The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians’ casino sign flashes in front of the casino in Tahlequah, Okla. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is considering an application by the UKB to put the casino land into trust. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

BIA considering UKB trust application

The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians’ casino sign flashes in front of the casino in Tahlequah, Okla. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is considering an application by the UKB to put the casino land into trust. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians’ casino sign flashes in front of the casino in Tahlequah, Okla. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is considering an application by the UKB to put the casino land into trust. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY CHRISTINA GOODVOICE
11/18/2011 02:40 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Bureau of Indian Affairs is considering placing land into trust for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians for gaming purposes, but Cherokee Nation officials said they would object to the UKB trust application.

According to a Nov. 4 letter from BIA Acting Regional Director Charles Head to CN Principal Chief Bill John Baker, the bureau’s Eastern Oklahoma Regional Office is considering placing 2.03 acres of fee simple property into trust for the UKB. The UKB casino sits on the property, which is located at 2450 S. Muskogee Ave.

However, CN Attorney General Diane Hammons said the CN would file an objection to the trust application. According to the letter, the CN has until Dec. 3 to do so.

“I do not know of any other federally recognized tribes that have attempted to have land put into trust within our jurisdiction,” she said.

The UKB, which formed under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act, has no trust-land base and operates within the CN 14-county jurisdiction.

Although the letter was sent to Baker and CN Real Estate Services on Nov. 4, Baker, Hammons and the Tribal Council didn’t learn of the letter until Nov. 14 due to a delivery error by mailroom staff.

Todd Enlow, CN Leadership executive director, said mailroom workers pick up all certified, registered and express mail from the U.S. Postal Service; electronically checks in the mail; and then delivers the mail to the proper addressee within the Tribal Complex.

“When they received that letter, I’m not sure if it was just accidentally appended to another letter, or if it was accidentally grabbed in the wrong batch,” Enlow said.

The letter was processed in the mailroom on Nov. 7 and delivered on Nov. 8 to the CN Indian Child Welfare Office. After ICW workers opened the letter, they realized the letter was delivered to the wrong department and rerouted it to Real Estate Services on Nov. 10, Enlow said.

He added that the two workers in Real Estate, who have responsibility for viewing such letters, were out on real estate closings on Nov. 10, and all CN offices were closed Nov. 11 for Veteran’s Day. So, Enlow said, nobody in Real Estate saw the letter until the morning of Nov. 14.

Within 20 minutes of the letter being discovered, it was scanned and sent via email to Baker and Hammons, Enlow said.

“Just because of a busy normal day, that email was not noticed by the chief until it was brought to his attention at the council meeting,” he said. “He hadn’t had a chance to go through all of his email. He received it sometime around 11 a.m. on the 14th, but he hadn’t read it yet.”

Tribal Councilors inquired at their meeting on Nov. 14 as to why Hammons wasn’t notified sooner about the UKB trust request.

“It stuns me that nobody has come to us before now with this information. I’m just stunned and I’m upset,” Tribal Councilor Dick Lay said.

Prior to learning of the UKB request, councilors were discussing legislation regarding other tribes possibly requesting trust land within the CN.

“This is pretty serious stuff when another tribe comes within our jurisdiction and tries to put land in trust,” Tribal Council Speaker Meredith Frailey said.

After some discussion, councilors unanimously approved an act addressing “foreign” tribes attempting to place land into trust within the CN. According to the act, the principal chief and his officers would reject any application by a foreign Native American tribe to acquire, transfer or otherwise place land in federal trust status within the CN jurisdictional boundaries unless the principal chief is authorized by a two-thirds vote of the council’s entire membership.

Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts went a step further by emailing Head on Nov. 17.

“Attached you will find the Land into Trust Act passed unanimously at full Cherokee Nation Tribal Council meeting the night of Monday, November 14, 2011,” Cowan Watts wrote.

“Although I have not seen a signed copy from Principal Chief Baker’s office, he assured us publicly he agreed wholeheartedly on the issue and would fight to protect our sovereign borders from foreign Tribes including the United Keetoowah Band (UKB).”

In her email, Cowan Watts referenced the BIA letter and wrote that Nov. 14 was the first time she heard of the UKB application.

