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
BY WILL CHAVEZ
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.

will-chavez@cherokee.org • (918) 207-3961

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BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
10/01/2014 03:47 PM
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Native tribes from the U.S. and Canada signed a treaty on Sept. 23 establishing an inter-tribal alliance to restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains where millions of the animals once roamed. Leaders of 11 tribes from Montana and Alberta signed the pact during a daylong ceremony on Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation, organizers said. It marks the first treaty among the tribes and First Nations since a series of agreements governing hunting rights in the 1800s. That was when their ancestors still roamed the border region hunting bison, also called buffalo. The long-term aim of the “Buffalo Treaty” is to allow the free flow of the animals across the international order and restore the bison’s central role in the food, spirituality and economies of many American Indian tribes and First Nations – a Canadian synonym for native tribes. Such a sweeping vision could take many years to realize, particularly in the face of potential opposition from the livestock industry. But supporters said they hope to begin immediately restoring a cultural tie with bison largely severed when the species was driven to near-extinction in the late 19th century. “The idea is, hey, if you see buffalo in your everyday life, a whole bunch of things will come back to you,” Leroy Little Bear, a citizen of southern Alberta Blood Tribe who helped lead the signing ceremony, said. “Hunting practices, ceremonies, songs – those things revolved around the buffalo. Sacred societies used the buffalo as a totem. All of these things are going to be revised, revitalized, renewed with the presence of buffalo.” Bison numbered in the tens of millions across North America before non-Natives populated the West. By the 1880s, unchecked commercial hunting to feed the bison hide market reduced the population to about 325 animals in the U.S. and fewer than 1,000 in Canada, according to wildlife officials and bison trade groups in Canada. Around the same time, tribes were relocated to reservations and forced to end their nomadic traditions. There are about 20,000 wild bison in North America today. Ranchers and landowners near two Montana reservations over the past several years fought unsuccessfully against the relocation of dozens of Yellowstone National Park bison because of concerns about disease and bison competing with cattle for grass. The tribes involved – the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation and the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of the Fort Belknap Reservations – were among those signing the treaty. Keith Aune, a bison expert with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the agreement has parallels with the 1855 Lame Bull Treaty, a peace deal brokered by the U.S. government that established hunting rights tribes. “They shared a common hunting ground, and that enabled them to live in the buffalo way,” Aune said. “We’re recreating history, but this time on (the tribes’) terms.” The treaty signatories collectively control more than 6 million acres of prairie habitat in the United States and Canada, an area roughly the size of Vermont, according to Aune’s group. Among the first sites eyed for bison reintroduction is along the Rocky Mountain Front, which includes Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation bordering Glacier National Park and several smaller First Nation reserves. “I can’t say how many years. It’s going to be a while and of course there’s such big resistance in Montana against buffalo,” Ervin Carlson a Blackfeet citizen and president of the 56-tribe InterTribal buffalo council, said. “But within our territory, hopefully, someday.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/30/2014 03:30 PM
TULSA, Okla. – Seven Cherokee World War II veterans left Tulsa International Airport on Sept. 23 on a flight to Washington, D.C., to tour memorial sites at the nation’s capital, including the World War II Memorial. The Cherokee Nation is sponsoring “Cherokee Warrior Flights,” which are similar to the national Honor Flight organization’s goal of helping all veterans, willing and able, to see the memorials dedicated to honor their service. With more than 4,000 military veterans who are CN citizens, the tribe is hoping to replicate that experience for its people. Native Americans serve at a higher rate in the military than any other ethnic group. “I have a friend or two that’s made the trip, but I never thought I’d be able to,” 89-year-old Steve Downing Jr. of Locust Grove, said. “I’m very grateful to the Cherokee Nation for this opportunity. It’s something that just touches me in a way that is kind of hard for me to describe.” Downing spent nearly three years in the Navy aboard the USS Santa Fe as a radar technician helping with supply runs, escorting damaged ships to shore and aiding in Pacific Island invasions. The “Cherokee Warrior Flight,” which is funded solely by the CN, allowed Downing to see war memorials in the capital for the first time. “This is a way to tell our Cherokee veterans thank you and that we will never forget their service and sacrifices,” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, a Navy veteran who traveled on the flight, said. “For most of these men who served in World War II, this will be a trip of a lifetime as they get to see the memorials and monuments honoring their role in defending our great country. They are truly the greatest generation, and we can’t say thank you enough.” The six other World War II veterans participating on the flight were: • Navy veteran Dewey Alberty, 88, of Tahlequah, • Navy veteran Charles Carey, 88, of Hulbert, • Army veteran Guy Wilson, 97, of Hulbert, • Army Air Corp veteran William Wood, 94, of Vinita, • Army veteran Eugene Fox, 91, of Bartlesville, and • Navy veteran Joseph Leathers, 92, of Big Cabin. A dinner and reception was held Sept. 22 in the Deer Room at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Principal Chief Bill John Baker and U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a CN citizen, thanked the seven veterans for their service and wished them safe travels. After an overnight stay at the Hard Rock, the veterans departed from the hotel for their flight. On Sept. 24, the group was expected to visit the National World War II Memorial and tour other monuments. On Sept. 25, the veterans were expected to tour the U.S. Capitol and arrive back in Tulsa that evening.
