Julia Coates

Sovereignty is not a balancing act

BY Phoenix Archives
01/11/2012 10:26 AM
Tribal Councilor

Cherokee Phoenix Senior Reporter Will Chavez is to be commended in his recent reporting of the intimidation Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has directed toward the Cherokee Nation.

The issues are complex and intertwined: United Keetoowah Band applications for land into trust, citizenship of Freedmen descendants and the implementation of the 1999 Constitution. But CN citizens need to be particularly sensitive to the kinds of comments made by the administration in reacting to these intimidations.

The administration’s comments (which have been echoed by at least three members of the legislative branch, as well in emails, committee meetings or personal remarks) leave one with a sense of insecurity about the courage or willingness of this administration to defend the CN’s sovereignty to the utmost.

When Principal Chief Bill John Baker describes the options in front of us as a “balancing act” between how much sovereignty we can manage to maintain without losing federal funding, it represents acquiescence to the intimidation of federal agencies. The administration and the Tribal Council need to remember that the federal courts can trump the attempted maneuvers of federal agencies.

It is important for CN citizens to remember that when we are presented with only these two options – either capitulate to the demands of federal agencies or lose funding – we are being presented with a false choice. There is a third option, and the CN has understood this for decades. Under several previous administrations, the CN has refused to limit or reduce its level of inherent sovereignty. The removal of bureau approval authority over our constitutions has been only one of several recent actions reflecting that strong stance on the part of the Nation.

In the past 20 years, the CN has been involved in cases with the Delaware Nation over appropriation (with BIA complicity) of CN jurisdictional areas. It has likewise been involved in similar issues with the UKB (with whom the BIA is also presently colluding). For more than 30 years, the CN has been involved in both tribal and federal litigation with the descendants of Freedmen over their demands for citizenship. And we already have a court decision dating to 1976 (Harjo v. Kleppe) regarding the inappropriateness of the bureau’s exercise of constitutional approval authority over non-Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act tribes such as the CN.

CN citizens need to remember that in every instance, without exception, the CN has prevailed in the federal courts on all of these issues. And we have every expectation that those precedents will control future federal decisions, as long as we stay the course. But even if they do not, it would be unconscionable for the CN to not even try to defend its sovereignty to the greatest possible extent.

Yes, we are tired of having to always be in court, but the exhaustion of our Nation will be permanent if we are not willing to pursue the highest remedy. In an era when tribes are fighting for every inch, we too, must fight for our territory and our right to make our own decisions about our government and society.

CN citizens should let their wishes be known to Chief Baker: Do not take the unprecedented step of giving back what we already have. Do not capitulate. Exercise patience and courage. Demand the utmost sovereignty for the CN from the highest authority, which is not Housing and Urban Development or the BIA, but the federal courts.

