Muscogee Creek citizen Eli Grayson emphasizes a point about the Cherokee Freedmen issue during an Aug. 27 meeting in Muskogee. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Freedmen vow to continue fighting Cherokee Nation for their rights

President of the Descendents of Freedmen Association Marilyn Vann speaks with other Cherokee Freedmen following an Aug. 27 meeting in Muskogee. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
President of the Descendents of Freedmen Association Marilyn Vann speaks with other Cherokee Freedmen following an Aug. 27 meeting in Muskogee. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Senior Reporter
08/30/2011 08:29 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – The library of the Martin Luther King Center in Muskogee was filled to capacity Aug. 27 as Cherokee Freedmen met to discuss the Aug. 22 Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruling that once again ousted them from the tribe.

The approximately 100 people at the meeting resolved to continue fighting for their citizenship and discussed options for regaining CN citizenship and their voting rights.

Many of the Freedmen at the meeting expressed concern about not being able to vote in the Sept. 24 election for principal chief between Tribal Councilor Bill John Baker and former principal chief Chad Smith. In an Aug. 23 press release, President of the Descendants of Freedmen Association Marilyn Vann said she was suspicious of the timing of the ruling.

“This action happened just before the election. Freedmen have a right by law, by treaty to vote,” Vann said.

Vann said she was given permission to inform people at the meeting that attorneys representing Cherokee Freedmen are filing a preliminary injunction in federal court this week “to ensure Freedmen rights are protected” for the Sept. 24 election. If the CN states Freedmen cannot vote on Sept. 24, Vann said Freedmen should attempt to vote anyway because she believes federal officials will be watching to see what happens that day.

“If by chance this election still goes on and they have taken your name off the voting rolls, you still need to go down there to try to vote because it might set it up to where the election may not count,” she said.

John Parris, a former CN attorney who is not part of the Cherokee Freedmen legal team but has been assisting them by explaining legal matters, also spoke at the meeting. He said he concurs with Freedmen attorneys who believe the 1866 Treaty is a law of the CN. He added he believes the Freedmen stand a better chance of winning their rights in federal court, and the federal judge hearing the eight-year-old case of Vann v. Salazar in Washington, D.C., has been “staying his hand” waiting for the CN courts to rule on Freedmen rights.

Marilyn Vann and five other plaintiffs filed Vann vs. Salazar in 2003 because Freedmen were not allowed to vote in the 2003 CN elections.

“As far as the election coming up quickly, I can see a federal judge likely saying that we’re going to maintain the status quo…and everybody that was eligible to vote last week will be allowed to vote this week,” Parris said.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Diane Hammons said at the Aug. 25 Tribal Council Rules Committee meeting that CN has been in contact with the Freedmen attorneys and is preparing for the federal court filing by the Freedmen legal team.

“I anticipate that something will be filed in the District of Columbia next week,” Hammons said. “I don’t know what that is. I guess the most positive thing I can report in that regard is that we are trying to anticipate the worst and prepare for it but hope for the best.”

During the meeting, Freedmen members discussed filing lawsuits against individual Cherokee leaders for discrimination and emulating civil rights leaders in the south that peacefully fought discrimination and segregation laws nearly 50 years ago.

“Just like the blacks did in the Deep South, we are going to have to continue to fight and work together to keep our rights,” Vann said. “Dr. (Martin Luther) King and Rosa Parks and those folks, if they did not use the legal system they would still have Jim Crow laws (segregation laws) in half the states in this country.”

She added black people fighting for their rights in 1960s did not stop at state courts when those courts denied them their rights and appealed to federal courts, which the Freedmen have also done.

The second Freedmen case pending in a Washington, D.C., federal court deals with a suit filed by the CN in February 2009 in the Northern District of Oklahoma against Freedmen involved in the Nash suit. In July 2010, a federal judge in Tulsa, Okla., refused to hear the case and ordered it moved to the District Court for the District of Columbia.

