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Non-recognized 'Cherokee tribes' flourish

BY TRAVIS SNELL
Assistant Editor – @cp_tsnell
01/19/2007 01:29 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Every year thousands of people are told or "discover" they have Native American blood. Sometimes it's true, sometimes not. And the tribe people most commonly associate themselves with is Cherokee.
Usually, it's harmless. But sometimes people take illegal or unethical steps to form "tribes" and sell membership. Some claim treaty rights and seek state and federal recognition, while others take federal money intended for legitimate Indian nations.

A group of Cherokee Nation employees and officials recently formed a task force to deal with these "wannabe" Cherokees.

The group consists of Dr. Richard Allen, policy analyst; Troy Wayne Poteet, executive director of the Arkansas Riverbed Authority; Tribal Councilors Jack Baker and Cara Cowan-Watts, Webmaster Tonia Williams; Teri Rhoades, Youth Business Loan Center councilor; and Richard Osborn and John Parris of the Justice Department.

And even though their task force has no official name, it does have an agenda.

"It looks at protecting our sovereignty," Allen said. "We have so many individuals and groups who are using the Cherokee name and a lot of times it's in a manner that is very inappropriate. They scam people. They charge for genealogy. They charge for DNA tests that might suggest that people could be Indian. In essence, we are looking at groups that claim to be Cherokee but have no real status and who are just distorting the culture and history."

Allen said he dealt with wannabe Cherokees for several years before Poteet became involved. From there, they got the other six task force members interested because they also deal with wannabes at their jobs.

Sometimes the situations are humorous. Allen recalled two Caucasian men from a Georgia "Cherokee" group walking around Tahlequah during one Cherokee National Holiday dressed in leather outfits and carrying a bow and a spear. Tourists began taking pictures while real Cherokees were laughing at them, he said.

But it's not funny when wannabes scam people, schools and government officials, or come together to establish tribes seeking rights.

"We don't deny that there are individuals out there who might have Indian heritage, but coming together as a group doesn't make them a tribe," Allen said. "They are creating an identity that is absolutely false."

There are only three federally recognized Cherokee tribes in the U.S. - the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, both in Tahlequah, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. The rest, task force members said, are either bogus tribes or just Cherokees coming together to celebrate their culture.

"I don't think anyone (on the task force) has an objection to someone having a Cherokee heritage club and not trying to be a tribe or nation," Rhoades said. "A large part of our objection comes from when you pretend to be an Indian tribe or nation and lay claims to treaties you have no right to. That's just wrong."

Rhoades said there are more than 200 bogus Cherokee tribes. One of the biggest is the "Lost Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri" in Dover, Ark., which has about 7,000-members. In 2005, it petitioned three state legislators to support its bid to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition. This led the Arkansas attorney general to state that the Arkansas legislature could not recognize any state tribes.

"A lot of people try to use that (state recognition) as a stepping stone by stating that a state has already recognized them, therefore they have some sort of government-to-government relationship," Rhoades said.

However, the first step to federal recognition is that a tribe must be identified as an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900, something most fake groups can't accomplish, Allen said.

According to a recent news story, the "Lost Cherokees" are again asking the BIA for federal recognition. The story stated the group has tried gaining federal recognition periodically for about 20 years.

"We are the Cherokees who never walked," group leader Cliff Bishop said in the story, referring to the Trail of Tears.

Another group asking for federal recognition is the "Cherokee of Lawrence County, Tenn." The tribe's principal chief, Joe "Sitting Owl" White, said he eventually expects his tribe to be federally recognized because he and his 800 fellow members are Cherokee, and he cites photography as proof.

"We've been called every name in the book, but we are Cherokee," he said. "We can take photos of our members and hold them up and see the Cherokee in us."

He also said his tribe has scientifically proven with DNA evidence that the Cherokee people are Jewish.

Lola Smith Scholl, leader of the "Western Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri," said her organization is also attempting to get federal recognition but declined further comment.

Task force members said wannabe groups asking for federal recognition are the reasons why it takes so long for legitimate tribes to go through the recognition process.

However, in some cases, federal recognition hasn't been needed for bogus tribes to receive federal money. Allen said two years ago the "Lost Cherokees" were receiving money from Arkansas schools for helping bring Office of Indian Education dollars to the schools.

