UPDATE: BIA withdraws letter, approves election amendments

BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
05/27/2015 02:30 PM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – On May 27, Acting Regional Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Eddie Streater withdrew his letter dated May 11 declining to approve LA-04-14, an act that amends the tribe’s election code.

“On May 21, 2015, during a phone call with the Cherokee Nation’s Office of the Attorney General and other Cherokee Nation representatives, the Department of the Interior requested clarification as to the Nation’s intent to comply with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia’s Order dated September 21, 2011,” his letter states.

That order was set to ensure all Freedmen voters would have the opportunity to participate in the election of the Principal Chief as well as give access to and have rights and benefits the same as all Cherokee Nation citizens.

Streater further states in his letter that the DOI is bound by that Order.

“While there has been subsequent tribal legislation, including that establishing the election procedures for the upcoming election of the Principal Chief, as well as intervening tribal judicial decisions, your Attorney General has by letter dated May 22, 2015, affirmed the Nation’s commitment to follow the 2011 court order,” the letter states.

In Attorney General Todd Hembree’s letter to the DOI, it states that Freemen voters participated in the 2011 election, the tribal council election in 2013 and three special elections.

“Because of the Cherokee Nation’s commitment to comply with the 2011 Order and the continued effectiveness of the 2011 order, I hereby withdraw my May 11, 2015 letter and now approve the 2015 Election Procedures for the sole and limited purpose of the upcoming election for the Principal Chief,” Streater’s letter states. “ As you are aware, we are currently awaiting judicial resolution of the status of the Freedmen under the 1866 Treaty between the United States and the Nation. The United States position continues to be that the 1866 Treaty guarantees the Freemen and their descendants full citizenship rights in the Cherokee Nation.”

Hembree said in an earlier Cherokee Phoenix story that although initially the BIA chose to decline LA-04-14, there would be an election on June 27 and this clarification solidifies that statement.

“The Cherokee Nation is pleased that the Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs has decided to withdraw its May 11, 2015 letter. We have been notified by the BIA today (May 27) that the election procedures to select the Principal Chief have been approved in accordance with federal law,” Hembree said. “It is a testament to the Cherokee Nation doing its utmost to resolve the Freedmen issue and any remaining questions concerning our Constitution. We look forward to a election on June 27 in accordance with the laws that have been passed by the Cherokee Nation.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs Eastern Oklahoma Regional Office released a letter on May 11 to Principal Chief Bill John Baker that stated it declined to approve LA-04-14. The Regional Office offered comments in regards to how it came to its decision.

“Because LA-04-14 is so extensively intertwined with the appropriate provisions within the 1976 Constitution, it is impossible to propose revisions to LA-04-14 to reference appropriate provisions within the 1976 Constitution,” the letter states. “Because LA-04-14 purports to be based on the authority in a Constitution which the Regional Office does not recognize, we decline to approve LA-04-14.”

The Regional office also referred to the term “citizen of the Cherokee Nation” stating that provisions in LA-04-14 indicate that only persons of Cherokee blood are tribal members.

“Given the extensive litigations regarding the Freedmen, the Regional Office cannot approve LA-04-14 because to do so may imply recognition of removal of the Freedmen as citizens,” the letter states.

And finally, in regards to absentee voter rules in LA-26-14, the letter states that it is an amendment to Title 26 of the Cherokee Nation Code Annotated.

“Approving LA-26-14 may be interpreted as approving LA-04-14; therefore, we decline to approve LA-26-14,” it states.

Hembree said tribal officials met with the BIA and Department of Justice to seek clarification of the letter and to also present additional information and as well as inform the bureau on action the CN has taken to resolve certain issues which is what led to the withdrawal of the May 11 BIA letter.

He added that the many within the tribe fully expected a decision to have come down from the courts regarding the May 4, 2014 hearing on the Freedmen issue, but it has not.

“But whatever that ruling is we will assess it and take the action that is most beneficial to the Cherokee Nation,” Hembree said.

Click here to viewthe letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Click here to viewthe updated letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Former Cherokee Nation Community Services Group Leader Charlie Soap, far left, answers a question at the Cherokee Phoenix’s principal chief debate on May 16 at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. On stage with Soap are his opponents, from left to right, state Rep. Will Fourkiller, Principal Chief Bill John Baker and former Principal Chief Chad Smith. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Former Cherokee Nation Community Services Group Leader Charlie Soap, far left, answers a question at the Cherokee Phoenix’s principal chief debate on May 16 at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. On stage with Soap are his opponents, from left to right, state Rep. Will Fourkiller, Principal Chief Bill John Baker and former Principal Chief Chad Smith. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

4 principal chief candidates debate tribal issues

BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
05/27/2015 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The four candidates running for Cherokee Nation principal chief addressed their concerns and ideas for the tribe during the Cherokee Phoenix’s principal chief debate on May 16 at Northeastern State University.

The principal chief race is between incumbent Bill John Baker, state Rep. Will Fourkiller, former CN Community Services Group Leader Charlie Soap and former Principal Chief Chad Smith.

