D. Sean Rowley
Cherokee Phoenix

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – For the second consecutive year, circumstances required Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. to give his annual State of the Nation address by video, with the COVID-19 pandemic again forcing most of the 2021 Cherokee National Holiday onto virtual platforms.

Hoskin opened his 13-minute speech saying the Nation “remains strong” despite the pandemic and other challenges.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been, without a doubt, the greatest modern test of the strength of our Nation,” he said. “In the face of this crisis the Cherokee people, including our workforce, has shown great resolve. Years of investment meant we had a health system at the ready when we needed it the most. Decades of sound financial management meant that, as COVID ravaged the economy, no employee missed a paycheck.”

While the video address touched various topics, perhaps the biggest was a plan to build a medical facility to replace W.W. Hastings Hospital, and begin investment toward a behavioral health network.

“Let us build a new hospital to replace W.W. Hastings, using the latest in hospital design so that our people have access to the best health care possible,” Hoskin said. “Let us repurpose the existing Hastings facility to be the heart of our expanded behavioral health programs.”

Hoskin said the COVID-19 pandemic further confirmed concerns within the Cherokee Nation health system about mental health care for Cherokee Nation citizens.

“Mental illness, addiction and other behavioral health challenges are robbing our fellow Cherokees of their lives and collectively robbing us of the future we deserve,” he said. “Let us begin building a comprehensive behavioral health system, which includes addiction treatment, that meets the needs of Cherokee people. Let us work to erase the line between mental health and physical health and recognize that our goal is simply wellness for every Cherokee.”

Hoskin also said the outpatient health facility in Salina will be replaced with a modern health center, bringing it in line with other Cherokee Nation Health Services sites.

The McGirt v. Oklahoma decision was also a prominent subject in Hoskin’s speech. He said his administration would defend the sovereignty affirmed to the Nation by the finding of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We will resist any effort in the Congress of the United States to erode McGirt,” he said. “We will reject outside interests that attempt to divide us, to meddle in our own free and fair elections in an effort to undermine our sovereignty. We will oppose any attempt to undermine our jurisdiction anywhere across our reservation.”

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt gestures during a news conference concerning the state's compact with the Oklahoma Tribes for gambling during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019, in Oklahoma City. Stitt and the tribes are locked in an impasse over whether the 15-year agreements that give the tribes the exclusive rights to operate casinos in Oklahoma expire on Jan. 1. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Hoskin added that sovereignty challenges by the state, particularly Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt would also be met resolutely.

“… Let me repeat what I said in 2019: Cherokee Nation is the best friend that the state of Oklahoma ever had, but we must be treated with respect,” Hoskin said. “The Cherokee Nation remains ready, willing and able to resolve challenges through cooperative agreements. We have proven we can do so on a win-win basis. However, the governor’s ill-informed insistence that McGirt is a crisis that needs to be solved will be met with the fierce and determined opposition of the Cherokee Nation.”

Like the Muscogee (Creek), Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole nations, the CN has insisted that Stitt and state officials’ claims are overblown that the tribes – and the federal government – won’t be able to handle the added criminal caseload.

“What Oklahoma had 113 years to do, we are doing in a matter of months,” Hoskin said. “Let us build a system that places a true blanket of protection over our reservation. Let us build a system that puts justice and comfort for victims at its center, but let us also build a system that can rehabilitate offenders who are able to return to society.”

Hoskin’s State of the Nation speech – and the addresses by Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and Tribal Council Speaker Mike Shambaugh – can be viewed at https://youtube.com/user/CherokeeTV.

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This story was originally published in Cherokee Phoenix and republished with permission.