As Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, I know that when we work together as a family and community, we are stronger. That’s why I’m proud to share the work our First Lady, January Hoskin, is doing to improve the lives of Cherokee people across the 14 counties and the United States.
As First Lady, January is passionate about supporting women, children and families. She has developed a platform focused on helping all Cherokee families thrive. I also care deeply about these family issues that are so important for the future of the Cherokee Nation.
The First Lady recently kicked off her platform in California, where we visited two of our at-large Cherokee communities. The First Lady spoke about the importance of the Indian Child Welfare Act, Cherokee Nation’s own Indian Child Welfare Department, and the dire need for more Cherokee foster parents. She offered staggering statistics: In California alone, 57 Cherokee children are living in state custody with no Cherokee foster homes to go to. That means our children — the bearers of our culture and way of life — are placed in homes without access to their tribe, their culture or their community.
We believe that the Indian Child Welfare Act is more important than ever. We cannot go back to the horrors Native children experienced before the act became law. At the time, more than a third of Native children were removed from their homes, and of those, 85% were placed outside their family, community and tribe.
ICWA protects the right of Cherokee children to stay in Cherokee families, but we have more work to do to make sure that option is always available. Even today, Native children are four times more likely than white children to be removed from their homes and placed in foster care.
The First Lady has stressed, and I know this to be true, that our priority is always family reunification. Cherokee children deserve to grow in their communities, where they can pursue their dreams, whether that is to be a doctor or an artist or Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
The First Lady also recently joined the board of directors for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. In this new leadership role, she will be a strong voice to ensure that children have safe and secure homes, access to quality health care, and a world-class education. These tenets have long been priorities in the Cherokee Nation, and we have reaped the benefits of the forward-thinking visions of our ancestors several times over. I am grateful that the First Lady is lending her voice to ensure the same is true for the next generation.
As I have said before, my goal is to accomplish something each day that builds healthier communities and stronger Cherokee families for the lasting preservation of our language, culture and way of life. I believe Cherokee Nation First Lady January Hoskin’s platform does just that, and I look forward to seeing what she accomplishes for the benefit of all Cherokee Nation citizens.
Chuck Hoskin Jr. is the Principle Chief of the Cherokee Nation.