Last week, the Cherokee Nation Compensation Committee offered its recommendation to significantly hike salaries for Cherokee Nation elected officials. Some of the pay raises proposed by the committee include an 84% pay increase for the office of the principal chief, a 104% pay increase for the deputy chief, and a 35% pay hike for tribal councilors.
With this pay increase, tribal councilors will be paid more than $3,500 for every bimonthly council and committee meeting – more than the average Adair County family brings home in a month.
This action by the administration-appointed Compensation Committee has led to disappointment and disgust from the Cherokee community, who sees this move as another disturbing step away from the Cherokee Nation’s purpose to vitalize our culture and provide quality services to our people.
Being chief – or any other elected Cherokee official – should never be about getting rich. It should be about serving our great people with honor, helping to improve the functions and services of our government, and enriching the lives of the poorest among us. Our ancestors never intended for our chief to be treated like a king.
One such leader who illustrated this form of service was Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation. Wilma grew up among Cherokees in Adair County, lived a full life of service to her people, and remained true to the belief that the Cherokee Nation works best when we care for our people.
As principal chief, Mankiller received a salary of only $40,000 annually. Adjusted for inflation, that would be around $70,000 in today's dollars. The Cherokee Nation has grown substantially since Wilma Mankiller left office in 1995, but our services are still drastically underfunded, the quality of our health systems is failing (140 doctors have left in the past eight years), and our underpaid Cherokee Nation employees are working extra hours and taking up extra shifts so they can provide for their families.
If the recommended politician pay raises come to pass, Chuck Hoskin Jr. will be paid $1.4 million during his first term in office. Do we want to send this message to the world that the Cherokee Nation values its political elites over its people in need?
In Wilma Mankiller’s autobiography, she wrote a statement that still stands true today. She said, “Time and time again throughout our history, the Cherokee people had faced adversity sometimes of their own making.” We can’t let this politician pay raise become another point in our history where the Cherokee people were the cause of our own adversity.
It is up to all of us to stand together and demand accountability of our elected officials as some attempt to take us down this dark path. Please contact your tribal councilor and tell them to vote "yes" on the "No Pay Raise for Elected Officials Act" on July 15.
David Walkingstick is the Cherokee Nation tribal councilor for District 3 and was a 2019 candidate for principal chief.