Photo by Brandon Scott.
Photo by Brandon Scott.

Bill John Baker

The Cherokee Nation is thriving, and Chief Bill John Baker is a big reason why.

He was elected to a second term in 2015 as leader of one of the largest nations in the United States. It was also a year that saw great strides in cultural preservation and outreach to members.

“When I was running for [re-election], we traveled to Cherokees all over northeast Oklahoma, throughout the state and to California, Texas and Kansas. One of the recurring requests was that, ‘We know the nation is doing great things, but we don’t know enough about it. We don’t get all the news, and things are taking place that we don’t know about,’” says Baker. “We charged our communications department to be open and transparent but to proactively reach out to our citizenry, to keep them engaged and informed of the things the nation was doing and accomplishing. Anadisgoi, our quarterly magazine, goes out to 320,000 citizens. We changed our transperancy acts so every citizen, has a free subscription to our newspaper.”

Another achievement is Osiyo, Voices of The Cherokee People, a monthly, 30-minute newsmagazine series that focuses on the culture and stories of the Cherokee people. It can be viewed on some local channels, RSU-TV and online.

Osiyo TV was an immediate success because not only does it feature individual Cherokees who are extraordinary individuals, but it has language, culture, history in it,” says Baker. “It hits on all cylinders so that once a month [viewers] get a new version of Osiyo that is educational, enlightening and brings people current events of the Cherokee Nation in a personal way.”

Baker believes it ought to be the goal of every government to keep their citizenry up-to-date and educated on issues affecting them.

“I took an oath to promote culture, history and language of the people,” says Baker. “It’s part of that obligation that we found a modern, interesting way to fulfill that oath.”

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The year 2015 also saw several goals achieved in the field of health care. The Cherokee Nation opened a 28,000-square-foot health care clinic in Ochelata and doubled the size of the Cherokee Nation Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell and the Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw. The nation also has a 48,000-square-foot clinic under construction in Jay.

“We’ve been approved for a joint venture to build 450,000 square feet of health care space in Tahlequah, which will bring in more than $60 million a year for more health care providers,” says Baker of future plans to expand health care service. “I hope to not only have the best health care system in Indian Country, but to have the best health care system in the state of Oklahoma.”

Other economic ventures, like building housing for citizens, developing shopping and restaurant sites and bringing manufacturing to northeast Oklahoma has expanded job opportunities within the Cherokee Nation. More Cherokee students are in college on scholarships than ever before. In 2015, Baker says the Nation’s total economic impact is $1.55 billion.

At the heart of the growth is Baker’s vision of connecting with and providing opportunities to his Nation’s citizens. – Jami Mattox