Chief: Cherokees making gains
By DAVID HARPER World Staff Writer
Last Modified: 8/31/2008 3:41 AM
Smith touts more jobs, less federal funding during annual address.
TAHLEQUAH — Vibrant.
That's how Principal Chief Chad Smith described the state of the Cherokee Nation on Saturday during his annual address at the tribe's national holiday.
Smith's assessment was not just his opinion; it was buttressed by facts.
He told the crowd that the Cherokee Nation and its businesses now employ more than 6,500 people. By next Labor Day weekend, he expects that number to be more than 8,000.
"That's more than 5,000 additional jobs than the Cherokee Nation provided just eight short years ago," Smith said.
"By creating these jobs in our communities, we are planting the seeds of economic self-reliance, not only for individual Cherokees, but for the Cherokee Nation as a government as well," the chief said.
Smith said that less than 10 years ago, more than 90 percent of the Cherokee Nation's funding came from the federal government. He said that only 62 percent of the tribe's funds now come from federal sources, a statement that drew a loud round of applause at the Cherokee Courthouse Square.
"Sometimes we hear people say that we should give away all the gaming revenue and divide it up among our citizens," the chief said.
Such an approach "might appease a few people for a short time, but what about the future?"
He said if such a short-sighted approach was used, "there would be nothing for next year. Our businesses would have no operating funds, and they would close. People would lose their jobs. We would have nothing left and be back where we started."
This is the 56th annual Cherokee National Holiday. Deputy Principal Chief Joe Grayson Jr. said he wished those who organized the first holiday were on hand this weekend to see how great the event has become.
More than 90,000 people are expected at this year's event.
On a larger level, the holiday marks the 1839 signing of the Cherokee Constitution.
While looking ahead to a bright future, Smith said it is vital not to forget tribal heritage.
He stressed the importance of preserving the tribe's native language, which he called "the vessel that will carry forth the values and attributes of our culture and teach us to be happy and healthy."
Smith said, "The very language that was literally beaten out of some of our ancestors now flows freely from the mouths of future generations of Cherokee leaders."
The chief also addressed the controversy concerning freedmen descendants seeking Cherokee citizenship rights.
A federal appeals court ruled in July that the Cherokee Nation cannot be sued by those descendants but left the door open for a case against tribal officials.
Smith said the Cherokee people have voted that every citizen of the tribe must have an Indian ancestor on the Dawes Rolls.
"Our people say they want to remain a nation of Indian people," the chief said.
David Harper 581-8359