It was standing room only in the Chota Conference Center in Tahlequah Wednesday, when more than 1,500 people gathered to watch the inauguration of Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Deputy Chief Bryan Warner, and eight tribal councilors.

Representatives from the Oklahoma Legislature and other tribes were in attendance to watch the passing of the torch, as former Principal Chief Bill John Baker gave his goodbyes. Then, new Principal Chief Hoskin called on the crowd to unite and remain “a people committed to each other as countrymen and committed to” the Cherokee Nation democracy.

It was a bittersweet moment for Baker, as he admitted he was sad to address the tribe as its principal chief one last time, but possessed an “overwhelming sense of pride and joy” for what he and his administration have accomplished.

Prior to being elected chief, Baker served 12 years on the Tribal Council. In the past eight years under his reign, the tribe’s economic impact on Northeastern Oklahoma jumped from over $1 billion to more than $2 billion. While he’s helped the Cherokee Nation grow into the powerhouse tribe it is today, he believes the best is yet to come.

“I said last year at the State of the Nation that our best days remain ahead of us,” said Baker. “Through the tremendous success of our businesses, the strength and tenacity of our people, and the transparency and openness of our government, we have ushered in a new golden age for the Cherokee people.”

Baker gave his thanks to everyone who supported him throughout his tenure as principal chief, and at times his voice broke during his speech. The support for him in the new Chota Conference Center of the Cherokee Casino, which he “knew we could fill,” was obvious, as the crowd rose in applause to his entrance and departure from the stage.

It was a speech he never imagined he would give while he was growing up.

“As a child, I never dreamed that I would serve as your chief,” said Baker. “Mostly, I just wanted to be a good Cherokee, and that is what I will remain. For however many years I have left, I will always be proud of what we have all done together and proud to call myself Cherokee.”

Serving along side Baker for the eight years was Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden. He, too, received a roar of applause as he stepped up to the podium. He said the large attendance was a byproduct of a “peaceful transition of power,” and that he was humbled to be part of it.

“As elected officials, we’re servants,” said Crittenden. “That’s all we have to offer, our service to our people. We need to get up every day with a smile on our face and think how can I help someone today. That’s the motto that we need to have. That’s what we do as servants when we serve our people. It’s a passion that’s rooted in a philosophy that I believe in.”

Before the swearing in of Hoskin and Warner, the newly elected tribal councilors gave the oath of office. Serving their second terms as tribal councilors are Rex Jordan, District 1; Shawn Crittenden, District 8; and Keith Austin, District 14. The new councilors are: Wes Nofire, District 3; Daryl Legg, District 6; Dora L. Smith Patzkowski, District 12; and Joe Deere, District 13. Also, At-Large Councilor Julia Coates returns to office after previously serving on the council from 2007-2015.

Warner said he was thankful for Baker and Crittenden.

“They have been our watchmen day after day, every single night, standing firm at their post to ensure our sovereign nation is protected and allowed to flourish under the guidance from each they serve,” said Warner. “It will be my esteemed pleasure to take the post of the man I hold in high regard.”

It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for Hoskin, who was introduced by his father, Chuck Hoskin Sr. Having served on the tribal council of the Cherokee Nation and as secretary of state, and being a Cherokee citizen born and raised in the tribe’s jurisdiction, Hoskin Jr. said he is well aware of the trials and tribulations that have impacted Cherokees. He said many were ready to see the tribe become a footnote in history.

“Many predicted that we would be known, at best, as a great tribe and a short-lived democracy that once was,” said Hoskin Jr. “But we proved them all wrong. Cherokees are not a footnote in history. Ladies and gentlemen, every day, Cherokee Nation and its more than 370,000 citizens are making history.”

The new chief of the largest federally recognized tribe said the future is bright, but believes there is still work to do. And while important decisions will be made by him, he called upon the Cherokee people to work together at making Cherokee Nation communities “strong and safe places.”

“Today, I see a democracy growing stronger,” said Hoskin. “I see the sun rising. I stand before you as a man who believes those things that unite us are far more powerful than those things that divide us. I see the Cherokee people working together, moving forward together and rising together.”

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