Freedmen’s status, environment take lead in speech


TAHLEQUAH – Environmental issues and a recent court ruling dealing with descendants of former Cherokee Nation slaves captured the attention of the nation’s leader on Saturday.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker got choked up during the beginning of his annual State of the Nation address as he mentioned a recent federal court ruling. That decision ruled Cherokee Freedmen descendants are eligible for Cherokee citizenship while the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court reversed an earlier decision on Friday, thus confirming the Freedmen’s full rights to citizenship.

“Our Freedmen brothers and sisters made that Trail of Tears journey with us,” Baker said.

He acknowledged Cherokee slaves “endured unimaginable hardships” just as the nation’s forefathers did.

Baker said it is time to put the issue to rest and for members of the nation to mend.

“We are taking steps to begin the healing for all parties,” he said. “It has gone on too long, inflicted too much pain upon too many people and caused too much division within our own communities.”

Much of the rest of his address was focused on the Cherokee Nation’s stance on the environment. Baker said he recently signed an executive order limiting the tribe’s use of Styrofoam, which has been proven to have negative environmental impact.

“Going forward, we will use recyclable or compostable materials whenever we can so that we’re not leaving today’s problems for future generations to solve,” he said.

Another executive order should result in the reduction of carbon emissions by the tribe by 25 percent over the next decade. He said parts of that plan include development of wind energy sources and the building of a solar canopy car charging station.

Baker said the nation has been a leader in keeping an eye on environmental issues, such as plans by Sequoyah Fuels Corporation.

Earlier this year, when a corporation wanted to permanently store 12,000 tons of radioactive material near the banks of the Arkansas and Illinois rivers, he said the tribe’s legal team took the issue to court in a move that prevented the radioactive material from being buried in Sequoyah County.

“Instead of being part of the problem, we are taking the lead in becoming part of the solution,” Baker said.

Those comments drew applause by many attendees, including Dawne Of New Day and Popz Longwalker, of Tulsa.

Of New Day said the pair had been to North Dakota earlier for protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline and have a keen interest in environmental issues.

“We’re proud and honored the Cherokee are taking the lead on clean water and air,” she said.

Also praising Baker’s speech was retiree Jerry Beeman, who said he relocated back to Tahlequah in 1995 and has attended the speech each year since.

“It was pretty positive, and it’s good we’re not going broke,” Beeman said.

He was encouraged by the Cherokee Nation’s financial standing, the way it was handling revenues from casinos and plans for building and expansion.

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