“The Cherokee Nation is adamantly opposed to any other tribe putting land into trust within the legal and sovereign boundaries of the Cherokee Nation per the fee patents of 1838 and 1846,” she wrote. “The Cherokee Nation is adamantly opposed to the United Keetoowah Band putting land into trust for any reason within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation as defined by the highest form of land ownership, our fee patents of 1838 and 1846.”

Cowan Watts also requested all forms of correspondence between any CN official and the BIA, as well as the written process for notification of land into trust.

CN officials said Baker is opposed to other tribes putting land into trust within the CN.

“Chief Baker will always protect and defend the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation and will aggressively defend the Nation’s boundaries and any encroachment within those boundaries,” Baker’s spokesperson Kalyn Free wrote in a Nov. 16 email to the Cherokee Phoenix.

christina-goodvoice@cherokee.org • 918-207-3825


News

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/19/2017 10:00 AM
SHAWNEE, Okla. (AP) — A Shawnee casino security guard who shot himself after fatally shooting a fellow officer has died. The Oklahoman reports 28-year-old Justin Wells entered the Grand Casino on Jan. 10, shot and killed 22-year-old Matt Palmer and then turned the gun on himself. An online obituary says Wells was hospitalized and died Wednesday. FBI spokesman Terry Weber says that Wells had not yet been arrested. The agency is handling the case because the casino sits on trust land for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, which also owns and operates the casino. Potawatomi spokeswoman Jennifer Bell says Palmer and Wells were both security guards at the casino, who are not allowed to carry guns. Bell declined to comment on the shooting. The tribe says Palmer was hired in August, and Wells in 2012.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
01/18/2017 04:15 PM
GROVE, Okla. – Cherokee Nation, Cherokee Nation Businesses and Grove officials on Jan. 17 dedicated the Cherokee Casino Grove with a ribbon-cutting and grand opening. The tribe’s 10th casino is expected to bring 175 jobs to northern Delaware County. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the jobs means employees would be able to take advantage of health insurance, retirement plans and other benefits to better their lives. He added that the casino would also bring more sales tax revenue to Grove. Most importantly, he said, the casino means there would be more funding to provide health care in northeastern Oklahoma. “You don’t have to drive very far to the south to see where we took $100 million dollars and used part of it to build a new clinic in Jay, Oklahoma. So each and every one of these employees that work here can come to work each and every day knowing they are making the lives of their parents, their grandparents and their children better because these dollars...go back into services, scholarships for our kids, builds houses for our people and provides better health care,” he said. The facility offers 400 electronic games, a full-service bar, live music venue, dance floor and restaurant serving lunch and dinner. The rustic, lodge-style venue features an outdoor patio and event space for hosting private and community events. CNB CEO Shawn Slaton told casino employees the fruits of their labor are helping Cherokee people. Along with thanking CNB employees, he thanked Grove’s leaders, Delaware County officials, CN administration officials, Tribal Councilors, CNB management and the construction company for their efforts in helping finish the casino in eight months. “We always had our eye on Grove. We felt with the lake here and the population that comes in the summer it was a good area to take a look at. We did our market surveys and market studies and that supported the decision to go forward with an investment in a property like this,” Slaton said. “We worked on this quite a while and finally made it happen. We’re happy to be here, and we hope that this is just the start for what we do with this facility.” He acknowledged the casino does have “a lot of competition” from area tribal casinos, but he expects people from Missouri and Arkansas to frequent the casino. “The one thing we have that they (competition) don’t is the lake right next door, and we know Grove blossoms in the spring and summer and the early fall, and we’re positioned well to take part in that,” Slaton said. The Red Stone Construction Company started work on the 39,000-square-foot casino in March and finished in December. The casino is located near Highway 59 and E. 250 Road, northwest of Grove. “It’s beautiful. Eight months ago...we were here looking to the future to see what this was going to be, and now here it is. What’s more exciting is what we have to look forward to in 10 years or five years or three years,” said Grove Mayor Marty Follis. “I can’t wait for them to knock out a wall in this place and start expanding. We’ve got a big future ahead of us.” Follis said the casino coupled with the popular 64-mile long Grand Lake o' the Cherokees about 200 yards from the casino should be a winning combination. “It’s a great advantage that we have. We are super excited. It’s a great partnership between the city and the Cherokee Nation,” Follis said. Based on what happened in Rogers County when