By BOB GIBBINS
It’s been two years since Principal Chief Bill John Baker took his oath of office, and Baker said it’s been a time of providing homes, health and hope to the Cherokee people.
Baker highlighted a series of tribal accomplishments in his annual State of the Nation address Saturday before hundreds at the 61st Annual Cherokee National Holiday. The comments were made on the grounds of the Cherokee Nation Capital building.
Baker said he is the first chief in recent history to deliver a State of the Nation address before a fully restored capital building.
“This is always a special day for me,” he said. “And I know it is for you. It gives me a sense of pride.”
Several state and local dignitaries were recognized prior to Baker’s comments.
“I am pleased to tell you the state of the Cherokee Nation has never been stronger,” the chief said. “It has been a record year in many ways.”
Two weeks ago, Baker said, he signed a tag compact with the state of Oklahoma that will allow any Cherokee in the state to purchase a car tag. The car tags program helps CN provide funds to local schools and law enforcement.
He also said the tribe recently started a photo identification program and has already produced 21,000 IDs. Baker said about half of those are to people living outside the Cherokee Nation’s 14-county jurisdiction.
In the first time in more than a decade, Baker said, the Cherokee Nation is building homes.
“Homes are being built by Cherokees for Cherokees,” he told the crowd. “Forty families are living in new homes, and we’re on target to complete 50 more by the end of the year.”
He said watching fathers, mothers and children walk up to their new homes the first time lets him “know what we’re doing matters.”
“Our housing program is also a jobs program,” Baker said.
Turning his focus to health care, the principal chief said the tribe’s health care system is the largest tribally owned and saw a million patient visits in the last year and is growing. In the past year, the Cherokee Nation has committed more than $100 million of its gaming profits to expand health care services.
“There is hope for a better tomorrow,” he said. “It is the Cherokee Nation way to provide hope for the next seven generations.”
Baker said he does not mean he’s leaving the future to chance when speaking of hope, but he means prosperity. Cherokee Nation Business experienced 15 percent growth over the same period last year, and the chief said that has translated to providing more services for more people.
“More Cherokee people are working for the Cherokee Nation than ever,” he said. “Our day work program has people going from that program to full-time work with benefits.”
Baker said 80 Cherokees are working at the former American Woodmark building on the west side of Tahlequah.
Two weeks ago, the Cherokee Nation gave $1 million to its scholarship program.
“There is still much to do,” he told the audience while announcing plans to include at-large seats on the tribal youth council and establish an electronic town hall that will allow tribal citizens to email him questions and see him answer the questions.
“The Cherokee people deserve homes, health and hope,” he said in pledging to work tirelessly, passionately and proudly to serve the Cherokee Nation for the next two years. “We’re not going to slow down. I love the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee people.”