TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - The Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Chadwick "Corntassel" Smith, has been re-elected for a second term. Smith defeated three challengers, receiving 52 percent or 7,281 votes during the 2003 tribal election which took place on May 24. Smith's running mate, Joe Grayson Jr., beat out incumbent Hastings Shade and two other candidates, but will compete in a run-off election July 26 with Gary Chapman. Grayson received 38 percent or 5,193 votes in his bid for a first term as Deputy Chief. Chapman received 33 percent or 4,531 votes.
Since Smith took charge after the 1999 election, the tribe has flourished, with the Chief successfully steering the Nation toward more affluence and stability. His first term accomplishments include the securing of additional federal health funding, the expansion of tribal enterprise and employment, and the extension of tribal services for members. He says his primary objectives over the past four years have been to minimize bureaucracy and encourage community input and governmental accountability. He attributes his administration's many successes to the strategy of "ga-du-gi;" tribal members working together as individuals, families, and communities to promote confidence, culture, and sovereignty. The results of his policies have come to be known as the "Five C's of the Cherokee Nation: Country, Community, Culture, Competence, and Capacity."
During his first term in office, Smith pushed hard for a Congressional resolution in the matter of two important bills: H.R. 3534, the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw Claims Settlement Act, which centers on a 96-year-old dispute over Arkansas Riverbed land claims by members of the three tribal nations. After Oklahoma became a state in 1907 the tribes were deprived of their rightful claims to land and resources along the Arkansas River. In 1970, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Choctaw Nation vs. Oklahoma that these three Indian nations do retain title to the river land under dispute. As a result, in 1989 the tribes filed a joint lawsuit against the BIA for mismanagement of resources along the Arkansas.
In November 2002, Congress passed the two-bill legislation, dismissing the mismanagement charges against the BIA, and authorizing a $40 million settlement to be distributed among the interested tribes in quarterly installments. Additional provisions were made for claims of title, interest or entitlement by other federally recognized tribes over a limited period of time. "We have been waiting for this day since 1970 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the riverbed was still ours," said Smith.
H.R. 2742, the second bill in the package, authorized $33 million in federal funding for the development of an intertribal cultural center and museum in Oklahoma City. The center, which will honor all Indian nations in Oklahoma, will be constructed on a 300 acre parcel of land donated by the city and valued at an estimated $15 million. Private, state, tribal, and local funding will be utilized to complete the facility which is scheduled to open in time for the 2007 Oklahoma Centennial Celebration. Second District Congressman Brad Carson, D-Okla., who introduced the legislation package, says he believes the construction of the center and museum will "impart the importance of Native American history and culture to the state of Oklahoma, while helping to stimulate the Oklahoma economy through construction and tourism."
Other notable accomplishments of Smith's administration are improvements in career and job training services for tribal members, additional staffing for Cherokee Nation law enforcement services, construction of senior housing complexes, the recruitment of new businesses, and the expansion of tribal gaming operations. Smith says goals for his second term include improved tribal health care, increased self-sufficiency, and intensified efforts to preserve Cherokee culture and language. Under Smith's leadership, the tribe has made the preservation of language a major community focus, establishing a Cherokee immersion program as well as language classes for students, employees and members. The tribe has also published documents in Cherokee and has implemented an incentive plan to reward employees who speak, read, and write in their native language, with higher incentives for increased fluency.
During his second term, Chief Smith also plans to continue to press for the passage of the Five Nations Indian Land Reform Act - reform legislation that would provide protection for restricted Indian land allotments in eastern Oklahoma. According to U.S. Congressman Wes Watkins, R-Okla., the bill will carry the same level of protection that is afforded trust allotments in Western Oklahoma and elsewhere in the United States, placing the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Choctaw and Chickasaw nations who own nearly 400,000 acres of the restricted lands, on fair and equal footing with other federally-recognized tribes. "When this bill is signed into law," Smith said, "it will mark the end of 100 years of federal policy that operated to separate the Five Tribes from their land. Restricted Indian land will continue to be lost until this bill becomes law."
In a letter thanking the members of the Cherokee Nation for his re-election, Smith stated: "Working together we have increased funding for health care and scholarships. We have received national awards for accounting excellence. We have issued car tags as a sign of sovereignty. By voting for the Smith/Grayson ticket, the Cherokee people have told us to continue the calm, accountable government of the past four years."
The great-grandson of Redbird Smith, renowned Cherokee traditionalist and patriot, Chief Smith holds a bachelor's degree in Education from the University of Georgia; a master's degree in Public Administration from the University of Wisconsin, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa. Prior to taking office, he was a professor of Indian Law at Dartmouth College, Northeastern State University, and Rogers State University. He also has experience as a tribal prosecutor, an administrator with the Cherokee Nation Tax Commission, a Creek County prosecutor, a Tulsa County public defender, and has been engaged in private law practice. His wife Bobbie Gail, the former Miss Cherokee 1975, is bilingual and is actively involved in the tribe's culture and language preservation efforts in a leadership capacity.