Swimmer and Ketcher speak of serving with Mankiller

04/14/2010 07:38 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Two men who worked extremely close with the late Wilma Mankiller during her political career were former Principal Chief Ross Swimmer and former Deputy Chief John A. Ketcher. Both men spoke of their relationships with her during an April 10 memorial service at the Cherokee Nation Cultural Grounds.

Swimmer recalled on how Mankiller got her start at Cherokee Nation.

“When Wilma walked into my office and told me she had recently moved back to Oklahoma…she said, ‘I want to work for the Cherokee Nation. I want to do something for my tribe.’ Well it was pretty obvious to me that she was sincere and I thought that she’d make a good hand.”

He said he hired her for community work and planning, but ended up counting on her to do whatever needed to be done. He said Mankiller was instrumental in getting 16 miles of waterline laid in the Bell community as a self-help project.

“It was a learning experience for all of us and Wilma took it to heart,” Swimmer said. “She said this is the way the Cherokees should work and work together. And I said, ‘ well Wilma, let’s just make this a standard for the Cherokee Nation. Let’s create this Community Development Department and let’s do this from now on.’”

Swimmer said she took the position in the new department and everything they did from then on involved the people and her motivation to get the work done.

He also spoke of when he asked her to run for the deputy chief seat for the 1983 election. Mankiller won the seat and Swimmer was re-elected as principal chief. They served together from 1983-85. In 1985, Swimmer took a Bureau of Indian Affairs job and Mankiller assumed the principal chief position. However, before the 1983 election, Swimmer said she had no idea he was going to ask her to run as his deputy chief candidate.

“She was taken back and said, ‘let me think about it.’ I did not give a thought to the fact that she was a woman. I thought she was the best candidate that I had available to run and that she would do a wonderful job,” he said.

“Sometimes the Creator puts us in the right place at the right time, and I was in the right place 34 years ago when I met Wilma,” he added.

Ketcher, who served as deputy chief under Mankiller from 1985-95, said she was like a family member from the day they entered office together. However, Ketcher didn’t really know Mankiller two years before serving as her deputy chief.

“This lady stopped me in the hallway and asked what I thought the chances of Wilma becoming the deputy chief to Chief Swimmer. Since I didn’t even know that Wilma was an employee of the Cherokee Nation or anything about her work history, my answer was no opinion.”

He said as the campaign heated up, he learned of her work and what she had done for the CN.

“The voters liked what they heard also and the Swimmer/Mankiller ticket was successful. I, too, had entered the race for one of the seats for the 15-member Cherokee Nation Council at that time. I garnered enough votes to get the 15th seat, the last one that was available.”

Once Swimmer took the BIA job and Mankiller became principal chief, the council chose Ketcher to replace her as deputy chief for the rest of the 1983-87 term. Mankiller picked Ketcher as her deputy chief candidate for the 1987 election, and again in 1991.

“We went to the people for our term of four years on our own. We ran together as a team. Voters must have approved of what was happening and we were elected.”

Ketcher said she always reminded him to talk with the people, not to the people.

“See what they’re thinking because they have opinions, too,” he said. “This included everybody, especially the elders.”
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 www.facebook.com/jamimurphy2014.
jami-murphy@cherokee.org • 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 www.facebook.com/jamimurphy2014.


