TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. on Monday participated in the White House Tribal Nations Summit, encouraging the United States government to support new educational opportunities for Native students and to make key investments that help tribes save and perpetuate their sacred languages.

The two-day virtual Tribal Nations Summit, the first gathering of tribal leaders since 2016, was established to connect the Biden Administration, in a nation-to-nation setting, with tribal leaders from across the country.

“The 2021 Tribal Nations Summit has provided us an opportunity to have robust, meaningful dialogue on critical issues, policy initiatives and goals that impact all of Indian Country,” Chief Hoskin said. “The historic investments President Biden has made in Indian Country, and specifically in education, are providing tribal nations with an opportunity to make generational changes. I look forward to continuing these important dialogues with federal leaders as we work together to improve outcomes for all Native Americans, elevate Native voices, and further strengthen tribal sovereignty. The return of the Tribal Nations Summit after a four-year hiatus is a great opportunity for this continued federal engagement with tribal nations.”

During a panel on Native American education and Native languages, Chief Hoskin spoke about the Cherokee Nation’s $40 million investment to replace or upgrade Head Start centers with modern facilities and about the expansion of the Cherokee language immersion school. He also encouraged the creation of a Bureau of Indian Education program similar to the Indian Health Service joint-venture program that would allow tribes to incur construction costs for upgrading BIE school facilities, such as Cherokee Nation’s Sequoyah High School campus in Tahlequah.

“We urge BIE to move toward achieving this goal as a tool to address the backlog of school construction projects,” Chief Hoskin said. “Like so many BIE schools, Cherokee Nation’s Sequoyah High School requires immediate assistance, as the needed repairs to our campus are widespread. We cannot simply wait for funding that is unlikely to come anytime soon. The challenges are too great, and the consequences of delay are too grave. This is why we need new ideas and solutions. If tribes were able to incur construction costs for these facilities in exchange for fixed operations and maintenance costs – like the IHS joint venture – we might be able to begin to alleviate some of the significant backlog and create new educational opportunities in Indian Country. If we maintain the status quo and wait for BIE to go through the entire construction list, we’ll be in the same place year after year.”

Chief Hoskin also highlighted Cherokee Nation’s ongoing efforts to save the Cherokee language in both spoken and written form. Currently, only about 2,000 fluent Cherokee speakers remain and the average age of a fluent speaker is nearly 70 years old. Chief Hoskin has worked with Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and the Council of the Cherokee Nation to make historic investments for preserving and growing the Cherokee language.

“We are fighting an uphill battle, so connecting a new generation to Cherokee language and culture is critical,” Chief Hoskin said. “That’s why it is important for federal leaders to stand with us on these efforts, to make the necessary investments alongside us and to allow us the flexibility to develop the programs that work best for our tribe.”

Monday’s panel on Native American education and Native languages included U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and U.S. Education Secretary Dr. Miguel Cardona along with Chief Hoskin, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Chairman Aaron Payment, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Melanie Benjamin, and Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais.

During the Tribal Nations Summit, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden also unveiled the White House Native Language Memorandum of Agreement signed by the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, the Interior and numerous other federal agencies to help promote collaboration on programming, resource development and policy related to Native languages. The MOA also establishes a Native Language Workgroup with representatives from the Department of Education, Health and Human Services, and the Bureau of Indian Education to report annually on progress related to the agreement.

Day 2 of the White House Tribal Nations Summit can be streamed online at www.youtube.com/usinterior  beginning Tuesday, Nov. 16, at 10 a.m. CST.