TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation and W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital officials announced in January the tribe’s preliminary study to determine if it should manage some or all of the hospital’s services, currently operated by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Indian Health Service. Ed McLemore, the hospital’s CEO, and Melissa Gower, CN Health Services group leader, informed hospital officials about the study on Jan. 11. The study should be completed no later than June 1, and if tribal leaders decide to assume management, it would fall under the CN administration as part of a self-governance effort by Oct. 1. Following the announcement, Principal Chief Chad Smith sent a letter to CN employees stating that improved health care and funding were major reasons for the study. “The reasons for considering this plan are simple: better health services for our citizens and more federal funding for health services in northeastern Oklahoma,” his letter states. Smith said assuming operation of the hospital would mean more federal funding because current dollars available for patient care is limited to federal funding and third party resources. He said CN would provide additional tribal dollars with tribal shares from the Indian Health Service Oklahoma City Area Office and IHS headquarters and grant monies. “These resources could bring an additional several million dollars a year into the health services at W.W. Hastings,” his letter states. Mike Miller, CN Communications officer, said the hospital has a federal budget of $25 million. Smith said the plan is also being considered to eliminate bureaucracy. He said other tribes operate some or all of the services at Indian hospitals, and by doing so it eliminates patient confusion and allows more access to health care. He said part of the comprehensive health care system includes patients receiving better care when Hastings doctors and tribal clinic doctors have the ability to share information and work together. Smith also stressed that patient eligibility requirements would not change during the study or if the tribe decides to take over the facility. According to the IHS Web site, the common standard applied for IHS health services eligibility is that patients are enrolled citizens of a federally recognized tribe. McLemore said he acknowledges that some people won’t like the switch if it happens, but thinks it could lead to better health care for area Indians. “In discussing things with CN you get a range of opinions and some folks don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said. “But I have worked with CN Health leadership and CN elected leadership for almost five years now, and I have found them to be responsive to the health care needs of Cherokee citizens. I think this will help the care of our patients and the responsiveness we have to those patients.” McLemore said some employees are worried about their jobs. However, he said he wants them to focus on the advantages available if CN does assume management. “We have assurances that if CN does get to a decision point that they would like to assume management responsibility for the hospital, they would like to have all the employees transition over to the CN,” he said. “I don’t think CN would indicate to us in one respect and intend for everyone to transition and then change their mind. I hope that folks take a close look at the advantages to be gained from this transition.” Smith’s letter states he acknowledges the employees’ concerns and that the tribe would offer options to current employees. “If the Nation assumes services at Hastings, every employee at Hastings will be asked to stay and will be given the option to choose for themselves whether to become tribal employees or remain federal employees,” his letter states. Smith said through the self-governance compacting process, the CN is able to maintain memorandums of agreements for commissioned officers and inter-personnel agreements for civil service employees. These agreements would allow hospital employees to retain their current employment status and compensation packages with IHS and execute either an MOA or IPA with the tribe. A Hastings employee could also convert to a CN employee with the employee benefit package offered to all CN employees, as well as protections through the CN Constitution. As part of the study, the tribe sent a letter to the IHS regarding the study. Also, tribal officials said budget information would be sent to the Oklahoma City-area IHS office to clarify the transition, but that no program or budget-related changes would occur until a decision is made. Under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, the tribe is allowed to assume operation of the hospital. But before CN can do that, the issue must pass the Tribal Council’s Health Committee and full council.
