Julia Coates

Sovereignty is not a balancing act

BY Phoenix Archives
01/11/2012 10:26 AM
By JULIA COATES
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

Opinion

BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
04/01/2015 12:00 PM
Prior to being elected principal chief, I sat on the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council for 12 years. Early on in that time, my good friend Chuck Hoskin Sr., representative for Nowata County at the time, took me to the South Coffeyville area to teach me more about that neck of the woods. He joked to me that Nowata County and South Coffeyville really are part of the Cherokee Nation. He was kidding, of course, but he made a good point. I realized at that time that some of our more northern areas, like Nowata County, often feel somewhat disconnected to the goings on in the Cherokee Nation. That became even clearer when I was elected to serve as principal chief in late 2011. I visited the area, spoke with people in Nowata and other northern counties, and I could feel their frustration. They saw economic development happening in other regions of the Cherokee Nation but not in their backyards. I pledged then and there we would change that. We would provide the same opportunities for our northern Cherokees as we’d provided for Cherokees in West Siloam Springs, Roland, Sallisaw, Fort Gibson, Tahlequah, Claremore, Catoosa and Ramona. I’m proud to report we delivered on that pledge last week when we opened the new Cherokee Casino South Coffeyville. It added 135 jobs to the region, with 100 of them going to Cherokees. And on the day it opened, northeast Oklahoma had just been hit with the heaviest snow of the year. But guess what—not a single employee called in due to weather. They were so eager to work that they put on their new Cherokee Casino uniforms and braved those conditions just to make it to their first day on the job. That is dedication. Cherokees in Nowata and surrounding counties know the value of a good-paying job. That’s because the unemployment rate in the area has been higher than we’d like for quite some time. The area has been ripe to employ people who want to work, Cherokees who want to work. So to have 135 jobs come to a town of just a few hundred people has an immeasurable impact on so many families. There are now 135 families bringing home paychecks from well-paying jobs. A hundred thirty-five families who now have access to world-class medical, dental and life insurance for the entire family. A hundred thirty-five families who are saving for retirement and now have a pathway to move up while working for their tribe. It warms my heart to know the Cherokee Nation can have that kind of impact on our people. And every corner of the Cherokee Nation deserves that opportunity. As the tribe continues to prosper, we will continue expanding economic opportunities to other parts of the Cherokee Nation, including non-gaming opportunities as well. We’ve come a long way since I made that trip to Nowata County, but I know we have further to go. I look forward to fulfilling that same promise in other areas of the Cherokee Nation so that no Cherokee feels left behind and no Cherokee feels like our tribe isn’t there for them. God bless all of you, and God bless the Cherokee Nation.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
03/02/2015 10:00 AM
Helping our employees at the Cherokee Nation meet both work and family obligations is a good guiding principle, and it is the right thing to do. That’s why the CN has adopted a new Human Resources policy regarding maternity leave to support family values and working Cherokee families. The new plan includes eight weeks of fully paid maternity leave for CN government employees who’ve been with the tribe for at least one year and who are on the Nation’s insurance plan. Unlike the old policy, and what is typical in other workplaces, no sick or vacation days must be used before paid maternity leave is utilized. The fully paid maternity leave program will benefit Cherokee families and position the CN as one of the most sought-after places of employment for women. While the CN Family Medical and Leave of Absence policy ensures new mothers won’t lose their jobs by taking maternity leave, it does not guarantee pay during the time away. The U.S. Department of Labor says 70 percent of women with children at home are in the workforce, yet only about 16 percent of employers offer fully paid maternity leave. That means many families take on significant and burdensome debt from the birth of a child. That’s a sad fact and a sad reflection on the priorities of our society. This progressive policy by the CN, however, puts families first and places us at the forefront of a much-needed evolution in workforce policy. More than 70 percent of our tribal government employees are women. Once again, CN is proving to be a leader by showing our state, other tribal governments and all of the United States our real commitment to our talented workforce. We need modern policies for a modern workforce, and this progressive change will be good for business, for the regional economy, for community health and, most importantly, for Cherokee families. We will be one of the few tribes nationally that offer this benefit to staff, and implementing this policy places us far ahead of Oklahoma government and business entities. It’s been shown internationally that forward-thinking human resource policies, like expanded maternity leave, reduce employee turnover and training costs and provide overall health care savings to both the employer and employee. Sadly, the United States lags far behind other developed nations in providing paid maternity leave. The CN has long been the employer of choice, and we will not lose talented potential employees by failing to ensure access to paid maternity leave. Recruitment and retention blossom with ensured job security. That means economic stability for our workers, but for our tribe it can also mean a renewed since of loyalty and increased productivity from our employees. While there is a logical economic argument to support and justify this CN policy, it is more important on a moral and human level. Time with a newborn is irreplaceable and nothing can ever break those family bonds established in the first days of life. Our dedication to building a healthier CN must start in infancy. As a father and grandfather, I know a healthy life and a healthy family start then. Parents with an early hands-on role in their children’s lives will be more involved for years to come and their children will be healthier. Additionally, having that safe and uninterrupted time means higher rates of breastfeeding and immunizations and regular health visits for the infants. It also means lower risks of postpartum depression, as those bonds within the home and family are able to be built without undue outside stress. Candace, who works in our Human Services, is expecting her second child this year. She says the new policy will allow her to concentrate on her family and newborn without worrying about bills. Having that economic security will be a huge relief to her family in those crucial days. Building a strong, healthy government means we won’t have to find and train new workers to replace our talented staff. Building a strong, healthy family means our staff can prioritize their values appropriately. I am proud we are putting our people first and truly promoting family values.
