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Chad "Corntassel" Smith

Chad "Corntassel" Smith

Principal Chief, Cherokee Nation

Chad "Corntassel" Smith

Principal Chief, Cherokee Nation


Chad Smith, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1999 to 2011, has been a powerful force in building businesses and working toward self-sufficiency for Native American nations. He has devoted the majority of his adult life to rebuilding the Cherokee Nation and helping Cherokees learn how to help themselves. When he was principal chief, the Cherokee Nation grew its assets from $150 million to $1.2 billion, increased business profits 100-fold, improved healthcare services from $18 million to $310 million, created 6,000 jobs, and dramatically advanced its education, language, and cultural preservation programs. The Cherokee Nation’s success is a direct result of his principle-based leadership and his “Point A to Point B” leadership model. This model works for businesses, governments, and people in everyday life situations. His book Leadership Lessons from the Cherokee Nation describing this model has been published by McGraw-Hill.

His efforts outside of the government and business arenas are diversified. He is a renowned legal scholar and accomplished public speaker; has published Cherokee art, culture, and history books; produced 10 Cherokee Nation Youth Choir CDs in the Cherokee language; was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame; rappelled from a 19-story hotel to raise money for Special Olympics; and bicycled the entire 980-mile Trail of Tears as part of a Cherokee youth leadership exercise. Chad Smith is a stimulating keynote speaker and provides organization development consulting regarding leadership, resource development and tribal nation-building. He has decades of experience in leadership initiatives, business administration, tribal management, education programming, economic development, and art. 

He earned his BS Ed from the University of Georgia, 1973; MPA from University of Wisconsin, 1975; JD from the University of Tulsa, 1980; and MBA from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, 2008. He has been an ironworker, tax lawyer, assistant district attorney, public defender, Attorney General, visiting professor at Dartmouth College, principal chief, attorney general and practicing attorney.

Chad Smith is the author of Leadership Lessons from the Cherokee Nation published by McGraw-Hill (2013), and Building One Fire University of Oklahoma Press (2010).

Speaker Videos

Tulsa Community College Graduation Speech

How to Make an Organization Work

The Cherokee Strategy Opposing Removal

Speech Topics

Leadership: Point A to Point B

Leadership is the most critical aspect of successful society, business, government and people. This presentation describes leadership as the process of going from Point A (where you are) to Point B (where you want to go). This model illustrates that at Point A, people must have a tremendous amount of humility to understand their place in their environment, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Point B is equally challenging, because many people do not know where they want to go because they lack vision and/or an understanding of their opportunities.  Between Point A and Point B are curves, detours and potholes that one must have the education, skills, and motivation to navigate. Smith instituted his principle-based leadership model at the Cherokee Nation during his tenure from 1999 and 2011. As a result, the Cherokee Nation grew its assets from $150 million to $1.2 billion, increased healthcare services from $18 million to $310 million, and created 6,000 jobs. This model is applicable to business, government and to people in everyday life situations. This presentation poses the question, “Are you a genius or dufus?”

100 Year Plan: Tribal Nation Building

Indian tribal governments have a special relationship with the United States government. Federally recognized Indian tribes are entitled to enact their own laws and conduct businesses under their own governmental structures. The Cherokee Nation government has been recognized in the world community of governments since 1721, when it signed its first treaty with Great Britain. In 1832, the United States Supreme Court held that Indian tribes are “domestic dependent nations” with inherent sovereignty and territories exclusive to state governments. “Nation building” is the process of developing a tribe to build self-sufficient economies and cultural integrity. This presentation provides an understanding of Indian Country and answers popular questions such as: “Why do some Indian tribes have casinos, what is a reservation, and Why do Indian tribes have different laws?” The message is that Indians are citizens of their own governments, in addition to being culturally distinct. Did you know that the famous humorist Will Rogers did not become an American citizen until 1901?  Will was born in 1879 in the Cherokee Nation. His parents were both Cherokee citizens, so he was a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Will Rogers became an American citizen (and retained his Cherokee citizenship), as did other Cherokees, under federal law in 1901.

Designing an Organization to Sustain an Economy

Economies must be built with a competitive advantage. One of the competitive advantages often overlooked in rural areas is competitive intelligence. Competitive intelligence can often be viewed as “what people can do and enjoy doing as good as or better than others.” Detroit is known for automobiles, Wall Street for finance, Silicon Valley for computers, the Navajo for silversmithing, Mohawks for high iron construction. For example, local craftsmen with a great affinity for creating handmade knifes out of saw blades and deer antlers is an example of competitive intelligence that can sustain the growth of a long-term cutlery industry. When competitive intelligence is determined for an area or population, educational systems must be aligned to produce skills and grow that intelligence for that economy.

Building One Fire: Cherokee Art & Culture

In 2010, Chad Smith designed, compiled and edited the award-winning Cherokee Art and Culture book entitled “Building One Fire, the Art and Culture of Cherokee Life.” The unique aspect and presentation of this book illustrates the fundamental concept that historically, Cherokees did not have “art for art sake.” Art design was originally used to decorate and personalize tools, weapons and utensils. Within the last hundred years, Cherokees have used art to express cultural stories. This presentation is an in-depth look at Cherokee identity that is composed of cultural attributes, expressed in outstanding and deeply moving art. Being Cherokee is not represented by teepees, powwows or being a side kick for Daniel Boone. Smith’s portrayal of Cherokee art, culture and thought is accurate, insightful, thought provoking and beautiful.