The campaign for Cherokee Nation Principal Chief between incumbent Chad “Corntassel” Smith and 12-year councilman Bill John Baker has seen many twists, turns, recounts, and appeals since its original election day on June 25. But as of Wednesday October 19, this chapter in Cherokee Nation election history is now closed with the swearing-in of Bill John Baker as Principal Chief.
"It is time to bring our Cherokee family together and move our Nation from good to Great,” Baker said in a released statement issued before being sworn in. “I deeply appreciate the Cherokee people for placing their faith in my leadership. You have my solemn pledge that I will work every day to make the lives of our Cherokee people better and our Nation stronger. God bless the Cherokee Nation and God bless America.”
According to a report by Cherokee Phoenix website, the inauguration took place at 7:30 p.m. on the steps of the Cherokee Nation Courthouse in Tahlequah, Oklahoma and was presided over by Cherokee Nation Supreme Court justice James Wilcoxen.
The inauguration followed the results of the September 24 special election, with the final outcome not being certified until October 12. This allowed for the October 8 voting deadline for the Cherokee freedmen descendants, whose eligibility at press time is being determined in a pending federal court case.
The final certified votes—with assistance from the Atlanta, Georgia-based Carter Center—showed Baker as the winner with 10,703 votes and Smith having 9,128 votes. The mathematical percentages state Baker as the winner with 53.97 percent compared to Smith’s 46.03 percent and winning by 1,575 votes.
Smith filed a petition with the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court on Monday October 17. Associated Press reports stated the basis of the petition by Smith as that Baker should not be sworn in until the status of the freedmen descendants was decided in federal court. However, on Wednesday afternoon, the Supreme Court denied his petition.
“The Court finds that Petitioner has failed to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted,” the decision stated. “The Court further finds that, irrespective of the Freedmen vote and taking Petitioner's arguments in a light most favorable to Petitioner, the Special Election of the Cherokee Nation to elect a Principal Chief can be determined with mathematical certainty.”
Kalyn Free, Choctaw Nation member and the former director of INDN’s List, served as both senior advisor and legal co-counsel to the Baker campaign. In an exclusive interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, she gave her thoughts about the outcome of the Supreme Court decision.
“There was no legal basis for [Smith’s] appeal,” said Free. “The Supreme Court recognized that shortly after Smith’s petition. There were no grounds for appeal, and they dismissed it.”
Furthermore, Free described her feelings about Baker’s victory as “ecstatic.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that he will lead the Cherokee Nation with dignity, integrity and honor,” Free said.
The following statement was issued on Smith’s Facebook page.
“I understand our Cherokee Nation Supreme Court has dismissed my Appeal of the Election,” wrote Smith. “I acknowledge that Bill John Baker has been elected to the Office of Principal Chief and offer him any help I may provide in building the Nation I so love, and have been honored to serve for the past 12 years.”
There will be a public ceremony for Baker at 2 p.m. November 6 at the Place Where They Play on the Sequoyah High School campus in Tahlequah. Free said that representatives from the two other federally recognized Cherokee tribes—the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band—will be in attendance.