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Cherokee Nation leaders support Clinton at Democratic convention

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker speaks to Oklahoma delegates at the Democratic National Convention on Monday in Philadelphia. [Photo by Chris Casteel, The Oklahoman]

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker speaks to Oklahoma delegates at the Democratic National Convention on Monday in Philadelphia. [Photo by Chris Casteel, The Oklahoman]

PHILADELPHIA — Four years ago, at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker called President Barack Obama “the best president for Indian Country in the history of the United States.”

Baker is here this week hoping Hillary Clinton succeeds Obama in office next year.

“I truly believe that Hillary gets the issues of sovereign nations,” Baker said Monday.

Baker recalled her talking to tribal officials in the mid-1990s, when her husband, Bill Clinton, was president. That discussion was soon followed by an executive order that cut through red tape and allowed tribes to deal directly with government agencies, rather than working through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he said.

“I'm proud to support Hillary Clinton,” Baker said. “I think she will make a wonderful president.”

The Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, is hosting delegates and visitors this week in a tent on the grounds of the Wells Fargo Center, where the Democratic National Convention is being held.

The tribe has speakers scheduled throughout the week, including U.S. senators.

Monday's speaker was former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris, who represented Oklahoma from 1964 to 1973, served as national Democratic Party chairman and ran for president. His former wife, LaDonna, was a prominent American Indian activist.

The Chickasaw Nation is sponsoring meals in the Cherokee Nation tent.

Kalyn Free, an Oklahoma delegate at the convention and an attorney for the Cherokee Nation, said Baker and his staff have dozens of meetings scheduled here this week with business leaders and members of Congress.

“Our mission is to ensure tribal issues like education opportunities, improved health care access and job development that will spur economic growth in Indian County remain at the forefront of policymakers,” she said.

Baker's chief of staff, Chuck Hoskin, was on the committee that wrote the platform. Muscogee Creek National Council Speaker Steve Bruner served on the rules committee.

Baker's mother, Isabel Baker, a longtime Democratic activist in Oklahoma, is also a delegate here.

Free said Obama “prioritized our issues like never before. He populated his staff with talented Native people, hosted tribal summits, reached settlements in the Cobell and Keepseagle cases, passed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and signed the Violence Against Woman Act. … He has set the bar very high for his successor, and I know (Clinton) will raise it even higher.”

Baker met with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in Washington earlier this year and said he doesn't understand why Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump would refer to her as Pocahontas.

“It makes no sense to me whatsoever,” Baker said.

Warren, who was born in Oklahoma, was heavily criticized four years ago for claiming to be a Cherokee while on the faculty at Harvard University. The Cherokee Nation was not able to verify her ancestry, and Trump has chided her for it numerous times.

Baker said Monday that Trump “is probably a shrewd businessman and probably a good father.

“I just don't think his rhetoric is what America wants or needs.”

Chris Casteel

Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. Casteel covered the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City. From 1990 through 2016, he was the... Read more ›