Under the Indian Education Act, he said, schools are provided a certain amount of money for each Indian student they have enrolled. This led to "Lost Cherokee" members enrolling their children in schools as Indians, letting the schools collect the federal dollars and then charging the school a 5 percent "administration fee," Allen said.

Twenty-four public schools in Arkansas received about $1.1 million because of the scam. The Phoenix attempted to contact the group but got no response.

Poteet said he knows of a group in Nebraska that was pulling a tax benefit scam. He said county officials were extending the same tax benefits that are afforded to a nearby Omaha Indian reservation to an illegitimate "Cherokee" tribe.

"We don't know how much money they're bleeding off the Department of Labor, but we do know they are doing that in several states," Poteet said of the Nebraska group. "They are also bleeding money out of the Department of Education. And this is going on all over the country. These groups are siphoning funds intended for Indian people."

Task force members said they don't know how much federal money these groups take from legitimate tribes each year but would like to conduct a study on the subject.

"They don't take money from us (Cherokee Nation) directly or from our funding, but it takes away from Indians overall," Williams said.

In past years, a group calling itself the "Echota Cherokee of Alabama" has received money from the Administration for Native Americans for language preservation and were even partnered with Auburn University to help save the Cherokee language.

The Phoenix attempted to contact the "Echota Cherokee of Alabama" group, but did not receive a response.

Rhoades said Alabama's state recognized tribes have received federal education, health and housing funds as well as the right to sell arts and crafts as authentic Indian art.

Poteet said he and Baker have dealt with people from these groups attending National Trail of Tears Association gatherings around the U.S. He said some try to attain leadership positions in the association, while others meddle where they don't belong.

"We found that these groups have gone so long without anybody contesting their ridiculous claims, they have gained some local acceptance," Poteet said. "The consequence of that is that they want to interject themselves into interpretation issues. There have been situations where they have interjected themselves into Indian Child Welfare issues."

Rhoades said she knows a woman belonging to a fraudulent group who became a member of the Tennessee Indian Commission but didn't know what IHS (Indian Health Service) meant.

Other groups form attempting to get state and federal recognition so they can cash in on Indian gaming. In 2000, a group called the "Southern Cherokee Nation" claimed to be a sovereign nation and planned to open a gaming boat on the Arkansas River near Webbers Falls, Okla. Gary Ridge, the group's "principal chief," said his group took the boat to Webbers Falls only as a means to provide employment for its members.

"This was intended to be bingo only," he said. "This venture did not go forward, but I am hopeful for other ideas for development of a region whose people and their economic needs have been too long neglected."

Although not federally recognized, Ridge said the group was established as a band of the CN in the Treaty of 1866 with its own laws and jurisdiction.

"The Southern Cherokee actively continued its political entity within the Cherokee Nation through statehood and was continued, just as the Cherokee Nation was continued, by the 1906 Five Civilized Tribes Act under a presidential-appointed chief until the 1970 Principal Chiefs Act, which allowed the Cherokee Nation as well the Southern Cherokee to once again elect their own chief," he said. Ridge added that the group only wants to operate under the articles of the 1866 treaty and the 1906 Five Civilized Tribes Act.

However, Allen said the "Southern Cherokees" have no legitimate claims in Oklahoma.

"This area is the jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation and no other tribal entity. We see these get-rich-quick schemes all the time. The problem is that these people may be taking the goodwill and reputation that Cherokees have established over centuries and using it to mislead the government and individual citizens," Allen said.

But for whatever reason these groups form, they usually have one thing in common - charging for membership.

The "United Cherokee Nation," which did not respond to Phoenix inquiries, charges a $35 application fee, while the "Western Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri" has a $60 application fee and a $10 annual roll fee. The "Cherokee of Lawrence County" don't charge for membership but instead asks its members to "make it a priority to send $10 a month to help with the tribe" and $12 to subscribe to its newsletter.

Membership fees and dues are just two signs a "Cherokee" group isn't legitimate, task force members said. Other signs include members using Indian-sounding names such as "Two Feathers" and "Wind Caller," acting and dressing like Hollywood-stereotyped Indians or Plains Indians, asking for money to perform DNA tests or genealogical research, requirements to wear regalia to meetings and requirements to go through an Indian-naming ceremony.

