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
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.

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

News

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/20/2014 04:00 PM
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) – California’s Pala Indians have launched their Internet gambling site in New Jersey following a test period in November, becoming the first tribe to do so in the state. The Pala Band of Mission Indians received permission from New Jersey gambling regulators for a full launch of the website in a partnership with Atlantic City’s Borgata. PalaCasino.com started taking bets on Nov. 29, Jim Ryan, CEO of Pala Interactive, the tribe’s Internet gambling arm, said. “We had a solid weekend and we have yet to start marketing,” he told The Associated Press. “We believe we are breaking into the New Jersey market at the perfect time.” The tribe’s entry into New Jersey’s online market comes at the anniversary of Internet gambling, which has not produced nearly the amount of revenue state officials had hoped. When it began on Nov. 25, 2013, New Jersey officials were projecting a $1 billion a year industry in its first year. To date, only about one-tenth of that, or $111 million, has been won online by the casinos. The tribe, which runs the Pala Casino and Spa in San Diego County, California, is using one of the Borgata’s online gambling licenses. Like other New Jersey Internet gambling providers, it can only take bets from customers within New Jersey’s borders. It plans to launch an online poker site in the first quarter of 2015. The site’s full debut came days after New Jersey gambling regulators said they had found no evidence Ryan was involved in a 2006 cheating scandal at his previous employer. The report determined the UltimateBet scandal occurred while Ryan was head of Excapsa Software. That firm’s software was used to cheat players by revealing their hidden cards to other users, resulting in losses of nearly $20 million to players. But the software was developed by a different company that predated Ryan’s employment at Excapsa, according to the report. The money was ultimately refunded. The Pala site uses a different platform, Ryan said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/20/2014 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Candidates running for office in the 2015 Cherokee Nation General Election can pick up their election packets beginning on Jan. 5 at the Election Services Office. According to an Election Commission press release, the filing period for candidates will begin on March 2, and will continue until 5 p.m. on March 5. If any candidate wishes to withdraw their candidacy he or she may do so 10 days following the close of the filing period, the release states. Seats open are for principal chief, deputy chief as well as Tribal Council districts 1, 3, 6, 8, 12, 13, 14 and one At-Large. Registered voters residing outside the CN jurisdiction who wish to vote by absentee ballot may fill out an absentee ballot request to be processed from Feb. 2 to May 8, the release states. Absentee ballot requests will be available at the Election Services Office and online at <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/elections" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/elections</a>. Absentee ballots will be mailed out on May 26-27 by the Election Commission. Voter registration will close March 31. To print a voter registration form online visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/elections" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/elections</a> or pick up one in person at the Election Services Office. Citizens can request to have one sent by email or fax. Also, voters with address changes, name changes or any changed information will need to submit a new voter registration application, according to the release. The Election Services Office is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It’s located at 22116 S. Bald Hill Road. For more information call 918-458-5899.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
12/19/2014 02:42 PM
EUCHA, Okla. – Eucha residents gathered on the evening of Dec. 13 to celebrate the opening of the new Eucha Community Center. The center’s opening was five years in the making after setbacks prevented residents from completing the 50-foot-by-75-foot building, which will be used by the Eucha Indian Organization and community. “We had a lot of problems. The roof blew off twice while we were trying to build it. Some of the guys got dissatisfied and they quit, but some of them stayed on. And then about three months ago I started coming up here and working on the inside of it,” community organizer Tad Dunham said. “We finally got it finished. Actually we got it finished yesterday (Dec. 12).” The center’s opening coincided with the annual Eucha Fire Department Christmas dinner. The fire department and its firefighters are a centerpiece for the community located about four miles west of Jay in Delaware County and about two miles north of Lake Eucha. Dunham said when the lake was built in 1952 the town was moved to its present location. In years past, the fire department, which is next door to the community building, backed its trucks out of the fire station to make room for events. “We always worried about them freezing this time of year because some of the water lines are only an eighth of an inch that go to the gauges and they freeze really quickly,” Dunham said. “Now we don’t have to pull them out. We can use this building (community center), and it just makes everything greater. Plus we have more room in here.” Cullus Buck, EIO