BY TESINA JACKSON
09/30/2014 08:07 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman recently visited the Cherokee Nation during the tribe’s Cherokee National Holiday over Labor Day weekend. Since 2003, Dorman has served as a state representative and is currently a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives representing the 65th District. In 2013, he announced his candidacy for governor. During his trip to the CN, the Cherokee Phoenix had the opportunity to ask him some questions. <strong>Cherokee Phoenix:</strong> Why did you decide to run for governor? <strong>Dorman:</strong> I have been a state representative for 12 years and worked on policies and have had an amazing experience in public service. The end of last year, I began working on the storm shelter issue, trying to improve safety and security and the opposition we met along the way through our petition process, because we were forced to do a petition, and visiting with Oklahomans and seeing the growing dissatisfaction with the way the business as usual was handled at the capital, it became apparent that people were not happy and they wanted a different direction. A lot of people talked to me. A lot of people did a lot of convincing. It took a while to convince me it was the right decision, but we announced the exploratory committee on Dec. 17 and haven’t looked back. It’s been wonderful. <strong>CP:</strong> What do you plan on doing to work with or help the Native population in Oklahoma? <strong>Dorman:</strong> There’s so much more that we need to do, and we must do a better job at the state developing those partnerships. There are 39 sovereign nations in the State of Oklahoma, and Oklahoma would be the 40th partner in that. We all have to work together. As the governor, I fully intend to appoint a Cabinet-level secretary to work with Native American issues and help foster those relationships. We all have to work together. A rising tide lifts all boats, so we have to work to develop the positives and overcome the obstacles we face, and we must have that health dialogue to make sure we are meeting the needs of all our citizens. <strong>CP:</strong> What do you think of the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission being disbanded and would you bring it back or create something new? <strong>Dorman:</strong> I think it was a travesty to downsize the degree of importance, what Mary Fallin did with the action she took. I think we need to reinstate that, and I intend to have a full council that will work and then have a liaison who will be the chair and the director, the secretary for our Cabinet level position, to make sure that we work together and find all of the areas that we must address. I want to have somebody integrated in the system that will have direct access to me, and I intend to be fully involved as well. I view the 39 leaders as colleagues, and I will treat them at the same level of respect that I want them to treat me. <strong>CP:</strong> What do you think of tribal sovereignty? <strong>Dorman:</strong> I am very much in favor of sovereignty. It’s the law. There’s no other way around it. The tribes deserve to have their sovereignty. They deserve to be treated with that respect. We have to work together. We must honor the compacts. We must honor all of the agreements that have been done by the United States and the State of Oklahoma, and it will be my job as governor to make sure that the compacts in the future are done fairly. <strong>CP:</strong> What do you think of the tax increase on smoke shops? <strong>Dorman:</strong> As far as specifics, I don’t really want to go into the specifics of the compacts until I have the chance to study them more and look at them myself, but I want to make sure that the people are treated fairly, and I’m certainly not in favor of seeing any increase in any burden on citizens through their prices. <strong>CP:</strong> How do you think the Baby Veronica situation was handled? <strong>Dorman:</strong> I feel it was handled poorly. I think Mary Fallin should have worked harder to take care of Oklahoma citizens, and I feel that it was not done properly. Certainly you have to let the courts and the judicial system play out, but when it comes to a situation where it deals with a person from a sovereign nation, that should take the highest importance. <strong>CP:</strong> What other issues are you focusing on during your campaign? <strong>Dorman:</strong> One that will be very important to all our citizens, I’m firmly in support of Medicaid expansion. I will bring those dollars back immediately upon election because that is money that will go to not only benefit hospital across the states and the citizens, but when you look at specifically our clinics, there are so many people that go to the clinics that use emergency rooms as their primary care physician and it’s increased the burden on health care so all our citizens. It’s important they have that access. It’s roughly a $10 billion impact to the state over the period of the program, and we cannot afford to let those dollars that Oklahomans have sent to Washington, D.C., remain there. We must bring them back to benefit our citizens. And I would say, by far, education is my most important issue that I’m championing. There are critical areas of education we must address. First and foremost – adequate funding for the classrooms and increased pay for the teachers and personnel. We must also reduce the amount of high stakes