Community and Cherokee NationEntertainment volunteers recently renovated the Belfonte community center. Thenew renovations allow the community to use the building more efficiently foractivities. PHOTO BY TESINA JACKSON

Belfonte leaders want more involvement from residents

BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
10/25/2010 06:54 AM
BELFONTE, Okla. – About 19 miles northeast of Sallisaw, along Highway 101, sits the quiet Sequoyah County community of Belfonte.

Once part of French Louisiana, Bellefonte, as it was originally spelled, is a French word meaning beautiful water. French traders who ascended the Arkansas River and its tributaries to trade with Native Americans gave the community its name.

The history of the village started for the Cherokees in the late 1820s as they drifted up Lee’s Creek from settlements around what is present-day Muldrow, along the Arkansas River. Their primary way of living was farming, fishing and hunting.

The earliest families to settle the area included the Stars, Glasses, Eagles and Seabolts, which the nearby Seabolt Cemetery is named for.

By the time of the Civil War, the community included a grade school founded by the Cherokee Nation. It was known as Lee’s Creek School and started around 1859. It was moved four times before settling on its present site, which was built in 1955. Today the school is known as Belfonte Public Schools and teaches grades pre-kindergarten through fifth.

Lee’s Creek Missionary Baptist, later renamed the Belfonte Missionary Baptist Church, began in 1869 and was one of the original eight churches to form the Cherokee Union Baptist Association. Services were held in the Cherokee language.

Today, while driving through Belfonte, one may not realize that within this community are residents trying to bring other residents together. One initiative was renovating the Belfonte Community Center. Recently, residents and Cherokee Nation Entertainment employees worked together to make the community building safer and more functional.

Volunteers installed two new doors to prevent break-ins, removed rotted trim and painted new trim, cleared old playground equipment and railroad ties and cleaned the landscaping around the property.

“We try to bring the community together to let them know that there are things going on down here now that weren’t going on in the past,” said Anita Gilbreth, secretary/treasurer of the Belfonte Community Center board. “We’re trying to get together a family movie night and a family game night. We just need to get the word out that there are things to do at the community center now. We’re just trying to get everyone involved and starting to come back to the community, and it’s just really hard.”

To get the community more active and involved, the community center board has created events for the people to participate in, including the CN Youth and Cherokee Nutrition programs, Indian taco sales, bake auctions, Cherokee language classes, GED classes, clay-work classes, basket-making classes and the recent Community Fun Day.

“We’re trying to get the community to let us know what they want to do. And we are going to try to do the traditional games and storytelling,” Gilbreth said. “If they want to do scrapbooking or exercise, they need to let us know so we can get it set up by calling us.”

