The sun sets at Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Okla., which Cherokee NationEntertainment bought from the Choctaw Nation in December. (Photo courtesy ofChoctaw Nation)

Cherokee Nation buys Blue Ribbon Downs

12/14/2009 09:27 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Entertainment officials on Dec. 10 announced that they closed a deal with the Choctaw Nation to purchase Blue Ribbon Downs, a horse racing track in Sallisaw. The property consists of nearly 100 acres in Sequoyah County and is located near Interstate 40 and Highway 64, two miles west of the Cherokee Casino Sallisaw, which CNE operates. “We had an opportunity to purchase property that is within our tribal jurisdiction so we always closely consider that, and see it as a wise business decision to take advantage of that any time we can,” CNE CEO David Stewart said.The BRD purchase means CNE now owns two horse racing tracks. The other is Will Rogers Down in Claremore. CNE officials stated in a press release that there are no “immediate plans” for BRD. In a Dec. 14 meeting, CN administration officials said the property was purchased for the real estate and assets and that they would not reopen it as a horse track. Principal Chief Chad Smith said there was no economic viability for the property as a race track.
According to the Sequoyah County Clerk’s Office, the tribe bought the property for approximately $2.5 million. CNE’s purchase of BRD includes land, facilities and equipment.
“The purchase is also an opportunity for us to utilize some of the equipment at Will Rogers Downs, which will provide some needed upgrades at that facility,” Stewart said.CNE had planned to purchase the property in 2003 at a sheriff’s auction. However, a Choctaw Nation-owned business bought it for $4.25 million a day before the auction.The Choctaws put the property up for sale more than a year ago. Claiming financial problems they ended their six-year operation of BRD, which included horse racing and electronic gaming, in November after the track’s fall racing dates concluded. BRD began racing in the early 1960s. In 1984 it became the state’s first track to offer pari-mutuel racing. However, the track has a history of financial struggles. Not only did the Choctaws experience financial problems with it, but past owners did as well. The track has been in bankruptcy twice – in 1997 and 2002.“The Choctaws did an excellent job in trying to make the track profitable,” Stewart said. “As owners of a track in Oklahoma, we understand the economics of the industry.”In 2008, the Choctaw Nation chose not to renew its license with the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, signaling the closure of the track. BRD is now considered an unauthorized gaming facility. The Cherokee Phoenix contacted the Choctaw Nation for comment regarding the sale, but was referred to the CNE press release.
About the Author

Jami Murphy graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2000. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2006 from Northeastern State University and began working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2007.

She said the Cherokee Phoenix has allowed her the opportunity to share valuable information with the Cherokee people on a daily basis. 

Jami married Michael Murphy in 2014. They have two sons, Caden and Austin. Together they have four children, including Johnny and Chase. They also have two grandchildren, Bentley and Baylea. 

She is a Cherokee Nation citizen and said working for the Cherokee Phoenix has meant a great deal to her. 

“My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Leaf Springston, worked for the paper long ago. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve learned so much about myself, the Cherokee people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Jami is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilynnmurphy or on Facebook at • 918-453-5560
Reporter Jami Murphy graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2000. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2006 from Northeastern State University and began working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2007. She said the Cherokee Phoenix has allowed her the opportunity to share valuable information with the Cherokee people on a daily basis. Jami married Michael Murphy in 2014. They have two sons, Caden and Austin. Together they have four children, including Johnny and Chase. They also have two grandchildren, Bentley and Baylea. She is a Cherokee Nation citizen and said working for the Cherokee Phoenix has meant a great deal to her. “My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Leaf Springston, worked for the paper long ago. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve learned so much about myself, the Cherokee people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” Jami is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilynnmurphy or on Facebook at