02/28/2015 12:00 PM
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal government decision to cancel the Washington Redskins’ trademark because it may be disparaging infringes on free-speech rights and unfairly singles the team out, lawyers argued in court papers filed Feb. 23. The team wants to overturn a decision in 2014 by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to cancel the Redskins’ trademark on the grounds that it may be offensive to Native Americans. But the team’s attorneys say the law barring registration of disparaging trademarks is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The trademark board’s decision unfairly singles out the Redskins “for disfavored treatment based solely on the content of its protected speech, interfering with the ongoing public discourse over the Redskins’ name by choosing sides and cutting off the debate. This the U.S. Constitution does not tolerate,” the lawyers write in their brief. The lawyers argue that the government has no business deciding that a name such as Redskins is disparaging and undeserving of trademark protection while deeming other names such as Braves to be content-neutral and allowable for trademarks. The team still disputes that Redskins is a disparaging term and has asked the judge to rule in the team’s favor based on that argument. But the court papers filed Feb. 23 focus on the constitutionality of the law that bans registration of disparaging trademarks. The government has intervened in the civil lawsuit to defend the law’s constitutionality. In similar cases, government lawyers have argued that the law doesn’t ban disparaging speech; it just denies the protection of a federal trademark to those words. For instance, the Redskins would not be prohibited from calling themselves the Redskins just because they lose the trademark case – they would just lose some of the legal protections that go along with a registered trademark. The team says free-speech protections should be understood more broadly. The team says the First Amendment can be violated by government restrictions that burden speech even if they don’t ban it outright. The team argues that canceling a trademark represents such a burden, especially for a football club that has used the name since 1933. A lawyer for the group of Native Americans that sought cancellation of the trademark did not return a call seeking comment Feb. 24. The team also argues that canceling the trademark after decades of lawful registration amounts due a denial of due process because of the difficulty in trying to defend itself so many years after the fact. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for May 5.
Senior Reporter
02/28/2015 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In a Feb. 13 letter, Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree informed Tribal Councilor Lee Keener that he could not use the Cherokee Nation-owned Tribal Council photograph of himself in his campaign materials for deputy chief. “It has come to the attention of the Office of the Attorney General that you have used tribal property for campaign purposes,” Hembree writes. “On numerous political advertisements, letters and emails you have used a photograph of yourself that was paid for by the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council and is currently owned by the Cherokee Nation. Much like council stationary, tribal vehicles or other tribal equipment, pictures owned by the Nation cannot be used in campaign efforts.” Hembree tells Keener to “cease and desist any use of the photograph in question” and attached the photo for clarification. He also requests that Keener removed the photo from any website, email or any electronic form and that it not be disseminated on printed material. Hembree also states that he sent a courtesy copy of the letter to the rest of the Tribal Council to “ensure that all officials are aware that use of Cherokee Nation owned photographs in campaign materials is prohibited.” Keener told the Cherokee Phoenix he would abide by Hembree’s letter and stop using the photo. “The attorney general alerted me to an issue with a particular picture we were using on campaign materials. I am happy to comply and will cease using the photo,” Keener said. Hembree said a CN citizen brought Keener’s use of the official photograph to his attention. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/2/8982_nws_150219_Keener2.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to read</a> Attorney General Todd Hembree’s letter to Keener.
02/26/2015 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In a response to a citizen’s complaint, Attorney General Todd Hembree states that Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board Vice Chairwoman Kendra McGeady did not violate the tribe’s Independent Press Act by attending a recent campaign event and was within her right to attend. In a Jan. 15 letter, Cherokee Nation citizen Cheryl Brown requested Hembree investigate the matter, stating that McGeady was present at Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden’s Jan. 6 campaign kick-off event in violation of the IPA. Legislative Act 16-09 states “board members shall not participate in any political campaign or be involved in any tribal political activity, except to exercise his or her right as a citizen to express his or her individual opinion and cast his or her right to vote.” Hembree states that under the standard provided by Cherokee law there is no evidence that McGeady acted inappropriately. He also highlights the part of the act that states “except to exercise his or her right as a citizen to express his or her individual opinion and case his or her right to vote.” “Ms. McGeady herself is not a candidate, a campaign consultant for any candidate and she does not a position in any candidate’s campaign,” the response states. “She is not collecting signatures for an initiative petition, nor soliciting campaign contributions for any candidate. Her mere presence at an event does not make her a participant in a political campaign.” He further states that a diligent citizen may attend the campaign events of many candidates and her decision to investigate the relative merits of the candidates is not a violation of tribal law. McGeady, who said her attendance at the public event was lawful, agreed with the attorney general’s decision. “I think his findings are extremely appropriate,” she said. Brown said she was glad the Attorney General’s Office looked in the issue but wasn’t shocked with Hembree’s response. “One simply has to review the opinions issued by Mr. Hembree over the past year, more specifically when dealing with the free press act, to understand the outcome of this issue,” she said. “I respectfully disagree with Mr. Hembree but appreciate the process that is in place which will allow a Cherokee Nation private citizen the opportunity to voice their concerns and request that action be taken.” In his response, Hembree also states that it is not the Attorney General Office’s responsibility to remove a Cherokee Phoenix board member, but that of the principal chief or majority of the Tribal Council. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/2/8973_nws_150219_McGeadyUpdate1.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to read</a> Attorney General Todd Hembree’s letter response to Cheryl Brown. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/2/8973_nws_150219_McGeadyUpdate2.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to read</a> Cheryl Brown's letter to CN Attorney General's Office.
