Lawsuit says open meeting law violated
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The last-minute recognition of a half-dozen groups as tribes by the expiring Tennessee Commission on Indian Affairs is being challenged in a lawsuit.
Nashville attorney Bob Tuke filed suit on Wednesday — the day the commission was expiring because the Legislature didn't renew it under the state sunset provision. The suit claims the agency violated the open meetings law.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported the lawsuit asks a Davidson County Chancery Court to declare the action taken by the commission on June 19 as "void and without effect."
Commission members granted recognition to the Remnant Yuchi Nation; the United Eastern Lenape Nation of Winfield, Tenn.; the Chikamaka Band; the Central Band of Cherokee; the Cherokee Wolf Clan; and the Tanasi Council.
The plaintiff in the suit is Mark Greene, who lives in Tennessee and lobbies for the Cherokee Nation, which opposes state recognition of the groups approved by the commission. The Cherokee Nation is based in Oklahoma.
"The process was as bogus as the six tribes that were approved," Greene said.
In the lawsuit, Greene is quoted saying commission members "huddled together and spoke in hushed tones" at the June meeting, but would return to their seats when he and others approached them.
The filing claims the commission misled the public by not saying that tribal recognition was to be considered. Tuke also said an attorney for the commission told him recognition would not be considered at the meeting.
Members of the groups newly recognized say genealogical research and DNA tests prove their Native American lineage.
"They (Cherokee Nation) are people that think they are the only American Indians, and that nobody else is Cherokee," Joe Sitting Owl White, principal chief of the Central Band of Cherokee told The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville.
Opponents of recognizing the tribes say the groups will dilute federal grant and scholarship money now coming to established Native American tribes.
State attorneys have 30 days to file a response to the lawsuit.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At a June 26 special meeting, the Election Commission amended the contract of Commissioner Carolyn Allen by adding $15,600.
The commission also voted to give EC clerk Kendall Bishop its Employee Appreciation Award for Employee of the Year. She will receive it during the Cherokee Nation’s employee appreciation picnic on June 30.
The EC also approved minutes from the June 13 regular and June 5 special meetings.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – According to a U.S. Attorney’s Office release, 12 people, including some Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizens, were charged with marriage fraud conspiracy and related charges, for entering into sham marriages for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws.
Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, said the indictments were unsealed on June 21 naming Ruth Marie Sequoyah McCoy, 54, of Cherokee; Timothy Ray Taylor, 41, of Cherokee; Golan Perez, 38, of Cherokee; Ofir Marsiano, 41, of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; Kaila Nikelle Cucumber, 27, of Cherokee; Jessica Marie Gonzalez, 26, of Cherokee; Jordan Elizabeth Littlejohn, 28, of Cherokee; Kevin Dean Swayney, 36, of Cherokee; Ilya Dostanov, 28, of Panama City, Florida; Ievgenii Reint, 26, of St. Simons Island, Georgia; Shaul Levy, 26, of Norfolk, Virginia; and Yana Peltz, 30, of Israel.
The release states all defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. Marsiano is also charged with four counts of marriage fraud, and McCoy and Perez are each charged with three counts of marriage fraud. Taylor, Cucumber, Gonzalez, Littlejohn, Swayney, Dostanov, Levi and Peltz each face one additional count of marriage fraud.
According to allegations in the indictment, beginning in or about June 2015, and continuing through December 2016, in Swain and Jackson counties, the defendants engaged in a fraudulent marriage scheme, in which foreign nationals paid to enter into fraudulent marriages with U.S. citizens to secure lawful permanent residence in the U.S. The indictment alleges McCoy, Perez and Marsiano arranged the marriages by connecting U.S. citizens, including Cucumber, Gonzalez, Littlejohn, and Swayney, with non-citizens, including Dostanov, Reint and Peltz. The non-U.S. citizens typically would pay $1,500 to $3,000 in exchange for the services.
The indictment alleges once paired, the U.S. citizens and non-citizens would travel to Sevier County, Tennessee, and enter into fraudulent marriages with each other. The indictment states that, in most cases, after obtaining their marriage certificates, the non-citizens applied for adjustments to their immigration statuses based on their marriages to their U.S. spouses.
The indictment further alleges that, at times, McCoy and Taylor also acted as “sponsors” for the non-citizens’ applications for adjustments to their immigration statuses, and in exchange, they received additional monetary compensation.
Of the 12 defendants charged, seven were arrested on June 21 and appeared in federal court on the charges. Littlejohn, Dostanov, Reint, Levy and Peltz had not been arrested as of publication.
The marriage fraud conspiracy and marriage fraud charges each carry a maximum prison term of five years, per count.
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge won't decide until later this year whether to shut down the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline while federal officials conduct a more thorough environmental review.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg on Wednesday approved a schedule under which both sides in a lawsuit over the pipeline will submit written arguments on the matter in July and August.
