- By Levi Rickert
Guest Opinion. The most powerful thing that the Cherokee Nation can do for our citizens is to give them a platform to achieve their own dreams. My administration is committed to helping all Cherokees reach their full potential, including my making the largest investment in career training programs in Cherokee history.
When I was writing my first State of the Nation address in the summer of 2019, my father called me and reminded me that, for many of our people, the path to a good career is learning a trade or other skills. He reminded me that my grandfather learned his trade at the apprentice program at the Ironworkers Local 584 Union Hall and that as a young man, long before he earned a college degree, he did the same. My father named many Cherokees in our community who worked in health care, construction, technical fields and the service industry who got their start at the local career tech center instead of college. He told me that if it were not for the impact that career training and the trades had on my family, I may not have even been in a position to be Chief. My father told me that, as Chief, I had a chance to help Cherokees who were willing to work hard, learn a skill, earn a good living. I promised him that I would.
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That conversation is the reason I rewrote my State of the Nation address and proposed the Career Readiness Act of 2019. Upon its passage, we doubled our annual investment in career tech assistance for Cherokee citizens to $2 million. We boosted it further when COVID hit, adding an additional $7 million. Since its enactment, hundreds of Cherokees have found training opportunities and good-paying careers thanks to the Career Readiness Act.
The promise I made to my father is also a big part of the reason Cherokee Nation is making a historic $29 million investment over the next three years in career tech education and workforce preparedness under the Career Readiness Act. Our Career Services Department will use these funds to create new avenues to training and certification in job sectors that are hiring right now, like health care, construction trades, child care, HVAC repair, hospitality, facilities maintenance, commercial transportation, electrical work, culture and tourism, security and information technology. Our Career Services staff can also connect Cherokees to other training programs such as business technology, building trades, surgery technology, tribal nursing programs and child care certification trainings. Our goal is to support Cherokees pursuing any type of career training that leads to a good-paying job.
This initiative is particularly important to Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and me. We believe Cherokee people want to work, and they deserve a government that has their back. Like me and like many Cherokees, Deputy Chief Warner has personal family stories of how access to job training programs made a positive impact.
For Cherokees who choose to go to a college or university, the tribe has long helped through scholarships and other services. Higher education is a fantastic investment, and I am proud of the work we have done in that regard. But not all Cherokees want to take that path. Career tech options are essential. The new funding will cover tuition, books and student fees. Additionally, participants may also be eligible for a $10 an hour training stipend while enrolled in the training program.
In northeast Oklahoma, many of the fastest-growing industries are in skilled trades. These careers can be lucrative and are sustainable over the long-term. The skills to succeed in them are learned only through vocational training or career technology programs.
The growth of a highly trained workforce across the Cherokee Nation Reservation will have dramatic and lasting impact on our economy. All Cherokees stand to benefit as new opportunities and increased wages fuel prosperity for whole families and communities. Today’s skilled workers will build the economy that creates even bigger and better opportunities for the next generation.
These new opportunities under the Career Readiness Act are available to all Cherokee Nation citizens living within our reservation boundaries or in a contiguous county that touches the reservation border. That means we will be able to fund training for a large number of at-large Cherokees who reside in bordering counties in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas. Besides helping even more Cherokees, we know that growing our regional economy by investing in career training benefits communities across the reservation.
Our people deserve every chance to support their families and pursue their dreams. I know that if Cherokee Nation provides a foundation for success, then the Cherokee people will build something amazing on that foundation. Like my father told me in 2019, this means having the backs of Cherokees who want to work but need a helping hand to get the skills they need to succeed. This means keeping that promise I made to him. With more Cherokees gaining hirable skillsets under the $29 million boost to the Career Readiness Act, our home communities and families will be stronger for generations to come.
Chuck Hoskin, Jr. is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
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