Hoskin seeks second term as leader of powerful Cherokee Nation

Jun 2, 2023, 9:28 PM | Updated: Jun 3, 2023, 6:02 pm

FILE - Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., speaks during a House Rules Committee hearing at the...

FILE - Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., speaks during a House Rules Committee hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 16, 2022. The largest Native American tribe in the U.S., the Cherokee Nation, is set to elect a new leader to guide the tribe for the next four years. Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. is among four candidates seeking the tribe’s top position, similar to that of a state’s governor. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, file)

(AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, file)

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) — Citizens of the Cherokee Nation — the largest Native American tribe in the U.S. — are set to decide whether Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. should lead the tribe for another four years as it enters a golden era after courts recognized its sprawling reservation and with an operating budget of more than $3 billion.

Hoskin, a 48-year-old attorney whose name is now intertwined with the fight for tribal sovereignty, is among four candidates seeking the tribe’s top position, similar to that of a state’s governor. The nonpartisan election for chief, deputy chief and eight positions on the tribe’s 17-member council are scheduled to be held Saturday, with many Cherokee citizens from across the country expected to submit absentee ballots.

Challengers include David Cornsilk, a retired genealogist and educator; Wes Nofire, an ex-boxer and supporter of former President Donald Trump who serves on the tribal council; and Cara Cowen Watts, an engineer and former Cherokee Nation tribal councilor. Election results could take days to tabulate, and a runoff election will be held if no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote.

By any measure, the last four years have been remarkable for the Cherokee Nation based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, whose population has risen to more than 450,000 members. It is one of 39 federally recognized tribes with headquarters in a state once known as Indian Territory, where indigenous people were forced to relocate in the 1800s as European settlers expanded westward.

The tribe’s annual budget has tripled to more than $3 billion with the help of a massive infusion of federal funding through COVID-19 relief, the American Rescue Plan funding and the federal infrastructure bill.

The tribe also negotiated its own U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Nation’s reservation, which spans nearly 7,000 square miles (18,130 square km) in northeast Oklahoma, in a landmark decision on tribal sovereignty, the concept giving tribes the right to govern their people and control their economies.

The Cherokee Nation’s effort to seat a delegate in the U.S. Congress also has picked up steam.

Meanwhile, Hoskin, a former Cherokee Nation tribal councilor and secretary of state, saw his statewide profile rise when he joined other tribal leaders across the state in a feud with Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, compacts with the state giving tribes the exclusive right to casino gambling. The tribes also have compacts, which are formal agreements between tribes and the state, over revenue items including the sale of cigarettes, motor fuel and vehicle tags.

A judge ultimately sided with the tribes, but their conflict with the governor grew more combative as Stitt fiercely opposed the expansion of tribal sovereignty that ultimately came in the form of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark McGirt decision.

Since then, Hoskin and Stitt have continued to engage in increasingly contentious bickering that some say has become petty.

Hoskin at one point veto was later overridden by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Although it’s not uncommon for Oklahoma governors and tribes to have disagreements and even battles in court, the relationship between Stitt and many of the state’s most powerful tribes has grown particularly combative.

While Stitt is officially a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, archived tribal documents from the early 1900s show the tribe sought to remove one of Stitt’s ancestors, Francis M. Dawson, from the list of tribal citizens, alleging he bribed a commission clerk to place him and his family in the register. The tribe’s decision to remove Dawson and his family ultimately was overruled by the federal government. Stitt recently acknowledged he has never voted in a tribal election and wasn’t even certain if he was authorized to do so.

When asked if he planned to endorse anyone in the chief’s race, Stitt made clear he is no fan of Hoskin.

“I’m not going to be endorsing him,” Stitt said. “He stood up and endorsed my opponent, so we’ll see.”

In a rare decision to wade deeply into state politics, Hoskin and other leaders of the Five Tribes of Oklahoma — also including the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole tribes — endorsed Stitt’s opponent, Democrat Joy Hofmeister, who ultimately lost to Stitt by nearly 15 percentage points.

Explaining why he deserves another four-year term, Hoskin focused on his efforts to diversify the tribe’s economy beyond casino operations and preserve the Cherokee language. He also has helped invest a massive infusion of federal money into infrastructure projects including a six-story, 127-bed, $400 million hospital in the tribe’s capital city, wellness centers for tribal citizens and a drug-and-alcohol treatment facility built with the tribe’s share of settlement funds from opioid manufacturers.

