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 WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
07/29/2016 04:54 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After a two-year investigation, the Cherokee Nation attorney general’s office filed criminal charges on July 28 against former Cherokee Nation Foundation Executive Director Kimberlie Gilliland alleging embezzlement and fraud. The case is one of two filed against Gilliland, a CN citizen, in the tribe’s District Court. A day earlier, CNF attorney Ralph Keen II filed a civil suit asking for more than $1 million. The tribe’s case outlines nine counts against Gilliland and seeks jail time and fines. Former CN Attorney General Diane Hammons has been appointed as a special prosecutor. “It is the duty of the attorney general to safeguard the assets of the Cherokee Nation,” Attorney General Todd Hembree said. “During this investigation, we uncovered fraud and corruption that cannot, and will not, be tolerated in our organization.” The CNF, or Cherokee Nation Education Corporation, is a nonprofit created to provide Cherokee students with scholarship opportunities, ACT preparation and programs encouraging higher learning. Gilliland served as CNF executive director from Oct. 9, 2009, to July 12, 2013. The counts include irregularities in Gilliland’s travel and spending, as well as equipment. Count 1 alleges that Gilliland used CNF funds for her own and her family’s use to pay for a trip to California for her husband, Andrew Sikora, and their two minor children. It alleges she used CNF funds to pay for airline tickets and fees, parking fees, car rental fees, hotel rooms, fuel and meals. Count 2 alleges Gilliland used CNF funds to pay for hotel rooms for the benefit of her daughter and a CNF employee’s daughter in Addison, Texas. Count 3 alleges she used CNF funds to pay for a trip to California for herself and her husband. It alleges Gilliland used CNF funds to pay for airline tickets, parking fees and a car wash, meals, lodging on a ship, rental car fees, miscellaneous items, fuel and hotel rooms. Count 4 alleges she used CNF funds to buy airline tickets for herself and her husband for a trip from Portland, Oregon, to Tulsa. Count 5 alleges Gilliland used CNF funds to buy items from the Pendleton Woolen Mills Employee Sales Room in Portland. Count 6 alleges she used CNF funds to pay a parking ticket from the city of Tulsa that was issued to her personal vehicle. Count 7 alleges Gilliland used CNF funds to pay for North Park University’s online master’s degree courses for herself for a total of $21,100. Count 8 alleges she “unilaterally removed a large Hewlett-Packard” photo printer and software disks, in excess of $5,000, from the CNF corporate office to an unknown location. Count 9 alleges she used CNF funds to buy and take possession of more than $10,000 of computer equipment. It also states a substantial portion of the equipment never appeared for use in the CNF offices and the equipment’s whereabouts is unknown. If convicted, Gilliland could face a year in jail or a $5,000 fine or both and any civil remedies as provided by tribal law for each separate conviction. In a July 28 statement to the Cherokee Phoenix, Gilliland called the court filings “baseless” and said the tribe should expect a countersuit. “I was shocked when I found out about the baseless recent court filings by the Cherokee Nation. I am proud of my work during my time at the Cherokee Nation Foundation, helping promote our language and provide scholarships for my fellow Cherokees,” Gilliland wrote. “I can only assume that because these actions were filed in tribal court that the FBI and federal investigators have rejected these claims for what they are, which is a frivolous attack on a private citizen who has done nothing wrong. The only basis for this action by the Cherokee Nation is because I supported a candidate other than Bill John Baker in past elections. By maliciously slandering me in this way, the Cherokee Nation has crossed a line and should expect a vigorous countersuit in the weeks to come.” Hembree said the case was filed in tribal court because his office “respects the sovereignty of the tribal courts,” and a CN citizen allegedly committed the crimes within the tribe’s jurisdiction. In response to Gilliland’s statement about the FBI or federal investigators rejecting the case, Hembree said the tribe has jurisdiction in the case and that is why his office is prosecuting it. “The appropriate place would be the Cherokee Nation District Court,” he said. “We knew there would be political allegations in this case when it was filed. We were cognizant of that. So to eliminate any semblance of politicalization of this matter, we appointed a special prosecutor, one that is outside of this office, one who is beyond reproach, who is the former attorney general of the Cherokee Nation appointed by the previous administration that has impeccable qualifications.” Hammons said she was limited on what she could say but believes the evidence supports the charges. “Absolutely. I don’t have any equivocation about that at all,” she said. An arraignment hearing has been set for 11 a.m. on Aug. 12. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2016/7/10496_CNvGilliland(Criminal).pdf" target="_blank">Click here to read</a>the complaint document.