Once admitted into the groups, members usually get membership cards, bogus "Certified Degree of Indian Blood" cards and genealogy certificates "proving" they are eligible for membership.

"The problem is that there are so many people out there who have access to these groups (via the Internet), and for these groups to have access to all of these people, these groups are becoming larger and larger," Williams said.

Task force members said some bogus members are New Agers searching for spiritual enlightenment, but for most, they are people seeking acceptance within a community.

"Becoming a Cherokee in a certain region affords them a status that they didn't have," Allen said. "The county commissioner might start visiting with them as Cherokees. The state legislator might acknowledge them as a tribe or as leaders of a tribe. For some, it's status, taking on an identity that they did not have."

And as more adults join these groups, their children usually follow leading to even more people living with a false identity.

"Now you are getting the third and fourth generation of people who think they are Indians. The little ones coming up are immersed in a false tribal identity. They don't know any better, but they are going to grow up thinking they are Indian," Allen said.

And that's what makes the task force's work so important. As generations come and go, more groups will emerge distorting history, language and culture; wanting federal dollars for services; land and treaty rights; sovereignty; and wanting to impose their views on Indian matters.

Task force members said they are still strategizing on how to combat the groups, but do have some ideas such as networking with other federally recognized tribes to spread information about these groups. Williams said Cherokees aren't the only Indian people being misrepresented. She said the other popular tribes dealing with bogus groups are the Delaware, Navajo and Sioux.

Developing more "informants" or people who contact CN reporting bogus groups is another step, as is getting Cherokee citizens around the country to inform government officials. Allen said many people, including legislators, don't realize that most Cherokees are located in Oklahoma and North Carolina and that for the most part the "full-blood element doesn't leave." Poteet said if citizens are willing to help, then they should talk to or write their elected officials.

"An average person can help stop these groups by writing a local legislator and pointing out that states should not be in a position of creating Indian nations," he said.

In the long run, Allen said, states not recognizing bogus groups would be a major step in stopping them.

"Ultimately, I think the elimination of state recognition would be one way of looking at it, but we don't want to do harm to those tribes who have a legitimate claim who yet haven't been able to determine what it is they require for federal recognition," he said. "People who want to claim Cherokee heritage, who have legitimate claim to it, usually don't act in the manner as wannabes. It's those who put on feathers and act like an Indian tribe are the ones we have problems with."
About the Author
Travis Snell has worked for the Cherokee Phoenix since 2000. He began as a staff writer, a position that allowed him to win numerous writing awards from the Native American Journalists Association, including the Richard LaCourse Award for best investigative story in 2003. He was promoted to assistant editor in 2007, switching his focus from writing to story development, editing, design and other duties.

He is a member of NAJA, as well as the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and Society for News Design.

Travis earned his journalism degree with a print emphasis in 1999 from Oklahoma City University. While at OCU, he served as editor, assistant editor and sports reporter for the school’s newspaper.