Julia-coates@cherokee.org • 918-772-0288


Principal Chief
12/05/2014 08:00 AM
We celebrate Christmas to honor the birth of Jesus Christ and his life of service. The enduring and basic message of his life is one of peace and goodwill towards all. So while the Christmas season is a wonderful time filled with family and friends, it is also the perfect time to reflect on the year and see how we’ve helped our fellow man by emulating the virtues of Jesus Christ. No matter your circumstances, this is the time of year for each of us to embrace the virtues of charity, righteousness and goodness in each other and in the world. I hope that whatever your burdens and challenges are, the Christmas season will keep your spirits bright and your soul full. The magic of the season is that the world seems brighter with unlimited possibilities. I hope that holds true for you and yours. As 2014 comes to a close, it’s the ideal moment to count our blessings. Many of our Cherokee citizens have been blessed this past year with additional or improved services. We’ve added more access to better health care, built many safe, affordable houses that our citizens are turning into homes, and are providing greater opportunities for our people to succeed. While the year may not have been perfect, our Cherokee spirit helps all of us rise above any challenge we face. Cherokees are strong and have always been able to look past our trials and come together with friends and family, give of ourselves and share with others, and support those who are truly in need. That’s what makes Christmas extraordinary. That’s the Cherokee way. I know that we are blessed as a people, and with God on our side, brighter tomorrows are inevitable. More than ever, it is important to share this message of hope and inspiration today. In that spirit of grace, let us reaffirm the values that define us as Cherokee – our community, our unity, our responsibility, our traditions and our love and respect for our fellow Cherokee citizens. I’ve been taught by our Cherokee elders that we are each other’s keepers, and have been throughout our history. So let us, as Cherokee people, look to the future with renewed courage, conviction and, most importantly, hope. The positive things we do today will have a ripple effect for Cherokees for the next seven generations. Together, we can foster real growth in our families and communities, we can take shared responsibility for vulnerable children and our tribal elders, and we can keep the true spirit of Christmas – selflessness and compassion – alive in our hearts for Cherokee people in the upcoming year. I wish you and yours the very best for the season and for prosperity in the New Year. I hope you are surrounded by family and friends and feel merriment and joy this holiday season. And for our troops who are unable to be home for the holidays, I wish them Godspeed and that the New Year brings them safely home to their families. May God bless each of you this Christmas, and as always, may God continue to bless the Cherokee Nation.
Executive Editor
11/05/2014 08:46 AM
Attorney General Todd Hembree recently released an opinion that wrongly affirmed the two-year term of an Editorial Board member. In doing so, he ignored the will and intent of the Independent Press Act. The issue provoking the opinion began in January of 2012 when Clarice Doyle, a Cherokee Nation citizen and director at Rogers State University, was appointed to the Editorial Board to replace board member Dan Agent. Doyle was Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s nomination to the board and was unanimously confirmed by the Tribal Council. Soon after her appointment it was discovered that the appointment resolution was drafted in error. The resolution stated that her board term expired in October of 2014, giving her a term less than the term required. The Act explicitly states: “terms of office of the Board members shall be six years.” Upon discovery of this error, the board directed me to bring it to the attention of the appropriate authorities in order to correct the mistake. I initially discussed it with Hembree who described it to me as a “scrivener’s error,” which is an inadvertent mistake that changes the meaning of the document but does not occur from reasoning or determination. Hembree assured me he would address the mistake. Later, I discussed the mistake with Council attorney Dianne Barker-Harrold during a phone call. She said that she was on a business trip in Alaska but that she would look into it when she returned. I also discussed the mistake with Council Speaker Tina Glory-Jordan during a meeting with her in her law office. I shared with her a copy of Doyle’s appointment resolution and a copy of the Independent Press Act with the relevant language highlighted. She assured me that she would look into it. The mistake was not corrected despite these assurances. In September, Doyle was informed by a Cherokee Nation Businesses employee that her term was ending and that she would not be reappointed. Doyle then sent a message to me and the Editorial Board members informing us of her departure from the board. I contacted Hembree and revisited our earlier discussion. Rather than acknowledging the error, he said that there should be a determination about whether the appointment resolution or the Independent Press Act was the legal authority in determining Doyle’s board term. I argued that the language in the statute was clear in its intent: Editorial