04/27/2015 04:30 PM
BUNCH, Okla. (AP) — The Oklahoma State Bureau of investigation is looking into a fatal officer-involved shooting in Adair County. The OSBI says the shooting occurred at about 11:10 a.m. Sunday when an unnamed Oklahoma wildlife officer approached three people fishing in the Bunch area of far eastern Oklahoma. The officer asked to see their fishing licenses and learned that one of them had an outstanding warrant for parole violation in Arkansas. The officer attempted to take the man into custody and he began to fight. Both men fell into a pond where the suspect tried to hold the officer's head under water. The officer fought his way above the water and fatally shot the suspect. The name of the suspect was not released. The district attorney will determine whether the shooting was justified
Senior Reporter
04/27/2015 01:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Speakers and former teachers of the Cherokee language are worried about its state and how the tribe could be one generation away from losing it. During a February presentation about the language, Cherokee Nation Community and Cultural Outreach Director Rob Daugherty said the perception that the CN has 10,000 speakers is incorrect because the survey that produced that number allowed people to “self-identify” as speakers. He said his staff conducted an informal survey to estimate how many Cherokee speakers were left in the Nation and that nearly 500 people were located. Daugherty said of those remaining speakers, some are dying each month. He said in Adair County nearly 200 people were identified as speakers in October. Within three months, 13 of them had died. “Every day we are losing our language because people are passing. The unfortunate part is all of those speakers are my age (64). We can’t count anyone below us as fluent speakers. We’ve got to do something. We’ve tried everything in the world. It’s not working. What are we going to do?” he said. “We are at a crisis folks. I would say 90 percent of our speakers are over 50. We are not replacing speakers as our elders die.” David Scott grew up in Rocky Mountain speaking Cherokee at home along with everyone in his family. English stopped when he got home from school, he said. He said the CN needs fluent speakers to teach Cherokee in the communities and share it when they can. “It’s up to the speakers to open their mouths and start teaching. I think that’s where it’s at. If they really want to save the language, they’re the ones who are going to have to start speaking up,” Scott said. “If they would start teaching their own children and the people around them, I think we would go far. The more you hear it, the more you are able to converse with somebody and ask questions whenever you need to.” Scott said speakers should wear buttons that read, “I’m a speaker. Speak to me or ask me questions.” He added that Cherokee should be spoken at Tribal Council meetings even it’s just a prayer or someone summarizing information. “You have to have the language out front. Anything the Cherokee Nation does, the language ought to be in the forefront,” he said. He said Tribal Councilors and the principal chief should promote Cherokee everywhere they go in the CN. “If that’s one of the goals of the Cherokee Nation, that’s what they ought to be doing – encouraging people to learn and encouraging people to teach,” he said. He said the tribe’s language programs have been “hit and miss” and efforts to save the language need to be organized. “We’ve got to have a goal. I don’t think everyone’s on board for a common goal. What are we trying to do? The direction we need to go, I don’t think, has ever been discussed.” Jimmy Carey of Hulbert taught Cherokee at Sequoyah High School for 14 years before retiring in 2014. He said the language’s situation is “severe” and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to find people who can speak Cherokee “all day long” without reverting to English. He said there are five speakers at the New Hope First Indian Baptist Church near Hulbert who he can speak to, and they are all older than him. He is 69. The two or three generations behind him might know some words and phrases, but are not conversational, he said. “A lot of people have knowledge of it and can say a few words, and think they can speak it, but they’re wrong, they can’t,” Carey said. “That’s why I say, we are in a very severe category of losing the language.” He said his mom told him to never be ashamed to speak Cherokee, and he’s not, but there are not many people he can talk to in Cherokee. “I had my mom up until 1997. She wouldn’t acknowledge my the English language. It was always Cherokee because she didn’t really understand it (English),” he said. “I wish that we could converse it more often what we do. We are prolonging its (language) stay on the earth by teaching words. That’s not wrong; I’m not against that at all. I told my kids when they left my class they could get as fluent in it or knowledgeable in it as they wanted to.” Growing up in Delaware County, Helena McCoy said she didn’t fully learn English until the fourth grade because Cherokee was her first language and it was spoken at home. “I was spoken to in Cherokee by my siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and all my cousins. Everyone at church spoke Cherokee,” she said. “I never saw anything different because everybody in my world spoke Cherokee.” Now living in Sequoyah County, she retired in December from teaching at the CN Immersion Charter School. Before that she taught at the Marble City School for 20 years. She said the immersion school is not producing students who can speak Cherokee as well as when fluent, first-language teachers taught there. She taught kindergarten through fifth grade in her 6-1/2 years there. “In order for immersion to be successful, in my opinion, fluent speakers need to be teaching in every class and it should go back to being a private school. What I saw was, once students leave kindergarten and first grade, teachers have to teach in English because students are being tested in English because it is a chartered school,” she said. “Computers are not being used towards learning the language. Teachers speak English more than Cherokee in classrooms. Cherokee is not heard in the hallways, on the playground, on the bus, and in the classrooms.” Scott said the school should bring in speakers from communities to interact with students. Immersion students are learning Cherokee, but he said they don’t know enough to carry it forward. “Anybody below my generation, when we’re all gone we’re going to lose it,” he said.