He is married to Native Oklahoma publisher Lisa Snell. The couple has two children, Sadie and Swimmer. He is the grandson of original enrollee Swimmer Wesley Snell and Patricia Ann (Roberts) Snell.
TRAVIS-SNELL@cherokee.org • 918-453-5358
Travis Snell has worked for the Cherokee Phoenix since 2000. He began as a staff writer, a position that allowed him to win numerous writing awards from the Native American Journalists Association, including the Richard LaCourse Award for best investigative story in 2003. He was promoted to assistant editor in 2007, switching his focus from writing to story development, editing, design and other duties. He is a member of NAJA, as well as the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and Society for News Design. Travis earned his journalism degree with a print emphasis in 1999 from Oklahoma City University. While at OCU, he served as editor, assistant editor and sports reporter for the school’s newspaper. He is married to Native Oklahoma publisher Lisa Snell. The couple has two children, Sadie and Swimmer. He is the grandson of original enrollee Swimmer Wesley Snell and Patricia Ann (Roberts) Snell.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
09/22/2017 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – For World War II veteran Jack Shamblin, being on this year’s Cherokee Warrior Flight is more than a trip. It’s another chance to visit the grave of his grandson, Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, who was killed by ISIS and laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery in 2015. He is among eight Cherokee veterans who will leave for the nation’s capital to visit several war memorials and tour the Capitol building as part of the Cherokee Nation’s fourth annual Cherokee Warrior Flight. At 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa a special dinner in the Sky Room will honor the veterans. The three World War II veterans, three Korean War veterans and two Vietnam veterans will be presented with vests and hats with Cherokee Warrior Flight patches from Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden. “It’s quite an honor to be recognized by the Cherokee Nation, and I look forward to sharing this trip with Joshua’s brother, Zack,” Shamblin, 90, of Roland, said. “I love this country, and I am thankful to the Cherokee Nation for everything they have done for my family and for so many other veterans.” The flight departs at 6:30 a.m. from Tulsa International Airport for Washington, D.C., on Monday. From Sept. 25-27, the veterans will tour Arlington National Cemetery, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Wall and the U.S. Capitol before arriving back in Tulsa at 10:15 p.m. on Wednesday. “This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of our veterans, and one of the most important ways we can show our gratitude for their service,” Crittenden, a U.S. Navy veteran, said. “This year’s veterans represent a variety of service over many decades and many stories, and I feel honored to share this experience with each of them.” World War II veteran Wayne Kellehan, 92, of Claremore, said he is looking forward to sharing everything about the trip with his daughter, Carolyn, who is going as his chaperone. “I was so surprised to be invited on the Cherokee Warrior Flight,” Kellehan, who was a corporal in the U.S. Army, said. “It sure means a lot to me to go, and I am excited to see all that there is to see.” Also on the flight are two Vietnam veteran brothers, who had planned to attend with their third brother, but he recently died. The Cherokee Warrior Flight’s mission is similar to the national Honor Flight organization’s goal of helping all veterans, willing and able, to see the memorials that were erected in their honor. With more than 4,000 military veterans who are CN citizens, the CN is replicating that experience for its people. The veterans participating on the 2017 Cherokee Warrior Flight consist of: • Jack Shamblin, 90, Army Air Force, of Roland, World War II • Wayne Kellehan, 92, Army, of Claremore, World War II • Johnnie Crittenden, 92, Army, of Burbank, California, World War II • John Swimmer, 84, Army, of Vian, Korean War • Granvill “Buck” Murray, 84, Army, of Claremore, Korean War • Jim Quetone, 86, Army, of Tahlequah, Korean War • Ray Grass, 70, Navy, Air Force, of Locust Grove, Vietnam War • Russell Grass, 73, Navy, of Walnut Creek, California, Vietnam War.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/21/2017 04:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – In honor of the U.S. Air Force’s past seven decades of service, Cherokee Nation Technology Solutions recently partnered with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center to honor its branch’s contributions to civil engineering. The effort is part of a broader Air Force anniversary campaign to highlight multiple generations of Airmen and their service to our country. “Civil engineers have been positioning the Air Force to fly, fight and win for 70 years,” John Hansen, CNTS operations general manager, said. “We are honored to have the opportunity to help showcase their achievements and heritage through our support of AFCEC’s ‘70 Years of Civil Engineers Leading the Way’ campaign.” CNTS, a company within the consulting sector of Cherokee Nation Businesses, designed commemorative posters, artwork and web pages highlighting significant eras in Air Force civil engineering history. The campaign highlights airfield support for the Korean conflict, establishment of highly mobile, heavy-construction squadrons known as Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer or RED HORSE, construction of the Vandenberg Space Launch Complex and support for the Gulf and Afghanistan wars. The civil engineer posters are available through AFCEC for use by Air Force installations around the world. The U.S. Air Force was officially formed into its own military branch on Sept.18, 1947. The date is commonly referred to as the Air Force’s birthday and is celebrated annually. For more information on CNTS, email <a href="mailto: michael.trexler@cn-bus.com">michael.trexler@cn-bus.com</a>.