Cherokee Nation studies Hastings management
SALLISAW, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials said they are moving forward with the purchase and acquisition of the historic home of the Cherokee syllabary inventor, Sequoyah. However, as of publication, CN officials had not announced a final deal. The Oklahoma Historical Society, a state agency, owns and operates Sequoyah’s Cabin near Sallisaw. The site is a Sequoyah County tourist attraction. “Sequoyah is one of our most well-known statesmen and historical figures, and his contributions to the Cherokee Nation are immeasurable,” CN Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin said in a Sept. 2 CN Communications release. “His invention of the Cherokee syllabary may be one of the single most important contributions to the advancement of the Cherokee people and Cherokee society. The Cherokee Nation is taking an important step by ensuring the preservation of Sequoyah’s homestead.” According to the release, the OHS has needed to divest itself of the property due to state budget cuts. According to a Sequoyah County Times report, it costs about $100,000 annually to maintain the cabin. “Over the past eight years, the state appropriation to the Oklahoma Historical Society has been cut by 40 percent,” OHS Executive Director Dr. Bob Blackburn said. “Fortunately for us and the legacy of Sequoyah, the Cherokee Nation is willing to assume ownership and keep the site open.” According to the CN release, Hoskin said it is “unfortunate that after 80 years, the state no longer has the resources to manage and maintain the property because the significance of Sequoyah’s homestead cannot be overstated.” Sequoyah was born in Tennessee around 1778. He began experimenting with an alphabet for the Cherokee language, and it was complete in the 1820s. The Cherokees were the first Indian tribe to develop a written alphabet, known as the Cherokee syllabary. Literacy rates among Cherokees soared within just a few years. Sequoyah was among the “Old Settlers” of the CN, who migrated to present-day Oklahoma and western Arkansas in approximately 1818, prior to the Trail of Tears. Built in1829, the one-room log cabin and more than 200 acres were acquired by the OHS in 1936. In 1965, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. According to the Sequoyah County times report, CN Natural Resources Director Gunter Gulager said the CN had paid $100,000 for the 171.54-acre property and that the property was expected to transfer to Cherokee Nation Business for management. However, according to a Sept. 6 email from CN Communications, the tribe was still in the process of buying the cabin and no deal had been finalized. According to the Sequoyah County Times, the state and tribe plan to work together to advertise and draw in tourists and that OHS officials said the money it makes from selling the cabin would be invested in other state-owned historic properties. “Our planned acquisition of the cabin is another example of the Cherokee Nation relieving the state of public use facilities that might otherwise be closed,” Hoskin said in the CN release. According to the release, in recent years the CN has assumed ownership of two Oklahoma welcome centers that still operate as welcome centers and now feature Cherokee merchandise, clothing and information on Cherokee attractions. The Cherokee Phoenix requested comment from CN officials regarding the cabin but did not receive a response as of publication.
WASHINGTON – On Sept. 26, President Obama will host the 2016 White House Tribal Nations Conference at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. This will be the President’s eighth and final Tribal Nations Conference, providing tribal leaders from the 567 federally recognized tribes with the opportunity to interact directly with high-level federal government officials and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs. Each tribe is invited to send one representative to the conference. This year’s conference will continue to build upon the President’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian Country and to improve the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives. The conference will be streamed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Applications for the 2017 “Remember the Removal” bike ride are available for Cherokee Nation citizens. The application deadline is midnight Oct. 28. The three-week, 1,000-mile ride in June teaches CN citizens ages 16-24 about their culture and history as they cycle the same route their ancestors were forced to walk in 1838-39 to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. The route travels through seven states testing the cyclists’ physical and mental endurance. If selected to participate, participants would be required to take part in a physical training schedule and attend history classes. The classes will be taught during the four months of training to prepare for the ride. Participants will learn about the struggles their ancestors. The selection committee, whose members will not be related to any applicant, will review the required essays and applications submitted. It will be looking for CN citizens willing to learn more about Cherokee history and their ancestry related to the Trail of Tears. Successful applicants will be expected to interact with the public and speak to the public about their experiences on the ride. “Remember the Removal” cyclists also will be photographed, videoed, interviewed during the