The candidates were asked eight questions between their opening and closing remarks. The Phoenix staff composed the questions and the Editorial Board vetted them. The questions’ topics were provided to all candidates 24 hours in advance to ensure fairness and allow them to prepare.

One question focused on the tribe investing more than $100 million into building new or expanding current health facilities while dealing with patient wait times and quality of care.

Soap said the tribe needed to hire and train more health care providers.

“What I would do in order to improve the health care would be to do a comprehensive survey at the facility and ask staff what the problem is because they work in those situations every day and they know what the problem is and how to solve that problem,” he said.

Fourkiller said as a former CN health care employee, he knows what the employees go through.

“We need to hire more staff,” he said. “We have a great health facility but it can be better. Our wait times will not decrease until we get more staff in. We also need to work on quality over quantity, continuity of care.”

Baker said at some facilities, before new ones were built, there was a lack of space and some doctors only had one exam room for patients. He also said the CN is working with Oklahoma State University for the tribe to start a medical school so doctors can work at the tribe’s clinics.

“We’re taking care of people and elders come up and tell me stories about how we saved their life and how we’ve got better health care then we did the private sector,” he said. “Our employees are doing a great job.”
Smith said tribal funds don’t have to be taken away to build facilities and that some physicians take pay cuts to work at the tribe before leaving because of repressive working conditions.

“It’s poor management caused by nepotism and cronyism,” he said. “We have to correct those things for the Cherokee Nation to develop the health care system that we each want and deserve.”

Candidates were asked which housing program has been most effective at providing sustainable housing.

Baker said all the programs are good, but his administration’s new home-building program hasn’t taken Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act funds away from the Mortgage Assistance or Housing Rehabilitation programs.

“We build homes by Cherokees for Cherokees in their rural communities,” he said. “I think there are 400 houses under construction in some part of the Cherokee Nation right now. I believe it’s going to be something that we’ve gone above and beyond and we’re still doing the other (housing programs.)”

Smith said the current housing program is not working as it should and that many people signed up for the program will wait several years before getting a home.

“It’s not serving its purpose by creating an expectation that cannot be delivered,” he said. “We’ve learned in the past that Cherokees don’t thrive well in tract houses crunched together. We have to get a housing program where there’s easy entry and places where there’s communities where people want to stay, raise their families and live.”

Soap also said that the current program has failed because few houses have been built and that the CN should concentrate on people in substandard housing.

“There’s really nothing complicated about it,” he said. “We just need to provide affordable housing to our citizens who are living in substandard homes. There has to be a fairness in the selection process of the people who are getting these homes also.”

Fourkiller said Cherokees deserve to have safe, affordable and quality housing and the CN needs to make sure the funds are spent properly.

“If we were to enlist and hire more in-house crews to go in for the rehabs or new builds that would allow many more TERO (Tribal Employment Rights Office) vendors to be available to come in and open up the playing field there and that would put more Cherokees to work in the Cherokee Nation,” he said.

Candidates also answered a question regarding hiring more Cherokees for executive level positions at Cherokee Nation Businesses.

Soap said the tribe should encourage those who have the ability be executives to take on those positions.
“I really believe we have strong leaders, young Cherokees that can be executive level if given (their) fair share, and to me, we have people at that level. We have Cherokees (who) can hold those positions if given that opportunity, and we don’t need outside consultants to come in and tell us how to run our business because we’ve got 300,000 Cherokees. Somebody’s bound to be smart enough to hold those positions,” he said.

Fourkiller said the tribe should employee Cherokees at all management levels, develop a program to motivate youth to become those leaders and expand internship programs.

“It’s time that we empower our youth and grow our young Cherokees into leaders,” he said.

Baker said some of those non-Cherokees working at CNB have been with the tribe for years, and if the tribe were to let them go they would receive a “golden parachute.”

“As chief of the Cherokee Nation I don’t hire anybody at CNB,” he said. “There’s a board of directors that are all Cherokee. I can’t see where they’ve hired maybe one non-Cherokee in leadership and it was because of his expertise. But we do have internship programs and we do have mentorship programs and they’re working hard every day to bring young Cherokees up to take over behind them.”

Smith said the former CNB CEO did an outstanding job bringing in money for the tribe and that Baker’s administration terminated his contract, paying him $2.8 million. Smith also said Baker was one of the Tribal Councilors who approved that CEO’s contract years before.

Smith added that CNB’s chief finical officer and current CEO are not Cherokee and that Cherokees can be found for those positions.

The candidates were also asked about their Cherokee fluency and what their plan was to ensure the Cherokee language thrives.

Smith said he wasn’t fluent and that’s why it’s so important.

“I would reinstate the cut that Mr. Baker made to Northeastern State University’s language program,” he said. “I would build more immersion schools in those areas where the community embraces it. We have a constitutional duty, we have a moral duty not only to our children but to our ancestors.”

Soap, who is fluent, said it’s sad to see that so much of the tribe’s language and culture are going away and the tribe hasn’t been able to motivate Cherokee speakers to help save them.

