On Sunday, Cherokee Nation elected Chuck Hoskin, Jr. to serve as its new principal chief.
Claiming 57.5 percent of the reported vote, per the Cherokee Phoenix, Hoskin bested Tribal Councilor Dick Lay, who was only able to garner 27 percent of the vote. Hoskin, who was previously the tribe’s secretary of state, will replace Bill John Baker, who held the office for two terms starting in 2011. Hoskin’s running mate, Bryan Warner, was elected deputy principal chief.
As secretary of state and a former tribal councilor, Hoskin already has experience as one of the Nation’s most visible public figures—it was Hoskin who, acting in his official position, wrote a fiery statement disavowing Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test in October. (He later wrote an op-ed in the Tulsa World explaining his stance, which reportedly spurred her private apology to the Nation.)
Though Hoskin’s margin of victory makes his ascension seem inevitable, he was by no means a shoo-in. The election was also beset by controversy two weeks ago, when David Walkingstick, who was believed to be in a position to give Hoskin a run for his money, was instead run out of the race by the Nation’s election board. The board announced May 17 that Walkingstick was disqualified for accepting money from an outside corporation and soliciting illegal donations—unlike the United States, Cherokee Nation has rules in place that actually limit the influence of dark money, and candidates can only accept donations from individuals.
Because Walkingstick, a conservative tribal councilor who called for the Nation to step away from their relationship with the national Democratic party, received anonymous contributions from an LLC that shared a P.O. Box with his campaign, the board saw fit to scratch his name from the ballot. After Walkingstick denied the claims and filed an appeal, the Nation’s Supreme Court upheld the election board’s ruling.
As Graham Lee Brewer laid out for High Country News, because Cherokee Nation is the largest tribal sovereign nation in the United States, the principal chief and the tribe often take the lead or contribute resources to the many legal battles tribal nations of all sizes are forced to engage in to protect their children, their health, and their lands. Presently, that is expected to take the form of the current legal challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act, in which several conservative groups and states attorney general are attempting to do away with a law aimed at protecting Native children and their cultures.