trip. So the committee will be looking for riders who are personable, well-spoken and would make ambassadors for the CN. Applicants must not have participated in the program before, be 16 to 24 as of Jan. 1 prior to the event and be able to pass a sport physical provided by the CN during the post-selection orientation. It is recommended participants reside inside the tribe’s jurisdiction, including the contiguous counties. Participants may have a different temporary address while away at school. If a participant lives outside the jurisdiction he or she will still be required to make all mandatory trainings and history classes in Tahlequah. Applications are online at <a href="http://remembertheremoval.cherokee.org/ParticipationApplication.aspx" target="_blank">http://remembertheremoval.cherokee.org/ParticipationApplication.aspx</a> and must be submitted by Oct. 28. The application requires an essay about why the applicant wants to participate, three letters of recommendation mailed or emailed to <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a> directly from the recommending party by the application deadline. Letters of recommendation should not be from CN employees, administration officials or Tribal Councilors. Letters should be from someone the applicant has worked with academically or professionally or a person they have known for a minimum of three years. For more information, call Gloria Sly at 918-453-5154 or email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Election Commission called a special meeting for Sept. 16 to discuss fiscal year 2017 merit increases for staff as well as the renewal of commissioner and EC attorney contracts. Also, on the agenda were items regarding the renewal of Maxim, Center for Spatial Analysis and Hart Intercivic’s contracts. All contracts were approved except for Hart Intercivic. It was tabled due to the contract not being completed through CN contracts at the time of the meeting.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Sept. 12, Cherokee Nation citizens Twila Pennington and Melanie Fourkiller filed an initiative petition to “outlaw absentee voter fraud” by seeking a vote to institute the Election Fraud Prevention Act of 2016. Originally filed Aug. 31, it was circulated during the Cherokee National Holiday, but a question regarding the tribal Election Commission’s official stamp led to its re-filing, Fourkiller said. EC officials said documents coming to their office are stamped with a stamp that contains the date and time it was filed, as well as “Cherokee Nation Election Commission Filed.” Fourkiller said despite its re-filing, the petition remained unchanged. She said it calls to “limit the number of ballots that one notary can notarize in any election,” require “all absentee ballots…be mailed to be returned to the Election Commission,” and “prohibit anyone from harassing a voter either at their home or by telephone over their absentee ballot.” “So these are measures that we particularly feel strongly about to protect voters and the integrity of absentee ballots,” Fourkiller said. Attorney General Todd Hembree said under CN law notaries can notarize an unlimited amount of ballots. He said notaries are “completing the form on the exterior envelope, not the actual ballot itself, and confirming, through their ‘notarization,’ that the person signing the envelope is the person appearing before them.” CN election laws state when filing absentee ballots voters must take their ballots, which are sealed in secrecy envelopes, and sign the affidavits on the affidavit envelopes in the presence of a notary public. As for returning ballots, election laws state the “affidavit envelope must be notarized and the notary seal affixed for the ballot to be counted, and return the documents inside the postage paid return envelope via the United States mail to the Election Commission.” Fourkiller said the Election Fraud Prevention Act would require voters to mail their votes or turn them into the EC. She said currently anyone could collect absentee ballots from voters and return them to the EC. “We’re concerned about there’s really no limit as to the number of hands a ballot can go through before it eventually reaches the Election Commission,” she said. “So that’s one issue. Just about every jurisdiction that I know of requires absentee ballots to be mailed, so we feel like everyone should have access to their own mailbox or post office to be able to drop that in the mail.” Hembree said candidates or campaign workers turning in ballots has “been the practice for decades.” “Voters have always been able to give their completed ballot, sealed in a secrecy envelope, to whomever they wish for delivery of the ballot to the Election Commission,” he said. Regarding alleged voter harassment, Fourkiller claims she’s received calls from campaigns asking about absentee ballots. “Don’t I want an absentee ballot? Can I request an absentee ballot for you? And I kept saying, ‘no, no, no. Please take me off you list,’ and yet still continued to receive those calls,” she said. “Especially for elders and folks being harassed that way, and we were aware that people would show up on their doorstep and say, ‘we’re here to get your absentee ballot” when they were not asked to come. So people feel intimidated over that kind of heavy attention.” Fourkiller also said the Election Fraud Prevention Act would curb multiple ballots going to a home or business address. She said ballots currently could be mailed to a citizen’s choice