New constitution remains on hold
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Sometimes no news is good news. But regarding the Bureau of Indian Affairs' decision whether to certify Cherokee Nation's amendment question in the May 24 general election, it's not.
Todd Hembree, vice chairman of the CN Constitution Convention Commission, said there is no new news regarding the BIA and its decision on whether to certify the citizens' vote that removes Article XV, Section 10 in the 1976 CN Constitution.
The article requires federal approval for any amendments or changes to the tribe's current constitution. Cherokee citizens voted to eliminate the federal approval clause May 24.
Julian Fite, general counsel for the tribe, said the BIA has still not certified that election and that its lack of action may be based on the recent Cherokee Freedmen lawsuit filed against the Department of Interior. The Freedmen are asking the BIA to overturn recent tribal elections and appoint a trustee to oversee Freedmen rights. The Freedmen claim they were denied the right to vote.
CN officials said earlier this year that none of the Freedmen plaintiffs ever tried to register for the May 24 tribal election.
"They (BIA) are still jacking around," Fite said. "We're talking to them, but there has been no movement on that (election certification). It all seems to be tied to their concern about the Freedmen issues that have been bouncing around. They've given us no timetable. They just haven't done anything."
Hembree said he also didn't know why the BIA is taking so long to certify the election.
"We are still waiting from the Bureau of Indian Affairs that has not certified the first election process, and I really don't know what needs to be certified," he said. "I think it's clear that Cherokee people voted on it and it passed."
He said the tribe should "pressure" the BIA because the CN "can't just sit around… and just wait."
A call was made to the BIA's Muskogee Area Office by the Phoenix, but was not returned.
Because citizens voted to abolish the amendment, they were allowed to vote in the July 26 run-off election to decide whether to retain the current 1976 Constitution or ratify the new 1999 Constitution. Cherokees voted 54 percent to 46 percent to ratify the new constitution, according to Election Commission results.
If the BIA decides to certify the amendment vote, the 1999 Constitution would automatically go into effect, Hembree said.
Some of the changes that would occur under the new constitution would include creating the office of speaker that would chair Tribal Council meetings and be third in line of succession to the head of government behind the principal chief and deputy chief, add two at-large councilors to the Tribal Council, provide term limits and set staggered council terms, establish a voting process for Cherokee voters residing outside CN jurisdiction, provide a delegate to the U.S. Congress and create the office of attorney general. The new constitution would also create District Courts in the tribe's judicial system as well as renaming the Judicial Appeals Tribunal as the Supreme Court and increasing its members from three to five.
BOSTON (AP) — Native Americans hope President Donald Trump doesn't forget America's first inhabitants as he promises to put "America first."
Tribes have been reaching out to the Republican administration since it took office last month, saying they're ready to help it meet its campaign promises of improving the economy and creating more jobs for Americans.
Five large tribes in Oklahoma — the Cherokee, Chickasaw , Choctaw, Muscogee Creek and Seminoles — have requested a meeting with the New York billionaire during his first 100 days in office so they can talk about ways to advance their common interests.
In Massachusetts, leaders of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, descendants of the Native Americans who first encountered the Pilgrims nearly four centuries ago, have been echoing similar sentiments to Trump officials as they seek approval of reservation lands to build a $1 billion resort casino south of Boston.
"Tribes are pouring billions and billions of dollars into the U.S. to help make America great again," said Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the 2,600-member, federally recognized tribe, playing off Trump's campaign slogan. "All of these economies we're creating, from resort casinos to malls to businesses. We're job creators. That's a story that's never really told."
But tribes elsewhere have already steeled for battle just weeks into the new administration.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota has asked the courts to overturn recent federal approvals for the Dakota Access pipeline. The tribe and its supporters are also planning a large demonstration in Washington on March 10.
"The Trump Administration is circumventing the law: wholly disregarding the treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux," Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing the tribe, said in a statement. "It isn't the 1800s anymore — the U.S. government must keep its promises."
The tribes along the nation's border with Mexico have also voiced concerns about the impact Trump's proposed wall will have on their sovereign lands. And other tribal advocates are closely watching what comes of Republicans' promises to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
The law included federal funds for tribal health care programs, and stripping them could have "disastrous consequences," dozens of tribal groups wrote in a December letter to congressional leaders.
Despite the uncertainties, many tribal leaders say they're still hopeful they can build on the strong relationships enjoyed under prior administrations.
They've found reason to cheer in Trump's pick to lead the Department of Interior, Ryan Zinke, a Republican congressman from Montana who's pledged to "restore trust" between the agency, the states and Indian tribes.
"Yes, we are looking for ways to partner. Now, do we have assumptions because he's been in battles with other tribes? Sure, and we're looking to clarify those assumptions," says Gary Batton, chief of the roughly 200,000-member Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. "Is he open to considering that each tribal government is its own separate entity and unique? That's the way we're approaching this."
On the campaign trail, Trump gave little indication how he might approach tribes, but many see promise in the administration's broader goals.
