April 11, 2017
Tribe registering citizens in as fast as 1 to 2 months compared to previous 2-year wait time
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — After five years of hard work and strategic changes to the registration process, the Cherokee Nation is processing tribal citizenship applications in record time. It now takes as little as one to two months for a person to receive tribal citizenship, thanks to a plan that was implemented to shorten registration wait times.
The tribe now has 350,000 Cherokee Nation citizens across the globe and receives up to 1,500 applications for citizenship per month.
“When I took office, one of the most common complaints I received was, ‘Why does it take so long to get my child’s tribal citizenship?’ It made no sense that there was a two- or even three-year wait on some of these cards,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “So one of my top priorities was to make the process simpler, more efficient and, most importantly, faster. I’m happy to say that after several years of hard work, we’re finally there.”
To speed up the enrollment process, Chief Baker and Registrar Linda O’Leary implemented a multifaceted plan to reduce wait times. Five years ago more than 23,000 citizenship applications were pending and another 15,000 Cherokee Nation citizens were awaiting CDIB cards under the old system. That backlog is now wiped out and a system is now in place to keep pace with the number of applications submitted.
“The Cherokee Nation continues to make great strides in our ability to quickly and efficiently process applications for tribal citizenship,” Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “With the support of Chief Baker’s administration and the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, Registrar O’Leary and her staff have worked diligently to clear away a years-long backlog of citizenship applications, and we are very proud of their efforts to better serve our people.”
The plan included adding nearly 2,000 square feet of space to the tribe’s registration office to make room for more employees. The department also received a budget increase, which now stands at $2.1 million for fiscal year 2017, more than twice the budget from FY 2011. The additional funding added 22 full- and part-time employees.
Employee responsibilities were also realigned. Five operators were assigned to answer applicant questions, and others were assigned to type or process files, address special projects and work on backlogged applications.
Registration’s database application was updated in April 2013 to more efficiently process citizenship and CDIB cards. New processes were also developed to provide employees with documents that had been scanned and filed in an electronic database.
As a result of the focus and progress, Cherokee Nation citizenship and CDIB applications filed with all necessary documentation can now be processed in as little as one month, compared to previous wait times that often stretched out for two years or more.
“To no longer have a backlog of applications is a major achievement in the history of the Cherokee Nation,” O’Leary said. “We have been innovative in the way we serve the people. New technology has saved our staff time and processing applications faster helps other Cherokee Nation departments, therefore helping the citizens."
Chad and Crystal Jones of Cherokee County were pleased when they recently learned enrolling their toddler as a Cherokee Nation citizen could take as little as one month.
The Joneses visited the registration office in March to enroll their 1-year-old, Nathan. Obtaining Cherokee Nation citizenship and CDIB cards for their older children, 7-year-old Trenton, 4-year-old Amiyah and 3-year-old Sarina, took much longer.
Crystal Jones said enrollment cards are necessary for other tribal services and she is thankful the tribe is completing them faster.
“Nathan’s school needs a copy of his tribal citizenship card and CDIB card, and so does the hospital, so getting them faster will help us tremendously,” Crystal Jones said.
Aside from issuing traditional citizenship and CDIB cards, the Cherokee Nation registration office produces free photo identifications that serve as a dual citizenship and CDIB card. Since 2012, 90,000 photo IDs have been issued.
For Cherokee Nation CDIB/citizenship, applicants must provide documents connecting their lineage to a direct ancestor who was enrolled on the Dawes Roll between 1899 and 1906 with a blood degree. CDIB and tribal citizenship are traced through natural parents. In cases of adoption, CDIB/citizenship must be proven through a biological parent to an ancestor registered on the Dawes Roll.