College Internship Program launched by Cherokee Nation, Rare Disease Day recognized

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Mar. 1—Between the two Cherokee Nation Tribal Council meetings Thursday, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed an executive order launching the Cherokee Nation College Internship Program and authorized a task force in recognition of Rare Disease Day.

The college program provides internships and tribal workforce experience for college students.

Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said the Nation wants to be able to prepare students for when the door of opportunity opens.

"We know that will change their outcome and will change their family unit," Warner said.

Hoskin said it was a challenge to obtain the best and brightest across the Nation and there is always room to improve.

One of the areas that can be improved is the "pipeline of talent" — getting them into the door, the workforce and filling those positions — Hoskin said.

Tribal Councilor Mike Shambaugh, District 9, spoke in support from the Council for the initiative.

"You have [the Council's] full support. When you look at kids when they are young, some of them just might not know what they want to do with their lives," Shambaugh said. "But you start giving them training, and they start having confidence and start thinking, 'I can actually do this.'"

The second signing by Hoskin was the Cherokee Nation Rare Disease executive order establishing a task force to learn and do more in this effort. Dr. Beth Harp, Cherokee Nation Health Services executive medical director, will lead the task force. A report will be issued in January 2025 and review what is being done and what can be done better, Hoskin said.

"All health conditions of the Cherokee Nation warrant attention, and of course we are in a day and age in which our capacity to care for the Cherokee people through a health system [is] growing, not just infrastructure but across the Nation," Hoskin said.

The needs are being met more now than in any time in history, but the Nation has to "lean in" to different areas and see where more can be done, especially in the area of rare diseases, Hoskin said.

There are more than 7,000 rare disease conditions and 300 million people globally — 1 in 10 Americans — live with a rare disease, Hoskin said.

First Lady January Hoskin spoke in support of the proclamation.

"The reason this is so important to me is many of you know that I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which is a rare disease, and is one that has many comorbidities, which is other conditions that occur alongside the one you have," January said. "And many [of those] are also rare diseases. We actually have nine people in our family diagnosed [with this disease]. Many Cherokees have the same condition, and it's getting a lot of attention now."

In the Executive and Finance Committee meeting following the signings, the Council heard a report on the state of Cherokee businesses.

Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Chuck Garrett reported that due to weather, January was a mixed month, as reflected on the financial statements. The gaming business suffered from weather events both in Oklahoma and in Mississippi, Garrett said. He said this isn't seen as a trend but that is why so much time is spent on thinking on and working towards diversification.

"While the gaming business is off, the federal contracting was above expectation," Garrett said. "As we continue to build a sustainable business that will last long beyond us, that's going to be key — that we have a mixed portfolio of independent businesses that aren't relying on the same economic conditions or same weather patterns. I think on the whole, what we are seeing is a really healthy business."

The annual audit had no findings of concern or inconsistencies identified by the external auditor, Garrett said.

"It is reflective of a corporate culture that does not permit — does not encourage — the pushing of the envelope," Garrett said.

Garrett gave a quick update on the Legends Resort and Casino in Arkansas. At the last Council meeting, the Arkansas Racing Commission had just met and suggested rule changes that were necessary, because at the time no one considered the possibility of a second application process, Garrett said.

The process with the first application got mired in litigation and the Arkansas Supreme Court mandated a second application period. But the commission didn't have the authority to do it based on the rules, Garrett said.

"So they have changed [the rules], and it has gone through the governor's office and the attorney general's office and is now in front of the legislative committee that is authorized to evaluate public comment and also ratify the rules. What we expect is probably in May the racing commission will reopen the application period," Garrett said.

Garrett said the application is ready and will be submitted when that period is opened, and feels confident that the Cherokee Nation will be the licensee for the casino.

"I think it's a when, not an if," Garrett said.