chairman and EFD assistant chief, said the center would “mean a lot” because it gives residents a place to meet without using the fire station. “We opened up the fire department many times for family reunions and different things, and now this will take care of that, and we won’t have to worry about our trucks freezing,” Buck said. He said he wants to use the center to keep the area’s Cherokee heritage alive by having craftspeople and others visit to share their knowledge. “I’m going to try to get some beading classes in. My wife, she knows how to (do) that and some basket weaving. We had a guy come up and said he would teach knife (making), and I’ve got a couple of people who are interested in teaching the Cherokee language,” Buck said. He said he appreciates any help the Cherokee Nation could provide in preserving Cherokee heritage in Eucha but believes there are residents qualified to teach the Cherokee language and arts and crafts. The CN’s Community Work Program provided $116,000 to build the center, and the nearby Seneca-Cayuga Tribe in Grove and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe in Wyandotte also provided assistance. The Eastern Shawnee donated the building’s appliances, and the Seneca-Cayuga helped fund the Christmas dinner. “It wasn’t just the Cherokee Nation. Different tribes helped pitch in to get it (community center) done,” Buck said. “There was one point I wanted to give up. We got it all ready to go, had all the trusses up, and they all fell in because we had a tornado right down the road.” Dunham said he believes the building will begin an era in the community because people now have a gathering place for reunions, parties, weddings and funerals. “It’s going to open up the whole area for the community, not just the Eucha community but the surrounding area. It will be a general purpose building for the whole community,” he said. “I want to thank the Cherokee Nation not only for this building, but everything else they do for the community and all the Cherokee people – all the health care they provide, the roads they build – if you look around you can see their mark on about everything in the area, so we really appreciate the Cherokee Nation.”
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/19/2014 12:47 PM
TULSA, Okla. (AP) – The Cherokee Nation has opened a tag office in Tulsa as it makes its license plates available to its citizens across Oklahoma. Principal Chief Bill John Baker says demand is up for Cherokee Nation license plates, so it was necessary to open a Tulsa office so it can deliver tags in a timely manner. The tag office opened Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. It joins five others - at Adair, Collinsville, Jay, Sallisaw and Tahlequah. The new office is in the Cherokee Nation Welcome Center off U.S. 412. In the last fiscal year, the Cherokee Nation generated $11 million in motor vehicle tag revenue, up $2 million from the earlier year. Funds are used for public schools, road and bridge improvement projects, and law enforcement.
BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
12/18/2014 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – During its Dec. 5 meeting, Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission Chairwoman Stacy Leeds announced that starting in January the commission would require a series of amendments to its regulations to implement the recently amended Gaming Commission Act. “As you all know as soon as we hit the ground running in January we will require a series of amendments to our own regulations to implement the new ordinance, and our first order of business will be taking up changes to licensing,” Leeds said. CN Attorney General Todd Hembree said that whatever changes are made would come from the CNGC. “If policies are changed they will go through the Administrative Procedures Act, and there is a publication period and a public comment period,” he said. “These will not happen overnight. There are processes.” In April, Tribal Councilors limited the CNGC’s regulatory powers over Cherokee Nation Entertainment operations with Legislative Act 07-14. In June, the council made technical changes to that act with LA 17-14. Principal Chief Bill John Baker signed both acts but the amendments didn’t become law until they received National Indian Gaming Commission approval on Oct. 27. Before the NIGC approved the amended act, 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. The amendment calls for the CNGC to regulate and issue regulations only related to CNE’s gaming operations and follow only the NIGC’s minimum internal control standards or MICS. Before, the CNGC was required to establish tribal internal control standards or TICS to meet the tribe’s specific gaming needs. Nongaming operations would include areas such as food, beverage, hotel and entertainment. Because the CNGC would no longer be regulating them, they would fall under the regulation of Cherokee Nation Businesses and CNE, according to the amended act. “So it’s my understanding that the attorney general will visit with the council, see what their desires are and he’ll propose back to us regulations that would be put into effect and those would be put into effect in this body and through our regulatory process just like everything else,” Leeds said. “But I think as a courtesy to the council we get their point of view about how that is carried through and then it becomes part of our general regulatory structure like anything else would.” Hembree said if there were changes in policy there would be changes in the way CNB does business and it would have to follow the law and the policies. He added that he has met with Leeds, Gaming Commission