“It’s really time to get serious about saving our language,” he said. “We need to help our people to continue to have own language and our culture.”

Fourkiller said while he is not fluent he can understand some phrases. He added that statistics show the tribe doesn’t have many fluent speakers left and he would reach out to local schools within the tribe’s jurisdiction to promote the language.

“Our language and our culture is what defines us as Cherokee people,” he said. “I would definitely promote our schools that we have at the Cherokee Nation and continue to expand and grow. The technology is there. The tools are there. We have to maintain and grow programs that promote our language and our culture so we don’t lose it.

Baker said he wasn’t fluent but wished he was. He said even for children being immersed in the language all day at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School, “it doesn’t catch” unless there is a Cherokee speaking at home where the language is spoken between the child and parent.

“We need to take Cherokee speakers and give them a directed studies degree and ask them to go study math or science or early childhood so that they can come and really help our kids,” he said. “We’ve got a master-apprentice program where those Cherokees that have taught themselves to speak Cherokee are now getting mentored so they can become conversational Cherokee speakers.”
http://votesoap.com
Principal Chief candidate Will Fourkiller listens to a question posed during Rogers State University’s May 15 Cherokee Nation principal chief debate in Claremore, Oklahoma. LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON/SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT Principal Chief candidate Charlie Soap writes notes during a Cherokee Nation principal chief debate on May 15 at Rogers State University in Claremore, Oklahoma. Soap is running against Principal Chief Bill John Baker, state Rep. Will Fourkiller and former Principal Chief Chad Smith. LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON/SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT Former Principal Chief Chad Smith looks at notes while Principal Chief Bill John Baker writes notes during the May 15 Cherokee Nation principal chief debate at Rogers State University in Claremore, Oklahoma. LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON/SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
Principal Chief candidate Will Fourkiller listens to a question posed during Rogers State University’s May 15 Cherokee Nation principal chief debate in Claremore, Oklahoma. LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON/SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

Rogers State holds principal chief debate

BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
05/27/2015 09:15 AM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – Focusing on health care, job creation and government transparency, four principal chief candidates got in their opening salvos May 15 in a televised debate at Rogers State University.

Hosted by RSUTV and moderated by KOTV anchor Scott Thompson, Principal Chief Bill John Baker, state Rep. Will Fourkiller, former Principal Chief Chad Smith and former Cherokee Nation Community Services Group Leader Charlie Soap spelled out their positions on a host of issues facing the Nation.

Questions on health care took up the first half of the hour-long debate, as candidates were grilled on the Affordable Care Act, Oklahoma’s refusal to expand Medicaid and how to improve health care in the CN.

Citing poverty rates across northeastern Oklahoma and the high number of visits to CN health facilities from patients without third-party insurance, the four candidates called Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision to not expand the Medicaid coverage base a mistake.

“It’s done a lot of damage to not increase access to Medicaid,” Soap said. “So many of the rural people are in poverty and can’t obtain it. As someone that does use Medicaid and has insurance, it’s still difficult to get medical expenses paid. It’s even tougher for those people who couldn’t get Medicaid.”

Fourkiller, a former registered nurse and the only candidate to work in health care, said a key issue to improving medical care within the 14 counties for Cherokees and non-Cherokees is simply bringing in more qualified health care workers to smaller communities.

“We have new facilities going in, which is great. However, it’s about recruitment and retainment,” he said. “We’ve got great health care workers and staff, but they’re overworked. We must educate our bright young Cherokees to go to nursing school, medical school or PA (physician assistant) school and then get them to come back to rural Oklahoma.”

All four candidates also agreed that while the tribe needs to continue its efforts to diversify its business portfolio beyond gaming, that push would not involve marijuana cultivation or sales. The Department of Justice announced in 2014 that it would not enforce federal marijuana statutes in Indian Country if certain regulations were met, such as not selling to drug cartels. Even with that proviso, none of the four showed much interest in taking the initiative to legalize and commercialize marijuana in northeastern Oklahoma.

“I think I would leave that to the council,” Soap said, drawing chuckles from the audience. “However, this is Bible Belt country, and I don’t think it’ll pass though.”

Although the candidates also agreed that government transparency and citizen access to information is important, both Smith and Soap took shots at the current administration by claiming it is blocking access to information and censoring the Cherokee Phoenix via budget cuts.

“This administration did not cut the Phoenix’s budget,” Baker said. “This administration sent over a fully-funded budget to the council and the council cut the Phoenix’s budget. I’ve done everything I could to reinstate that funding. I put in my own budget $800,000 so every Cherokee could have a free Phoenix and the Phoenix is yet to agree to that.”

The Phoenix’s budget was slashed by 25 percent in 2012. The newspaper’s archives confirm the council’s Executive and Finance Committee proposed the funding reduction, citing a desire to make the newspaper financially independent.

According to the minutes from the Phoenix’s Editorial Board meeting on March 18, there have been meetings between CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Phoenix representatives about a memorandum of understanding regarding the use of money from a Citizens Access To Transparency Fund to provide free print subscriptions for one year. However, a final agreement has not been reached and would be subject to approval by the Editorial Board before the free subscription program could start. The minutes also note that the earliest that program could start would be in August after the election cycle.