04/27/2015 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials are continuing the application process for a Joint Venture Project that will help provide a new hospital in Tahlequah in cooperation with the Indian Health Service. IHS Environmental Health and Engineering Director Gary Hartz said his office deals with hospital and clinic plans, designs and construction and that the CN is continuing to prepare the planning documents. “I expect that they (the documents) will be forthcoming here in the not too distant future,” Hartz said. CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said tribal officials are preparing planning documents that IHS officials will review. These planning documents will help determine what specifically IHS will fund. The next step after the planning documents are reviewed will be the negotiation period between the tribe and IHS to determine funding. In January, the CN announced it was awarded the Joint Venture Program project to help pay for a new hospital. As part of the agreement between the CN and IHS, the tribe will fund the construction of a more than 250,000-square-foot facility on the hospital’s Tahlequah campus. IHS initially provides up to $30 million per year for 20 years for staffing and operations, according to CN Communications. Hoskin said that figure was determined on the “estimated size of the facility and the types of services offered.” “A number of details remain to be worked out to determine the actual amount of funding, but CN is confident that the funding will be up to $30 million per year. IHS’ commitment will be 20 years and we anticipate that this period will be reviewed for the life of the facility,” Hoskin said. No construction can begin until IHS and tribal officials sign a Joint Venture agreement. Hoskin added that the venture would transform Hastings into a state-of-the-art health campus. “Cherokee Nation successfully leveraged its commitment to putting its own dollars toward the construction of facilities, along with our solid record for providing qualified care, to obtain this JV,” he said. “The injection of $30 million in new operating funds will benefit our entire health system, including by addressing staffing issues.” Hartz said at this time it is premature to guess or assume how much funding would be awarded to the CN for the new facility’s operation. “Until at least we get all the documents in here,” he said. “We look at not only the project justification document that’ll be coming in as one of the planning documents, but also the program of requirements, which gets a lot more into what the tribe has identified as their staffing need. And we need to go through that validation, that it’s consistent with our planning methodologies. And until all that is done, the calculation of exact dollars is not finalized.” Until all the documents are received and reviewed by the IHS, Hartz said it would be speculation on when funding amounts could be determined.
04/25/2015 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Six current Tribal Councilors have perfect attendance with regards to Tribal Council and special Tribal Council meetings, according to meeting minutes. For current legislators serving between Aug. 14, 2011, and April 13, 2015, Jack Baker, Joe Byrd, Tina Glory Jordan, Dick Lay, Janees Taylor and David Walkingstick have 100 percent attendance. Byrd began serving on the Tribal Council on Jan. 23, 2012, after winning an election to replace Bill John Baker, who became chief on Oct. 19, 2011, after a drawn-out principal chief’s race. Janelle Fullbright has 98 percent attendance and Don Garvin had a 97 percent attendance record. Lee Keener and Curtis Snell have 96 percent attendance. Harley Buzzard, who began serving on the Tribal Council on Aug. 14, 2013; Frankie Hargis, who began serving on Dec. 12, 2011; and Victoria Vazquez, who began serving on Oct. 22, 2013, have 95 percent attendance. David Thornton was next with 94 percent attendance. Julia Coates and Cara Cowan Watts both have 88 percent attendance, and Jodie Fishinghawk has 84 percent attendance. Four other people served on the Tribal Council during the time period but are no longer serving. Buel Anglen, who served from Aug. 14, 2011, to Aug. 13, 2013, had 100 percent attendance. Bill John Baker, who served about two months before becoming principal chief, also had perfect attendance. Chuck Hoskin Jr., who served from Aug. 14. 2011, to Aug. 29, 2013, had perfect attendance as well. Meredith Frailey, who served from Aug. 14, 2011, to Aug. 13, 2013, attended 93 percent of the meetings. The Cherokee Nation’s legislative branch consists of 17 Tribal Councilors. They are elected by popular vote to four-year terms. Fifteen are elected to represent the districts within the tribe’s 14-county jurisdictional boundaries and two are elected to represent CN citizens who live outside the boundaries. The Tribal Council has the power to establish laws, which it shall deem necessary and proper for the good of the Nation. According to the CN Constitution, the council shall establish its rules for its credentials, decorum and procedure however there are currently no policies regarding absences in their rules and regulations.
