Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner have proposed new legislation that would provide Cherokee citizens with access to substance abuse treatment centers, wellness centers and fitness centers by setting aside a portion of third-party revenues collected by Cherokee Nation Health Services each year.
If approved, the Cherokee Nation Public Health and Wellness Fund Act would earmark 7 percent of the unrestricted revenue generated by Cherokee Nation Health Services, including health insurance claims or billings to health insurance carriers and providers. It is estimated this would provide an annual investment of between $9 million and $12 million in funding for public health programs for Cherokee Nation citizens.
“Like many of our Native brothers and sisters throughout the United States, the Cherokee people have endured generational traumas that, unfortunately, weigh heavy on our families and our communities to this day,” Hoskin said. “Providing a consistent funding source specifically set aside for substance abuse treatment and wellness centers for our citizens will be a significant moment in the history of our tribe. This legislation will be both life-altering and life-saving for many Cherokees and their friends, families and communities, giving us the ability to not only focus on treatment, but also on prevention. I encourage the Council of the Cherokee Nation to support the ‘Cherokee Nation Public Health and Wellness Fund Act’ and to pass this legislation.”
Revenue collected under the legislation could be used for capital investments and operational expenses for substance abuse treatment facilities and wellness centers.
“Our public health and behavioral health teams do a phenomenal job of caring for Cherokee citizens, and they’re consistently on the cutting edge of innovative treatment and prevention,” Warner said. “Our approach to public health is a model for other tribes around the country, and I believe this new legislation will provide our public health and behavioral health teams with the additional infrastructure they need to take their efforts to new and unprecedented levels."
The Cherokee Nation Public Health and Wellness Fund Act will first be considered by the Council of the Cherokee Nation’s Rules Committee on February 25. The timing of this legislation is significant, Warner said.
"Improving access to public health programs will be imperative as we start to emerge from the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many of our fellow Cherokees, the impact of this virus on their physical and mental well-being will not simply go away when we finally tame the COVID-19 virus. Setting aside new funding will put more muscle behind the assistance we can offer Cherokees in the months and years to come,” Warner added.
If passed through committee, the legislation will then appear for a vote during the regular monthly Council meeting in March.
“It’s very important for the Cherokee Nation to provide our citizens with more access to substance abuse treatment and other programs that will improve their overall health,” District 5 Tribal Councilor E.O. Smith said. “I think it is equally important that this legislation will allow us to not only expand our public health programs, but to provide the help our citizens need from a Cherokee perspective that is respectful of our history, traditions and culture.”
Cherokee Nation’s existing public health programs promote and protect the health of Cherokee Nation citizens and communities. This is accomplished through the tribe’s Male Seminary Recreation Center, walking groups, cancer education programs, diabetes prevention programs, nutritional programs for women, infants and children, and the HERO Project, which provides counseling and support services for behavioral health issues impacting Cherokee families. Cherokee Nation also operates the Jack Brown Center, a 36-bed co-ed facility in Tahlequah that provides help to Native youth with substance abuse issues.