Smith and Baker also traded barbs over the Registration Office’s backlog, which as of April, was estimated at about two years for a first-time citizenship application. Baker pinned the blame on an inherited antiquated system and an overall increase in applications, while Smith accused the Registration Office management of adding to the problem.

“The reason there’s a backlog is pretty simple: they’ve taken resources, doubled the budget and I don’t know if there’s a nice way to say this, but gone on a dog and pony show rather than stay at home and process the applications already there,” Smith said.

The full debate is available online at http://rsu.tv/rsu-tv/cherokee-principal-chief-debate-2/.

Redbird Smith Health Center expansion to open June 1

BY STAFF REPORTS
05/26/2015 04:00 PM
SALLISAW, Okla. – On June 1, Cherokee Nation’s Redbird Smith Health Center will open its expansion at 10 a.m. at 301 S. J.T. Stites Blvd. in Sallisaw.

According to Cherokee Nation Communications, the tribe will debut the 30,000-square-foot annex that doubles the size of the health center.

“The $10.7 million expansion adds radiology and lab, pediatrics, more outpatient space, optometry and pharmacy with drive thru. The addition also features a built-in community safe room,” according to a CN Communications release. “In 2014, the health center saw nearly 117,000 patient visits and is expected to serve up to 145,000 patient visits with the new services and facility expansion.”

The tribe also recently opened the new health center in Ochelata, and are slated to open a new health center in Jay as well as an expansion in Stilwell in June.

The event is open to the public and tours will be available after remarks from tribal officials.
http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/index/9233

BREAKING: BIA denies election law amendments, CN awaits clarification

BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
05/26/2015 02:00 PM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – The Bureau of Indian Affairs Eastern Oklahoma Regional Office released a letter on May 11 to Principal Chief Bill John Baker that states it declined to approve LA-04-14 and LA-26-14, both amendments to the tribe’s election laws.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said the decision to decline to approve the amendments will not interfere with the tribe’s upcoming election.

“We will have an election June 27,” Hembree said. “I want to be very clear on that.”

The Regional Office offered comments regarding how it reached its decision.

“Because LA-04-14 is so extensively intertwined with the appropriate provisions within the 1999 Constitution, it is impossible to propose revisions to LA-04-14 to reference appropriate provisions within the 1976 Constitution,” the letter states. “Because LA-04-14 purports to be based on the authority in a Constitution which the Regional Office does not recognize, we decline to approve LA-04-14.”

The Regional office also referred to the term “citizen of the Cherokee Nation” stating that provisions in LA-04-14 indicate that only persons of Cherokee blood are tribal members.

“Given the extensive litigations regarding the Freedmen, the Regional Office cannot approve LA-04-14 because to do so may imply recognition of removal of the Freedmen as citizens,” the letter states.

And finally, in regards to absentee voter rules in LA-26-14, the letter states that it is an amendment to Title 26 of the Cherokee Nation Code Annotated.

“Approving LA-26-14 may be interpreted as approving LA-04-14; therefore, we decline to approve LA-26-14,” it states.

Hembree said tribal officials met with the BIA and Department of Justice to seek clarification of the letter and to also present additional information and as well as inform the bureau on action the CN has taken to resolve certain issues.

“We had a very fruitful communication last week and the Bureau of Indian Affairs is considering additional information that we’ve given them and we look forward to a clarifying letter coming from the bureau really soon,” Hembree said.

He said the information shared with the bureau included the efforts made by the CN to resolve the Freedman issue, including having the case tried on its merits, which occurred in May 2014.

“We have expected to have a decision on this matter and it is at no fault to anyone. We don’t have it. That is information that the BIA did not consider in its initial letter nor did they consider the fact that they have previously approved the election procedures that are substantially the same back in 2011.”

The possibility of the act remaining unapproved by the BIA and requiring the CN to revert back to the original law prior to the amendments made in 2011 are uncertain at this time.

“That has yet to be determined, but there have been no substantial changes as to the election law since they were previously approved in September 2011,” Hembree added. “We expect to hold our elections on June 27 under the laws that have been passed by the Cherokee Nation to date.”

Click here to viewthe letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs.

1920s silent film, Native American cast get due decades late

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
05/26/2015 12:00 PM
DALLAS (AP) – A long-lost silent film admired by historians as a rare visual account of Native American customs is being released after a private detective in North Carolina stumbled across a damaged copy.

“The Daughter of Dawn” - first screened in Los Angeles in 1920 - features a large cast of Comanche and Kiowa people and shows scenes of buffalo hunting and ceremonial dances obscured by time. The copy, discovered more than a decade ago, has been restored and was screened in Texas this week, ahead of its commercial release later this year.

“We were just so stunned that it existed,” said Jeff Moore, a project director for the Oklahoma Historical Society, which purchased reels of the film from the detective in 2007.

