid cities from raising the minimum wage? Choose the closest to your opinion.

The federal government should set the minimum wage across the board.
States should be allowed to raise their minimum wages, but not cities.
Both states and cities should be allowed to raise their minimum wages.
Cities should be allowed to raise their mimum wages, but not states.
There should be no minimum wage at all.
Undecided.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Stocks