TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. is proposing new legislation that would inject at least $2 million in additional funding each year into the Cherokee Nation’s efforts at eliminating barriers to clean water access in the reservation for Cherokee citizens.
The proposed legislation is named in honor of the former Principal Chief Wilma P. Mankiller and former Executive Director of Community Services Charlie Soap, who left a legacy of service to the Cherokee people, including their historic efforts to create and improve water systems in Cherokee communities. Those efforts included their work in communities now serviced by the Cherry Tree Rural Water District in Adair County, including the Bell water line, a community project Chief Mankiller and Soap began planning in 1981 under the administration of former Principal Chief Ross Swimmer.
“Although the Cherokee Nation invests a substantial amount of funding each year into improving water systems in Cherokee communities, it is an unfortunate reality that there are still Cherokees living on our reservation who face barriers to reliable water supplies and wastewater disposal for a variety of reasons,” Chief Hoskin said. “On top of those barriers, many community water systems across the reservation remain deficient, and those problems negatively impact the health, safety and overall quality of life of Cherokee citizens. We are going to do everything we possibly can to address these issues and to ensure access to quality water systems for all Cherokees residing in the Cherokee Nation. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Bell Water Line, enactment of The Wilma P. Mankiller and Charlie Soap Water Act will not only identify Cherokee citizens who continue to struggle with access to clean water, but will also provide the additional dollars we need to ensure access to quality water systems.”
If approved, the proposed legislation will require the Cherokee Nation Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, formerly known as the Community Services department, to conduct biennial studies and identify Cherokees who lack access to water systems. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure will develop a plan of action to provide access to each Cherokee citizen identified through the studies. It will also identify the number of Cherokee citizens within each county of the Cherokee Nation reservation whose access to water is limited to a well water supply, and develop long-term strategies to bring rural water access to as many Cherokee citizens as possible.
“Looking back on the legacy left by former Chief Mankiller, I can’t help but think of just how determined she was to organize Cherokee communities and to remind her Cherokee brothers and sisters of how much we can accomplish when we work together,” said Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. “Chief Mankiller knew that access to clean water for individual Cherokee citizens and Cherokee communities was, in many ways, symbolic of the Cherokee Nation as a whole. We are in this together, and that’s why it’s so incredibly important that we do anything we can to not just provide individual Cherokees with clean water, but to bolster the public water supply systems that carry water to us each and every day.”
Under the proposed legislation, Cherokee Nation will prioritize low-income applicants for individual assistance. The law would help remove some barriers to assisting individuals, such as issues with land title.
Funding for community water system projects will prioritize rural water systems based on infrastructure deficiencies.
The legislation will also require the tribe to specifically conduct a comprehensive infrastructure analysis of the Cherry Tree Rural Water District in Adair County, including recommendations and cost estimates for necessary improvements.
The minimum of $2 million of additional annual general-fund dollars called for in the legislation effectively doubles the amount Cherokee Nation spends from the tribe’s own revenues. Cherokee Nation also spends federal funds on individual and community water system projects.
“Funding for water lines for citizens in need as well as rural water districts is important to the Cherokee people,” said District 8 Tribal Councilor Shawn Crittenden, the lead sponsor of the proposed legislation. “I am particularly encouraged by the fact that a big focus of this legislation is the Cherry Tree water district, but really the entire Cherokee Nation stands to benefit. This is an example of what we can accomplish when Council members and administration work together.”
The Wilma P. Mankiller and Charlie Soap Water Act will first be discussed by the Council of the Cherokee Nation during its March 25 Rules Committee meeting, with full consideration of the legislation to be considered during the April Council meeting.