The delicate restoration work took years, and an orchestral score was completed in 2012. A year later the Library of Congress added the movie to its National Film Registry, describing the work as “a fascinating example of the daringly unexpected topics and scope showcased by the best regional, independent filmmaking during the silent era. ...”

The same year the movie was first screened, it survived a fire that destroyed the Dallas warehouse where the small Texas Film Co., which produced “The Daughter of Dawn, stored most of its work.

Somehow, a copy ended up in the care of a North Carolina resident, who offered five nitrate celluloid reels to the private detective as payment in an unrelated matter, Milestone Film owner Dennis Doros said.

The detective then sold the reels of the movie - shot in the Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma - to the Oklahoma Historical Society for more than $5,000 before Milestone was recruited as the distributor. The historical society retains ownership of the original nitrate film, which is being stored at the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study in Los Angeles.

“It’s a really compelling story for film restoration,” Doros said. “There’s still hope for lost films. How many times do you get to premiere a film 95 years after its production?”

An initial screening of the 87-minute, black-and-white film was held this week at an Amarillo library.

“The village scenes, the hunting scenes all look very accurate,” Michael Grauer with the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum told the Amarillo Globe-News. “It’s a little bit Hollywood-ed up. ... But the fact that they used native actors was groundbreaking, really quite astonishing.”

Two of the approximately 300 Comanche and Kiowa people in the film, which portrays a fictional love story that also serves as a record of Native-American traditions, are children of legendary Comanche chief Quanah Parker, whose exploits were widely recounted on the frontier.

Author S.C. Gwynne, whose book “Empire of the Summer Moon” accounted the rise and fall of the Comanche, said during his research he came across only one film germane to the tribe, a two-reeler western from 1911 called “The Bank Robbery” in which Parker had a role.

“I would think that a film featuring only Native Americans would possibly be unique,” he said. “Who at that time only made a film featuring Native Americans? That, to me, is something of great rarity.”

Moore said the Oklahoma Historical Society had known about the film because years ago it had obtained the works of a photographer who was on the movie set, but it was thought the film was lost.

“This is so visually interesting and it is very much an Oklahoma story because you have two of the premier tribes in the state, and then you have the horse culture,” he said. “It’s so indicative of the southern plains.”

Bryan Vizzini, an associate professor of history at West Texas A&M University, said “The Daughter of Dawn” was a striking departure from the racial stereotypes found in films from that time, such as D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation.”

“And here’s this small independent film company that gets it right,” Vizzini said. “It’s a very un-Hollywood kind of experience.”

The film will be released on DVD and Blue-ray, and made available through online outlets.
http://www.cherokeephoenix.org
Professional gravestone conservator Jonathan Appell of West Hartford, Connecticut, visits with Frank Cullum of the Sequoyah County Historical Society, left, and Tahlequah historian Beth Herrington about the process for resetting a leaning headstone. The visit took place during a gravestone workshop on May 8 at the Tahlequah Public Cemetery. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Professional gravestone conservator Jonathan Appell, center, assists workshop students with lifting a headstone off of its base during a May 8 workshop at the Tahlequah Public Cemetery. The headstone was cleaned and its base leveled. Assisting with the effort was Eddie Akminokeky, of Lawton, and Ricky Talbot of Maysville, Arkansas. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Professional gravestone conservator Jonathan Appell of West Hartford, Connecticut, discusses the process of bonding a headstone back together during cemetery workshop held May 7-8 at the Tahlequah Public Cemetery. Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism and the Tahlequah Public Cemetery sponsored the workshop. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Professional gravestone conservator Jonathan Appell of West Hartford, Connecticut, visits with Frank Cullum of the Sequoyah County Historical Society, left, and Tahlequah historian Beth Herrington about the process for resetting a leaning headstone. The visit took place during a gravestone workshop on May 8 at the Tahlequah Public Cemetery. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Gravestone workshop helps people throughout Oklahoma

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
05/26/2015 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – People from throughout the state came to Tahlequah May 7-8 to learn how to restore, repair and preserve cemetery headstones.

Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism and the Tahlequah Public Cemetery hosted a workshop led by professional gravestone conservator Jonathan Appell. An expert in cemetery preservation planning, Appell covered how to reset stones, repair fragmented stones, repoint and clean masonry and use infill material and appropriate repair materials.

As a gravestone conservator, Appell repairs and restores historic monuments and gravestones. He said when teaching gravestone repair and restoration he emphasizes safety to prevent injuries while moving or gluing together headstones. He also emphasizes not damaging headstones that need cleaning by using substances safe for the stone.

“That’s the main focus – do no harm and try to preserve the stones to help them last longer,” he said.

Appell aid a gravestone weighs about 150 to 200 pounds a cubic foot, so precautions must be taken when lifting or placing a stone on its base. A smaller monument and its base that Appell and some students removed, cleaned and leveled during the workshop weighed about 750 pounds, he said.

Jeff Dobbins, of Fairlawn Cemetery in Stillwater, attended to learn more about how to repair broken and cracked headstones, level them and clean them properly.

