If you are looking for proof that salaries at Cherokee Nation are below market value, look at Cherokee Health. Our chief administrator and a handful of top doctors got better offers and were off to greener pastures – and we had virtually no ability to stop them.
The job of the Citizens Committee on Compensation is not to set policy or drive economic development. Our job is to look at the labor market and identify what is fair and equitable compensation for the hard-working professionals who are elected to serve at Cherokee Nation.
Yes, top leadership at public institutions much smaller than Cherokee Nation – like the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University – pay substantially more than serving in top leadership at Cherokee Nation. By comparison, the chiefs and councils of the Chickasaw and Choctaws will continue to make substantially more than what our elected leaders make, despite being much smaller in number than Cherokee Nation. The Chickasaw Nation governor position earns $600,000, while the lieutenant governor earns $400,000. The Choctaw Nation Tribal Council members earn more than $150,000 annually.
But our elected leadership is hardly alone. Cherokee Nation is at risk of losing talented people to a surprisingly tight labor market. Not just the top elected leaders, but hundreds of professionals who help provide the services Cherokees rely on every day.
Our protectors on the ground, our Cherokee Nation marshals, saw a recent pay increase to compensate them according to market standards at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Now, the head of marshal’s salary is the same as our current chief's salary.
My hope is that the salary recommendations made by the Cherokee Nation Citizens Committee on Compensation will spur a much-needed discussion and action to address pay inequity throughout Cherokee Nation. I hope the rising tide will lift all boats and more hard-working professionals – at all levels – who invest their careers in helping fellow Cherokees see that investment returned to them in higher wages.
Over most of the past decade, we have invested in educating young Cherokees to prepare them for the jobs of the future. We cannot afford to waste that investment by losing them to the competitive marketplace through paying them substandard wages.
For Cherokee Nation to recruit and retain top talent – and continue to encourage your leaders to go into service of the Cherokee Nation – we need to pay them the market rate. If we do not, our best and brightest young Cherokees will continue to seek careers outside the boundaries of our nation and away from the hearts and minds of our people.
Deacon Turner is a member of the Cherokee Nation Board of Directors Citizens Committee on Compensation.