BY LINDSEY BARK
News Writer
09/21/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tribal Council unanimously passed the Cherokee Nation’s $895 million comprehensive budget for fiscal year 2018 at its Sept. 11 meeting. The comprehensive budget is comprised of the operating budget, used for tribal expenses and costs, approved at $648.3 million, plus the capital appropriations budget, which includes land purchases and construction of facilities and roads, approved at $246.7 million. In 2016, the Tribal Council’s Executive & Finance Committee approved its largest-ever beginning budget at $934.2 million for FY 2017. “The fiscal year 2018 budget has decreased by $39,209,252 primarily in the capital budget due to the ongoing construction of the Cherokee Nation Hastings joint venture project,” CN Treasurer Lacey Horn said. The W.W. Hastings Hospital joint venture project with Indian Health Services broke ground in February. Construction of the 469,000-square-foot addition in Tahlequah is expected to be completed in 2019. Horn said budget reductions in FY 2018 include a $250,000 reduction to the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation’s Housing Accessibility program; a $129,500 reduction for the completion of the Ketcher Youth Shelter repair; a $467,548 reduction for the CN Tax Commission; a $273,871 reduction for the Tribal Election Fund for the off-year election budget; and a $199,338 reduction for the secretary of Natural Resources for one-time funding. The new budget increases Health Services’ funds by $1.4 million for a total budget of $279 million, and One Fire Victim Services Office will receive an increase of $47,800 to help more victims of assault and domestic abuse. Other department increases include $147,221 for the Supreme Court for space cost and moving to the W.W. Keeler Complex’s second floor; a $276,187 increase for the CN Gaming Commission for a full year of career ladder changes; funding shifts for Registration at $857,904 and the Marshal Service’s Cherokee Nation Entertainment contract at $1.2 million. Horn said two new programs were recently granted funds through the General Fund with $132,150 going to the Tribal Historic Preservation Office and $126,053 to the Kawi Café for a one-year pilot project that was previously funded by federal grants with a continuation stipulation. Also included in the FY 2018 budget was $8 million in tribal and grant funds to be used for the preservation and protection of clean water. “As the chair of the Executive and Finance Committee, it is important to me that each Tribal Councilor fully understands each section of the budget,” Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor said. “We took our time going over every department, and in the end, the budget was passed without opposition. The full support of the council is an indication of this body’s desire to continue to serve the Cherokee people in the spirit of unity. I am proud of our ability to work together for the good of all of our citizens.” For more information on previous budgets and reports, visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/AboutTheNation/AnnualReports/BudgetAndFinancials.aspx " target="_blank">http://www.cherokee.org/AboutTheNation/AnnualReports/BudgetAndFinancials.aspx</a>.
BY WENDY BURTON
CNHI News Oklahoma
09/21/2017 10:00 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Questions on whether the Cherokee Nation has been misusing housing funds for college scholarships has led to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD is investigating whether the CN misused funds when it used Native American Housing and Self Determination Act money for the tribe’s Cherokee Promise Scholarship recipients since 2010, said Patricia Campbell, a regional public affairs officer for HUD. “SWONAP (Southwest Office of Native American Programs) office in OKC has not determined whether or not the funds were improperly used,” Campbell said in a recent email. “They have put the Nation on their list to audit in FY (fiscal year) 2018 (which starts Oct. 1). They do not have a scheduled date at this time. They tell me the tribal leaders have been very cooperative and are reviewing the situation themselves.” Amanda Clinton, CN Communications director, said CN officials have looked at the situation and believe that the funds used were allowable. “The Cherokee Nation Higher Education Department funds a portion of their scholars program out of the NAHASDA program identified in Section 18.2 of the Indian Housing Plan. The NAHASDA funding is specific to what is outlined in the IHP,” she said in a written statement. The CN did not provide any copies of the Indian Housing Plan to the Muskogee Phoenix. However, a copy of the tribe’s 2014 report to HUD found online at www.cherokee.org/lincclick.aspx indicates Section 18.2 is titled “Project-based College Housing Assistance.” The program description is: “To provide housing and everything required by the college to attend and live on the campus of Northeastern