“It’s a way for everybody to know how do it if they want to do it on their own or help somebody else,” he said. “We usually spend our winter time fixing and repairing the ones around our cemetery,” he said.

At 40 acres, Fairlawn is the largest and oldest cemetery in Stillwater. Dobbins said there are 17,000 people buried in it. He said he is expected to return to Fairlawn and show his coworkers, supervisors and volunteers who help at the cemetery some tips and tricks he learned at the workshop.

Travis Owens, Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism planning manager, said the conservation workshop is done annually to teach the community to preserve gravestones in family or community cemeteries.

“So, this workshop is really great in that it teaches folks that you can really be a person who can take care of their family cemetery just with some basic tools,” he said. So, you learn the basics of cleaning, what to do and what not to do, what to do if a gravestone is tilted or has fallen down to extensive things like what if a gravestone is broken in half.”

Appell has been working in cemeteries since the mid-1980s. He began by working as a monument installer of modern monuments and was a cemetery contractor who excavated and dug graves. In the 1990s, he began working on the historical aspect of cemeteries, and being from West Hartford, Connecticut, made that transition easier, he said, due to the proximity of historic cemeteries. Some Northeastern cemeteries date back to the 1600s.

“As an outgrowth of me working in the historical cemeteries I started to hold workshops and created a website that was educational in its content to help get the word out about doing things in a manner that was friendly to the stones,” he said. “As I’ve become more well-known, I travel all over the country to hold workshops like this, so that’s probably the most interesting thing is getting to work with people like the folks here...and help educate them on how to repair and clean stone.”

He also teaches people how to maintain headstones in community cemeteries without spending a lot of money. Appell said he teaches how to do the work using a limited amount of tools and materials.

Clifford Takawana, of Lawton, is a Comanche Nation citizen and chairman of a seven-person committee that oversees the care of the Otipoby Family Cemetery east of Fort Sill near Lawton. He said there are 270 burials in the cemetery.

“It’s the oldest Comanche cemetery in southwest Oklahoma. I was asked to succeed a real, dear friend after he was unable to physically do it,” he said. “A lot of our monuments need repair, so when I saw this (workshop) I said, ‘absolutely, we need to take part.’”

He said learning how to level headstones and repair them is the knowledge he needed to take back home.

“You’re afraid of breaking something, I think, and watching him (Appell) do that with very simple tools really made me understand we can fix those (broken headstones) with just a little more know-how and with just a little bit of equipment,” Takawana said.

Culture

Man finds long lost 1828 Cherokee Phoenix
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
05/20/2015 08:30 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Albert Eagle, of Stilwell, recently came across a May 14, 1828, Cherokee Phoenix issue. Eagle first saw the newspaper about 40 years ago when his grandmother, Dora Adair, was going through paperwork.

“Yeah, the last time I saw it was when I was about 13 just before going to high school. My grandmother had it laying on the bed and she was looking through other papers so I asked her ‘what is this?’ And she said, ‘it’s just an old paper I’ve been saving for years and years and years,’” Eagle said.

Eagle isn’t positive, but from what he could gather, his great-great-great-grandmother, Susie Livers, and her parents, Chulio Livers and Eliza Jackson, brought the newspaper with them when they were removed to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears in 1838-39.

He said when he saw it years ago he didn’t think to find out the newspaper’s history, why it was brought or consider how old it was.

“Thirteen years old, you don’t pay attention to things like that you know. So I left it alone and here about two weeks ago (in April) I was cleaning out an old dresser of hers and there was a bag way in the back,” he said.

When Eagle grabbed the bag several documents fell out, as well as the newspaper.

“First thing that popped in my head was that ‘yeah, I remember this,’” he said. “You know when I unfolded it, it tore a little bit so I was trying to be careful with it. What got me the most was the date on it.”

What Eagle said was most interesting about its age was that it predated the Trail of Tears and Civil War.

A big question on Eagle and his family’s minds was why his ancestors thought so much of the newspaper to bring it with them on the trail. The 53-year-old said he didn’t think to ask his grandmother years ago why it was brought to Indian Territory, but he wished he had now that she has passed.

“I kind of wished I did back then though. I would’ve tried to have somebody keep up with it. It’s just something you don’t pay attention to when you’re that age,” he said.

After speaking with Eagle initially, current Cherokee Phoenix staff members looked at photos of the four-page edition and located the name Walter Adair in an announcement as candidate for the Committee for Coosewattee District. The announcement also contained well-known Cherokees John Ridge and Major Ridge, as well as Tesahdaski and James Foster.

Staff members contacted Eagle regarding the Adair name and Eagle said he would check into it. Later, Eagle told staff members that Walter Adair was his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather and possibly the reason the newspaper was kept all these years.

Although Eagle said he and his family are working out plans for the 187-year-old print, the idea he and his sister, Margaret Wermy, had was to show it off during the Cherokee National Holiday, possibly with the Cherokee Heritage Center.

“It belongs to my sister, too. We’d like to have it taken care of, you know, and put up for display for the holiday. We’d like to share it with other people, the Cherokees,” he said. “My main concern was to share it with everybody.”

