TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (KFOR) – The Cherokee Nation enrolled its 400,000th tribal citizen on Tuesday following a massive influx of citizenship applications brought on by COVID-19 relief payments for tribe citizens.
The tribe’s Registration Department had a major rise in citizenship applications after Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. announced $2,000 COVID-19 assistance payments to enrolled Cherokee citizens, including those approved for citizenship by June of 2022, according to Cherokee Nation officials.
“In the coming months, Cherokee Nation Registration will be adding thousands more tribal citizens whose applications are already pending and awaiting verification, making the Cherokee Nation the largest tribe in the United States. With this growth, we will continue to be an important force for economies, education, health care, quality of life issues, and environmental matters,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “Our citizens are engaging and connecting which is a sign that our Cherokee Nation government is a strong Indigenous voice in Indian Country.”
Around 140,000 of the 400,000 tribal citizens live in the Cherokee Nation reservation, according to officials.
The Registration Department received approximately 2,000 citizenship applications each week – 10 times the amount typically received – since COVID-19 relief payments were announced, and is working through a backlog of thousands of citizenship applications pending.
“Reaching 400,000 Cherokee Nation citizens has really put the tribe’s Registration Department to the test, but we are determined to provide this important service so that our citizens can obtain the COVID-19 relief assistance they need during this pandemic and continue to stay engaged with their tribe,” said Interim Registrar Derrick Vann. “I want to thank Chief Hoskin and his administration as well as those on our Tribal Council for their support. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to each and every one of our Registration employees for their dedication and the personal sacrifices they have made working additional hours in the evenings and on Saturdays to ensure we are processing citizenship applications as quickly as possible. They have really stepped up during these trying times and it is an honor to work alongside them.”
The Registration Department added 12 additional employees to the existing 45-member staff to meet the increased demand in citizenship applications. The department is closed to in-person services through October but will reopen to the public on Nov. 1. However, a secure vault is in the lobby of the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah for those who want to drop off citizenship applications during the temporary in-person closure.
“Our Cherokee Nation employees continue to show strength to reach amazing milestones in the midst of a pandemic and to help our citizens with citizenship, support and recovery and rebuilding their lives from COVID-19,” said Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. “I’m truly proud of this achievement.”