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
07/29/2016 08:15 AM
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Arkansas group trying to get a casino initiative on the state’s November ballot has officially gotten approval for extra time to collect voter signatures. On July 28, the Arkansas secretary of state confirmed that Arkansas Wins in 2016 collected 63,725 verified signatures, earning the group 30 extra days to get enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 general election ballot that would expand commercial gaming operations to Washington, Boone and Miller counties. Should the measure pass, Cherokee Nation Entertainment has an agreement in place to own a casino, hotel and entertainment venue in Washington County, the state’s third-most populous county and home to the University of Arkansas’ flagship campus in Fayetteville. As per state statute, the group has to get signatures from 84,859 registered Arkansas voters from at least 15 different counties. However, if a proposed initiative gets at least 75 percent of the required signatures by the initial canvassing deadline, organizers can receive extra time to collect more signatures. The deadline for the Arkansas secretary of state to certify ballot questions for the Nov. 8 election is Aug. 26. On July 27, CNE Chief Operating Officer Mark Fulton told the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors at its July meeting in Catoosa, Oklahoma, that organizers expected to know the exact number of signatures still needed before the end of July. More than 92,000 signatures were collected during the initial window and unofficial testing came back with a validation rate in the mid-70 percent range, he said. “We would have loved to have had 85,000 signatures by that first deadline, but they (Arkansas Wins in 2016) are moving along great,” Fulton said. In a statement, Arkansas Wins in 2016 spokesman Robert Coon said he was upbeat about the group’s chances at getting enough valid signatures during the extra timeframe. “Our campaign has covered significant ground in a short period of time because voters across the state understand the positive impact this proposal will have in the form of jobs, economic growth, tourism and tax revenue,” he said. “We’re pleased with the results of the secretary of state’s validation process, and we remain confident in our ability to obtain the number of signatures necessary over the next several weeks to place this amendment on the ballot this November.” Currently, gaming options in Arkansas are restricted to a statewide lottery, a horse race facility with video poker in Hot Springs and a dog racing track in West Memphis. Arkansas law only allows casinos at facilities with parimutuel betting. In a June interview with the Tulsa World, CNB officials said the Cherokee Nation’s business entity would not help gather signatures and would only help with campaigning if the measure gets on the ballot. Fulton repeated the no-canvassing stance on July 27 before the CNB board. According to financial reports filed July 15 with the Arkansas Ethics Commission, CNB donated $1 million to Arkansas Winning Initiative Inc., a separate nonprofit entity with the same stated goal and officers as Arkansas Wins in 2016. Neither CNB nor CNE is listed on any financial statements submitted by Arkansas Wins in 2016. The Cherokee Phoenix filed a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of any agreements between CNB and Arkansas Wins in 2016 regarding CNB’s involvement in the Arkansas ballot initiative and the terms of the potential casino construction. Citing confidentiality clauses and proprietary information listed within the agreement, the request was denied on July 26, but in the rejection letter FOIA Officer Gwen Terrapin wrote that CNB and CNE are parties to a contribution agreement with Arkansas Winning Initiative Inc.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/28/2016 03:13 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation attorney general’s office and Cherokee Nation Foundation filed separate cases in the tribe’s District Court against former CNF Executive Director Kimberlie Gilliland for alleged embezzlement and fraud. The attorney general’s case lays out criminal charges against Gilliland, seeking jail time and fines. Former Attorney General Diane Hammons has been appointed as a special prosecutor for the case, according to CN Communications. The CNF, represented by attorney Ralph Keen Jr., filed a civil case in District Court, seeking a repayment by Gilliland of $232,000 in funds in addition to more than $900,000 in punitive damages.” Attorney General Todd Hembree said it’s the duty of the attorney general to safeguard assets of the CN. “During this investigation, we uncovered fraud and corruption that cannot, and will not, be tolerated in our organization,” he said. According to the release, the charges stem from a more-than-two-year investigation involving irregularities in Gilliland’s salary, travel, spending and awarding of