"Infrastructure, energy development, education and job creation," said Jacqueline Pata, a member of the Tlingit-Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska's Central Council and executive director for the National Congress of American Indians. "Those are things that have been critical in Indian Country for a long, long time."
Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, says his members will be looking for greater control over water, land, criminal justice and taxation on their sovereign lands, which straddle parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
"If Trump is about self-sufficiency and self-determination, let's see if he really means that," he said. "Give us full authority over our lands. If this land is ours, why are we asking the federal government for permission?"
Tribes with casino dreams, meanwhile, are optimistic that Trump's experience in the industry, as well as his promises to ease businesses regulations, will work in their favor, said Jason Giles, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma and executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association.
Trump once owned three Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos, though two have since shuttered and one operates under different owners.
Tribes are even willing, for now, to overlook the president's past off-color statements about Native Americans. Testifying before Congress in 1993, the then-casino mogul questioned the legitimacy of some of his tribal rivals.
"Go up to Connecticut," Trump said, referring to the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino. "They don't look like Indians to me."
Giles called Trump's past remarks "troublesome" but says he and other tribal representatives have been assured by Trump's advisers that those statements aren't reflective of the current administration, which didn't respond to requests for comment for this story.
"We're taking them at their word," he said. "We're going into this with open arms."
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During a special meeting on Feb. 16, Election Commission Administrator Brooke Tillison submitted her resignation letter to the EC, citing job stress.
At the meeting, commissioners went into executive session to discuss personnel. Upon returning Commissioner Pam Sellers motioned to accept the resignation. The motion stated that Feb. 24 was to be Tillison’s last day of employment. It also put Tillison on administrative leave until her resignation took effect.
Commissioner Carolyn Allen seconded the motion and it passed unopposed.
In a statement, Tillison wrote that she “enjoyed making a difference” at the EC, beginning her tenure at the commission as a clerk before being promoted to administrator. However, she cited job stress as the reason for resigning.
“Unfortunately the tremendous amount of stress has made it impossible for me to continue being the Administrator,” she stated. “I am very appreciative of the Commissioners and staff who continue to give their best efforts while maintaining strong morals. I wish you all the best of luck in the election and the future.”
Previously, Wanda Beaver, who stated having grievances with Commissioners Bill Horton, Hart, Martha Calico, Shawna Calico and Allen, resigned in 2014. Former Administrators Keeli Duncan and Madison Thomas resigned in 2016 and 2015, respectively.
The Phoenix requested comment from Duncan and Thomas but didn’t receive a response from Duncan, and Thomas declined to comment. The Phoenix was unable to contact Beaver.
The Phoenix requested a statement from the EC regarding Tillison’s resignation, but had not received one as of publication.
The EC also held a meeting on Feb. 14, in which it amended each commissioner’s contract and its attorney’s contract in the amounts of $15,600 and $24,000, respectively.
Also approved were three press releases to be sent to the Phoenix regarding the upcoming Tribal Council elections and a process for someone who becomes incapacitated during an election, but still would like to vote.
Commissioners also went into executive session for personnel reasons. Upon their return, they said no action was taken.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Despite denying he did anything wrong, Cherokee Nation citizen and Dist. 86 Rep. Will Fourkiller said he would accept the recommendations from a House of Representatives committee that investigated him and another state representative for sexual harassment claims.
“I take this matter very seriously and want to take steps to avoid even an appearance of impropriety,” Fourkiller, D-Stilwell, stated in a letter delivered Feb. 13 to House Speaker Charles McCall.
The special House committee recommended on Feb. 2 that Fourkiller undergo sensitivity training and have no interaction with the legislative body’s page program for a year. He was accused of making inappropriate comments to a high school-age House page in 2015.
According to the program, high schools students from the state serve as pages for a week during regular legislative sessions and do interact with legislators.
The committee’s report states when the accusation was made in 2015 Fourkiller did not acknowledge or deny making the comments. Fourkiller has since denied any wrongdoing.
“I have made the decision to voluntarily agree to follow both recommendations of the Committee,” Fourkiller wrote in the letter to McCall.
On Jan. 17, Fourkiller declined to appear before the committee saying he would only speak the to the Special Investigation Committee if the proceeding was open to the public.
According to reports, the committee had heard from witnesses in only closed sessions.
“A confidential, closed-door proceeding does not provide the equitable forum to repair my character and reputation,” he told Rep. Josh Cockroft, who chaired the committee, in a letter.
Fourkiller on Jan. 11 said he was made aware in 2015 that a page had indicated he had said something that made her uncomfortable and he had apologized.
“I do not know what I did or said, but whatever it was I certainly didn’t mean to do it, and I apologized,” he said.
He added that the 2015 incident is the only one that he was made aware of by House staff.
The House has declined to release the complaint, citing personnel reasons.
With his decision, Fourkiller avoids a vote in the Republican-controlled House on the committee’s recommendations.
The committee also recommended expelling Tulsa Republican Rep. Dan Kirby from the House. The committee’s report says Kirby took one of his legislative assistants to a strip club and received topless photos of her.
