TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After a decade of dramatic expansion of the Cherokee Nation health system, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. unveiled plans to construct a new hospital that will replace the W.W. Hastings Hospital facility, and to make historic investments in order to build a comprehensive behavioral health system that meets the needs of the Cherokee people.
Chief Hoskin gave his annual State of the Nation Address Saturday as part of the 69th Cherokee National Holiday.
“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,” Chief Hoskin said. “Let us repurpose the existing Hastings facility to be the heart of our expanded behavioral health programs.”
Chief Hoskin said the COVID-19 pandemic “laid bare what we already knew: mental health challenges for our people are not adequately addressed.” The tribe took a monumental stride to address the issue earlier this year when Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner announced the Public Health and Wellness Act, which is expected to funnel between $9 million and $12 million into wellness initiatives for Cherokee citizens.
“But, we must do more,” Chief Hoskin said. “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. So, 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.”
Chief Hoskin also announced the tribe will replace the existing outpatient health center in Salina in Mayes County with a modern health center so that every Cherokee Nation outpatient center is a new, state-of-the-art facility.
Other key components from the State of the Nation Address by Chief Hoskin focused on the tribe’s efforts to protect Cherokee sovereignty and seize opportunities provided through the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision.
“Let me be clear: My administration will protect the hard-fought gains for our sovereignty under McGirt. We will resist any effort in the Congress of the United States to erode McGirt. 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,” Chief Hoskin said. “To the governor of the state of Oklahoma, 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. 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.”
The Cherokee Nation is meeting its responsibilities under McGirt and will continue to do so, Chief Hoskin said. That includes building “the best criminal justice system in the country,” Chief Hoskin said.
“What Oklahoma had 113 years to do, we are doing in a matter of months,” Chief 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. Let us build a system that is worthy of the Cherokee people, that expresses the best of who we are and one that sets an example for the rest of the world.”
Chief Hoskin said the tribe must seek a sovereignty that “serves all people and sustains us for the next seven generations.” Protecting elders, creating hope for children, building up communities, closing gaps in broadband Internet access, improving water systems, supporting job growth, investing in education, and protecting natural resources are at the core of that idea, he said.
“Starting as always with education, I propose that we replace every one of our Head Start centers with new facilities and that we expand quality child care across the reservation,” Chief Hoskin said. “The more we can help our youngest citizens get a good start on learning, the more secure our future will be. Early childhood education is a critical pillar to a strong family.”
Chief Hoskin said he will also ask the Council of the Cherokee Nation to spend an additional $35 million over the next three years for local road and bridge projects. Other proposals include to refurbish existing community centers and to build new facilities where the needs are greatest. He said the tribe will construct a state-of-the-art wellness center in Adair County and replace the aging Male Seminary Recreation Center facility in Tahlequah.
“Let us look across the reservation for even more opportunities for physical wellness programs for our people,” Chief Hoskin said. “Let us recommit ourselves to creating healthy communities.”
Plans are also underway to create a new Cherokee language immersion school in Adair County, and to create a new Speaker Services Program with staff dedicated to addressing the needs of elder, fluent Cherokee speakers.
“Thanks to the Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act, we are in the midst of the largest investment in elder housing repairs in Cherokee history. I propose we go farther and expand the availability of new, low-income, modern efficiency housing for elders,” Chief Hoskin said. “We can take the successful pilot project in Hulbert and spread it to communities across the reservation so that more elders can enjoy their twilight years without worrying about the conditions of their homes.”
To view the State of the Nation Address of Chief Hoskin along with that of Deputy Chief Bryan Warner, log on to www.thecherokeeholiday.com.
The Cherokee National Holiday is an annual celebration of Cherokee history and heritage that commemorates the signing of the Cherokee Nation Constitution in 1839.
This year’s theme is “Cultivating our Culture: Language. Literacy. Lifeways.”