AG opinion: Councilor wrongly barred Phoenix video

BY TRAVIS SNELL
Assistant Editor – @cp_tsnell
11/26/2008 11:11 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In a Nov. 18 opinion, the tribe’s Attorney General’s Office stated Council Speaker Meredith Frailey wrongly denied the Cherokee Phoenix video coverage of a June public forum concerning the tribe’s planned takeover of W.W. Hastings Indians Hospital.

“The Cherokee Nation Freedom of Information and Right of Privacy Act of 2001 provides members of the public and the press with a statutory right to make sonic recordings at open meetings,” the opinion states. “Government employees and officials do not have the authority to restrict the tribal newspaper staff from making a video recording of a public meeting or forum unless the restriction is reasonable, narrowly tailored, advances a substantial government interest and does not obstruct other alternative forms of communication.”

Cherokee Phoenix staffer Craig Henry said Frailey told him he was not allowed to video record a June 26 public forum where tribal health officials, administration cabinet members and councilors answered questions from the public and discussed Cherokee Nation’s planned assumption of Hastings.

He said before the event Frailey asked CN Communications Officer Mike Miller and CN Leadership Group Leader Todd Enlow if they had set up the camera.

“They told her no, so she turned to me and said I had to take it down,” Henry said. “She told me they (she and forum co-sponsor Councilor Bradley Cobb) were not allowing anyone to record the meeting. She said they were afraid people would be reluctant to speak if there were cameras.”

Henry also said Frailey told him several other media outlets had inquired about video access and that they were denied.

“We considered this a public forum, and it was called primarily for the benefit of W.W. Hastings employees so they could learn and discuss freely the topics concerning the future of Hastings hospital,” Frailey said. “We felt that video taping such an event would have a rather chilling effect on the free flow of ideas and communications concerning the issues that arose.”

However, according to the opinion, “Members of the public may be unable, due to work or family commitments, to attend the forum on the date and time prescribed. Having a recording of the event available to the public allows a larger number of citizens to benefit from the public discourse. Many of the questions asked by members of the public at the forum may be questions of interest to all of the citizens of the Cherokee Nation.”

Jami Custer, the staff writer who covered the forum, said no audience comments were made during or after the officials’ presentation and that audience members wrote questions on paper and put them into a box.

The questions were later read by Cobb, who allowed officials to answer. She added that the only audience member who spoke during the forum did so to reiterate a question he wrote for the panel to answer.

Frailey said the forum’s original plan called for allowing public comments, but because the forum ran long, Cobb, who moderated the event, didn’t open it up for comments.

The two councilors sponsored the forum so the tribe’s negotiation team could publicly present an overview of the proceedings with Indian Health Service about the planned Hastings takeover from the IHS.

