Investing in Education, Investing in the Future
In the Cherokee Nation, education is the foundation of our success. That has been true for generations. Even prior to our removal to Indian Territory, education was critical. Renowned statesman Sequoyah invented a written syllabary, which enabled better communication and expanded knowledge opportunities. Increased literacy happened very quickly, making us stronger and more sophisticated as a tribal nation. After removal, education was the first thing our ancestors invested in to build our tribe back up. Decades before Oklahoma statehood, our ancestors established the Cherokee National Female Seminary, the oldest educational institution west of the Mississippi River for women of any race. Upon graduation, many of those young women became public school teachers in our Cherokee communities.
During my tenure as Principal Chief, the tribe has nearly doubled its scholarship funding, from $8.5 million to almost $16 million. Since 2010, more than 27,000 scholarships have been awarded through the Cherokee Nation higher education program. We have increased the number of scholarships awarded by nearly 45 percent.
More Cherokees are benefiting from tribal college scholarships than ever before. Right now, almost 5,000 tribal citizens are fulfilling their dream of earning an undergraduate degree. Every qualified Cherokee student who applied in the last funding cycle was issued a Cherokee Nation scholarship. These recipients embody some of the most important values we hold as a tribe, including personal accountability, community, and responsibility.
Additionally, the Cherokee Nation Foundation offers multiple scholarship opportunities, including the growing “Leave a Legacy” endowment effort. It is another way that the Cherokee Nation invests in our future. Cherokee Nation’s economic future, along with Oklahoma’s, depends on a well-educated workforce and college graduates. The education staff at Cherokee Nation works diligently to expand opportunities for young people.
Cherokee Nation recently announced a new partnership with Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine for a Tahlequah branch campus. As part of that effort, $350,000 was donated to scholarships for students to attend the new school. Cherokee Nation Businesses contributed $100,000 of the amount raised. Many Cherokee Nation citizens will be the recipients of these scholarships at the future OSU Medical School.
Sometimes an opportunity is all a young person needs to reach their potential. As we continue to strengthen and grow the Cherokee Nation, education and opportunities for our people remain a strategic priority. Education is a vital part of our history, and it is equally important to our bright future. When we invest in education, we invest in our people and their collective ability to lift us all to greater heights.
Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.