By Lacie Lowry, The News On 6
TAHLEQUAH, OK -- "A happy, healthy people" is what the Chief of the Cherokee Nation wants for his people.
Principal Chief Chad Smith spoke those words Saturday during his State of the Nation speech.
The Chief's speech comes on the Cherokee National Holiday. It commemorates the signing of the Cherokee National Constitution in 1839, and celebrates the strengths of the Cherokee people heading into the future.
Chief Smith says the Cherokee people have a road map and a 100 year plan. The goal is a continued focus on jobs, language and healthcare. In the last ten years, they've opened or expanded six clinics.
"We always struggle with those kinds of epidemics like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and drug addiction and such, but those are symptoms," said Principal Chief Chad Smith, Cherokee Nation.
"Our kids don't exercise enough and face food choices that can lead to diabetes, heart disease and cancer," Chief Smith said.
"But those challenges are nothing compared to what our ancestors faced on the Trail of Tears."
The Chief believes good decision-making is the core issue, so education is also a top priority. The Cherokee Nation is currently supporting 2,700 students through scholarships and they want to increase that number.
"Education is the largest area where we spend those dividend revenues, so it's really important to us with education being one of the top priorities," said Melanie Knight, Cherokee Secretary of State.
And mature government is key. Chief Smith says the Cherokee Nation has made huge strides in accountability since he took office eleven years ago. Just this week, he announced he's seeking re-election.
"The work we set out needs to be continued, the progress needs to continue. Create more jobs, increase a sense of community through cohesion and really revitalize the language and our leadership initiatives," said Chief Smith.
The Cherokee are also pushing for language preservation, pairing the elders with children to teach the Cherokee language. To symbolize this, a 150-year-old Bible written in Cherokee and passed down through one family, was donated to the Cherokee Nation.
"To retain our identity, to retain a sense of who we are and our place in the world and our world view, we've got to learn our language," Knight said.
Housing and homeownership is also very important to the Cherokee Nation. A little over a decade ago, families wanting assistance to buy a home were placed on a 50-year waiting list. Today, that wait is only a matter of weeks.