Board members were to serve six-year terms. The only two exceptions provided in the Act were for the initial appointments for Seats 4 and 5 when the board was expanded to five seats in the 2009 amendment to the Act. However, I reasoned that those exceptions did not apply to Doyle’s appointment because those seats had already been appointed to members Jason Terrell and Robert Thompson, respectively. Doyle was replacing a board member and was entitled to a normal six-year term. Hembree released his official opinion (2014-CNAG-03) several weeks later. It is an interesting read and I encourage all Cherokee citizens to read it themselves. I have several concerns about its factual accuracy and legal analysis. The first section, titled “Factual Background,” contains numerous factual errors that are easily corrected with a little bit of legislative research. In the third paragraph it is stated: “John Shurr was appointed by the three other board members to serve a six year term in April of 2010.” This is incorrect. Shurr was already seated on the board and was reappointed. Shurr was reappointed by the four other board members: Gerald Wofford, Agent, Terrell and Thompson. It goes on to state: “With the addition of John Shurr, the Board now had four members.” This is incorrect. With the reappointment of Shurr, the board had five members. The paragraph then concludes: "… It appears that no one has been appointed to Seat 5 …" This is a conclusion derived from the previous incorrect statements. After the Act was amended to add two seats to the Editorial Board, it is reasonable to assume that the next appointment, Terrell, was appointed to fill Seat 4, and the following appointment, Thompson, was appointed to fill Seat 5. Both of these appointments were additions to the board. At the time of Thompson's nomination there was one open seat to fill and it’s reasonable to assume it was the Seat 5 described in the amended Act. Thompson did not replace a seated board member but was an addition to the board. He joined members Wofford, Agent, Shurr and Terrell. This “factual” background lays the foundation for the next section, “Legal Authority and Analysis.” Curiously, this section does not address or even mention the authority of the Independent Press Act. It is the Act that created the board, and it is the Act that stipulates the requirements, limitations and duties for service on the board. Yet its authority is completely absent in the legal analysis. Hembree opines that there is no ambiguity in the language of the resolution, therefore it is outside the purview of his office to change the term of the appointed office. He correctly asserts that can only be done by the legislative or judicial branches. The important legal point that he fails to address is whether the unambiguous language of the resolution complies with the will and intent of the Independent Press Act, which specifically governs the board terms. The Tribal Council spoke when it created and then amended the Act in 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2009. In each version of the statute, the same phrase is present: “The terms of office of the Board members shall be six years.” The appointment resolution is subservient to the statute, and it is a legal axiom that resolutions must be compliant to the relevant statute. Hembree’s analysis did not examine the relevant and specific language in the Act necessary to place the resolution in a legal context. By disregarding the authority of the Act, a disservice has been done to the government that enacted it, to the Cherokee people who depend on it for a free press, and to all tribal nations that look toward the Cherokee Nation as a beacon of truthful reporting and good governance. It is concerning to see the Attorney General issue an opinion based on a flawed and inaccurate background analysis because it is his duty to ensure his legal opinions are true and correct. But as an advocate for an independent Cherokee press, it is truly disturbing for me to then see the authority of the Independent Press Act disregarded in a matter as important as the proper determination of an Editorial Board term. Our free press is only as strong as the law that protects it, and the law can only protect it if it is enforced. It is important that the people hold our public officials accountable to enforce the Independent Press Act so that our historic legacy of independent journalism and press freedoms are preserved. <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/Portals/AttorneyGeneral/Docs/opinions/2014-CNAG-03%20Editorial%20Board%20Term%20Limits.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a> to read Attorney General Todd Hembree’s opinion. <a href=" http://www.cherokee.org/attorneygeneral/Opinions.aspx" target="_blank">Click here</a> to go to the Office of the Attorney General website.
11/03/2014 08:46 AM
