Bill John Baker
|Bill John Baker|
|Baker at the Cherokee Leaders Conference (2013)|
|7th Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation|
|Preceded by||Chad "Corntassel" Smith|
February 9, 1952 |
|Spouse(s)||Sherry Jean Robertson Baker|
|Alma mater||Northeastern State University|
Bill John Baker (born February 9, 1952) is the current Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. First elected in October 2011, Baker defeated three-term incumbent Chief Chad Smith. Prior to his election as Chief, Baker served 12 years on the Cherokee Tribal Council. In 1999, Baker unsuccessfully ran for Deputy Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
Bill John Baker was born in Cherokee County, Oklahoma, where his family has been for four generations. Of mixed ethnicity, like many Cherokee citizens, he is 1/32 Cherokee by blood. He graduated from Tahlequah High School. In 1972, he graduated from Northeastern State University with a bachelor's degree in political science and history in education.
After graduating from college, Baker had an opportunity to take over a furniture store. Although a novice, he worked at every job to keep it going. He built it into a growing business known as Baker's Furniture. He also owns several rental properties in Tahlequah.
As his business matured, Baker became more active in the community, serving as the president of the PTA, a coach for youth sports, and a charter member of the Rotary Club. Elected as president of the Tahlequah area Chamber of Commerce, he pulled the organization out of debt during his tenure.
Baker became active in politics. He served 12 years as a member of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council. He has supported educational and development initiatives for Cherokee, as well as health care.
In 1997, Baker was among the supporters of Joe Byrd, then Principal Chief, during some of the tumultuous political events of 1997, when some members boycotted attendance at Council meetings. At one point, the Nation's executive officials' closed the Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal. Byrd was investigated for financial improprieties.
In 2011, Baker ran for Cherokee Nation principal chief against the 12-year incumbent Chad Smith. Because the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court could not determine the outcome of the June 26 general election with mathematical certainty, it set a second election for Sept. 24, 2011. The date for absentee ballots was extended to allow for voting by Cherokee Freedmen, based on a negotiated agreement with the federal government. The membership of many in the tribe and ability to vote in elections has been under dispute since the tribe (exclusive of the Freedmen) voted to tighten membership qualifications.
Baker won the special election. Nearly 20,000 people voted in the special election in September, 5,000 more than had voted in the first one. Baker won by 1,534 votes with nearly 54 percent of the vote. By agreement between the federal government and the tribe in a negotiated decision, Cherokee Freedmen were allowed to vote in this election, although the question of their membership in the tribe is still unresolved. The Nation changed its membership rules to exclude all except those who are descended directly from Cherokee Indians listed on the Dawes Rolls, which excludes some Freedmen, even those of Cherokee descent, whose ancestors were listed on the Rolls only as Freedmen.
Baker married Susan Elizabeth "Beth" Hulcher on August 1, 1977. The couple had three daughters and two sons. She died on April 28, 1995.
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