Hello, everyone. It’s good to be back before the Trail of Tears Conference. First things first, the University of Oklahoma is winning. I don’t know how you feel about that, but that’s Dusty Eastland, who works for me, and he’s a Sooner fan. Of course, this is how much I love the National Trail of Tears Association. It’s the fourth quarter in the OU game, I’m an OU alum, and I’m right here with you because I think what you all do is terribly important. I really do. I appreciate the introduction by my friend and former council colleague, Jack Baker. I appreciate the presence of Council Lady Julia Coates, who’s back on the council. Of course, history and community are important to her, so I’m pleased that she’s here. I think we had another councilman, Wes Nofire, who I don’t know if he’s here, but he has been here. I think, you know, Troy Wayne and I were talking, and I think more officials from the Cherokee Nation ought to come see what you all do because I think it is critically important that you continue the important mission that you’re on.

The Importance of the National Trail of Tears Association

That is a mission that you all established, my goodness, over 20 years ago, about 25 years ago at this point in 1993, to keep the promise of what Congress of the United States made when they established the National Trail of Tears system. You all do it so well, and I think it’s the role of the Cherokee Nation to get behind you, support you in any way that we can. Because look, the Cherokee Nation today is prosperous, and we generate a lot of revenue. We do a lot of good for our people. I’m going to touch a little bit on that, but the truth of the matter is the work on the front lines in terms of historic preservation, in terms of keeping the stories alive, and keeping the national memory of the Trail of Tears alive—that is important. It is important that this country not forget what the government of the United States did 180 some odd years ago. It’s important. It matters that young people growing up in this country, whether they’re Cherokee or non-Cherokee, understand that that happened. The country has a lot of great things that it should embrace and celebrate, and it has a lot of dark chapters that it has to recognize. It has to acknowledge not just what happened to Indian peoples on this continent but other chapters. But that is important, of course, to everyone in this room.

Learning from History

Part of it is because we ought to understand where we’ve been and not repeat it. The government of the United States rounded people up in stockades, rounded people up in cages, didn’t they, when they forced our removal. The government of the United States is never at its best when it’s rounding up civilians in cages. That’s true in the 1830s, and it’s true in 2019. That’s the way I feel about it. But I think we ought to remember that history so that we’re a better country for it. I think that we’ll be a better country for it, too, if we understand what Indian nations mean. Every time something pops up in the media that has to do with tribes, you all live it and breathe it every day. It means something to you and me as well. But for most of the country, it’s not something that’s a subject that is on their minds every day. So, when something comes up about somebody running for president talking about their DNA or some pipeline protest, suddenly it’s a national consciousness. Those are times when there’s a lot of misinformation out there, but it’s also times when we can seize the opportunity to find teachable moments for this country and remind them of the dark chapters and also talk about what’s going on today.

Cherokee Nation Today

So, I want to talk a little bit about what’s going on today with the Cherokee Nation. Your time is very valuable, and you’re doing a lot at this conference. I don’t want to burden the agenda too much. We also have an event going on next door for photo IDs. But, you know, Troy Wayne mentioned Chief Buffington, who was chief from Vinita, the last chief from Vinita 120 years ago, and he’s right. When Chief Buffington became chief of the Cherokee Nation, he saw—you can read it in contemporary accounts of his election and things that he said—he was clearly looking at a Cherokee Nation from a governmental standpoint that was in decline because the government of the United States was imposing allotment, the state of Oklahoma, on top of a great Indian nation, suppressing the great Cherokee democracy that, when it was allowed to thrive, did great things for its people.

Reviving Cherokee Democracy

I think that’s always been true. When we’ve been allowed the God-given right to self-govern, we’ve done amazing things. When that right has been taken away, we could not take care of each other, and we suffered for it. I think our friends and neighbors suffer for it too. I think our friends and neighbors in Oklahoma, many of you are from there, ask our friends and neighbors who are non-Cherokee if they’re glad the Cherokee Nation is a functioning, progressive, dynamic government. They’ll tell you that they’re glad that we are, that we contribute so mightily to the economy, to the cultural fabric of our region. But he was chief at a time when that was in decline. I don’t know if he would have predicted—I suspect he probably would not have predicted—a time when our democracy would come back as it did beginning in the 1970s.

Investing in Our People

I like to say that Chief Buffington took office when the sun, from his perspective and the perspective of his contemporaries, was setting on the Cherokee Nation. I have the good fortune, because of so many people that came before me, to take office at a time when the sun is rising on our democracy. When the best days, I think, remain ahead of us, and we can look forward to strengthening our government. We can do things that a government ought to do to build a great society. Those are some of the things that we’re doing back home. I just want to touch on a few of those things.

Supporting Our Elders

We’re doing things to help elders like we’ve not done before, helping them particularly with their homes. We have a backlog of Cherokee elders who, if we don’t help them with things that you and I take for granted, like roofs not leaking on our heads, the ability to get in and out of our bathrooms or even our homes when we reach a time in our life when those things are difficult, if we don’t help those elders, then I don’t think anyone else will. They’re on a list to get help, and it’s languished for a while. We’re taking the revenue that we generate from our businesses. If you ever lose in our casino, I’m getting ready to tell you it goes to a good cause. We’re going to put about $30 million into fixing those homes.

Investing in Communities

We’re going to also put it into community organizations to make sure that our community buildings are places that are safe and sound, where young people can come and grow up as Cherokees in Cherokee communities. That’s important, no matter where you are in the country. It’s certainly important back home. Our view is that if elders have to worry about water leaking on them or even having water or getting in and out of their bathrooms, they won’t have time to do the things they want to do. We want them to do what generations of Cherokee elders have done, which is pass down those stories to young people, to the generation coming up, pass down what it means to be Cherokee, keep those stories alive. Even those dark chapters that, again, the country might not know about, but our young people ought to know about them too.

Strengthening Our Workforce

We’ve got a lot of work to do with the generation coming up in terms of keeping them knowledgeable and mindful about Cherokee history. That’s an obligation that each and every one of us shares. Elders are in a position to do it if they don’t have to worry about things like their home falling apart. We’re in a position to do it, so that’s what we’re doing. We have some other initiatives. We’re investing in our workforce back home, raising the minimum wage to $11 an hour. I don’t know what the minimum wage here is in Kentucky, but I know that the minimum wage set by Congress is $7.25 an hour. It’s $11 an hour now at the Cherokee Nation. That’s an investment in our workforce. Our workforce has done such great things to get us where we are long before I was chief. They’ve been working hard every day to make the lives of Cherokees better. Part of that is to reward them for what they’re doing, but part of it is investing in them and our communities.

Economic Development and Preservation

If they can spend more money in their communities and have more secure futures, well, that makes our community stronger. That goes back to, again, that next generation coming up. We want them to come up in communities that are strong for so many reasons, not the least of which is keeping that sense of what it means to be a Cherokee in a Cherokee community. You can find that all over the country now because Cherokees are getting together. Councilor Coates could tell you that because she helped organize them all over the country where Cherokees get together, but they’re doing it back home as well. We’ve got to give them support to do it. Part of giving them support is to strengthen those communities. That means investing in things like elder housing, investing in our workforce, and a whole host of things that we have to do to keep those communities strong.

Cherokee Language Preservation

If you go through the Cherokee Nation, you can see the big casinos. We ought to be proud of those.

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Chief Chuck Hoskins Jr.

Hello, everyone. It’s good to be back before the Trail of Tears Conference. First things first, the University of Oklahoma is winning. I don’t know how you feel about that, but that’s Dusty Eastland, who works for me, and he’s a Sooner fan. Of course, this is how much I

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