CHC interim Archivist Jerry Thompson said he was impressed with the newspaper’s quality. To preserve it, Thompson digitized it for Eagle to keep the original in good condition.

“So for it to be almost 200 years old, it’s in really great condition,” Thompson said. “The document itself is a great record for the time period. From what he had told me and from what we were seeing, he had never seen the inside of the newspaper itself and after digitizing it and him being able to look at the inside of the paper itself, it was pretty revealing. I mean you could see it on his face. And for him to have kept it in his family for this long period of time in the condition that it’s in, that’s really outstanding.”

Education

2nd judge denies Caney Valley senior feather use
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
05/21/2015 12:30 PM
TULSA, Okla. – A federal appeal from a Cherokee/Delaware high school senior wanting to wear an eagle feather at graduation has been denied.

On May 20, U.S. Chief District Judge Gregory Frizzell upheld a recommendation from Magistrate Judge Frank McCarthy to reject an injunction request from Hayden Griffith, a senior at Caney Valley High School in Washington County.

Griffith was gifted an eagle feather earlier this year by an elder specifically for her graduation, scheduled for May 21 in Ramona. After seeing a Facebook picture of Griffith in her graduation attire with the feather on her cap, school officials notified her it would not be welcome at the ceremony, prompting litigation after attempts at a compromise were unsuccessful.

In his decision, Frizzell noted that the Caney Valley senior did not meet the burden of proof to show that her rights to free speech and free expression of religion would be irreparably harmed if she were not allowed to wear the eagle feather during graduation.

“Griffith testified that her religion does not require her to attach the eagle feather to her cap at the graduation ceremony,” he wrote. “She also testified that wearing the feather shows her respect for God and the tribal elder who gave the feather to her, but that failing to attach the feather to her cap would not result in any religious detriment to her. Thus, attaching the feather to her graduation cap would be a personal expression of religious significance to Griffith, but it is not a religiously motivated practice or an activity that is fundamental to her religion.”

During a May 19federal hearing, both Caney Valley High School Principal Debra Keil and District Superintendent Rick Peters emphasized the district was trying to maintain decorum and student solidarity at its annual graduation ceremony, prompting it to set a dress code for the event more than a decade ago.

Among the edicts in that dress code are prohibitions on mortar board decorations or wearing any additional tassels, cords, sashes, stoles or collars not issued by the school or a school-sanctioned organization, such as the National Honor Society or the Future Farmers of America.

Keil testified that any student who arrives at graduation in attire that does not follow the dress code is given the opportunity to make any necessary changes to become compliant, but would be held out of the commencement exercises if he or she refused to do so.

School officials have maintained that the prohibition on is not a race-based one, but rather one that would prevent other students from adding anything and everything to their graduation regalia.

“We would have to look at granting all sorts of other requests if we allowed the feather,” Keil said. “If a student wanted to put a pentagram on their cap, we’d have to at least consider it.”

As both McCarthy and Frizzell pointed out in their findings, if Griffith attends graduation, she may wear the eagle feather on her cap until the students line up to enter the ceremony and put it back on her cap after the ceremony was over for photographs and mingling with attendees, but it would not be allowed during the ceremony itself because it would be a distraction and bring “undue attention” on Griffith while taking focus away from her classmates.

Health

CN EMS training program among top in industry
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/21/2015 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Emergency Medical Services paramedic training program is now considered one of the best training programs in the industry.

According to a CN press release, the CN is the only tribe to receive a five-year accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs for teaching paramedics to the highest national standards. The accreditation runs to March 31, 2020.

“We are the only training center in this part of Oklahoma that offers paramedic training. So our goal is to offer the highest level of education to our students,” EMS Training Supervisor Mark Bighorse said. “We believe the standards of the accreditation process help us do that.”

CAAHEP is a nonprofit accrediting organization established in 1994. It currently accredits more than 2,100 entry-level education programs within 26 health science professions.

The CN EMS had to submit its study plans, teaching curriculum and complete interviews with the accrediting agency and attend required conferences to obtain the accreditation.

The press release states that CN’s EMS is one of 10 Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic programs accredited in Oklahoma. Its ambulance services ranks in the top 1 percent in the country. CN EMS trains up to 20 students per year for the tribe and outside agencies.

“We are excited to receive the accreditation because it allows us to continue with our program,” Dana Caviness, CN EMS director, said. “Having the accreditation holds our program to a higher standard and makes us more competent.”

The paramedic-training program lasts for 18 months. This year’s program began in February and students are expected to graduate next April. Students will receive a certificate that gives them the opportunity to take the national registry test for paramedics after they complete the program.

CN EMS consists of paramedic ambulance services, which is affiliated with a 911 communications staff and a certified training center. It employs approximately 60 staff members and has four ambulances active at all times. CN EMS has a coverage area of more than 1,000 square miles and responded to more than 4,700 emergency calls in 2014.

For more information call, 918-453-5200 or email emstraining@cherokee.org.