State University or Rogers State University.” The intended use is: “Payment of all required expenses and fees for living on the college campus including room and tuition.” Clinton said that annual reports of the tribe’s use of NAHASDA funds have not raised any red flags with authorities in the past. The question was raised after 98 freshmen Cherokee Promise Scholarship applicants intending to attend NSU, RSU and Connors State College received letters in early August that said: “Due to a reinterpretation of federal guidelines, a significant portion of the scholarship package is no longer available.” Subsequent media releases from the CN indicated concerns for the amount of NAHASDA funding that would be available in the future, and concerns about the greatly increased number of applicants for the scholarship were the deciding factors in the denials rather than any concern that the tribe was misusing funds from NAHASDA. Campbell said the funding the CN received for NAHASDA slightly increased in 2017, but 2018 funding is unknown. “The president’s proposed IHBG (Indian Housing Block Grant) budget for FY 2018 is $48M less than 2017. However, that is a proposal only, and there is no FY18 budget that has been enacted yet,” she said. Soon after the letters of scholarship denial were sent to the freshmen applications, the CN announced in a media release that the 98 applicants would receive the funding for which they requested for school year 2017-18, but the program for all except current sophomores, juniors and seniors will be subsequently discontinued. – REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
BY LINDSEY BARK
News Writer
09/20/2017 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service on Aug. 29 deployed a 10-member team to Houston for a week to aid in search and rescue efforts following Hurricane Harvey. The team worked with Oklahoma Task Force One to send swift-water trained marshals to help flood victims stuck in their homes. “We were working with several different Oklahoma agencies where we were at. We did evacuations, water rescues, a few short patrols, but mainly it was just calls for service, people trapped in high water,” Capt. Danny Tanner said. The marshals covered 15 square miles where water levels rose and fell because of water being let out of levies. Marshals were staged in a Target parking lot in the Memorial City Mall. With the OTF, marshals helped with approximately 1,000 evacuations, 250 water rescues, 200 animal rescues and other calls. “We train for these disasters to happen, hoping they don’t. But when they do then we’re ready to go. Our guys need to be ready within 24 hours of a disaster,” Tanner said. The team took its own supplies such as water, food, boat gas, generators, sleeping gear, fours ATVs, two UTVs and two boats. “We ran calls for seven days. They thought it was going to take 14 (days). We cleared 4,200 residences doing a door-to-door check on people, if there was anybody there,” Tanner said. CNMS Lt. Mike Roach said while working on rescues and evacuations, they discovered they needed rafts because of waters being too shallow for boats. Roach called the War Eagle Resort on Highway 10 near Tahlequah, asking manager Chance Imhoff if the marshals could rent or buy rafts. Imhoff donated four rafts, and two deputies delivered them to Houston the same night. They were used the next day. “It’s kind of interesting that help comes from local raft communities here in Cherokee County all the way down to Texas,” Roach said. One rescue included helping three Cherokee Nation citizens – Laramie George, her 5-month-old son Jasper, and her sister Terra George. Laramie was without baby supplies for her son and the marshals helped her. “I’m so blessed to have connected with them and be a Cherokee citizen. They bought Jasper diapers, formula and a new jumper. I’m ever so grateful,” Laramie said in a Facebook post. Marshals also teamed with (Muscogee) Creek Lighthorse members to work the same area. They worked together to rescue a 94-year-old Houston resident and his wife trapped in their nursing home apartment complex. Roach said Oklahomans provided a big help during the flood. “There was so much help from Oklahoma that they sent Houston Fire (Department) home to take calls from their fire stations and other parts of the city, and just let Oklahoma handle the flood. We handled all their calls that was in the floodwater while Houston did the things that they do, their other calls. So that was kind of neat for us to just pretty much take over that effort from Houston for that week.” Roach said while on the seven-day mission, Houston residents extended their kindness by providing hot meals to all aid workers. “Only thing I can say about Houston was (they had) probably the nicest people that we’ve ever tried to help. Everybody was real appreciative. They’d bring us food. They wouldn’t let us pay for anything. Nice fresh meals from strangers that didn’t know us from anything,” Roach said.
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
News Writer – @cp_bbennett
09/20/2017 12:00 PM