We’re coming up on what many refer to as the “thankful” part of the year – Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m sure we’ve all done it. “I’m thankful” for this or that. But my question is how do we ensure our kids are taught to be thankful and understand what gratitude is? As a parent, I often have trouble getting my 6-year-old boy to express gratitude and thanks. Well, I’ve decided to take this to a new level. They call it “leading by example.” The whole family will be partaking in our “Year of Thankfulness” experiment. Caden, my son, and I are going to create a “Thankful Expressions box,” all the while, I’m going to be explaining to him the importance of being thankful, what we’ll be doing over the next year and why. The plan is to write a thankful note each week, including the date, and place it into our box. At the end of each month the family will pull out our notes and read them. I’m hoping that doing this on a regular basis will keep Caden mindful of what he should be thankful for and over time I’m hoping that his gratitude will grow, develop and mature. Misty Boyd, a Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health licensed psychologist, said gratitude is one of the more difficult things to teach children and it’s important to practice it regularly, in a concrete way, and over a long period of time. “Gratitude, like many things, is a skill that develops over time and shifts as we grow. It takes practice to develop that skill, and being positive about any effort your son makes to practice gratitude will help him grow that skill over time,” she said. “I think that many parents and adults find that gratitude is difficult for themselves, which makes it even more difficult to teach to children. However, we’ve become accustomed to expecting ‘quick results’ and may get disappointed when children don’t learn what we’re trying to teach them quickly. We also tend not to practice often enough or long enough for it to ‘stick.’” Just like children get frustrated, I too find myself frustrated at times and even more so when we enter the dreaded grocery store. It can be trying and aggravating at times when my child asks and almost expects to get something new each time we go. Then I say “no” and the whining ensues. “Does Caden not remember that toy we bought yesterday?” I ask myself. “Remember your something special we bought at the store?” I ask him. “Yes,” he says. “Can’t you be grateful for that?” “Yes, but…” “OMG! Stop throwing a fit and be thankful already about the hundreds of toys you have at home,” I say to myself. According to Parents.com, it’s important for parents to practice saying no. It’s hard, but let’s practice. “No.” See not too hard. Now sticking to that no is the tough part. “It's difficult, if not impossible, to feel grateful when your every whim is granted,” a Parents.com article states. “Saying no a lot makes saying yes that much sweeter.” Another reason that gratitude can seem difficult to teach is that kids think differently from adults because their brains are still developing, Boyd adds. “They are supposed to think differently than adults think. That means that it’s OK for a young child to be grateful for a new toy from grandma instead of being grateful that grandma came to visit,” she said. “As adults, we value time and relationships but kids may be more focused on the concrete things.” Here are some tips on promoting gratitude: • Model gratitude as often as possible. • Use concrete reminders of gratitude. • Label gratitude or suggest to kids when it should be felt. • Praise you child’s efforts while developing the skill. • Remember to express your gratitude for your child. I often hear from elders in my family, “kids nowadays don’t appreciate things.” I don’t want to raise a child like that. I encourage everyone, not just parents, to find something that you also can do to improve your gratitude this year. You’re not alone. We all have many things to be thankful for, myself included. Let us remember them.
Assistant Editor
10/31/2014 11:04 AM
On Oct. 6, the U.S. Supreme Court declined appeals from five states seeking to preserve same-sex marriage bans. The court’s decision legalized same-sex marriage in 30 states, including Oklahoma. Gay couples in Oklahoma began marrying after court clerks started issuing marriage licenses to them. They can now marry in the state’s 77 counties. However, that doesn’t hold true for gay couples wanting to marry under Cherokee Nation law. Under CN law only heterosexual couples can marry. This goes back to May 2004 when the tribe’s District Court issued a marriage license to CN citizens Kathy E. Reynolds and Dawn L. McKinley. The couple filed for the license after determining the marriage law didn’t specify gender. The license was granted and the couple married, but court orders barred them from filing it. Legal wrangling and lawsuits ensued, and to this day CN courts have yet to render a decision. On June 14, 2004, the Tribal Council amended the Marriage and Family Act, defining marriage as one man and one woman “to protect the traditional definition of Marriage.” Then-Tribal Councilors Bill John Baker, Audra Smoke Connor, Melvina Shotpouch, Meredith Frailey, S. Joe Crittenden, John F. Keener, Jackie Bob Martin, Cara Cowan, Phyliss Yargee, Buel Anglen, David Thornton, William “Bill” Johnson, Don Garvin, Charles “Chuck” Hoskin Sr. and Linda Hughes-O’Leary voted for it. Chad Smith, then principal chief, signed it into law. I have problems with this law. One is the “traditional definition” of marriage in the CN. In a lawsuit filed during the same-sex saga, CN Court Administrator Lisa Fields stated her lawyer researched tribal law and history and determined gay marriages were “never contemplated or recognized.” But Roy Hamilton, a former teacher of the tribe’s history course, states that John Howard Payne, a European-American who lived with the Cherokee to document their customs, mentions a union ceremony to formalize “perpetual friendship” primarily among gay men. Hamilton states oral history paints a picture of gay life