tests we’re doing and instead put that money into remediation and tutoring to get the kids the help they need rather than face that stress from a test, and I want to develop age-appropriate standards that will benefit our schools through all curriculum. <strong>CP:</strong> Do you feel that all of the testing is a good thing for students? <strong>Dorman:</strong> Absolutely not. Most of this testing is a sham that’s being pushed at the national level. We are spending roughly 30 of the last 45 days of the school year testing our kids. They’re not learning while they’re taking a test. It’s unacceptable. I intend to eliminate the third grade high-stakes test. I want to change using the EOI’s (End of Instruction) to convert over to using the ACT exam. It’s a test with a benefit if the students do well. Then they may go to college. They have the opportunity to apply for scholarships. We must do a better job preparing these students. The money we’re spending on these private testing companies, I instead want to turn it back into the programs for remediation and tutoring to help these kids achieve their highest potential, and also, I want to find the resources to help the kids with special needs. We have too many kids with autism, dyslexia and other disorders that are struggling and they’re not getting the help they need. <strong>To be fair and balanced, the Cherokee Phoenix offered to interview Gov. Mary Fallin, Joe Dorman’s opponent in the Nov. 4 election. However, the Phoenix had not received a response from her campaign as of publication.</strong>
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/29/2014 02:29 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation recently donated $3,000 to each county fair boards in Cherokee, Mayes, McIntosh and Sequoyah and Tulsa counties to help purchase ribbons and trophies for the winners at each county’s fair. “Any help we receive from the Cherokee Nation is always very much appreciated,” Sequoyah County Fair Board member Bill Weedon said. “We have a large number of Cherokees in our county, and the tribe’s donation helps our fair board and kids in a number of ways.” Aside from going toward ribbons and trophies a portion of the money will be used for the local 4-H Club and kid-friendly organizations and activities. “We are committed to ensuring our partnership with Sequoyah County remains strong,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said.” Supporting the county fair board means it can continue to maintain the Sequoyah County fairgrounds so that all citizens will be able to utilize and enjoy them.” Donating money to fair boards in the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction is something that the CN does annually.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
09/29/2014 08:05 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation leaders joined thousands of indigenous leaders from around the world on Sept. 22 at the United Nations in New York City as the United Nations General Assembly convened a high-level plenary meeting known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. During the opening session of the WCIP, the General Assembly adopted an Outcome Document that provides for concrete and action-oriented measures to implement and achieve the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UNDRIP was approved by the General Assembly in 2007. A strong delegation of U.S. tribal leaders attended the WCIP and voiced support for their priorities addressed in the adopted outcome document. The National Congress of American Indians has joined with a large group of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and inter-tribal associations to support four priorities that promote implementation of the declaration, establish status for indigenous governments at the UN, prevent violence against indigenous women and children and protect sacred places and objects. CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. spoke during the conference, expressing appreciation to the UN and leaders of indigenous peoples for working together. CN Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez, who also attended the conference, said she was pleased to see the outcome document adopted and that it includes language “to empower Indigenous women and strengthen their leadership.” “I agree that indigenous women need to have full participation in policy-making, which is why I ran for office and am attending this conference this week. I also appreciate paragraphs 18 and 19 (in the document) take steps to address the epidemic of violence against indigenous women and children around the world,” Vazquez said. “Yet, these words only comprise the first step. I hope that all member states will take the actions necessary to empower and protect indigenous women and children.” Vazquez added that states must strive to meet and exceed human rights standards and commit to ending violence against indigenous women and children. “The rights of indigenous women and children are a cross-cutting issue that requires regular attention in a range of settings and contexts. This should be directly addressed whenever human rights are discussed, not just in specialized meetings and expert sessions,” she said. “Together we have come so far to address these issues, but our journey to protect Indigenous women and children is long. Wado to the UN and member states for the work performed so far, and I look forward to all of the positive changes to