CNF scholarships. Gilliland was appointed to serve as executive director in 2009 and served until 2013. “The primary mission of the Cherokee Nation Foundation is to provide higher education opportunities to qualifying Cherokee students as a means of reaching their full academic potential,” Keen Jr. said. “Significant assets have been wrongfully embezzled and converted to the detriment of those deserving students. It is my client’s solemn duty and obligation to utilize the full extent of civil law to recover those assets and return them to the mission for which they were intended and entrusted.” An arraignment hearing has been set for 11 a.m. on Aug. 12 at the District Court, according to a court document. For more information, visit http://www.cherokee.org/attorneygeneral/Home.aspx. Check back with the Cherokee Phoenix for further developments.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/27/2016 05:00 PM
OOLOGAH, Okla. – The annual Will Rogers & Wiley Post Fly-In will be held Aug. 13 at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch. The event commemorates the Aug. 15, 1935, deaths of Rogers, a Cherokee humorist, and Post, a pilot, in Point Barrow, Alaska, 81 years ago. Pilots from throughout the area will land small planes on a 2,000-foot grass airstrip at the ranch. Some of the visiting planes are vintage warplanes from World War II and other eras. The fly-in provides an opportunity for the public to get a close-up look at airplanes and meet the pilots. Pilots are also able to meet fellow aviators and people who appreciate their planes. Called the “crash heard around the world,” newspapers all over the world reported the deaths of Rogers and Post. The two were in search of a mail and passenger air route from the West Coast of the United States to Russia. Pilots start landing shortly after daybreak and spend the morning showcasing their antique and classic planes. The fly-in started with a simple program in the shade of the house where Rogers was born on Nov. 4, 1879. It grew from a dozen or so planes to 50 planes in 2004 to a record number in 2015 of more than 130 pilots and their planes. The event outgrew the parking and a part of the ranch pasture is now parking. The “2016 National Day of Remembrance ” will be celebrated for the second year to honor any pilot and passengers who have died in a small plane crash. A lapel pin, with a picture of Rogers in a flight jacket has been designed to pay tribute to flyers. A gold circle surrounds Rogers’ photo with his quote, “She’s a beautiful day and we are flying high.” It will be presented to a family member of a deceased pilot or passenger. Additional pins are $5 each. Names of deceased pilots or passengers will be honored on the website willrogers.com, if requested. Rogers and Post are enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame and Oklahoma Hall of Fame. The major airport in Oklahoma City is the Will Rogers World Airport. Wiley Post airport, a feeder airport, is just a few miles away. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Gates will open at 7 a.m. and people are encouraged to bring lawn chairs. There will be classic cars and motorcycles on display, activities for children and food vendors. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.willrogers.com" target="_blank">www.willrogers.com</a>.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL
The Oklahoman © 2016
07/27/2016 01:00 PM
PHILADELPHIA – Four years ago, at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker called President Barack Obama “the best president for Indian Country in the history of the United States.” Baker is here this week hoping Hillary Clinton succeeds Obama in office next year. “I truly believe that Hillary gets the issues of sovereign nations,” Baker said on Monday. Baker recalled her talking to tribal officials in the mid-1990s, when her husband, Bill Clinton, was president. That discussion was soon followed by an executive order that cut through red tape and allowed tribes to deal directly with government agencies, rather than working through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he said. “I'm proud to support Hillary Clinton,” Baker said. “I think she will make a wonderful president.” The Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, is hosting delegates and visitors this week in a tent on the grounds of the Wells Fargo Center, where the Democratic National Convention is being held. The tribe has speakers scheduled throughout the week, including U.S. senators. Monday's speaker was former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris, who represented Oklahoma from 1964 to 1973, served as national Democratic Party chairman and ran for president. His former wife, LaDonna, was a prominent American Indian activist. The Chickasaw Nation is sponsoring meals in the Cherokee Nation tent. Kalyn Free, an Oklahoma delegate at the convention and an attorney for the Cherokee Nation, said Baker and his staff have dozens of meetings scheduled here this week