the tribe expanded the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, the intersection of Hwy. 59 and E. 250 Road in Grove is bound to see tremendous growth, Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard said. Buzzard, whose district includes Grove, said he is glad casino profits would go toward health care and other services and that the facility created jobs. “We just recently opened a clinic in Jay (about 10 miles south of Grove), which brought over 100 jobs to Jay, so Delaware County is on the move,” he said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/18/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – More than 30 members of “The Association of Mary,” a Brazilian Christian organization, visited the Cherokee Nation on Jan. 3 to offer prayers for unity and peace in 2017. The group held a cultural and informational exchange with tribal officials. A representative from the association said prayers are offered daily for Indigenous populations in North and South America. Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. addressed the group and thanked them for traveling to learn firsthand about issues facing tribal citizens in America, including the protection of natural resources. “Now more than ever we should embrace an opportunity to bond with people of goodwill all over the world, people who are praying for our wellness and success,” Hoskin said. “They traveled thousands of miles to learn more about Indian issues, history and spirituality. Seeing this global support reinforces just how important and powerful unity can be.”
BY TRAVIS SNELL
Assistant Editor – @cp_tsnell
01/18/2017 01:15 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – On Jan. 17, Cherokee Nation citizen and Dist. 86 Rep. Will Fourkiller refused to appear before the House of Representative’s committee that is investigating him and another state representative for sexual harassment claims. The Stilwell native said he would only speak to the Special Investigation Committee if the proceeding was open to the public. According to reports, the committee has been hearing from witnesses in only closed sessions. “Though uncertain of the precise allegation, I am certain I have nothing to hide,” Fourkiller told Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Wanette, in a letter. Cockroft chairs the committee. “A confidential, closed-door proceeding does not provide the equitable forum to repair my character and reputation.” Fourkiller is under investigation for a sexual complaint lodged against him in April 2015 by a female high school page. “That was the extent of what I was told,” Fourkiller said on Jan. 17 of his 2015 meeting with a House attorney and an employee of the House chief clerk. “The page was not identified and I did not inquire. I denied anything improper but immediately shied away from my normal interaction and role with the page program for that week out of an abundance of caution.” According to the program, high schools students from the state server as pages for a week during regular legislative sessions and do interact with legislators. Fourkiller on Jan. 11 said he was made aware in 2015 that a page had indicated he had said something that made her uncomfortable and he had apologized. “I do not know what I did or said, but whatever it was I certainly didn’t mean to do it, and I apologized,” he said. He added that the 2015 incident is the only one that he was made aware of by House staff. The House has declined to release the complaint, citing personnel reasons. Cockroft on Jan. 17 defended the investigation and said making the committee meetings public would discourage wronged employees from coming forward. “The sole reason for holding these meetings in private is to protect the confidential information of victims and unelected witnesses — not to protect lawmakers,” he said. “In order to have a workplace where employees feel protected and valued, it is vital that we guard the privacy of those who make claims of harassment and discrimination.” Cockroft said the committee would make its findings public and that it could recommend the House take disciplinary action against a member, including up to expulsion. According to reports six Republicans and three Democrats comprise the committee. However, Democrats – Rep. David Perryman, Rep. Steve Kouplen and Rep. Meloyde Blancett – have refused to be involved because of the committee’s secrecy rules. The committee was formed in response to public outrage over a settlement paid to a fired legislative assistant who had accused Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, of sexual harassment. The former assistant, Hollie Anne Bishop, complained the House fired her in November 2015 in retaliation for reporting Kirby had sexually harassed her. Former House Speaker Jeff Hickman approved the $44,500 settlement of her wrongful termination claim shortly before he left office. Officials said there was no financial settlement in the complaint against Fourkiller. Fourkiller said he and his family were leaning on God through the ordeal. “We have not lost faith. In fact, it is growing stronger. We know that God is good and at the end of all this there is something great waiting for us.” Fourkiller was first elected to the Dist. 86 seat in 2011. He was re-elected in 2013 and 2015. He also ran for principal chief of the CN in 2015, finishing third at 10.58 percent with 2,040 votes.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