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
05/24/2016 12:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On May 27, Cherokee Nation officials will honor Cherokee warriors who lost their lives while serving in the armed services with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cherokee Warrior Memorial. The ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. next to the tribe’s Veterans Center and will include the raising of the flags, a performance by the Cherokee National Youth Choir and remarks by Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden. After the ceremony, there will be a reception at the Veterans Center located at 17675 S. Muskogee Ave. For more information, call 918-772-4166.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
05/24/2016 08:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A 34,000-square-foot expansion that will provide 150 offices and space for two courtrooms at the Tribal Complex is on pace to be completed next spring. The expansion is being built on the complex’s west end as a second story. The W.W. Keeler Complex opened in 1979 and was last renovated in 1992. In 1994, an addition was made to the west side that was meant to have a second story, but funding was not available to add it. Along with the second story, plans include placing a cover on the roof of the rest of the complex for uniformity. The cover would also protect the complex’s roof and heating and cooling system. A more efficient boiler-chiller system will be installed to replace an inefficient air system. A boiler- chiller system uses water instead of air to heat and cool a structure. Compared with air, water is a more space- efficient method of transferring heat and cold around a building, and hot and cold air will be more evenly distributed throughout the building. “Mankiller (the 1994 addition) was designed for a second story. Keeler (the original building) was not, so we’ll go up several feet for more dead airspace, and then we’ll have a pitched roof over the rest of it, which will modernize it and it’s going to take care of all of our roofing problems (leaks),” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “This building is over 40 years old. It’s never had a new roof. It’s been patched ever since I can remember. One of the first things I wanted to do was get a new roof on this thing so we could protect our asset.” He said along with protecting assets, the pitched roof would lower utility bills and raise the building’s elevation so it looks more appealing. Baker said he’s been told the second story’s interior would be complete in December and the entire addition should be done in March. “They knew it was going to take a better part of a year to do this project, but when you’re working around programs, serving people each and every day and trying to keep access to all of the programs it just takes a little longer,” he said. A canopy will be built over the complex’s main entry to shelter people. Also, a courtyard will house two elevators to provide second-floor access. Three elevators will be installed to service the second story. Baker said including the tribe’s courts in the addition would save $30 million because a new building for the courts would not have to be constructed. Baker said the two courtrooms and supporting offices take up about half of the second-story expansion. “It gives them the square footage they (court officials) want. It gives them the design they want. It gives them the opportunity to be here on trust land at the complex. It will give better access to our courts by some of our programs. It will bring all three branches of government much closer together physically but still with separation,” he said. The design for the District and Supreme courts allows parties on opposing sides to enter the area from opposite elevators. “The architects and engineers that are experts in courthouses apparently have been able to do everything that they (court officials) were wanting done. So they’ve got two courtrooms. They’ve got waiting rooms for witnesses. They’ve got basically everything they dreamed they needed.” The larger courtroom will have 110 to 120 seats and seating for plaintiffs, defendants and a jury. The smaller courtroom will seat 24. Baker said there would be twice as much space as is available now in the Supreme Court. As for programs or departments that would occupy the rest of the space, Baker said it’s likely Child Support Enforcement and some or all components of Indian Child Welfare would occupy offices next to the courts because they interact with the courts on a regular basis. He said further discussions would be needed to make a final determination. Also, Baker said he anticipates the additional office space would save the CN “hundreds of thousands” of dollars annually because it would not need to rent as much office space in Tahlequah, and funding from office space rented in the complex by programs and departments would stay within the CN. Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said he began working for the tribe as a laborer varnishing the tribe’s motel in the late 1960s and has seen much growth over the years. “There’s been lots of improvement over the years, and right now we’re in the midst of unparalleled growth in the Cherokee Nation. I’m glad I’ve got to hang around and see the good things happening,” he said.
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
05/23/2016 10:02 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A Cherokee Nation employee’s constructive discharge lawsuit has raised the question of whether tribal tipsters could be subject to retribution. Citing the tribe’s Public Integrity and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2004, former Wildland Firefighter Coordinator David Comingdeer filed litigation with the tribe’s District Court against the CN, Career Services Executive Director Diane Kelley and three unnamed supervisors in April claiming he was the victim of retaliation after telling employees the tribe was about to lose a grant from the U.S. Forest Service because of non-compliance with the award’s terms. Comingdeer’s job, along with those of several other firefighters, was funded via the federal grant, the lawsuit states. According to the complaint, Comingdeer was suspended without pay twice and barred from the Tribal Complex after notifying tribal officials associated with the grant about the situation, including the Attorney General’s Office, Human Resources and Career Services. He was also subject to disciplinary action after posting about the situation on social media, according to the lawsuit. After the grant was terminated, Comingdeer was transferred to special projects officer, with a job description that makes no mention of firefighting, and placed on administrative leave, the lawsuit states. According to CN Communications, Comingdeer is still employed at the CN but could not provide any other details because of personnel policy and CN law. Speaking in general terms, CN spokeswoman Amanda Clinton said that a CN employee is not allowed in his or her workspace while on administrative leave. However, as tribal citizens entitled to services, they are not barred from the complex or other CN properties unless they have exhibited criminal behavior. In the Nation’s response to the lawsuit, Senior Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo argued that the law cited by Comingdeer and his attorney, the Public Integrity and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2004, was effectively repealed almost four years ago when the Tribal Council approved a new ethics law in October 2012, thus eliminating the waiver of sovereign immunity that came with it. The CN Ethics Act of 2012, which replaced Title 28 in the CN Code Annotated, makes no mention of the Whistleblower Protection Act or its provisions. Instead, it largely focuses on conflicts of interest and contracting with relatives of elected officials. A wrongful termination lawsuit that also claimed a violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act was filed in District Court in March 2014 – 18 months after the Tribal Council adopted the Ethics Act of 2012. However, no mention is made in any of that case’s filings whether the Whistleblower Protection Act is still in effect. Citing the pending litigation, Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd declined to comment on whether the omission was deliberate. Byrd also declined to say whether the legislative body has any plans to consider reinstating any of the Whistleblower Protection Act’s terms to the CN Code Annotated. Rather than comment on the matter, a CN Communications official deferred to the tribe’s response filed on April 26 with the District Court. As of May 16, a hearing on the case had not been scheduled. A motion is pending to have Nimmo disqualified from trying the case, as she was one of the people Comingdeer initially emailed in October 2015 about the impending grant loss.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/23/2016 09:52 AM
LOS ANGELES – A new online course called Cherokee Community Organizations and Development is being offered this summer through the University of California Los Angeles Extension. The online course will be from June 30 through Sept. 8 and will be in conjunction with the Tribal Learning Community Educational Exchange. It is open to both students and community members, and is available for three unites of transferable college credit through UCLA Extension. According to a class flier, all work will be done online except a bi-weekly video conference on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. To register for the class visit <a href="https://www.uclaextension.edu/pages/Course.aspx?reg=266571&qe=true" target="_blank">https://www.uclaextension.edu/pages/Course.aspx?reg=266571&qe=true</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/20/2016 01:45 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians will host the Keetoowah Cherokee Football and Sports Skills Camp from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on June 22. The camp will be at the UKB Celebration Grounds on West Willis Road. Boys and girls ages 8-18 are able to register for the free camp. To sign up for the camp, call Sammy Still at 918-431-1818, ext. 156 or email <a href="mailto: sstill@unitedkeetoowahband.org">sstill@unitedkeetoowahband.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/19/2016 05:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tribal Council on May 16 approved submitting more than 800 acres of tribal land to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be placed into trust status. The 809.15 acres are located in Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Delaware, Nowata and Washington counties and includes land on which four of the tribe’s health centers are built. Tracts of land being requested for trust status were on the Nation’s priority list to be submitted to the BIA in an effort to help the federal government reach their trust goal in 2016. “Placing land into trust status is an assertion of our tribe’s sovereignty,” Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said. “Trust status grants our tribe full control of our land and its uses. With more land potentially being placed into trust status, we can pursue more housing for our citizens or create more jobs for our citizens through potential economic opportunities.” The CN already has more than 61,000 acres of land in trust status. The next Tribal Council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on June 13 at the W.W. Keeler Complex.