Chad Smith, the former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, is a soft spoken strategic thinker who has been a powerful force in building businesses and working toward self-sufficient Native American nations. Smith is a visionary leader with a list of unprecedented accomplishments. He looks ahead, knowing that the decisions we make today must serve our children and our children’s children 100 years from now.During his tenure as Principal Chief from 1999-2011, the Cherokee Nation grew its assets from $150 million to $1.2 billion, increased healthcare services from $18 million to $310 million, created 6,000 jobs and dramatically advanced education, language and cultural preservation. Chief Smith’s success is a direct result of his principle-based leadership organization and his “Point A to Point B” leadership model. This model works with business, government and people in everyday life situations.
A principled leader, Smith speaks passionately about developing leadership, improving education, building self-sufficient tribal nations, preserving cultural values and language, honoring the legacy inherited from his ancestors, and the inviolable responsibility to protect and exercise tribal sovereignty. Smith shares stories, observations, experiences and insights from his work as Principal Chief and his success in rebuilding one of the largest Indian nations in the United States.
He earned his J.D. from the University of Tulsa, 1980; M.B.A. from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, 2008; M.P.A. from University of Wisconsin, 1975; and B.S.Ed. from the University of Georgia, 1973.
W. Patrick Ragsdale can boast a long history of service to the United Statesgovernment and to his tribe, the Cherokee Nation.
Ragsdale began his career at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (U.S. Department of the Interior) in 1967 as a teacher. During his first career with the BIA, he served in many capacities including: Deputy to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Area Director—Anadarko, Assistant Area Director (Trust Responsibilities)—Phoenix, and Superintendent of the Unita and Ouray Agency.
He retired in 1993 and came back to Cherokee Nation where he served as Marshall, leading the tribe’s highly regarded law enforcement service. In 1999, he served the tribe as Executive Director until 2004 when he returned to the BIA, this time as Director.
Ragsdale has a degree in history from the University of Central Oklahoma and served as an officer with the US Marine Corps.
A seasoned public relations professional, Sammye Rusco began her career in Houston, TX, as the Director of Media and PR for the Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, and later honed her skills in one of Houston’s top PR agencies. Rusco served on the national crisis team for the largest radio conglomerate in the United States as a Crisis Communications Manager.
In 2004, Rusco brought her expertise back to Oklahoma and her tribe, the Cherokee Nation, where she served as Director of Communications for the tribal government. She oversaw a department of 14 employees with an annual budget of more than $1.5 million.
As Director of Communications, Rusco was a member of the Executive Leadership team during a time of unprecedented growth. She created the tribal brand initiative: developed the brand book, goals and criteria which incorporated the tribe’s rich history, culture and language into its current modern society. Her team earned free media coverage worth more than $13 million annually through stories and news coverage in numerous media sources. As well, Rusco directed advertising campaigns that impacted public opinion favorably for the Cherokee Nation and its businesses – increasing favorable ratings by 50 percent.
Rusco is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, a member of the Public Relations Society of America and earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Houston.
Boasting more than 30 years of finance and accounting expertise in government and manufacturing, Callie Catcher is highly regarded by her peers as an expert in not just fiscal management but in the development of departments and employees that are award-winning and loyal.
Catcher spent a number of years at Cherokee Nation in both the government and business sides of the tribe. In 2006, she served as the interim CEO for Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB) during its development. CNB is the holding company for all of Cherokee Nation’s for-profit businesses with an operating budget in excess of $800 million. Catcher developed the infrastructure for the company, including staffing and information systems.
From 2008 to 2012, Catcher served as Treasurer of the Cherokee Nation, a constitutionally-appointed position by the Chief and approved by the Tribal Council. As Treasurer, Catcher oversaw a budget that grew 300% during that time, from $200 to $600 million. Catcher and her staff ensured that discretionary monies were used for projects that aligned with the administration’s strategy of job creation, language preservation and community growth. During her tenure, Cherokee Nation enjoyed unprecedented growth in services, infrastructure and employment.