02/26/2015 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Election Commission found its new Election Services Office administrator when it promoted former clerk Keeli Duncan during its Feb. 19 special meeting. After returning from executive session, Election Commissioner Shawna Calico motioned to promote Duncan to the administrator position. Duncan has worked as a clerk for seven months at the office and was promoted because of the recent resignation of Madison Cornett in early February. The administrator position, according to a 2009 Cherokee Nation Human Resources job description, requires a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university in business administration or related field. The applicant can also have six years related experience or equivalent combination of education and experience. The description also requires an experience requirement of “two years directly related experience in a supervisory capacity and or working at an election precinct.” The Cherokee Phoenix requested to see the job description used for the recent administrator job posting but had not received it from HR as of publication. Duncan, a CN citizen, said she would have a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in health care in May. The administrator position is one dictated by CN Election Code. “The administrator of the Election Commission shall be a Cherokee tribal citizen who is independently hired by the Election Commission using objective standards developed by the Election Commission,” the law states. “The administrator shall be under the direct supervision of the Election Commission.” Before the EC promoted Duncan, Election Commissioner Carolyn Allen said she could not support the move. “I think Keeli has done a fine job here in this office as clerk, and I think she has been a great asset in that position. I have nothing personal against Keeli, and I have talked with her personally about this.” Allen said. “But I think there are situations that I’ve discussed with this commission in executive session, and I think it’s not a wise decision on behalf of this commission for me to vote in support of that.” Calico moved to promote Duncan from clerk 2 to administrator at a salary of $42,000. The motion carried 3-1 with Allen voting against. Calico also motioned to promote Brooke Tillison from a clerk 1 to a clerk 3 at a salary of $12 per hour. Tillison had served as a clerk 1 for seven months. The motion carried unanimously. The commission also hired Elizabeth Catron and Alexi Poteet for the clerk 2 and clerk 1 positions, respectively. Catron passed unanimously and Poteet passed 3-1 with Allen voting against.
Senior Reporter
02/26/2015 08:00 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY – A report by the Center for Investigative Reporting shows Oklahoma’s 5,418 earthquakes tripled the number of quakes in California in 2014 and remains well ahead in 2015. Before 2009, Oklahoma was barely on the earthquake map, but in 2014 Oklahoma recorded 567 earthquakes with a magnitude 3.0 or higher on the Richter Scale. In comparison, U.S. Geological Survey data reflect that Oklahoma experienced an average of fewer than two magnitude 3.0 earthquakes per year from 1978 through 2008. The CIR’s report blames the earthquake uptick in Oklahoma on wastewater disposal wells used in fracking. Scientists also point to fracking-related activities as the reason for the earthquakes. At least 19 peer-reviewed published reports have concluded that many earthquakes occurring in Oklahoma are man-made, triggered by billions of gallons of saltwater and wastewater injected into disposal wells associated with horizontal drilling and enhanced recovery-drilling methods. The increase in the frequency and intensity of earthquakes in the state was cited as the rationale behind legislation that would require insurance carriers in Oklahoma to offer earthquake insurance coverage. Insurers would be required to offer earthquake insurance coverage to their customers under House Bill 1571, a measure proposed by state Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater. [BLOCKQUOTE]If passed, it would require all residential property insurance policies issued new or renewed on or after Nov. 1, 2015, to offer coverage “for loss caused by the peril of earthquake.” The coverage would be optional, but carriers would be compelled to notify their customers of its availability. Oklahomans, particularly in the northern and central sectors of the state, have been rattled by tremors since the resumption of oil and gas development during the past four years. Cherokee Nation citizen Jennifer Barger Johnson, who lives in Oklahoma City, said her home “has felt some pretty strong tremors.” “In fact last night (Jan. 29) around 6:07 p.m. there was one that only registered 2.9 (on the Richter Scale) about 3.1 miles from us. It shook the whole house rather violently but only lasted maybe 2 seconds,” she said. “The worst by far was the one that happened right after the OU-OSU game in 2011. That one rattled us incredibly and lasted a good 10 seconds. It was 5.6 (magnitude) and centered about 50 miles from us in Stillwater (Payne County).” Johnson said after that she and her husband Eric applied for and obtained earthquake insurance. “There was a 30- or 60-day waiting period from the last quake for it to go into effect, but it’s been in force for some time now,” she said. She said she pays less than $10 a month and the policy only covers her home if it is a total loss due to an earthquake. Minor damage to a home, which she hasn’t experienced, is not covered by insurance policies in Oklahoma. The Payne County tremors have caused a lot of cosmetic damage and some structural damage. “People are very concerned,” Angela Spotts of Stillwater said. “Our houses weren’t built to withstand seismic activity of this intensity and duration.” After two earthquakes occurred in Payne County in October, Spotts said wood trim around the ceiling of her house “pulled away” from the wall, and at least one crack in her house widened. HB 1571 targets insurance policies that cover residential structures of up to four dwelling units, condominiums, manufactured or mobile homes, “or a tenant’s policy insuring personal contents of a residential unit.” Coverage would be optional, not compulsory, and a customer could terminate an earthquake insurance policy or coverage “at any time,” the legislation stipulates.