04/24/2015 02:00 PM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – The “Mid-Afternoon Frolic,” second edition, in May at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum is planned for younger talents. Designed for students in the seventh grade and lower, the family friendly talent show will be 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on May 3 in the museum’s Will Rogers Theater. Will Rogers entertained audiences at the “Midnight Frolic,” held on the rooftop of the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City. Patrons were entertained with music, humor and dance numbers. Named for that venue, the “Mid-Afternoon Frolic” will include talent numbers of music, humor and dance. Space is limited to 20 participants. Acts are limited to four minutes. BancFirst will sponsor cash prizes including $150 for first place, $100 for second place and $50 for third place. Applications are available on line at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>, link on Upcoming Events, by email at or by calling 918-343-8118.
04/24/2015 12:00 PM
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — In an unusually public fight, a Cherokee advocacy group is challenging a half-million dollars in extra pay the Tribal Council recently approved for itself, saying the North Carolina tribe can't afford raises for top officials while other services suffer. The dispute has exposed details of tribal operations not often seen by outsiders and comes months before elections for top tribal posts. The group argues that Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians lawmakers violated tribal law when they voted in October to give current and former council members raises retroactive to 2010, according to a letter to the council. The raises and back pay through 2015 exceed $500,000, and hundreds of thousands more in tribal funds will go to adjusted retirement benefits, the group says. "At a time when vital Tribal programs in the areas of health, elder services, families and children continue to be underfunded, such exploitation of public office for personal gain is simply unconscionable," the letter dated April 16 states. The group's Asheville-based attorney, Meghann Burke, said the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for Justice and Accountability plans to file a lawsuit in Cherokee Tribal Court if the council doesn't return the money by its May 7 meeting. The group quotes tribal law as saying pay raises can't go into effect until the council's next term and that increases "shall not exceed the amount appropriated in that fiscal year for tribal employees." All 12 Tribal Council members, who serve two-year terms, as well as the principal chief, who serves a four-year term, are up for election in the fall. Tribal lawmakers passed the pay raises 9-1, with two sitting out, in their budget in October. Budget documents obtained by the advocacy group show each member received a raise of about $10,000 for the fiscal year starting in October. The new salaries range from about $80,000 for most members to about $86,000 for chairwoman Terri Henry. The group says several former council members also received retroactive payments of as much as nearly $24,000. The members who sat out of the vote, Teresa McCoy and Albert Rose, filed protests and unsuccessfully sought to undo the raises. A memo from Rose to Henry says the "Tribal Council cannot institute a pay increase until the next Council is seated" and the raises are "a direct violation" of tribal law. If filed, the advocacy group's lawsuit would ask the court to declare the raises invalid and make the council members return the money. The tribe's acting attorney general, Hannah Smith, and Tribal Council Vice Chairman Bill Taylor declined to comment, and Henry didn't respond to a phone message. Principal Chief Michell Hicks didn't return a message left Wednesday with his assistant. In the past, dismay over raises for the council led to changes in the law. The 2004 resolution that became the law on council pay raises said tribe members felt the panel had previously given itself unfair raises of $10,000 or more. "Tribal Council should set the example for curbing spending," says the unanimously passed resolution. Documents obtained by the advocacy group show average annual pay increases for tribal employees were between 2 and 4 percent annually for the decade ending in 2013. A 2014 memo from Smith to top tribal officials says tribal employees are in a separate category from members of the government. The tribe has approximately 15,000 enrolled members and employs about 4,000 in government and tribal businesses, spokeswoman Lynne Harlan said. Most of the tribal government's revenue comes from gambling operations anchored by the sprawling Harrah's Cherokee Hotel and Casino, and the tribe is building a second casino. A report by an outside accounting firm showed that gambling provided nine-tenths of tribal government revenues for the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years. The dispute provides a wider look at tribal operations than outsiders typically get. The tribe's laws guarantee enrolled members — but not necessarily others — access to public records and meetings. A reporter for the Smoky Mountain News, a weekly newspaper that has frequently covered the tribe, wrote in December that she and other journalists were denied entry to a meeting that month. Becky Walker, one of the leaders of Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for Justice and Accountability, said a core group of 6 to 10 members has participated for years but support has swelled since the decision on pay raises. "We have been attending meetings for years ... and have been really upset with some of the decisions," she said, adding that this is the first time they've hired a lawyer to take action. There were public protests of the decision, and Walker says she's heard from many tribe employees who are upset but afraid to speak out. Concerns include that the tribe has overextended itself with the new casino and other businesses. "A lot of the enrolled members have concerns about how much debt we're in," she said.