Cherokee citizens throughout much of Rogers County choose their tribal council representative for the next four years.
Businesswoman, Ph.D., and former councilor Cara Cowan Watts said District 14 should choose her because her goal is, “removing the obstacles,” that stand in her constituents’ way.
Cowan Watts is an eighth-generation resident of Rogers County and a direct descendant of Old Settler Cherokee Chief John Rogers.
“My Cherokee mother and maternal grandparents ensured I knew who I was as a Cherokee citizen since my earliest memories,” Cowan Watts said.
Cowan Watts grew up in a household of teachers, which inspired her love of education.
After high school, Cowan Watts received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from OSU, and eventually donated her wedding gifts as an endowed scholarship fund for Native American students there.
Cowan Watts served on the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council from 2003 to 2015, after which she completed her Ph.D. in Biosystems Engineering at OSU. Her dissertation was on water quality standards for waterways that are culturally significant to the Cherokee Nation.
Her seven page CV, available on her campaign website, speaks for itself.
Current projects include co-owner and co-manager of Sideways Cattle Company, owner and contract consultant of Cherokee Star, and CEO and Principal Owner of Tulsa Pier Drilling.
Cowan Watts said she is the best choice for tribal councilor because, “I will answer to the Cherokees of District 14 and their needs.”
“My past results speak to my strong work ethic, ability to protect our Tribal sovereignty, engineering degrees to protect our Tribe's culturally significant waters such as Spring Creek watershed, and desire to help all Cherokees regardless of their financial means or politics,” Cowan Watts said. “I will look at each issue on its own merit and am able to perform extensive research on issues.”
Speaking to her business background, Cowan Watts said, “My husband and I are expanding jobs in Rogers County so we know first-hand what it is like to be a small business owner in today's environment.”
“Tribal Council members are responsible for approving the budget, passing the laws, and upholding the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation,” Cowan Watts said.
Cherokee Nation council members have duties beyond Tahlequah as well, Cowan Watts said.
“They have a responsibility to develop and support local Cherokee communities within their district and respond to constituent requests,” she said. “It is our responsibility to advocate for individual Cherokees fairly and equitably. I will respond to phone calls, emails, text messages, and social media messages. I want to answer your questions and solve your problems with contract health services, expedites for citizenship cards, and more. Your concerns are my concerns.”
Cowan Watts cited a favorite quote by an unknown author as the underpinning of her leadership style: "Public service is about removing the obstacles standing in the way of people celebrating their lives."
Cowan Watt's platform covers improvements in health care, education and jobs, housing, language and culture preservation, and generally removing barriers for citizens.
On healthcare, Cowan Watt's largest promise is to pursue the construction of a new Claremore Indian Hospital and clinic under Cherokee Nation control, similar in size and scale to the one in Tahlequah.
She also plans to pay health care providers a competitive wage; improve the appointment scheduling process by providing online, by phone and in person options; employee patient care coordinators for every patient; increase funding for Contract Health Services for working Cherokees; increase availability of dental, vision and mental health services; and providing for elders with more long-term care options.
“Patients should not have to drive more than 30 minutes for any basic health service,” Cowan Watts said.
“In addition, I want to highlight the need for more mental health care providers and a solution for urgent mental health needs,” she said. “We are losing too many of our Cherokee youth to suicide and even one loss is unacceptable.”
Economic diversification, more scholarships for college and career tech students, a mentorship program for college and career tech students, and resources for families with special education and learning disability needs are among her education and job issues.
“We must diversify beyond casinos in terms of economic development,” Cowan Watts said. “Cherokees deserve to see a return on their monies when invested in large, local business projects, in terms of actual cash return or a guarantee of Cherokee jobs.”
When it comes to the mentorship program, Cowan Watts said students “need someone who coaches them through the entire process to ensure they achieve the most lucrative career possible.”
Families of special needs children, “are being left out by overworked public and private schools with no assistance in guiding them to help their student achieve,” Cowan Watts said.
Cowan Watts hopes to improve transparency and efficiency in the housing system, as well.
“We need transparency in housing. If you are unsure it is working, so am I,” Cowan Watts said. “We need to know how many homes are achieved each year, how long it took a homeowner to pursue the process from beginning to end and more.”
“We need consistent expectations on applications, timeliness of processing the applications and more,” she added. “Cherokees deserve respect and a consistent and timely response when applying for their housing needs.”
With regards to language and culture, Cowan Watts said, “Right now we are not using our fair share of tribal resources.”
Cowan Watts wants to protect and promote language and culture by establishing regular Cherokee language classes in the community and schools, protecting tribal waterways from pollution, focusing on cultural tourism and telling the Cherokee story.
“We must move immediately to protect our tribal waters and reverse the damage done by Big Chicken in Spring Creek and the Illinois River watersheds,” Cowan Watts said. “We must be diligent and absolute in protecting our shared nest. To date, not enough has been done. A lot of promises with no real action.”
When it comes to cultural tourism, Cowan Watts plans to invest special projects funding in the further development of cultural staples unique to Roger's and Tulsa Counties such as Route 66 and Will Rogers.
Overall, Cowan Watts said, “We need to be more aggressive about claiming our incredible Cherokee story and telling it today. There is no time to wait. Cherokees should be lifted up and our stories told.”
Finally, Cowan Watts plans to remove barriers on a handful of kitchen table issues for Cherokee citizens, including: getting Cherokee Nation Photo ID at all tag offices; holding more photo ID events; placing personal information on photo IDs so that citizens can swipe their card instead of repetitively filling out the same information; overhauling the tribal website to fix broken links, difficult navigation and missing pages; ensuring that casino dollars are used to make life easier on the average citizen and restoring the Cherokee Pheonix as a free publication mailed to every citizen.