Cherokee Chief Works To Rebuild Nation
Friday, July 25, 2008
By Andrea Cornelius
The UNITY News
He was named “Ugista,” which means “Corntassel,” by his grandma. He comes from a strong family line that fought to hold onto tribal traditions and land.
Since 1999, Chad Smith has served as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, the second-largest Native American tribe in the country. Now in his third term, Chief Smith has come to Chicago to discuss race issues from a Native perspective.
The soft-spoken, silver-haired Smith spoke on Friday at UNITY about what it means to be a Cherokee citizen.
From the start of his leadership, Smith has focused on preserving a free press. A year after he was elected, Chief Smith helped pass the Independent Press Act of 2000, which prevents the tribal government from interfering in the tribal press.
The law was spurred by Joe Byrd, Chief Smith’s predecessor, who fired the editor of the tribal newspaper for reporting on an investigation into Byrd’s activities.
“I believe in a strong, healthy tribal government and the press is necessary to that,” said Chief Smith. “People have to know what’s going on and have the chance to respond.”
Born in 1950, Chief Smith was said he grew up in Denver, Nashville, Tenn., and Oklahoma.
His great-grandfather, Redbird Smith, was a Cherokee traditionalist and a senator for the Cherokee Nation in 1896. He fought a federal government allotment policy which took 7 million acres of Cherokee land according to a biography of Smith posted on the Cherokee Nation Web site.
Chief Smith’s grandmother, Rachel Quinton, also worked for the United Keetoowah Band, a separate federally-recognized Cherokee tribe, to strengthen the Cherokee Nation.
As principal chief, Smith has made jobs, language and community his priorities. His goals include creating more jobs within the Cherokee Nation and preserving their languages.
“I like to build things,” Chief Smith said, “and I thought I’d rebuild an entire nation.”