Secretary of State Melanie Knight said Cobb and Frailey were two of the four councilors designated by the council’s Health Committee who attended the negotiations.
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 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.”
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
07/26/2016 08:30 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – National Museum of American Indian officials, Cherokee Nation leaders and Native veterans gathered July 21 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to discuss and share ideas about the creation of a National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial would be built on NMAI grounds, and a committee is traveling Indian Country to gather ideas and support for the $15 million project. “Many fine, young Native men and women have served. To all of them, through the generations, we owe a debt of gratitude. They are true American heroes and deserved to be included. With all of the monuments that are in Washington, D.C., none of them (specifically) recognize Native veterans. This monument will do that, so it’s especially important that we get this done,” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said at the meeting. He added that the memorial should “be representative of all tribes” in the country. In 2013, Congress authorized the establishment of a National Native American Veterans Memorial on the NMAI’s grounds to give “all Americans the opportunity to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of Native Americans in the United States armed forces.” However, the legislation states no federal funds may be used for the memorial’s creation. Therefore, all funds must be raised. The memorial will be located prominently outside the NMAI in an area not yet chosen. The NMAI is located between the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall and the U.S. Capital. Northern Cheyenne veteran and former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Chickasaw Nation Lt. Gov. Jefferson Keel, a Vietnam veteran, chair the advisory committee for the memorial. Also, 24 committee members represent the geographic diversity of Indian Country and several branches of the U.S. armed forces. “I’ve listened to other people talk about things that they see, their vision for this memorial. We’re talking about a design that educates America about what the warrior spirit really is,” Keel said. “How do we capture that in a single memorial? How do you put in (the ideas) of every tribe in this country? You’re talking about 567 federally recognized tribes.” Keel said such consultation meetings are important for gathering ideas from as many tribes as possible. The meetings began in January. Keel, NMAI Director Kevin Gover and other committee members will visit all 12 regions of the country through June 2017 seeking input and support for the memorial. During the fall of 2017, the committee will call for design proposals, and in the summer of 2018, a jury will select a final design. Construction will begin in the fall of 2018 with a completion date set for fall 2020. The memorial will be unveiled and dedicated on Veterans Day 2020. Some veterans who spoke at the July 21 meeting suggested that technology be used to tell more of the Native American military service story that the memorial won’t be able to fully tell. For instance, an app could be created for smart phones that would allow visitors to learn more about Native veterans and their long history of serving this country. Cherokee Nation citizen Carol Savage, of Grove, spoke about family members who served in the military and said she hopes the memorial will make a “visual impact.” She used the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., that utilizes bronze statues of soldiers walking through a rice paddy as an example that makes a visual impact. Muscogee (Creek) Marine veteran Joe Taylor, of Tulsa, said he wants the memorial to reflect the spirituality of Native people and wants the committee to ensure the memorial gets an original design. “I’d like to see something that’s going to be there to remind people that there is a spirit that moves us,” Taylor said. Gover said there would not be room for all ideas and stories of Native veterans, so that’s why he is glad the Library of Congress has asked the NMAI for help in reaching Indian Country to gather veterans’ stories. He said the NMAI is hoping to assemble “the best roster possible” of every Native person who has served in the U.S. armed forces and plans to place those names in a new area inside the museum. “We want it to be where somebody can walk up and read some general information, but then they could look up a specific veteran and see their relatives or their friends or whomever they would like to see,” Gover said. “In order to do that we’re going to need a lot of help from the tribes because tribes have better lists of their veterans.” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he at some point would discuss with the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors about donating to the memorial fund. “I think you’ll be surprised how this will be received in Indian Country for fundraising,” Baker said. To learn more about the memorial, visit <a href="http://www.AmericanIndian.si.edu" target="_blank">Click here to view</a> or email <a href="mailto: NMAI-NativeVeteransMemorial@si.edu">NMAI-NativeVeteransMemorial@si.edu</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/25/2016 04:00 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Join Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism in honoring the legacy of former Cherokee Nation Principal Chief John Ross on Aug. 2 at the John Ross Museum. The one-hour discussion begins at noon with Amanda Pritchett, historical interpreter of the George M. Murrell Home historic site, leading the session. John Ross, principal chief from 1828–66, served longer in the position than any other person. As principal chief, Ross witnessed devastation by both the Indian removals and the U.S. Civil War. The discussion is open to the public and free to attend. Guests are encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch. The museum will also offer free admission throughout the day. The John Ross Museum highlights the life Ross and houses exhibits and interactive displays on the Trail of Tears, Civil War, Cherokee Golden Age and the Nation’s passion for education. The museum is housed in an old, rural school building known as School No. 51 and sits at the foot of Ross Cemetery where John Ross and other notable Cherokee citizens are buried. The John Ross Museum is located at 22366 S. 530 Road. CN museums are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For information on CNCT, call 1-877-779-6977 or visit <a href="http://www.VisitCherokeeNation.com" target="_blank">www.VisitCherokeeNation.com</a>.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham
07/25/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials, citizens and guests on July 18 celebrated the life and achievements of former CN Secretary of State Charles L. Head at the Cherokee Courthouse as part of the third annual Charles L. Head Day. Head co-founded the tribe’s ONE FIRE Against Violence Victim Services Office before dying in a car accident on Jan. 30, 2013 near Chouteau. The CN citizen and Pryor native was 63. That same year Principal Chief Bill John Baker designated July 18, Head’s Birthday, as a “national day of celebration of the life of Charles L. Head throughout the Cherokee Nation.” According to the tribe’s website, ONE FIRE provides services to increase the safety for victims of crime. ONE FIRE stands for Our Nation Ending Fear, Intimidation, Rape and Endangerment. “We’re real excited because today is our annual butterfly release in remembrance of Charles L. Head” ONE FIRE Victim Services Director Nikki Baker said. “Before he passed away, he was really working hard on ONE FIRE, which helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Today, we release butterflies in his memory and also to the legacy he leaves behind, which are the survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.” Domestic violence survivor and former ONE FIRE client Lena Nells also spoke at the event about how the program helped her be successful after being abused. Nells, who is Cheyenne-Arapaho, Kickapoo and Navajo, said as commissioned intelligence officer for the U.S. Army she never expected her life to be affected by domestic violence but was thankful ONE FIRE was available when it did. “They educated me, helped me understand what I was going through.” Nells said. Other speakers described how the program has helped and what Head meant to them. ONE FIRE Victim Services Manager Amanda Drizzle told the audience that the department saw 216 clients in 2015 and has seen 107 in 2016. “We were also able to help 120 kids get to safe homes,” Drizzle said. She also credited CN marshals for their help in domestic violence issues. “They’ve been referring a lot of people to us, and we’ve been able to help a lot of women get to households…Out of these people, we were able to get several women to safe homes, where they could spend Christmas, where they can spend birthdays, where they can come home safe after work.” Former Little Miss Cherokee and sexual assault survivor Cierra Fields read a poem honoring both the domestic violence victims and their caregivers as butterflies were released. “With this symbolic gesture, we honor those who have left us and encourage those left behind to continue on the fight, on the wings of hope,” she said.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
07/22/2016 12:00 PM
MUSKOGEEE, Okla. (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction and 12-year prison sentence of a former Choctaw Nation construction director. A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion for a mistrial Tuesday sought by Jason Merida, who was convicted in November 2014 on two counts each of theft and tax fraud and one count each of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit bribery. Prosecutors alleged contractors used false billing practices between 2008 and 2011 during construction of the tribe's Durant and Pocola casinos. Money generated from the false billings was used to make campaign donations and purchase gifts. Merida testified he received gifts from vendors but claimed it didn't affect his decisions because he did not have the authority to select contractors.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Staff Writer
07/22/2016 09:15 AM
BRUSHY, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Breanna Potter and the Brushy Cherokee Action Association on July 14 hosted the second annual back-to-school giveaway at the Brushy Community Center, providing children and their families needed items such as backpacks, shoes, coats and hygiene kits. “We…have some families in our area that are homeless. They don’t have anywhere to live,” Potter said. “We have families in our area that live in tents, and those families oftentimes can’t get those types of items. So we’re just here to kind of fill in the gaps.” In 2015, Potter and the BCCA began applying for an in-kind donation grant through the Running Strong for American Indian Youth Foundation to get the needed items for the giveaway. “The reason we started writing this grant last year was because there’s a big need in our community for basic essential items, and a lot of time a lot of these families fall through the cracks,” Potter said. “They either make just enough that they don’t qualify for things, or some of the families aren’t actually Cherokee so they don’t qualify for services at the Cherokee Nation. So we have a lot of families that end up falling through the cracks and the system and aren’t able to get the items they need, and the kids are the ones who end up suffering.” Earlier this year Potter received another grant through the Running Strong for American Indian Youth Foundation called the Dreamstarter Grant. With it she created a youth group in the community to help youths gain leadership skills and learn about diabetes prevention. Now youth group members, known collectively as the Brushy Youth Dream Team, are in turn using those acquired skills to give back to their community with Potter leading them as program director. Parents of BYDT members said they noticed the development in their children thank to the new skills. “I think it’s great because my kids are shy. This will teach them, maybe, to communicate better with their peers and with adults and learn to make their way in the community and kind of what their role is, that they can do something even though they’re just kids,” Crystal Thomas, mother of a BYDT member, said. Potter said the impacts the BYDT and BCCA are making in the community are noticeable with events such as the giveaway. “The coolest things is when I’m driving around and everything, I see kids out and I see them wearing these shoes, or I see the kids at school and I happen to stop by for a few minutes and some of the kids have the backpacks or the coats,” Potter said. Potter said the biggest impact she’s seen in the community is that kids are able to receive items that their families struggle to provide. Potter said she and her teams are trying to get additional funding so they can host more events and help more families. For more information about the BCCA and the BYDT, visit <a href="http://www.brushycherokeeactionassociation.org" target="_blank">brushycherokeeactionassociation.org</a>.