among the Cherokee and that they viewed gay marriage as an autonomy right. He states each Cherokee lived his or her life as they liked and no one had a right to interfere in personal choice. “That would (be) to say they accepted gay people just as any other Cherokee,” Hamilton states. He adds that “Cherokee marriage pre-European contact was informal and an agreement” between those deciding to co-habitat and perhaps their clans. “No Cherokee married like the European until there was intermarriage and acculturation,” he states. So Cherokees accepted gay people and gay couples, and marriage was an informal agreement between the people living together. If that’s how Cherokee marriages were, why not let gay couples marry under CN law? But alas, I think what tribal lawmakers in 2004 were referring to was Christian marriage. According to the June 2004 Tribal Council meeting minutes, Hughes-O’Leary requested the amendment to the Marriage and Family Act and “challenged the Council before the people, God and Jesus Christ what is in the legislation they could vote against.” Minutes state Martin said he “supports this legislation…as a Christian, a born again believer” and that the “Bible teaches what marriage is.” The record also states that “Garvin as a Baptist deacon said he strongly supports this legislation.” The problem with their arguments is that the CN is not a theocracy. We don’t govern with the Bible. We govern by our constitution. Not every CN citizen is a Christian. There are some who believe in other religions beside Christianity or no religion at all. We shouldn’t deny rights from our citizens based on religion. I believe the CN law also defies the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. I know not all rights afforded in the U.S. Constitution are seen in Indian Country. Look at the First Amendment and its right to free press. In Indian Country, a free press is rare. However, the 14th Amendment should apply. “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” I see the law against same-sex marriage as depriving gay people the liberty to marry another consenting adult, and it doesn’t provide equal protection. It provides that one set of couples can marry but another set can’t because of sexual orientation. Individual rights should not be voted upon. That’s what makes them rights. But that’s what happened in 2004 when 15 people voted away a right that’s afforded to straight people but not gay people. Some voted in the name of God. Some probably did so they wouldn’t lose votes. Whatever their reasons, they don’t matter. They took away something that isn’t theirs to take. Consenting Cherokee adults who are gay can marry in Oklahoma. But the option to marry under CN law should be available to them. The current Tribal Council, or the next, should fix the legislation blocking gay marriage. I don’t see the courts rendering a decision on the case that arose 10 years ago. Something needs to be done. Equality should prevail.
Tribal Councilor
10/28/2014 01:25 PM
Ka, nigada itsitsalagi! Attention, all Cherokee! I think every day of my Cherokee father, grandmother and the many elders I knew when I was young. I miss their wisdom, insight, patience, teachings, life lessons, encouragement, their humor, and, yes, even their discipline. I remember how our elders looked at life and the comfort and love they provided all of us was significant and important. Now I am grown and I respect them even more. When I was a boy, I assumed my elders would always be here. I still have many questions to ask them every day, but the time is gone. My grandparent’s first language was Cherokee. We have much to learn from our elders today. I am grateful for our elders still living who are our culture keepers. We owe both the living and those who have gone before a debt of gratitude. One thing I remember about my Cherokee father was his compassion for all animals. The animals know things that we do not know. Pigeon in Cherokee is woyi. Gule disgonihi, which is translated as dove, literally means, “he cries for acorns.” In a deeper sense, the meaning is the dove is crying for the people. Elders then and now will tell you doves and pigeons are our messenger birds, and as such should not be molested or killed without purpose. Doves and pigeons, white birds in particular, are sometimes used for ceremonial purposes. It is of utmost importance the birds are prayerfully respected. The birds and animals fed us through hard times. We should never leave the Cherokee Nation and enter another tribe’s homeland to kill doves and pigeons. Our Cherokee culture tells us to remember a time when we as a people had a flagrant disregard for killing animals. The animals held a council and afflicted us with all manner of disease. The Nation may not be blessed if animals are needlessly slaughtered. The animals, birds and fish provide for us still. If we forget the Cherokee teachings of our elders, we may unintentionally abandon Cherokee ways. Another recent casualty has been our Cherokee language program at Northeastern State University. I had to ask for a detailed report of the loss of funding to the program. A Memorandum of Agreement is being worked on as this column goes to press. The program funds were diminished and repurposed without a plan in place and without Tribal Council knowledge or consent. The new “plan” must take place soon if the program is to begin in Spring 2015. I cannot stand idly by without questioning this action because I