In a 4-1 ruling on Aug. 22, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court reversed a January 2011 CN District Court ruling decision that voided a 2007 constitutional amendment that denied citizenship to descendants of former black slaves who do not have Indian blood.

The District Court had ruled in Nash v. CN Registrar that the amendment violated the 1866 Treaty between the CN and United States that gave Freedmen “the rights and privileges of other Cherokees.”

In a written opinion, the Supreme Court stated Cherokee Freedmen were not provided citizenship by the Treaty of 1866 but rather by an amendment to the 1839 Cherokee Constitution in November 1866. The court stated the Cherokee people have a sovereign right to define Cherokee citizenship and did so by voting for and approving the 2007 amendment.

During the Aug. 27 meeting, Muscogee Creek citizen Eli Grayson appealed to Cherokee Freedmen to not argue about blood quantum and citizenship by blood because they are Cherokee citizens by the 1866 treaty. In the treaty, Freedmen were not required to have Indian blood to be a CN citizen, and Cherokee people did not have the right to vote Freedmen out of the CN based on Indian blood, he said.

“Free yourselves of their argument that it’s about Indian blood. That’s a lie; let it go. Either you are a member of these tribes or you’re not. In my world…you’re either Creek or you are non-Creek. In your world you’re either Cherokee or you’re non-Cherokee,” Grayson said. “Your ancestors knew who they were in 1866. They knew they were not American; they knew they were Cherokee. These (tribes) are political groups of people not races.”

The Freedmen plan to demonstrate at 2:30 p.m., Sept. 2, outside the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Muskogee. They also plan to march the following morning in the Cherokee National Holiday Parade in Tahlequah. • (918) 207-3961

About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. • 918-453-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years.