02/25/2015 04:00 PM
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – The rolling hills of northeastern Arizona where cornfields lined a watering hole and sheep grazed in the distance were home to Susie Robinson and her extended family. When she moved farther east into a new four-bedroom home, it wasn’t by choice but the result of a bitter land dispute between the Navajo and Hopi tribes that dates back centuries. The federal government’s attempt to have these tribes share land failed miserably, leading to one of the largest single relocation efforts in U.S. history. Thousands of Navajos have been transplanted into new homes off Hopi land, while dozens of Hopis have been moved off Navajo land. Federal officials are trying to figure out how best to wrap up the work of the relocation program that has exceeded its original $41 million price tag by more than $500 million and dragged on decades longer than planned. The effort threatens to get even costlier with many people still awaiting new housing. “I want to move this forward,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert of California, who recently visited the reservations with other congressional delegates to hear from tribal leaders on the matter. “The relocation program was never intended to be carried on in perpetuity.” The Office of Navajo-Hopi Indian Relocation was established by Congress in the years after the neighboring tribes were assigned reservations. It underlines a history of animosity between the Navajo and Hopi that has included threats of violence over property and clashes over cultural, business and political views. Land is the most contentious issue. The Navajo and Hopi tribes have occupied the same territory for centuries, though Navajos tended to be more nomadic sheepherders and Hopis mostly resided on three mesas towering above the surrounding desert. In 1882, President Chester Arthur designated 2.4 million acres in Arizona for the Hopi Tribe and other Indians. Hopis outnumbered Navajos six to one on the land, but the Navajo population grew over time. The federal government later gave the tribes the OK to sue over the land, and the Hopis responded in 1958 by seeking sole control of it. Four years later, a federal court deemed 1.8 million acres a joint-use area. But the tribes were not amenable to sharing the land and, ultimately, Congress divided it and ordered tribal members to leave each other’s reservations. The Navajo Nation - the country’s largest reservation at 27,000 square miles - now completely surrounds the 2,500-square-mile Hopi reservation. When the federal government proposed relocation, some Navajos armed themselves and threatened bloodshed if anyone tried to move them. About a handful of Navajos who refused to leave Hopi land still live there under Hopi jurisdiction. Tensions run high at times, particularly over livestock grazing. The Hopi Tribe seized sheep from Navajos last year to preserve the vegetation. The two tribes also have clashed in other areas. Until recently, they refused to be in the same congressional district. The Hopi Tribe also has been fighting a proposal for the Navajo Nation to build an aerial tram into the Grand Canyon. “The relocation basically was a very traumatic experience for Navajo families who were directly affected,” Navajo lawmaker Walter Phelps said. “But it was also a very traumatic experience politically that has a certain amount of impact on the relationship between the tribes and the federal government.” Still, the relocation program mushroomed, with the number of people eligible for housing benefits almost four times higher than expected. In all, more than 7,200 heads of household have sought relocation benefits, representing 16,386 people. The relocation office has approved more than half of those applications. The program was slated to end in 1986, but Navajo opposition to relocation early on and a shortage of suitable land to build houses helped prolong it. Today, about 120 Navajos still await homes, 300 administrative appeals are pending, and eligibility is being determined on 65 applications, according to a recent report from the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General. The program’s cost could go up another $35 million to $82 million once those applications and appeals are settled. Robinson moved into her new, stucco house on a 1-acre plot in 1985. It was much larger than the two-room house she shared with her mother growing up. But the windows, foundation and stucco started cracking within a year, and she doesn’t have the sheep, cornfields, watering holes or ceremonial hogan she had as a child. For Robinson, the relocation house isn’t home. “I still miss my old place,” said the 60-year-old teacher who works with special education students at a school on the Hopi reservation. “If I were to get that piece of land back, I would be there in a heartbeat.” About a dozen Hopi families relocated to a community called Spider Mound on the Hopi reservation. They have decried the lack of paved roads, running water, electricity and fire suppression that the Hopi chairman’s office said they were promised. The delegation from the U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee that Calvert chairs said it saw an obvious need to address areas of disrepair but wasn’t sure that would be covered by the relocation program. The relocation effort could be completed faster with legislative changes that could include a cash payout instead of a new home, or an increase in annual appropriations, the Office of Inspector General report said. Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, whose district includes the Navajo and Hopi reservations, said she would work with the subcommittee to ensure the federal government meets its obligation to the tribes. “They heard from a lot of concerned people who are relocates who spoke very eloquently about their conditions of living and how desperate the situation is,” she said.