Hoskin seeks second term as leader of powerful Cherokee Nation

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

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

United States News

FILE - John Holman, of Denver, Colo., right, and others with the group "No Labels" take part in a r...

Associated Press

A third party signed up 15,000 voters in Arizona. Democrats worry that’s enough for a Biden spoiler

More than 15,000 people in Arizona have registered to join a new political party floating a possible bipartisan “unity ticket” against Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

53 minutes ago

The U.S. Capitol building is seen before sunrise on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March. 21, ...

Associated Press

Senate confirms new army chief as one senator’s objection holds up other military nominations

The Senate is confirming three of the Pentagon’s top leaders, filling the posts after monthslong delays and as a Republican senator is still holding up hundreds of other nominations and promotions for military officers.

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Weapons charges dropped in 2018 raid on family compound in desert that turned up child’s remains

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Two firearms charges were dismissed Thursday amid preparations for a trial against an extended family arrested in a 2018 law enforcement raid on a ramshackle desert compound in northern New Mexico and the discovery of a young boy’s decomposed body. The changes narrow the case to terrorism and kidnapping charges […]

2 hours ago

Maricopa County is seeking sanctions against Kari Lake and her attorneys over the Republican’s la...

Associated Press

At Kari Lake’s 3rd trial related to Arizona election, county makes case to protect ballot signatures

An election official and lobbyists were among the witnesses brought by Maricopa County attorneys on the first day of a trial Thursday in another lawsuit filed by Kari Lake, the defeated Republican in last year's Arizona governor's race, to deny her request to see signed ballot envelopes of 1.3 million early voters.

3 hours ago

FILE - Sabreen Sharrief, right, reaches out to hug fellow plaintiff Dorothy Triplett after testifyi...

Associated Press

Mississippi high court blocks appointment of some judges in majority-Black capital city and county

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday struck down part of a state law that would have authorized some circuit court judges to be appointed rather than elected in the capital city of Jackson and the surrounding county, which are both majority-Black. Critics said the law was an effort by the majority-white […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

1.5 million people asked to conserve water in Seattle because of statewide drought

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle Public Utilities is asking about 1.5 million customers in the Seattle area to use less water as drought conditions continue throughout most of the state. Residents on Thursday were asked to stop watering their lawns, to reduce shower time, to only run full laundry machines and dishwashers, and to fix leaking […]

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Sanderson Ford...

Sanderson Ford

Sanderson Ford congratulates D-backs’ on drive to great first half of 2023

The Arizona Diamondbacks just completed a red-hot first half of the major league season, and Sanderson Ford wants to send its congratulations to the ballclub.



When most diets fail, re:vitalize makes a difference that shows

Staying healthy and losing weight are things many people in Arizona are conscious of, especially during the summer.


OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center

5 mental health myths you didn’t know were made up

Helping individuals understand mental health diagnoses like obsessive compulsive spectrum disorder or generalized anxiety disorder isn’t always an easy undertaking. After all, our society tends to spread misconceptions about mental health like wildfire. This is why being mindful about how we talk about mental health is so important. We can either perpetuate misinformation about already […]

Hoskin seeks second term as leader of powerful Cherokee Nation