10/31/2014 11:41 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – The Five Civilized Tribes Museum will be hosting a “Rock Your Mocs” exhibit and auction during November, which is Native American Month. The exhibit will display more than 25 pair of canvas shoes that have been painted, beaded or otherwise embellished. The work has been donated by artists, including some of the Five Tribe’s Master Artists, to raise money for the museum. “The museum staff is excited to be a part of this fantastic event. There will be a wide variety of art genres being represented, from pop art to traditional beadwork, to leather and cloth adornments,” said exhibit coordinator MaryBeth Nelson. The exhibit will run throughout November in the museum gallery. During this time, the shoes will be up for auction on Ebay. Interested buyers can follow along with the show on the museum website at or their Facebook page at Those interested in bidding must have an Ebay account. The museum’s office staff will help bidders if needed. A “meet and greet” reception will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 22, at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum. The museum is located at 1101 Honor Heights Drive on Agency Hill. For more information, call 918-683-1701 or email <a href="mailto:"></a>.
10/31/2014 08:17 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The National Indian Gaming Commission recently sent a letter to Principal Chief Bill John Baker approving the amendment to the tribe’s Gaming Commission Act, but noted it likely will come with greater federal scrutiny. According to the letter from Acting Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri, the NIGC approved amendments to the act that differentiate between gaming and non-gaming activities, provide Tribal Council representation on the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission and limits the CNGC by mandating that its regulations not exceed minimum federal standards. “The gaming act is approved to the extent it is consistent with the requirements of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and NIGC regulation. “However, I am compelled to note my misgivings over some aspects of the gaming act. In particular, the provision of the gaming act that requires tribal regulations and controls not exceed the federal controls undermines the spirit of the NIGC regulations … which are designed to be the ground floor of regulations upon which a tribe could build up from to address its specific requirements. “Further, implementing this provision of the gaming act may be difficult because Tribal regulators may struggle with determining what would ‘exceed’ the NIGC (minimum controls). Because of the potential implementation difficulties that may result from the gaming act’s lack of specificity, the NIGC will likely need to review the Tribe’s gaming operations with greater scrutiny,” the letter states. Christina Thomas, NIGC acting chief of staff, said the NIGC didn’t foresee the implementation of the ordinance being an efficient process. “We anticipate having to be more involved on the ground with the tribe to ensure that the gaming integrity is still protected. There’s going to be a significant amount of confusion at the tribal level implementing that particular provision of gaming ordinance.” In April, Tribal Councilors limited the CNGC’s regulatory powers over Cherokee Nation Entertainment operations with LA 07-14. It passed with Tribal Councilors Don Garvin, Harley Buzzard, Dick Lay, Cara Cowan Watts, Lee Keener, Julia Coates and Jack Baker voting against it. Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor abstained. In June, the Tribal Council made technical changes to the Gaming Commission Act with LA 17-14. That act passed 16-1 with Lay voting against it. Baker signed both acts into law but the amendments didn’t take effect until they received the NIGC approval on Oct. 27. CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the NIGC approval affirmed the tribe’s ability to self-govern. “We are pleased that body recognizes our inherent right to self-regulate. We are confident these amendments passed by our Cherokee Nation Tribal Council will allow our businesses to remain the industry leader in a gaming market that is becoming more and more competitive, all while adhering to strict common sense regulations,” he said. “We are confident that as we move forward the council will continue work with the administration, CNGC and CNB (Cherokee Nation Businesses) on any further modifications to the gaming code that might be warranted. That type of collaborative process is at the heart of tribal self-governance.” Tribal Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk, who co-sponsored the amendment with Tribal Councilor David Thornton, said the council revised the act to better suit the tribe’s needs. “I’m pleased to be a sponsor along with David Thornton of the amendments and I’m proud that the NIGC approved them,” she said. “These amendments require our business to meet the strict requirements of federal law while also placing us on a level playing field with our competitors. This is the most competitive market right now in Oklahoma.” However, Keener said the tribe limited its sovereignty in favor of federal control and state agreements. “This is the first time in Cherokee Nation history the chief and majority of the council have ever voted to limit its own authority regarding tribal gaming in favor of federal regulations and state compact agreements,” Keener said. “If we decline to govern ourselves, we are taking a huge step backwards. Voting against ourselves makes no sense which is the reason I voted no.” Before the amendment, the CNGC regulated all gaming operations, including auditing, to ensure compliance with the act and any regulations adopted by the CNGC. The CNGC also enforces any gaming-related compacts with the state. “Our gaming facilities take CNGC’s regulations very