with business leaders and members of Congress. “Our mission is to ensure tribal issues like education opportunities, improved health care access and job development that will spur economic growth in Indian County remain at the forefront of policymakers,” she said. Baker's chief of staff, Chuck Hoskin, was on the committee that wrote the platform. Muscogee Creek National Council Speaker Steve Bruner served on the rules committee. Baker's mother, Isabel Baker, a longtime Democratic activist in Oklahoma, is also a delegate here. Free said Obama “prioritized our issues like never before. He populated his staff with talented Native people, hosted tribal summits, reached settlements in the Cobell and Keepseagle cases, passed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and signed the Violence Against Woman Act. … He has set the bar very high for his successor, and I know (Clinton) will raise it even higher.” Baker met with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in Washington earlier this year and said he doesn't understand why Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump would refer to her as Pocahontas. “It makes no sense to me whatsoever,” Baker said. Warren, who was born in Oklahoma, was heavily criticized four years ago for claiming to be a Cherokee while on the faculty at Harvard University. The Cherokee Nation was not able to verify her ancestry, and Trump has chided her for it numerous times. Baker said Monday that Trump “is probably a shrewd businessman and probably a good father. “I just don't think his rhetoric is what America wants or needs.” – Reprinted with permission
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
07/26/2016 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Don’t bank on seeing Cherokee Nation or the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association officials playing fantasy football any time soon. Speaking to attendees on July 14 of the Reservation Economic Summit inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, CN Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Ross Nimmo, OIGA Executive Director Sheila Morago and OIGA Chairman Brian Foster said while they are not necessarily opposed to daily fantasy sports, that type of gaming constitutes a violation of the exclusivity provisions of Oklahoma’s current gaming compacts. Daily fantasy sports involves participants picking professional athletes to be a part of their fantasy teams for anywhere from a day to a year. Depending on those athletes’ real-life performances, a participant can win cash or other prizes. Sites such as DraftKings.com and FanDuel.com contend that fantasy sports is a game of skill rather than gambling because successful participants often research different athletes, playing conditions and other potential factors before forming their teams. However, none of the RES panelists are buying that argument. “We all know people who have no knowledge or skill of specific players who play fantasy football or whatever sport is in season,” Ross Nimmo said. “We’re (tribes) not necessarily against daily fantasy sports. We want to be involved with them. However, we have a legal right to administer and oversee certain types of gaming in this state, and it’s important that the tribes all be on the same page when it comes to this.” The current gaming compact used by the CN and more than 25 other tribes across the state provides for exclusivity for certain forms of gambling in Oklahoma in return for an annual fee. Prior to the 2016 state legislative session, a measure was introduced that would have allowed for daily fantasy sports leagues in Oklahoma. However, with the proposal viewed as a potential violation of the compact, the state’s tribes banded together to stop the proposal. “We killed that bill in seven hours,” Morago said, calling any legislative consideration of the state giving up exclusivity fees in exchange for $500,000 in commercial licensing fees “fuzzy math.” According to the OIGA, tribal gaming had a $4.2 billion economic impact statewide in 2014, the most recent year with available data. Since the implementation of Oklahoma’s Class III gaming compacts more than a decade ago, tribal casinos have contributed $1.3 billion just to the state’s education fund. “By far, gaming is the largest job creator in several counties,” Morago said. “The biggest misconception is that all Indians are rich because of gaming. It’s going to take more than 30 years (of gaming) to make that happen.” State-tribal gaming compacts, including the CN’s, are set to expire on Jan. 1, 2020. With Kansas and other states turning to commercial gaming to fill budget holes, all three panelists urged Oklahoma’s tribes to work together and present a united front in the pending negotiations. “If there are any changes, it is very important that the tribes are united on this,” Ross Nimmo said. “That way it’s a lot harder for the state to make extreme changes. If one tribe goes out on their own and strikes a deal, there’s not much leverage.”