Director Jamie Hummingbird, CNB officials to address changes and questions. “With any change there are questions. One thing I believe the intent of the amendments were was to ensure that CNB played on a level playing field with other gaming facilities and that the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission was able to maintain their very well oversight of the gaming operations and that they adhere to the strict federal standards that are there,” Hembree said. “It comes into the interpretation of what is an operational facility, what is a gaming activity. Those are the questions that we are working out. I do not believe that there will be much that changes from the implementation of these amendments.” Hembree said he, Leeds and Hummingbird also met with NIGC legal staff in Washington, D.C., to discuss issues that may or may not arise. “I wouldn’t say concerns, but there’s unknown because we’re exploring new ground on this,” he said. “There are going to be questions that if X happens how does that effect Y, and that’s why we are meeting and working out the details and implementation. We’re not just blindly going into this. Before these things happen we talk it out and make sure we are all on the same page.” The revised act also called for the creation of a three member, non-voting advisory board to be made up of Tribal Councilors. According to the act, Tribal Councilors shall appoint the advisory board with members serving three-year terms. Leeds said the CNGC knows there will be an advisory board but commission officials have no guidance on how or when it’s going to be implemented. According to the previous and revised act, the CNGC is part of the tribe’s executive branch that carries out the Nation’s responsibilities under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the NIGC’s regulations. The act states the CNGC shall be consistent with all laws and resolutions of the Tribal Council. When asked if the advisory board violates the Constitution’s separation of powers clause, Hembree said it does not because the board would serve as a non-voting board. He added that advisory board members would get access to information that a sitting commissioner would get. Hembree also said, as of Dec. 11, he had not met with the Tribal Council but would be giving suggestions to its legal counsel “as to the policies of how the advisory members are chosen, their length of term, how they resolve any potential or perceived conflicts of interest.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/18/2014 02:23 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Hunger Buster Beef Cuts, a made-in-Oklahoma company, donated 720 pounds of beef cuts to the Cherokee Nation Foundation to supplement programs helping the tribe’s citizens facing food insecurities. Wal-Mart, Hunger Buster and Jason Christie, professional angler and CN citizen, presented the donation to tribal officials on Dec. 11. “Our mission is to provide education assistance to Cherokee students,” CNF Executive Director Janice Randall said. “We know hunger is often an obstacle to learning. This is a way for us to support the Nation’s efforts in addressing food insecurities and provide more food for backpacks going home with kids this winter.” As part of Christie’s partnership with Hunger Buster Beef Cuts and Wal-Mart, the company is donating 25 percent of all products sold at participating Wal-Mart locations to the CNF in the form of beef sticks. Hunger Buster as well as Cherokee Nation Businesses sponsors Christie. “Wal-Mart is proud to partner with Hunger Buster Beef Cuts and Jason Christie to provide a great product to our customers,” Jim Enneking, fishing buyer for Wal-Mart, said. “We are excited to be part of the donation to the Cherokee Nation Foundation to combat hunger.” Christie and Wal-Mart chose the CNF to receive the beef cuts in hopes a portion would be used to support backpack programs throughout the rural areas of the CN as well as other CN programs addressing food insecurities. Backpack programs provide a bag of shelf-stable food to elementary, junior high and high school students at risk of going hungry over weekends and school holidays. “I am a big advocate of giving back to the community, and Cherokee Nation is a major part of our community,” Christie said. “I take pride in representing Hunger Buster Beef Cuts not only because they are a healthy snack, but because of their 25 percent donation of food to charities. I value being a part of that.” Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick was instrumental in forming the partnership and praised the donation. “Jason is a former educator and coach at a rural school district and is aware of some of the hardships our kids face,” he said. “His generosity to give back to our tribe and help these kids from missing one less meal is overwhelming. It takes a tribe to raise these children.” “We couldn’t be more proud of Jason and his example of leadership and giving back,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “We will work diligently alongside the foundation to ensure this donation supplements our existing programs. I know it will be utilized by Cherokee families and Cherokee children in need.” Hunger Buster beef sticks are 100 percent beef, gluten-free, low-calorie, low-carb, low-sugar and contain no MSG or trans fat. “Jason Christie is a valuable partner of ours, having been a major supporter of our products and our mission to help feed the hungry,” Richard Cranford, owner of QuarterShare LLC, said. “We are pleased that the Cherokee Nation Foundation is his choice to receive our donation. To provide children with nutritious snacks is a principal priority for our company.”