seriously, and have always followed those regulations to the letter,” Shawn Slaton, interim CNB CEO, said. “We will continue to follow, as we have in the past, the laws, rules and regulations of the Cherokee Nation and its commissions. Any changes to the law will not change our adherence to the standards set forth by the CNGC.” According to the tribe’s fiscal year 2013 audit, CNB gave $44.1 million to the tribe in dividends in FY 2013. Thomas said the CN is the first tribe to change from following its own Tribal Internal Control Standards, or TICS, to only following federal Minimum Internal Control Standards, or MICS. Tribes develop TICS to suit its gaming needs and regulations. “As I understand it, we would not be allowed to do anything in excess of what’s required under the MICS,” CNGC Chairwoman Stacy Leeds said. “This is not something that we can just immediately enact tomorrow because there are three or four or five steps that have to get worked out. So certainly the first order of business is to get some advice on the Attorney General’s Office about what their interpretation is of certain things that will change under this.” Leeds said one of the biggest changes would be determining which employees would need gaming licenses. “There are a lot of things that will have to be asked as we’re implementing this like exactly which employees are gaming versus nongaming, and is there a difference at one facility over the other based on access to cash and access to systems and those kinds of things,” she said. Under the previous act, the CNGC could audit or review financial records to ensure proper accountability. Under the amended act, it can only audit or review financial records directly related to gaming activities. Both versions of the act state the CNGC “shall have immediate, unfettered access to all areas of a gaming facility to review, inspect, examine, photocopy and/or audit all records of the gaming facility.” “That’s our law now, it’s been approved by NIGC and we will follow it,” Leeds said. Leeds said the CNGC has reached out to Attorney General Todd Hembree to schedule a meeting and all the gaming commissioners have been forwarded a copy of the letter. Leeds said the CNGC expressed concerns when the legislation was under Tribal Council consideration. “There was never a formal testimony by me or the commission as a whole, but I think that when it was being considered some of the concerns were being expressed in the meetings. But it’s ultimately up to the council to decide,” she said. Coates said the tribe is rolling back the regulatory authority it has assumed over operations, placing the tribe at the same level as other tribes that have issues around their gaming operations. “It goes against the grain of national trends among tribes to assert greater degrees of sovereignty. We thus find ourselves in the very unusual position of having a federal commission actually imploring us to assert greater sovereignty, and warning us that if we do not, they may be forced to assume it on our behalf. This is a dangerous precedent and not one we want to be setting.” Fishinghawk said she would welcome the NIGC because she trusts how CNB is running its operations. “The guys up there have run it for years. They have done wonderful. They’ve made the tribe money. They’ve never gotten into trouble for how they run it,” she said. “Until somebody shows me any different, I do trust them to run it. These amendments are helping us assert tribal sovereignty.” <strong>Past Dividends to Cherokee Nation</strong> Fiscal Year: Total Dividend – Net Profit Percentage 2013: $44.1 million – 35 percent 2012: $56.8 million – 35 percent 2011: $30 million – 30 percent 2010: $26.4 million – 30 percent 2009: $26.4 million – 30 percent 2008: $35 million – 30 percent 2007: $33.6 million – 30 percent 2006: $25.4 million– 30 percent 2005: $17.9 million – 25 percent 2004: $11.7 million – 25 percent <strong>Source:</strong> Cherokee Nation final audits In January 2006, the dividend was increased to 30 percent of net income, which was four months into fiscal year 2006.
10/30/2014 04:17 PM
NEWNAN, Ga. – The next meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 1 at the Old Newnan train depot. The speaker will be former Georgia TOTA President Jeff Bishop, who will be speaking about the Creek Indians who lived in that area of Georgia. Newnan is located near the McIntosh Reserve named after the famous Creek Headman William McIntosh, born of a Scottish father and Creek mother. The park contains land that was once the primary residence of McIntosh. In February 1825 he signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, which ceded all of the lower Creek land in Georgia to the federal government. The vast majority of Creeks were opposed to the land cession and selling Creek land without the approval of the Creek Council was illegal and punishable by death. In May of 1825 McIntosh was killed in retaliation for his actions. The Trail of Tears Association was created to support the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail established by an act of Congress in 1987. The TOTA is dedicated to identifying and preserving sites associated with the removal of Native Americans from the southeast. The association consists of nine state chapters representing the nine states that the Cherokee, Creek and other tribes traveled through on their way to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The Cherokees were the last to be removed although there were Creek Indians living in north Georgia among the Cherokee at the time of removal in 1838. TOTA meetings are free and open to the public. For more information about the TOTA, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. For questions about the November meeting, email Tony Harris at <a href="mailto:"></a>. Directions to the Old Newnan train depot: Take I-85 south and get off at Exit 47. Go west (turn right) towards Newnan – this is Bullsboro Drive (Hwy. 34). Go 4 to 5 miles to Newnan. When you get to Oak Hill cemetery, turn right on Clark and an immediate left on Jackson. Go to Court Square and turn left onto East Broad Street. This will take you to the Historic Depot at 60 East Broad Street.