Opinion

OPINION: Cherokee culture, language and customs not only being preserved, but advanced
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
05/04/2015 04:00 PM
Part of my sworn oath as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation is to preserve, promote and advance the language and culture of the CN. We’ve seen some wonderful examples of that recently. Our Cherokee Language Immersion School children successfully competed in a language competition at the University of Oklahoma; we showcased our culture to the world at the Smithsonian’s Cherokee Days; and we’ve done something no other tribe has done – introduced a television and online program called “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People,” which highlights the stories, language, history and culture of the Cherokee people.

Last month our immersion school kids traveled to Norman to compete in the 13th annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, a competition that showcased the skills of young Native speakers from more than a dozen Oklahoma tribes. They made all of us so proud, as they brought home awards and recognition from many categories.

This is a testament to the efforts and achievements of our Cherokee language programs. Our immersion school teaches children from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade all the subjects required by Oklahoma, but entirely in the Cherokee language. The school has become a model for all other tribes in the preservation and advancement of Native languages.

Other language programs are paying off as well. Our translation department has worked with technology giants like Microsoft, Google and Apple to bring the Cherokee language into the 21st century. Their most recent achievement was getting Cherokee on Android smart phones.

Our newest endeavor is one I am excited about. We just launched a Cherokee language master-apprentice program that provides one-on-one instruction to adults for 40 hours per week, so they can go back into their communities and teach it to others. These programs, in addition to online classes, community classes and satellite programs in schools, ensure our Cherokee language is not just preserved, but advances.

We also just returned from Cherokee Days, hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The three-day event was a joint effort between the CN and our brothers and sisters from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to showcase our shared culture and art forms, as well as each tribe’s unique traditions and cultures that developed following the Trail of Tears.

More than 25,000 people visited the museum over the weekend, taking in live art demonstrations, Cherokee storytelling, traditional dance and melodies of the Cherokee National Youth Choir and Eastern Band performers. Exporting our culture to our nation’s capital is a priceless opportunity. Visitors from countries around the world come to the three-day event for the specific purpose of learning about Cherokee culture and customs. These are people who’ve never been to the CN and may never visit, but now they know our accomplishments and legacy, and what it means to be Cherokee. Many visitors were so impressed they are already planning a trip to our CN to learn even more. This could be an economic boon for our tribe and the local economy.

This was our second straight year of participation in Cherokee Days, and it’s something we hope to continue with the Smithsonian for many more years to come.

Another new effort to share our culture and educate others has been through our new television and online program, “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People.” Our third episode debuted in April to much praise. It’s an endeavor unlike anything the CN or any other tribe has ever undertaken. The show introduces us to Cherokee people who are excelling in their fields, making a difference in their communities or inspiring others to greatness. It also tells the true history of the CN and the figures who helped shape our tribe and make it what it is today. But perhaps most importantly, it tells the stories of what a true Cherokee looks like and what his or her daily life is like. It shows Cherokee people are a modern people who contribute to and value their communities, while preserving our priceless culture, language and heritage.

The program airs in northeast Oklahoma, northwest and western Arkansas and southwest Missouri. Full episodes, individual segments and local showtimes can be found at www.Osiyo.tv. The positive feedback over the last three months has far exceeded our expectations. If you have not watched this program yet, I urge you to do so.

All these efforts combined make me so proud to be Cherokee, and I know each of you shares that same feeling. I want to thank all of you for your contributions to our tribe, our culture and our many successes. God bless each and every one of you, and God bless the CN.

People

Lawrence earns scholarship to OBU through running
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
04/27/2015 03:30 PM
STILWELL, Okla. – Running comes naturally for Stilwell High School senior Sydney Lawrence, and it has paid off for her in the form of a college scholarship to Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee.

The 17-year-old will run cross-country and indoor and outdoor track for the Bison. She was also recruited by Stephen F. Austin University, University of Central Oklahoma and John Brown University but chose OBU because of the people she met and the Christian environment.

“I loved all of the people I met there. They were all very nice, and I also loved the Christian environment. I loved how organized the cross-country and track program is and how the team and coaches are serious about getting the job done,” she said.

In Class 4A, Lawrence won state in the 3200-meter and 1600-meter runs as a freshman and is a three-time all-state cross-country runner. She won state in cross-country as a sophomore and as a senior and won a national championship as a junior.

She excelled in cross-country after picking up the sport as a freshman. Up to that point she had concentrated only on track. She said back then that she liked it because it was more relaxed and not as intense because she was not sprinting. She said she also liked running 2-mile cross-country races because it was more interesting than running in circles on a track.

Lawrence said she believes OBU decided to recruit her after she won state this past fall in cross-country.

At OBU she plans to major in exercise and sports science in physical training and strength conditioning. She said she feels like she has finally reached her goal, like her dreams are coming true.

“It was also a relief because my family has had trouble with college expenses from three girls going to college. I quit my job, so I could completely focus on getting my college paid for through running,” she said.

Lawrence is also a Fellowship of Christian Athletes All-State recipient. She is the daughter of Larry and Pam Lawrence of Stilwell.
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