Education is interwoven throughout Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s life. Both of his grandmothers were teachers.
His father and mother, Tim and Isabel, held doctoral degrees and they were professional educators. Isabel taught at Northeastern State University.
Growing up in Tahlequah, Baker recalls his life around the university. “Our home was just blocks away from the college and you had to walk through campus to get to town,” Baker mused. He recalls watching the NSU teams play sports and playing a few pickup games of football himself.
Baker worked full-time at a local department store while attending NSU. His grandfather insisted on paying for his books and tuition. “Education was very important to my family,” Baker said. “My granddaddy wanted to make sure that I always had the means to get a college degree.” His mother insisted that all her kids get a college degree in teaching.
“I couldn’t wait to get into the business world, but I honored my parents’ wishes,” Baker
After earning his bachelor’s degree in political science and history — and completing the requirements for his teaching certification — Baker turned to business. He invested in Baker’s Furniture store that today, 45 years later, he still owns and operates.
Investing in education is critical to the success of our people and our tribe
Baker was elected to Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 2011. Prior to his election, he served 12 years on the Cherokee Tribal Council. Making education a top priority, he expanded the Cherokee Language Immersion School program. Under his leadership, Cherokee Nation has nearly doubled funding for the Cherokee Nation Scholarship program from $8.5 million in 2003 to almost $16 million and increasing the number of scholarships awarded by 43 percent. Since 2010, more than 27,000 scholarships have been awarded. Every qualified Cherokee Nation student that applied has received a scholarship under Baker’s administration.
“Investing in education is critical to the success of our people and our tribe,” Baker said. “The Cherokee Nation is taking on the role of my grandfather, and so many of our ancestors just like him, making sure the funds were there for college, and multiplying it - giving many other Cherokee students the opportunity to get a college degree.”