HOUSTON – When Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25, it dumped more than 50 inches of rain and affected many people, including Cherokees. Hurricane Harvey’s rains destroyed the home of Cherokee Nation citizen Mary Margaret DeFiore, a resident in the Cinco Ranch Equestrian Village neighborhood of Houston. Her property backs up to an area that serves as a reservoir for Houston, though she said subdivision developers failed to disclose that fact. As a result, her home was in the path of the floodwaters released from two reservoirs as they reached capacity. “We are in the group that was flooded deliberately when they opened the gates and dumped the Addicks Reservoir into the Barker Reservoir so that the people with the county estates would be less affected,” DeFiore said. “We were never expecting to be victims of somebody releasing from another reservoir into ours because ours is like the affordable housing section of the builders who built down here.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ordered the floodwaters’ release and is now facing a lawsuit by Fulkerson Lotz LLP on behalf of several communities, including DeFiore’s. The firm estimated the release caused approximately $3 billion in damages, according to the Houston Business Journal. “In our suit, we are asking only that the government compensate property owners for their losses caused by the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to use their home as a flood plain,” stated the law firm in a Facebook post. “We understand that the government felt it had to release to avoid a greater problem, but when the Corps made the decision to use vast residential and business areas as a water holding pen, it took those properties just as if it had taken them to make a road.” DeFiore said there was minimal warning to evacuate beforehand, and afterwards she and her husband faced price gouging at a hotel as they sought shelter. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has since stepped in to house her husband and other first responders, while DeFiore has been taken in by “the kindness of strangers.” The couple’s home suffered damage and the future is uncertain while Houston begins its recovery. “The house, there’s no carpeting. Everything’s torn up,” DeFiore said. “We had the cabinets removed. I need to have my insulation vacuumed out and then new insulation put back in because of the moisture. My walls in the entire house, the wallboards are cut all the way up to four feet. I don’t know what we’re going to do because we can’t move back in. I’m a nomad. I’m going to max out my credit cards. The insurance does not cover housing or food or anything. I’m going to have to have time to sit down on my computer and start applying for grants so that we can get our lives back.” CN citizen Vicki Henrichs, who lives in a Houston suburb, also suffered damage to her home after the release of floodwaters from two upstream dams. As with DeFiore, Henrichs said her neighborhood was only given warning of the release the day before. “Social media appeared to be the warning system, as residents looked outside to see water gushing from storm drains, then engulfing their yards and houses at frightening speed. Many sent alerts for rescue by social media,” she said. “The northern portion of my subdivision is a disaster area where most could not return to homes for many days to retrieve the majority of possessions due to remaining high water.” Henrichs escaped the brunt of the damage, though home repairs are still ongoing after more than 30 inches of rain created a crack in her ceiling and two feet of floodwaters and mold filled her garage. Harvey is not her first hurricane for Henrichs, who weathered Hurricane Rita in 2005. She credits that experience and her Cherokee roots for when it came time to prepare. “Credit my Cherokee maternal grandmother and my Cherokee mother for advocating for preparedness for many conditions,” she said. “Therefore, I always have ‘hurricane ready’ nonperishable foods and supplies and do supplement them for (a) typical hurricane season. Additionally, I have an emergency kit for my dog and ready-to-go baggage for my own needs.” Wade McAlister, Cherokee Citizens League of Southeast Texas president, said his group held a meeting after Harvey made landfall to begin organizing and collecting gift cards for affected families. “The families that do need stuff can use those over time, and it’s something that we can continue to give out two to three months from now,” he said. “It’s not like a bunch of bottled water and then they don’t need water anymore or we have a bunch of clothes and we don’t need clothes anymore. The needs are always changing.” CCLST Vice President Michele Hayes said many gift cards were for Lowe’s Home Improvement, Target and Wal-Mart so that families can buy essentials and start rebuilding. “The long-term things are going to be the hardest like paying for gas and groceries or just ice because since they don’t have a home, they’ve been forced to keep their food in coolers because they don’t have refrigerators. Just think about camping long term, what you would need, that’s what they need,” she said. As of Sept. 19, the organization had helped more than 20 families, and that number was expected to rise. “We’re still getting requests and we’re still getting donations,” he said. “I think during the storm and during the initial aftermath and even now during the recovery, I think Houston is showing the best side of its citizens. This is the most diverse city in the United States and everybody has been able to come together and take care of each other.” Information on how to donate to the CCLST can be found at <a href="http://www.cherokeeatlarge.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeeatlarge.org</a>. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott estimated that recovery would take several years and cost $150 billion to $180 billion. According to The Weather Channel, the Category 4 hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph when it made landfall near Rockport.