Kirby submitted his resignation on Feb. 4, which was to take effect March 1. He initially resigned in late December after reports of a publicly funded settlement with another woman surfaced, but later rescinded his resignation.
The committee also determined the House had the authority to spend money to settle the wrongful termination agreement paid to one of the accusers.
Officials said there was no financial settlement in the complaint against Fourkiller.
Fourkiller was first elected to the Dist. 86 seat in 2011. He was re-elected in 2013 and 2015. He also ran for principal chief of the CN in 2015, finishing third at 10.58 percent with 2,040 votes.
CUMMING, Ga. – The next meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will begin at 10:30 a.m. on March 11 at the 1923 Cumming School.
The school, a structure named to the National Register in 2000, is the home of the Forsyth County Historical Society and the Cumming Playhouse. The meeting will be in the library inside the building. Speakers will be local historians John Salter and George Pirkle. The men will be sharing their knowledge and research about the Blackburn/Buffington communities and the Old Federal Road. There was a great deal of Cherokee Indian commerce conducted along the Old Federal Road in Forsyth County.
The Trail of Tears Association was created to support the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail established by an act of Congress in 1987. The TOTA is dedicated to identifying and preserving sites associated with the removal of Native Americans from the southeastern United States. The Georgia TOTA chapter is one of nine state chapters representing the nine states that the Cherokee and other tribes traveled through on their way to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).
GATOTA meetings are free and open to the public. People need not have Native American ancestry to attend GATOTA meetings, just an interest and desire to learn more about this tragic period in this country’s history.
For more information about the TOTA, visit <a href="http://www.nationaltota.com" target="_blank">www.nationaltota.com</a> or <a href="http://www.gatrailoftears.org" target="_blank">www.gatrailoftears.org</a>. The address for the Old Cumming School is 101 School St.
For more information about the March meeting, email Tony Harris at <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.
STILWELL, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials on Feb. 7 donated $55,000 to four Adair County law enforcement agencies.
Tribal Council Secretary Frankie Hargis, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden presented checks to law officials. The Adair County Sheriff’s Department received $25,000, and the Stilwell, Westville and Watts police departments each received $10,000.
“As with most state-funded entities, our law enforcement agencies are feeling the budget cuts, and I’m so proud that our tribe can step up and help try to alleviate some of the budget woes,” Hargis said. “These brave men and women put their safety and lives at risk every day, and I hope that this money can help provide the necessary equipment and tools to keep them safe while they are working to keep us safe in Adair County.”
Adair County Sheriff Jason Ritchie said the tribe’s support is crucial for the safety of deputies and citizens.
“The Cherokee Nation’s support means so much to us because it provides vital equipment we need and a lot of times can’t afford, like vests, less lethal weapons and things like cars. It really means a lot to us,” Ritchie said.
Hoskin said it’s important for the tribe to be a good partner with local law enforcement in order to protect both Cherokees and non-Cherokees alike.
“Having properly equipped and funded law enforcement is vital for our communities, and that’s why the tribe dedicates a portion of its car tag sales revenue to our local agencies,” he said. “We want to be a good partner to these local agencies because we want to ensure our law enforcement can keep all members of our communities safe. I commend Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis for maintaining a good relationship with the agencies in Adair County and for always helping to meet their needs.”
The donated funds come from the tribe’s car tag sales revenue. Each year the tribe dedicates 20 percent of the revenue to law enforcement agencies.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The next meeting of the Tahlequah Writers group is 2 p.m. on Feb. 18 at the Cherokee Arts Center multi-purpose room at 212 S. Water St.
The public is invited. Area writers are encouraged to bring their works to be critiqued.
Also, attendees will be able to report on what they are up to regarding writing and reports will be provided on writing activities in the area.
Tahlequah Writers group facilitator Karen Coody Cooper announced people can purchase Tahlequah Writers’ anthology “Green Country Writing From Northeastern Oklahoma” at Blurb.com. Funds from the book’s sales go to the non-profit “Save the Illinois River.”
Writers whose works are in the anthology are Rilla Askew, Robert J. Conley, Mary J. Howard, Jessica B. Cornell, Amanada Bales, Regina McLemore, Ron Vann, Terry Alexander, Shaun Perkins, Barbara Clouse, James Murray, Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, Dusty Richards, Linda Neal Reising, Jerry E. Clouse, Pamela Chew, Jonita Mullins, Chloe Abshier, Claudia Mundell, Karen Coody Cooper, Terri M. Baker and Rodney Wilhite. The writers provide many perspectives of life in Green Country in northeastern Oklahoma.
Monthly Tahlequah Writers meetings are casual and involve news of interest to writers and updates on what attendees are writing. Attendees include poets, fiction writers, historians, essayists, humorists, playwrights, scriptwriters, and more. Meetings discuss the art of writing as well as the business of publishing and promotion.
For more information, call Cooper at 918-207-0093 or email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>. People can also visit Tahlequah Writers on Facebook.