BY CHUCK HOSKIN JR.
This week we commemorate Earth Day. Cherokee Nation has always led by example in protecting the land, water and air that define our natural environment. Fundamental tenets of our Cherokee values and culture require that we maintain a balanced and harmonious relationship with our natural resources and environment.
Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner and I take very seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of our environment. We can leave the world a better place by making decisions and investments that protect our people and preserve our natural world for the benefit of future generations.
As we battled COVID-19 this past year, our top priority needed to be health care, family safety and job protection. However, we were still able to make substantial contributions in environmental protections during the most difficult year of governing our tribal nation.
Through the Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act, we invested essential funding to repair individual Cherokee homes and improve community buildings across the Cherokee Nation reservation. As part of the effort, we installed rooftop solar panels at Cherokee community buildings in Cherokee County and Nowata County. In just a few months, we have already seen a drastic reduction in their energy bills, as well as a reduced carbon footprint. More solar efforts are coming soon to community buildings all across the Cherokee Nation reservation. Additionally, the individual family home repairs often include weatherization and modern appliances, which save money and use less energy.
At the W.W. Keeler Complex in Tahlequah, we have committed to using less power. We modernized the lighting system and increased efficiency with improvements like better insulation. We also built one of the first solar canopies in Oklahoma at our headquarters in Tahlequah. This structure is used to charge Cherokee Nation’s electric fleet vehicles and the rising number of electric cars driven by staff and visitors to our tribal complex. It’s proven to be overwhelmingly popular, so we are expanding the number of charging stations at our solar canopy to accommodate increased demand. We have now built electric vehicle infrastructure and charging capabilities in Adair, Cherokee and Delaware counties, with more infrastructure to be established very soon.
We launched one of the nation’s premier electric bus efforts and the first public rural electric bus transit system in the United States. This will make our bus fleet greener and substantially reduce fuel costs, as well as help Cherokees commute to work, get to medical appointments or make other necessary trips without needing to drive.
As Deputy Chief Warner and I assumed office, Cherokee Nation had just resolved the Sequoyah Fuels problem, finally cleaning up 10,000 tons of radioactive material that had been left since the power plant closed in 1993. In my role then as Cherokee Nation’s Secretary of State, I worked with Oklahoma partners to ensure the site was made safe for generations to come. It’s impossible to know the number of lives that were made safer and healthier because the Cherokee Nation took such progressive leadership in defending the environment.
Now Sequoyah County is home to a new 4,000-plus-acre nature preserve that serves as a template for Cherokee Nation to conserve our public lands. Recent legislation called the Cherokee Nation Park, Wildlands, Fishing and Hunting Preserve Act gives more structure to the way we manage land for Cherokee citizens today and for generations of Cherokees going forward. The Secretary of Natural Resources Office oversees the property and works diligently every day to ensure our creeks, rivers and lakes remain pollution free.
Cherokee Nation is always finding ways to lead in protecting our people and our planet. We honor and celebrate Earth Day every day by seeking a balanced and harmonious relationship with our environment. We know that nothing is more valuable than clean air, clean water and clean soil that keep us healthy and thriving, like it did for our ancestors and will do for our descendants.