Additionally as Treasurer, Catcher led a task force to implement a new indirect cost system, the results of which drastically reduced the Nation’s indirect costs every year of her tenure which resulted in even more direct funding for services to Cherokee citizens. Meanwhile, she successfully obtained financing for three health care clinics through issuance of tax- exempt public bonds and bank qualified tax-exempt financing ($54 million).
Catcher and her staff continually won accounting accolades. The Government of Finance Officers’ Association (GFOA) recognized the Cherokee Nation with a Certificate for Achievement of Excellence in Financial Reporting each year she was Treasurer.
Catcher holds a Bachelor of Science in Accounting/Business Administration from Northeastern State University and is an Oklahoma Certified Public Accountant.
Melissa Gower spent the last two decades working for the Cherokee Nation, the second largest Indian tribe in the United States with more than 300,000 citizens. More than half of that time, she served the tribe at an executive level and was part of the team responsible for Cherokee Nation’s unparalleled economic growth and prosperity.
In 1999, Gower was named the Executive Officer in the Office of the Principal Chief, where she performed executive level duties as the Direction Team Leader. She was responsible for the operation of strategy, government relations, solutions development, and communications.
In August 2003, she was named Group Leader of Cherokee Nation Health Services Group, which is the tribe’s largest service group, as well as Group Leader of Government Relations. As the top executive over health, Gower oversaw a staff of 1,800 and an annual budget of more than of $310 million. During her tenure, the Cherokee Nation built several health clinics, expanded Hastings Hospital and built the largest and most respected health system in Indian Country.
Prior to her service at Cherokee Nation, Gower also spent four years working as a health-planning consultant to various Indian tribes and organizations throughout the United States.
Gower is the recipient of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Native American Health and Welfare Policy Fellowship. She spent a year working for Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, (Chairman, of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs), where she performed legislative duties on several issues including health, self-governance, family, and elder issues.
Over the years, Gower received numerous awards including: “Oklahoma City Area Indian Health Service Area Director’s Service Award,” “Excellence in Management Award,” “Superior Management Award,” and “Employee of the Year Award.”
Gower has a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Care Administration from Northeastern State University where she graduated Magna Cum Laude. She is a proud citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
Melanie Fourkiller has the distinct honor of being Cherokee Nation’s first Secretary of State, a Constitutional cabinet position appointed by the Principal Chief and confirmed by the Cherokee Tribal Council. Nationally recognized as a technical specialist on self-governance and self-determination issues, Fourkiller touts more than 19 years of experience working in tribal government, including operations and inter-governmental relations as well as a successful background in organizational and program planning, development and execution. Additionally, she has served as a grant proposal reviewer for several federal agencies.
During her tenure in Cherokee Nation’s executive branch, oversaw operations of the executive branch, acting as the Chief of Staff to more than 3,600 employees with annual budget of approximately $600 million.
In addition to the above duties, Fourkiller also served as Education Services Group Leader, during which time the Cherokee Nation language immersion school was successfully converted into a charter school.
Fourkiller was the lead negotiator for one of the largest tribal self-governance new program assumptions in the United States of over $60 million annually and served as the lead negotiator for the largest tribal Nation participating in self-governance. She has successfully negotiated federal settlements in contract support costs totaling more than $14 million.
An expert in tribal/public policy, Fourkiller has served on innumerable national, state, area and tribal committees and work groups, including the Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee, Tribal Technical Advisory Group to CMS, IHS/Tribal Joint Rulemaking Committee regarding Self-Governance and many more.
Known for keeping a cool head in the midst of crisis, Mike Miller is a top integrated marketing communications professional. He served as Communications Officer/Spokesman for Cherokee Nation for 12 years. During that time he also worked as Vice President of Corporate Communications for Cherokee Nation Businesses. He oversaw media and public relations efforts for the Cherokee Nation and all its business entities and assisted the Cherokee Nation’s community and government relations efforts.
Miller grew up in Tulsa and earned his undergraduate degree from Abilene Christian University and his master’s degree from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Prior to his work with Cherokee Nation, Miller was a television sports anchor and reporter for ten years in Texas and Florida before returning home to Oklahoma.
Miller currently serves as the president of the Tulsa Press Club, is a graduate of Leadership Tulsa and Leadership Oklahoma and is a proud citizen of the Cherokee Nation.