come.” Current NCAI President Brian Cladoosby commended the strong delegation of American Indian and Alaska Native women who traveled to the UN to advocate for strong and decisive action to combat violence against Native women and girls. “We stand with our sisters in the effort to ensure that all Indigenous women are able to live lives free from violence,” he said. Cladoosby also applauded the adoption of the outcome document. “The General Assembly has established pathways for implementation of the UNDRIP, a vital agreement to protect the rights of our peoples. Our tribal governments, together with our brothers and sisters around the world, will need to continue a sustained effort to work with the various UN bodies, including the Human Rights Council and the Secretary General, to ensure that the commitments made today by the UN member countries are fulfilled,” he said. More than 1,000 delegates representing indigenous peoples from around the world attended the WCIP.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
09/26/2014 08:25 AM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – A Cherokee-owned and -operated business has made its mark in the business world in a big way. Cherokee Data Solutions has received awards for excellence in what it does and continues to grow annually. CDS was founded in 2001 by CN citizen Pamela Huddleston Bickford, who before starting the business was a stay-at-home mother for 25 years. “That was an intentional decision by my husband and I that I would support his career and then when it was my turn he would support my career,” she said. Her late husband, Paul Bickford, was an engineer, so their family was always moving throughout the United States for his job. “I wanted to create a business that we wouldn’t have to ever move again,” she said. “We wanted to be home near our family, our culture, our tribe, Oklahoma. Cherokee Data was created to accomplish those goals.” CDS started as a technology company. As the business grew customers began requesting different types of products. The company now provides office supplies, medical supplies, promotional office supplies and structural steel. They also work with firearms, but that is a government-only division. Huddleston Bickford said her son Ross Bickford, who is CDS’ vice president, has created more than 700,000 items for businesses within the promotional office supplies division. She said the business also customizes products according to customers needs. “We’ll bring in things that need to be customized, and we’ll do that work here,” she said. “We’re integrators, so we look at what people already have and what their need is and then we’ll suggest what a solution is. Then we’ll take that solution all the way through installation and support.” CDS also offers the disposal of old technology products, such as computers, when bringing in new products that a company has ordered. CDS takes the old products and wipes all data off of them and then takes the products off to be recycled. “What we do is take their end-of-life technology, wipe it clean, send it to the right places (to be recycled and reused),” Roger Huddleston, CDS director of marketing and operational excellence, said. “It’s really turned into a really good program, and I think they like it.” Huddleston Bickford said CDS mainly focuses on government accounts, such as the CN, but also serve commercial accounts such as aircraft manufacturing company Boeing. She added that CDS also works with nearly 30 tribes in the United States and with nearly almost every CN department. “We’ve got product in the White House, product in the space station, product in Afghanistan,” she said. “Cherokee Data’s all over the world.” Huddleston Bickford said she thanks the CN and believes it helped the company grow. “Most of our work is outside of Oklahoma, but the opportunity that we had to ever get big enough to do work outside Oklahoma really goes back to the TERO (Tribal Rights Employment Office) program,” she said. “What it did for us was it allowed us to grow the business to where we can compete for those large contracts.” CDS works by a golden hour rule, which means within the first hour of contact by customers CDS contacts them. “Our golden hour rule, it’s a very serious rule,” she said. “You call here, you talk to a person. You don’t have to worry about it. Cherokee Data’s going to get your answer in 60 minutes. You’re going to know if we can do this or we can’t do this. And here’s the ETA of when you’re going to have your quote or your bid or your solution. Then they’re going to get a little notice, ‘Hey, we’re done. It’s shipping. Here’s your tracking number.’ The customer never has to guess. They never have to worry.” CDS has won numerous awards, including the 2008 Top 30 Women-Owned Business in Oklahoma by the Journal Record, the 2012 US Department of Treasury Preferred Vendor and the Inc. 500|5000 List of Fastest Growing Private Companies in America for its third time in a row. Huddleston Bickford said the award she was most honored to receive was CDS’s first award, the 2005 Cherokee Nation Supplier of the Year award. “You always want to win with your own folks,” she said. “It means an awful lot when you get recognized by your tribe. The most exciting thing was that was also the first award the Cherokee Nation ever gave a vendor and that happened to be us. It was a huge honor for us.” For more information, visit <a href="http://www.okcds.com" target="_blank">www.okcds.com</a>.