of address, but that she’s noticed in elections “tens of ballots going to one address or going to a business address.” “So what has happened in the past is that there is a public listing that the Election Commission produces of the absentee ballots that are requested and where they’ve been mailed. I’ve personally noticed on those lists in past elections where several ballots, like tens of ballots going to one address or going to a business address or so forth,” she said. “What this law would do is the ballot has to be mailed to the voter. It would still allow for a different address to be put in but it has to be mailed to the voter not to someone else.” However Hembree said the tribe only allows for a voter to “request and receive one ballot” and that people cannot request ballots on behalf of other voters. He added that ballots could be mailed to wherever the voter requests, including a home address, post office or business address. He said before a ballot could be mailed a voter must fill out a ballot request form. “The Cherokee voter can decide where they want their ballot sent,” he said. “For example, if a person is serving in the military or a student is away from home for college they may designate where they want their ballots sent to ensure timely delivery and maximize their opportunity to vote.” Hembree said despite accusations there’s not been a proven case of absentee voter fraud in CN elections. “In previous elections, candidates have made accusations of potential voter fraud, yet when given the opportunity to produce evidence in court, none of the accusations were substantiated,” he said. As for the petition moving forward, Fourkiller said once the attorney general has reviewed it, the EC would inform her about how many valid signatures it must receive. “So we’ve not been notified, but it is based on a percentage of the votes cast in the last general election, I believe,” she said. If the petition gets the needed amount of signatures then those signatures must be validated, Fourkiller said, and once validated it gets placed on the next regular election’s ballot. Hembree said if the petition is certified his office “expects to review the provisions of the law.” He said he’s concerned with wording stating “that the Oklahoma notary ‘law... is applicable to Cherokee elections.’” “That provision will require careful review to determine the impact on our sovereignty. We’ve not previously had state laws ‘applicable’ to our elections, so it is unprecedented,” he said. Fourkiller said the 90-day time period to gather signatures was reset and began Sept. 12 and that signatures collected under the original petition are void. She also said CN citizens wanting to sign the petition or circulate it can visit www.cherokees4change.com. <strong>Election Fraud Prevention</strong> Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said the “entire existing election code is designed to prevent election fraud.” He said the following laws are some of the laws and regulations that “help prevent absentee voter fraud.” • The Election Commission must confirm that the person requesting an absentee ballot is a registered Cherokee voter prior to sending them an absentee ballot, • The Election Commission has a process that ensures that a voter is only able to have one absentee ballot counted even if they requested more than one, • If a voter appears at a precinct to vote and has previously requested an absentee ballot, that person must cast a Challenged Ballot. Only if it is determined that the voter did not submit their absentee ballot is the Challenged Ballot opened and counted, • The notarization process ensures that every voter’s identification is confirmed by the notary who signs and affixes their notary seal or stamp to the exterior envelope and, • The Election Commission also confirms that every notary who signs the exterior envelopes is in fact a notary and that his or her commission has not expired.
TULSA Okla. – On Sept. 8, hundreds of supporters of different ages and walks of life gathered at the Guthrie Green for the Stand up for Standing Rock rally. Currently, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota is trying to stop Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners from constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline near sacred tribal lands and the Missouri River, from which the tribe receives its water supply. The event was the idea of Dakota Morse, who is of Cherokee, Muskogee-Creek and Choctaw descent. “I’m here to raise awareness for the people up in Standing Rock.” Morse said. “And maybe get some donations to take up there to them also. Maybe to help them pick up a few things.” Volunteer organizers reported on social media after the event that more than $1,300 in donations had been raised. Former Osage Principal Chief Jim Gray, who also attended, said he was there to support the effort to send a loud message to the rest of the world. “Water and Indigenous land must be respected,” he said. “There are so many people across the world who have joined this effort, and it’s so nice to see something local that stands in solidarity with what’s going on in North Dakota.” While the exact number of people in attendance was not counted, organizers said they were surprised by the turnout. “I wasn’t expecting this many people to show up,” Morse said. “You know you get a lot of people on Facebook who say they’re going to be there and then they don’t. So for this many people to actually show up, it’s pretty amazing.”