01/16/2017 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission continues to prepare for the 2017 Tribal Council elections with less than a month before people begin filing for candidacy. At the commission’s Jan. 10 meeting, records showed that 40 people had picked up or requested candidate packets from the commission. According to records, three people who picked up packets but do not intend to file are Lisa Trice, who got a packet for education purposes; Commissioner Martha Calico, who got one for reference; and Cherokee Phoenix Senior Reporter Jami Murphy, who got a packet for the news organization. The candidacy filing period is scheduled for Feb. 6-9. At the Jan. 10 meeting, EC Administrator Brooke Tillison reported that there were 66,433 CN citizens registered to vote, which is more than 200 less than the previous month after removing voters who had died but were still registered. Also during the meeting, Commissioner Carolyn Allen asked to be recognized and requested to speak on her own behalf. “There were some comments that were made last month in the December meeting that I consider to be a direct attack on my character. And I thought long and hard about how to address this issue, but I have chosen and I’m going to take the high road on this issue,” Allen said. At the December meeting, Commissioner Teresa Hart read a statement regarding her motion to accept new resumes for the fifth commissioner’s spot that is in holdover after the expiration of Allen’s term. At that meeting, Hart said “we need to vote whether to cast a vote to keep seat No. 5 as is or move to open it up for replacement.” She also read a statement regarding Allen and her actions while on the commission. <a href="http://cnmediav1.cherokee.org/vod/Phoenix/News/2017/vid_170111_CNECregMtg_rjg_wc.mp4" target="_blank">Click here to watch</a>the January meeting <a href="http://cnmediav1.cherokee.org/vod/Phoenix/News/2016/vid_161213_CNECregularMeeting_rjg_wc.mp4" target="_blank">Click here to watch</a>the December meeting.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/15/2017 10:00 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma's tax on gasoline and diesel, untouched since 1987 and among the lowest in the nation, is becoming a tempting target for state lawmakers desperate for revenue amid a third straight year of budget declines. Several Republican legislators said last week they expect proposals will be unveiled once the session begins in February to increase the state's gasoline and diesel taxes of 17 cents and 14 cents, respectively. "I would not be surprised to see a fuel tax, tobacco tax or a tax on services being filed just so there is a vehicle out there, a placeholder for that discussion," said new House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. "But actually getting that accomplished is a totally separate issue." Oklahoma ranks 49th among the 50 states for its tax on diesel and 48th for its tax on gasoline, according to a November report from the American Petroleum Institute. During last year's session, as lawmakers looked to close a $1.3 billion hole in the budget, Rep. Earl Sears introduced a bill to increase the tax by 3 cents per gallon. The measure would have generated about $41 million annually, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill by House researchers, but it failed on a 14-9 vote against it. "It was an election year," said Sears, R-Bartlesville. "We had members who were very reluctant to raise taxes." This year, lawmakers are again facing another massive budget hole of about $870 million, or 12 percent of state spending, and many of the one-time sources of revenue that the Legislature tapped last year to balance the budget are no longer available. While there is a lot of chatter this year among Republican leaders about the prospect of raising revenue through increased taxes, it's unclear how much political will there is to do so. The approval of any tax increase requires a three-fourths vote in the House and Senate, and nearly a third of the members in each chamber are brand-new, and many of them campaigned on a platform of lower taxes. "That's a very high threshold," McCall said, noting a 76-vote requirement in the House. "The size of our caucus (75 members) ... we don't even have 76 members if you could get them all together. And there's going to be a division in the caucus on that issue. While McCall said he expects to have a good working relationship with House Democratic Leader Rep. Scott Inman, the minority party likely won't be too eager to vote for tax increases that disproportionately affect the middle-class and working poor. Democrats in both chambers have been particularly vocal about Republicans' recently enacted tax cuts on both income and oil and gas production, both of which favor high-income earners. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, said that while he's open to looking at a fuel tax increase, it likely will generate a diminishing amount of revenue because of greater fuel efficiency and an increase in electric vehicles. Dunnington said it makes more sense to look at increasing income taxes for the wealthiest Oklahomans. "Are we thinking ahead far enough about technology and are we appropriately assessing taxation that is going to work for our future?" Dunnington said. "Or are we just being short-sighted and scrambling because we're broke and making bad decisions."