“That to me seems like not only an argument for our reelection, but something that long down the road, years and decades from now, will be of great benefit to the Cherokee people,” Hoskin said.

Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe, which has no formal reservation and is not associated with the Cherokee Nation, said he doesn’t want to wade into another tribe’s politics, but it’s hard not to take notice of the job Hoskin has done.

“Often times tribal leaders rush from one brush fire to another,” Barnes said. “In spite of all those brush fires, in spite of a global pandemic, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin has maintained a coherent vision for what he sees for his nation.”

Still, Hoskin clearly has critics. Cornsilk, one of his opponents, criticized Hoskin’s massive investment in infrastructure projects that Cornsilk said will be difficult to staff and maintain once the federal COVID-19 relief and infrastructure funding goes away. He claimed Hoskin runs the tribe like a dictatorship, in part by using his influence to stack the tribe’s council with allies who quash dissent.

“This mafia has been in office since 2011. They’ve been in there long enough that they’ve filled every seat on our tribal court. They’ve filled every seat on the election commission,” Cornsilk said. “He controls everything.”

While Cornsilk acknowledged Hoskin is an impressive public speaker who has raised his own political profile, he said that has come at the expense of the Cherokee people.

“He doesn’t have a lot of support in the five major Cherokee populated counties,” Cornsilk said, “but the further you get away from Tahlequah, the less people know, the less connected they are, the more likely they are to believe the hype that comes out of his office.”


Follow Sean Murphy on Twitter: @apseanmurphy

National News

Associated Press

Heat has forced organizers to cancel Twin Cities races that draw up to 20,000 runners

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A forecast that record high temperatures and humidity would create “extreme and dangerous” conditions prompted organizers to cancel two long-distance races Sunday in Minnesota’s two largest cities that were expected to draw up to 20,000 runners. The Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon from Minneapolis to neighboring St. Paul had been expected to draw […]

14 minutes ago

File - The Southern University Human Jukebox marching band warms up before the 2023 National Battle...

Associated Press

Federal student loan payments are starting again. Here’s what you need to know

NEW YORK (AP) — Federal student loan borrowers will need to start making payments again this month after a three-year-plus pause due to the pandemic. You should expect a bill that lays out how much you have to pay each month at least 21 days before your due date. It’s likely that most borrowers have […]

38 minutes ago

FILE - Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., appears before the House Rules Committee to propose amendments to t...

Associated Press

Gaetz says he will seek to oust McCarthy as speaker this week and calls for new House leadership

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Matt Gaetz said Sunday he will try to remove House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a fellow Republican, from his leadership position this week after McCarthy relied on Democratic support to pass legislation that avoided a government shutdown. Gaetz, a longtime McCarthy nemesis, said McCarthy was in “brazen, material breach” of agreements he […]

57 minutes ago

FILE - Chester County, Pa. election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots at West Chester Un...

Associated Press

Pennsylvania governor’s voter registration change draws Trump’s ire in echo of 2020 election clashes

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Donald Trump has a familiar target in his sights: Pennsylvania’s voting rules. He never stopped attacking court decisions on mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic, falsely claiming it as a reason for his 2020 loss in the crucial battleground state. Now, the former Republican president is seizing on a decision by […]

3 hours ago

FILE - The U.S. Supreme Court is seen, Wednesday, Aug 30, 2023, in Washington. The new term of the ...

Associated Press

The Supreme Court’s new term starts Monday. Here’s what you need to know

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court seems a bit quieter than in recent years, as the justices begin a new term. Major cases await, as they always do, including several challenges to regulatory agencies and efforts to regulate social media platforms. But nothing yet seems on par with conservative-driven decisions overturning Roe v. Wade’s right […]

3 hours ago

Run by a private firm hired by the city, migrants stay in a makeshift shelter at O'Hare Internation...

Associated Press

Chicago is keeping hundreds of migrants at airports while waiting on shelters and tents

CHICAGO (AP) — Hidden behind a heavy black curtain in one of the nation’s busiest airports is Chicago’s unsettling response to a growing population of asylum-seekers arriving by plane. Hundreds of migrants, from babies to the elderly, live inside a shuttle bus center at O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 1. They sleep on cardboard pads on […]

10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Hoskin seeks second term as leader of powerful Cherokee Nation