Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Chief Chad Smith Responds

Chief speaks on issues

Tahlequah Daily Press
Editor, Daily Press:

Thank you for allowing me to respond to some issues with the Cherokee Nation that have recently been of concern to letter writers who have made assertions based on error or lack of facts.

First, the name of Sequoyah Schools has changed only once in the past nine years since I have been principal chief, and that was to drop the word “High” from Sequoyah High School because we offer grades that are not high school. My dad and son graduated from Sequoyah. My daughter attends there now. I have made Sequoyah Schools a heartfelt priority and it has transitioned from a school of last resort to a school of choice for more than 400 students a year. Sequoyah students are excelling in every aspect of school life, from academics to sports. Our talented girls' basketball team powered their way to three consecutive state championships. Our students earned more than $2.2 million in scholarships this year, including eight who received Gates Millennium Scholarships, more than any other school in Oklahoma. There are no plans to change the name of this school of which we are so proud. The excellence of Sequoyah is an example a very good job being done by this administration, staff, teachers, students and families.

Second, am I trying to takeover and run W.W. Hastings? No. The staff at Hastings does a good job. We recognize this, and that is why we are offering positions to all of Hastings' staff. The Cherokee Nation knows about health care. In fact, the Cherokee Nation already operates a much larger health care system than Hastings and employs hundreds of physicians, nurses, dentists and other health care practitioners. And we do it very well. Our health system and patient base has grown and continues to thrive. We now provide more than $137 million in health care funding, an increase of almost three times the amount spent on tribal health care in 2000. More than two million patient visits have been scheduled in the past seven years at Cherokee Nation health centers, taking a tremendous burden off city, county and state health organizations. We recently built new health centers at Muskogee and Nowata and expanded facilities at Sallisaw.

Every three years, our tribal health care system voluntarily undergoes a rigorous national accreditation process through the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, one of the most respected national accreditation organizations in the country. We have maintained that certification for nearly two decades. The certificate is a symbol that an organization is committed to providing high-quality health care and that it has demonstrated that commitment by measuring up to the Accreditation Association's high standards. The purpose of assuming operations at Hastings is to integrate our health care systems so we can provide more, better and responsive services to our Indian people.

One writer wanted to know why we didn't put this to a vote of the Cherokee people. Federal law provides tribes the option of assuming the administration and operation of health services and programs within their jurisdiction. Assuming operation of Hastings is a decision to improve health care for our people, based on study and careful consideration. The Cherokee Nation Constitution approved by the people delegates those decisions to the executive and legislative branches. The tribal government would grind to a stand still if it were required to hold a vote on every decision that comes before the administration or council. If the writer wants to vote on the issue, the Constitution provides for an initiative petition to request issues be put before the Cherokee people. Those provisions are available to the writer, just as they were available to the Cherokee people who circulated a petition receiving 3,000 signatures asking for a vote on the citizenship issue. The Cherokee people in March 2007 voted for the third time in 30 years to require Indian ancestry to be a citizen of the tribe.

One writer questions why I care about state proposals to require English-only, when I'm not a fluent Cherokee speaker. This is not about me or my wants. I have seen the disastrous impact on our people and language by the federal requirement of English-only when the [Bureau of Indian Affairs] ran our schools. Our tribal council also unanimously voted to oppose this legislation. We want the opportunity for tribal languages to flourish without the fear of recrimination that has existed in the past. I do not want our state to take a step backward. The reality is that English-only policies hurt our greatest form of intelligence: our language.

Finally, a writer wrongfully asserts I was elected without the support of local Cherokees. The certified results of our Election Commission, which are available to the public on our Web site, show I would have been elected if only local votes were counted.

During my tenure of the past nine years, our administration and council have worked together to dramatically improve every aspect of our government. I invite the writer and the general public to visit www.cherokee.org. Displayed there are our annual reports, election results and other information that will allow us to discuss policy issues and what is good for the Cherokee people, rather than make personal attacks.

Chad Smith, Principal Chief

Cherokee Nation