took an oath of office which stated “... I will do everything within my power to promote the culture, heritage and traditions of the Cherokee Nation.” Our language scholars, teachers and students have worked and are working tirelessly and passionately to preserve our language. We owe it to them, to ourselves, to the ones who have gone before us and to the generations who will follow, our best effort to help our language endure. As a student of the language program eloquently stated, “The most successful language endeavors are those that employ all strategies available. While we can, it is our obligation to do so.” As a student of the Cherokee language who is always learning, I need this program. As with many of us, I can no longer go to my father or grandmother to talk to them. I am proud of those few who can still speak and write Cherokee. I am proud of those who still are sharing their Cherokee knowledge. I am proud of the language program, the immersion school, students, teachers and families who are committed to Cherokee every day. I see our people living under a veil of implied inferiority while those in power lord their positions over them. We still have many Cherokee capable of helping. A number of elders helped me with this article, and I could not have written it without them. It is a good thing to seek counsel from our elders, and as our Constitution states, “the guidance of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe.” Maybe it is not our culture and language which are lost, but us. Perhaps the doves cry still. They cry for us.
Principal Chief
10/24/2014 04:31 PM
A historic part of our past recently became an exciting part of our future. The Cherokee Nation is back in the bison business. In October we received a herd of 38 female bison from the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The 2-year-old cows will be joined by an additional 10 bulls from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota any day now. Seeing them released onto their new home was a moving experience and one that will forever stay with me. Right now they are grazing on 66 acres of specially fenced pasture in Delaware County, but about a thousand acres are available to open up as the herd grows. For many of us, bison are an iconic symbol of our great country – free, strong and resilient. Those are the same traits we identify in ourselves as Indian people. That’s why bison have always represented something deeply spiritual to our Cherokee tribal ancestors and why it’s important for us, as a tribal nation, to reintroduce bison within our homelands. Most people only associate bison with Great Plains tribes, but woodland bison once roamed the CN and all along the Atlantic Coast. Prior to European colonization, the animals played a critical role for the Cherokee people. Hundreds of years ago when buffalo migrated east of the Mississippi, the Cherokee people survived, in part, by hunting buffalo and using them as a vital food source. It was only after Europeans’ colonization that bison were mostly wiped out from the east and southeast parts of the present-day United States. Today, we have an extraordinary opportunity to reconnect the modern CN with a prominent part of our history and our cultural roots from our traditional homelands. There is a nationwide resurgence by tribes, including the CN, to reconnect with these animals. This Native renaissance with bison is being led by the InterTribal Buffalo Council, an organization that we proudly support as one of 60 member tribes. It’s through the ITBC that we were able to secure these surplus animals from the national parks. We hope to qualify for more surplus bison in the future. Our Natural Resources Department has been preparing for nearly two years to successfully acquire this herd. We have strategically planned how to sustain and grow it, and we are prepared to take additional herds. The ITBC staff generously consulted with our staff to plan for the herd’s arrival and helped provide funding for the special 7-foot-fencing and supplies to maintain the animals. These bison will continue to be monitored by our Natural Resources Department and our specialized veterinarians. The Nation’s Natural Resources Department manages 22,000 acres of tribally owned land in northeast Oklahoma, and this herd of bison will be housed on 1,000 acres near Kenwood. Historically, bison provided more than an essential source of protein for tribes. Every part of the bison was used for food, clothing, shelter, tools and ceremonial purposes. For future generations of Cherokee people, these newly acquired bison will help revive some ancient cultural traditions, as well as provide expanded economic opportunities. The economic benefit bison can have for the CN is profound. There is great potential for a boon in regional tourism. The bison can provide an extra tribal destination for tourists to experience. That will only enhance our current cultural and historical offerings we provide through CN museums, art galleries and historical sites. We know bison is a lean protein, and down the road we may look at bison as a locally produced food source for our Cherokee citizens and senior citizen nutrition centers. Healthy, nutritional food to counterbalance the modern epidemic of obesity and diabetes affecting Indian people could change that current trajectory. Bison are the beginning of a new chapter to a familiar story for the Cherokee people, and we are eager and proud to share it.