10/30/2014 10:31 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Northeastern State University’s Center for Tribal Studies will have a Halloween event for children of all ages on Oct. 31. The “Halloween Party” will have trick or treating from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. there will be games, refreshments and costume contests. The costume contests will award the scariest, funniest and most original costume. The event is sponsored by NSU Native Student Organizations. The Halloween Party will take place at the Bacone House at 320 Academy St. For more information, call 918-444-4350.
10/28/2014 01:34 PM
STILWELL, Okla. – To help with the construction a splash pad, the Cherokee Nation donated nearly $40,000 to the City of Stilwell. “We are all one big community, and it means a lot to us for the Cherokee Nation to work with us on this project,” Stilwell Mayor Ronnie Trentham said. “The things we want to do as a city we couldn’t do alone, so the partnerships between us and the tribe and other groups are needed. We are a better community because we work together.” The splash pad will be located at the Edna M. Carson Stilwell Community Park. City officials expect the project, totaling $464,000, to be completed by May 2015. “Stilwell has always been a hub of Cherokee activity because we have so many citizens living there and working there at our Cherokee Nation Industries facility,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “This represents a good investment for the Cherokee Nation, as it enables the community and its leaders to expand the infrastructure and deliver more offerings for people.”
Senior Reporter
10/27/2014 08:28 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Two Cherokee Nation citizens have produced a 2015 calendar titled “Birds of the Cherokee Nation” that has photographs of area birds and their Cherokee names in the Cherokee syllabary. Jeff Davis, of Warner, and David Cornsilk, of Tahlequah, collaborated on the calendar. Cornsilk researched the Cherokee names for the birds and Davis provided the photographs. Each bird in the calendar can be found in the Cherokee Nation, Davis said. “I take a lot of photographs, and birds are some of my favorite subjects because I descend from the Bird Clan. I thought about doing one initially, and then David approached me about doing one, and we wanted to do it in Cherokee,” Davis, who is also an artist and direct descendant of Principal Chief John Ross, said. “The reason we wanted to do Cherokee is to not only be different, but to also help promote the language and help people learn the language.” Cornsilk said he used to live in Kenwood in Delaware County, which is known for being a traditional Cherokee community, and would listen to the Cherokee speakers there talk about birds and the meaning of the birds’ names. “Something I noticed was a lot of the older speakers they knew a lot of birds’ (names), and the younger speakers didn’t know very many. So it was something, I guess, that was fading out of the language, and so I started collecting the names of birds in Cherokee,” he said. “I always thought I’d publish a book, but then I thought a calendar would be a lot of fun.” He said because Cherokee speakers and others learning the language don’t regularly use the names of birds, plants and animals, the words are in danger of being forgotten. Davis said many Cherokee speakers just use the word jee-squa, which means bird, for every bird. Cornsilk said after he met Davis he learned about Davis’ love of birds and his photographs of local birds. So they decided to work together to produce the calendar. Each bird in the calendar has a Cherokee syllabary and English phonetic name. Each bird photo also has a brief explanation of what the bird means to the Cherokee and other stories about each bird. On the calendar’s back cover is a copy of the Cherokee syllabary to help people translate the bird names and the names of the months in Cherokee listed with the photos. Also included in the calendar is a list of moons associated with each month and what Cherokee beliefs are associated with each moon. Cornsilk credits the list of what the moons meant to Cherokees to William Eubanks, a Cherokee translator in the 1890s. Also, Cherokee linguist Lawrence Panther translated the calendar name. Davis said if the calendar is successful, he and Cornsilk might publish a second calendar next year because he has many more bird photos and Cornsilk, who has been collecting Cherokee names for plants and animals for about 30 years, has more Cherokee names for birds. He added the men have also had requests to do a calendar with plants used by Cherokee people for medicine and may do one with Cherokee names for trees using Davis’ photos. Davis and Cornsilk said they might also produce flash cards with birds, plants and trees. The calendars are available for $10 at the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop and the Spider Gallery in Tahlequah. By mail order, the price is $12.95 each, which includes shipping. PayPal or postal money orders are accepted. For PayPal send payment to:, and to mail payment, send to: J. Davis, P.O. Box 492, Warner OK 74469. “I think our main purpose was to preserve a portion of the Cherokee language that seemed to be make a contribution to the efforts the tribe is making and individual Cherokees are making as well (to preserve the language),” Cornsilk said. Davis said the response to the calendar has been positive. “People not only love the pictures but also learn how to pronounce the words. I’ve had several mothers tell me that they are teaching their children words from this, which is really what we wanted...something educational and beautiful,” he said.