"We would expect a decision sometime after that, probably September," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux, which filed the lawsuit last summer that was later joined by three other Sioux tribes.
The Standing Rock tribe sued because it believes the $3.8 billion pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners threatens cultural sites and its water supply. The company disputes that and maintains the pipeline is safe.
The long-delayed project was finished earlier this year after President Donald Trump took office and called for its completion. On June 1, the pipeline began moving North Dakota oil to a distribution point in Illinois, from which it's shipped to the Gulf Coast.
But Boasberg last week ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the pipeline, didn't adequately consider how an oil spill might affect the tribe. He ordered the agency to reconsider parts of its environmental analysis.
About 50 anti-pipeline protesters rallied outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., during Wednesday's hearing. They sang, chanted, held signs with messages such as "water is life" and gave speeches in support of the tribe.
"If that (pipeline) spills, it means game over," said the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus activist group. "It means they can't wash, they can't clean, they can't feed their children. It means their way of life ends."
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — State environmental officials say elevated mercury levels in fish have been found in 14 more lakes in Oklahoma than last year.
The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality plans a public meeting for Tuesday to discuss the mercury levels. The agency says a total of 54 lakes have mercury advisories — which is up 14 since the last advisory in 2016.
The advisories deal with mercury levels in fish and do not affect drinking water safety or lake recreational activities like swimming or boating.
The 14 new lakes added to the advisory are: Arcadia Lake, Birch Reservoir, Boomer Lake, Copan Reservoir, El Reno Lake, Greenleaf Reservoir, Lone Chimney Lake, Lake McMurtry, Lake Murray, Pawnee Lake, Lake Ponca, Lake Raymond Gary, Shell Lake and Waurika Reservoir.
HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. – While traveling the Trail of Tears’ northern route “Remember the Removal” cyclists visited sites where Cherokees stayed during their forced removal in the winter of 1838-39, with several sites housing graves of Cherokees who died along the trek.
The Trail of Tears Commemorative Park in Hopkinsville acted as a camping spot and gravesite during the removal.
Alice Murphree, Kentucky Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association president, said the site contains Chief Whitepath and Chief Fly Smith’s graves as well as a grave with unknown remains.
She said Whitepath, an assistant conductor with the Elijah Hicks detachment, died about 10 days after arriving at the site.
“He come sick coming out of Nashville, and as the trail proceeded he felt sicker and sicker. By the time they got to the spot at Hopkinsville he was so ill that the Elijah Hicks detachment had to leave him here and go on,” she said.
Murphree said Smith was “sickly” for most of the journey before dying at the site.
“Stephen Foreman (minister serving as assistant conductor of the Old Field detachment) and his wife stayed behind with him and that (Old Field) detachment moved on,” she said. “I guess it was just within a day or two. I don’t know exact dates, but they (chiefs) died within hours of one another. They (Foremans) went to the city and asked if they could bury him in the city. The city would not allow them to be buried there. The Latham family owned all of this property and agreed to let him be buried here.”
It is said that Cherokees are buried in Union County, Illinois, at the Camp Ground Church and Cemetery. Sandra Boaz, Illinois Chapter of the TOTA president, said it was determined by ground penetrating radar that there are around 10 ground anomalies the sizes of graves at the site.
“After 1834 a man by the name of Mr. Hileman took out a land patent and brought his family here. Sometime in the winter of 1837-38 he had two small preschool-aged children who passed away and he buried them, as family oral history says,” she said. “Then when the Cherokee came through…they had made arrangements for them to camp on this site. As they were stopped here due to the ice flows on the Mississippi River, naturally some of them passed away. So story says that Mr. Hileman had them buried out in the field by his little boys. So that was the basis for getting this site certified as a National Trail of Tears site with the National Park Service.”
For more information, visit www.nationaltota.com.
TAHELQUAH, Okla. – The American Indian Resource Center has received a $30,000 Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative grant from the Colorado-based First Nations Development Institute.
According to First Nations, the funding will help build a sustainable food source (fruits/vegetables) for three tribal communities with the aim of increasing consumption of healthy foods. Families will be reintroduced to growing/gathering their own foods while making healthier lifestyle choices.
The award was one of 15 program grants to Native American tribes and organizations under First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative.
According to First Nations, each funded project aims to strengthen local food-system control; increase access to local, healthy and traditional foods; and/or decrease food insecurity and food deserts, all with an emphasis on serving Native American children and families.
The release states it is hoped that the projects will noticeably improve a tribe or community’s effort to increase access to healthy and fresh foods for vulnerable children, families and communities. Additionally, the efforts will help increase awareness of and involvement with where the community’s food comes from, and expand knowledge of the linkages between foods, Native cultures and/or contribute to tribal economic growth and the development of entrepreneurially-related food ventures.
First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States, according to the release. Its states that for more than 36 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage, or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.firstnations.org" target="_blank">www.firstnations.org</a>.