Roars of applause, hooting, and cheering greeted Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. as he stepped toward the podium for his first State of the Nation Address Saturday.
Under the Cherokee Nation Peace Pavilion in Tahlequah, hundreds gathered to hear what the newly-elected chief had to report. He spoke of initiatives his administration plans to create, increased investments to Cherokee Nation programs, and the health of the tribe’s governmental relations.
Hoskin said that over the past eight years, the Cherokee Nation has seen the largest expansion in services for its citizens than in any time in history, but that he refuses “to rest on our foundation.”
“If Cherokee leaders rest on what we have accomplished so far, we will surely fall behind,” he said. “I do not intend for us to fall behind.”
The Council of the Cherokee Nation on Thursday approved the Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act, which will earmark $30 million for repairing homes for elders and modernizing community buildings. Hoskin said the tribe’s elders with the greatest needs will be able to “live out their years in dignity with clean, safe and sanitary housing.”
“It means Cherokee grandmas and grandpas can spend more time passing on the language, culture and traditions of our people to their grandkids and less time worrying how they will ever afford to fix their homes,” he said. “This legislation will create jobs for our tradesmen. It will bring exciting projects to our community buildings, such as solar power and WiFi connectivity.”
Hoskin mentioned the work his administration and the council have already done to give Cherokee Nation employees pay increases, as they raised the minimum wage to $11 per hour and gave the lowest-paid employees the biggest share of the hikes. He also said Cherokee Nation Businesses will raise its minimum wage, per his request.
In the coming weeks, Hoskin plans to propose a new investment in language programs. He said it will be the largest investment in the tribe’s language revitalization efforts in Cherokee history.
“Those of use who serve in office are bound by an oath to preserve and promote Cherokee language and culture,” said Hoskin. “I aim to keep my oath and I aim to work with our council to save our precious Cherokee language. We will use millions of dollars in business profits to create a language facility to house all of our language programs, and we will quadruple the size of the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program.”
Over former Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s two terms, the tribe has offered a college scholarship to every eligible Cherokee student. Hoskin plans to continue that effort, but also said he realizes not everyone wants to go to college, and that not all jobs require college degrees.
“I believe firmly the Cherokee people want to work,” he said. “They just need a government that has their back and will lend them a hand. So, I will send to the council a proposal to make a major leap in helping our people become career-ready. I propose we double the amount of business revenue we spend to pay for Cherokees to complete career programs.”
Recently, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has indicated he wants the state to renegotiate with tribal leaders the exclusivity fees established by the Oklahoma Model Tribal Gaming Compact, and he claims the compact will expire in January. The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes – comprised of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, and Seminole nations – has already given a formal response disagreeing hat the compact is supposed to expire, but rather renew in January.
Hoskin said the Cherokee Nation is the best friend the state or federal government has ever had, but that friendship must be built on respect for the tribe.
“I pledge to continue working with the state of Oklahoma,” said Hoskin. “But the Cherokee people will not be made to pay for a decade of Oklahoma’s fiscal mismanagement through a lopsided gaming compact. And to the government of the United States, I say this: I’m sending a Cherokee woman to Washington, D.C. Kim Teehee deserves to be given her rightful seat as the first Cherokee Nation delegate to Congress.”
Throughout the address, Hoskin had to pause as the crowd erupted into applause. At no point was it louder, however, than when he signed off.
“Let us aim high. Let us be bold. Let us be prepared. Let us be worthy of all who came before us. And let us get to work,” said Hoskin. “Wado.”