Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner were re-elected Saturday.
The unofficial results point to a landslide victory for incumbents Hoskin Jr. and Warner. Both walked away with more than 60% of the vote on Saturday — that’s nearly 30 points more than their next closest challenger Cara Cowan Watts and her running mate David Walkingstick.
Hoskin Jr. received more than 10,000 votes, according to the Cherokee Nation Election Commission. Warner also received more than 10,000 votes.
More than 16,700 Cherokee citizens voted in this election cycle. That’s up from 13,780 voters in 2019.
Both candidates did particularly well in communities in and around Adair County. In Stillwell, Salisaw and Marble City, which are all in the tribal council’s District 6, Hoskin Jr. received more than half of the votes in those precincts over his challengers.
During the candidates’ watch party on election night, Hoskin Jr. thanked his supporters, volunteers and family as more results came in.
“I wouldn’t be here to lead the largest, strongest tribe in the country without them,” Hoskin Jr. said.
Hoskin Jr told KOSU he will continue to focus on criminal justice issues, particularly around the McGirt decision and health care, over the next four years.
“Funding and sustaining a criminal justice system in an environment where it’s going to put a lot of pressure on tribal revenue, which is business revenue and also federal funds, we’re going to continue to navigate that,” Hoskin Jr. said. “Finishing some really big projects that we’ve started in health care…the ones that are most important to me are the drug treatment efforts that we are doing over the next four or five years.”
Priorities for the next four years
Since taking office, Hoskin Jr. has poured millions of dollars into breaking ground on a new hospital to replace the aging W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah. His administration also committed millions of dollars into a new behavioral health facility with money from the opioid settlement.
KOSU asked Hoskin Jr. how he would engage younger voters and some of their priorities, including safeguarding 2SLGBTQ+ rights amidst attacks made by the Oklahoma legislature.
“First of all, we’ve got to listen to them. And I think we ignore them and those issues at our own peril in terms of political leadership,” Hoskin Jr. said.
Joseph Cloud is one of those younger voters who identifies as Two-Spirit, which is a way the Native community identifies those who are LGBTQ.
“I think that we see in the larger United States government how rights can be easily taken away — rights we thought we had already been sort of asked and answered. And so we are hoping to see that in our tribal government, too, and our tribal leadership, where things are codified that are important to us,” Cloud told KOSU.
He’s part of a group of young tribal leaders called 4 Next 7 who meet and discuss issues that are important that they want to see tribal leaders address.
“We’re not a monolith,” Cloud said referring to the complexity that makes up Cherokee citizenry.
“We’re not just Christians, we’re not just cisgendered people. We’re not just Republican. We’re not just Democrats.”
Hoskin Jr.’s challengers
During the campaign his opponents sharply criticized him for what they perceived as out of control spending and that new hospitals and buildings are great, but, as Cowan Watts said during the one and only debate, “who’s going to work in them?”
KOSU reached out to second place finisher Cowan Watts for comment after the election results, but did not receive a comment. On her campaign Facebook page, one post asked voters to send an email with complaints to the election commission’s office.
It’s unclear if Cowan Watts and Walkingstick, are alleging voter irregularities. Cowan Watts trailed Hoskin Jr. by about 30 percentage points.
All of Hoskin Jr.’s opponents criticized what they characterized as unaccounted for: ARPA money. Particularly from Cherokee Nation council member Wes Nofire, who asked for an audit of federal COVID relief funds and told KOSU in a recent interview that the money belongs to the Cherokee citizens.
“The Chief has been given a blank multibillion dollar check, to just go spend it on whatever he wants, without any sort of understanding of where the funds were spent,” Nofire said.
KOSU talked with Nofire after results were in, and he said he had a good run campaigning and that it was great to talk with voters.
“It’s one of those things that obviously, you know, when you’re not in a victory seat, there’s a little bit of disappointment there,” Nofire said. He said he’s looking forward to finishing his term on the tribal council, which ends in August.
David Cornsilk, who threw some of his own money into the campaign, said his goal in running was to highlight some of the problems with the current administration he felt weren’t being highlighted — like issues with the constitution.
“I wanted to make sure that, you know, his uncontrolled spending, you know, creating buildings when we can’t even staff them [was highlighted],” Cornsilk said.
Cherokee voters also elected a slate of candidates to tribal council seats.
- Daryl Legg, the incumbent for District 6 won his seat with more than 76% of the vote.
- Another incumbent, Dora Patzkowski, won the District 12 seat with more than 80% of the vote.
- District 13 incumbent Joe Deere, whose district includes Tulsa, also coasted to victory with more than 79% of the vote.
- At -large council woman Julia Coates won with nearly 73% of the vote.
- In District 14, Kevin Easely Jr. also coasted in with nearly 75% of the vote.
Districts 1, 3 and 8 will head to a runoff next month after no one secured more than half of the vote for those seats.
All election results are unofficial until certified by the tribe’s election board.