BY BRYAN POLLARD
Executive Editor
02/09/2015 01:16 PM
The 2015 general election season is ramping up and candidates, campaigns and citizens are tuning in to what will likely be a contentious competition for seats in the administration and the Tribal Council. Each candidate will try to convince you of their virtues while their campaign attempts to denigrate their competition. Many things will be said – some true, some not – to win support from voters. Many things will change during the coming months as voters listen and decide how they will cast their votes, and our government has new faces and ideas. But one thing will not change: The Cherokee Phoenix will continue to be a source of accurate and unbiased news and information. Since the passage of the Independent Press Act in 2000, the Cherokee Phoenix has been mandated by law to “report without bias the activities of the government and the news of interest to have informed citizens.” The act does not specify how we should accomplish this mission but provides some tools and direction to reach this goal. In the past 15 years we have gradually added strategic plans, policies and features to add structure and consistency to this mission. The members of the Editorial Board, the executive editor and Cherokee Phoenix staff are prohibited from participating in political activities. This prohibition is specified in the act and although it does not guarantee the removal of bias, it does at least remove the appearance of impropriety. Editorial policies have been enacted by the Editorial Board to provide sound guidance in the acceptance or denial of letters and columns submitted for publishing. These policies have been gradually strengthened in recent years to include prohibitions on untruthful or unverifiable claims, insulting someone’s character and political lobbying. Advertising policies have also been enacted to ensure that political advertisements are labeled to include who paid for the ad and the relevant contact information. This should provide readers and voters with necessary information about who is placing an ad and for what purpose. All candidates for any Cherokee Nation office can publish a free campaign announcement in the newspaper. To avoid the appearance of favoritism, the Cherokee Phoenix does not cover campaign events or rallies. Instead, we offer equal campaign publicity to all candidates through an announcement written in the candidate’s own words. A “Meet the Candidates” guide will be published in the June 2015 newspaper. The guide will consist of responses received to a questionnaire we send to all filed candidates for Tribal Council. This guide provides a level playing field for all candidates to respond to the same questions about issues affecting the CN and its citizens. The Cherokee Phoenix will also host a public debate between the candidates for principal and deputy chief. The debate, which will be attended by a live audience as well as broadcast live on the Internet, will provide all candidates a fair opportunity to respond to questions and offer their perspectives on important issues. In addition to everything mentioned, the Cherokee Phoenix will also be devoting a substantial amount of news coverage to many of the issues raised during the campaign season to provide greater detail or important context to statements that deserve more than just a “sound bite.” The Cherokee Phoenix staff is required to report in a way that honors the journalistic ethics of accuracy and fairness, and this will be true of all election coverage. One element of this coverage will be in the form of a “Truth Report” that will be published as necessary in the newspaper. This report will examine public statements made by candidates, and provide feedback to our readers about its accuracy or authenticity based on our independent investigation of the statement. We began publishing the Truth Report in 2011 at the suggestion of Editorial Board Chair John Shurr, and we have received much praise from readers who value an impartial assessment of campaign rhetoric. These policies and features to ensure fairness did not happen overnight, but are the results of years of journalism experience working within a tribal setting. I believe that ethical reporting and fairness must be the guiding principles that determine how we conduct ourselves and perform our duties. The Cherokee people and our readers have come to rely on us as a vital source of news and information about Cherokee society, history and language. The CN was the first Indian Nation to enact a tribal press and to publish a newspaper for Cherokee people by Cherokee people. The legacy of the Cherokee Phoenix – a legacy that we still forge today – must always be one of truth before rumor, fairness before bias, and principles before politics. The Cherokee people have come to depend on it, and we must always be committed to delivering it.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
01/01/2015 12:00 PM
As we begin a new year, we are blessed to open a chapter of new possibilities and reflect on successes in 2014. The coming year offers us an opportunity to meet the needs of the Cherokee people and deliver services and implement new ideas that will improve lives. We will continue to focus on things that make real and lasting impacts in the lives of Cherokee Nation citizens by providing homes, health and hope. We made a $100 million investment from casino profits to provide better health care for CN citizens. In 2013 and 2014 we broke ground on health centers in Ochelata, Sallisaw, Stilwell and Jay. We are working diligently to complete those new and expanded health centers that will provide service to more than 1 million patient visits in the coming year. In 2015, all four of these health centers will open. The expanded space, coupled with state-of-the-art equipment, allows us to deliver better and faster care. Another bright spot in our approach to health care was the opening of our new Jack Brown Center in Tahlequah. The center offers world-class therapy and care to troubled Native youths and young adults battling substance abuse. We believe in a holistic approach to health care delivery, and helping young people battle addiction is equally as important as treating other diseases. Increasing hope for Cherokee families means access to quality jobs. In 2014, Macy’s broke ground on a fulfillment center in Owasso, creating thousands of jobs. With our CN Career Services leading the recruitment effort, CN citizens will fill many of those Macy’s jobs. Cherokees can be proud of other retail development projects announced in 2014. Cherokee Springs Plaza in Tahlequah is a $170 million development project that will include dining, retail and entertainment and adjoins Cherokee Springs Golf Course. In addition to the permanent jobs created when tenants begin filling retail spaces, Cherokee Springs will create hundreds of construction and support jobs, as development is projected to span a five-year period. Cherokee Springs Plaza is a nice complement to the upscale retail development we announced in September. We are developing a high-end outlet mall adjoining the Cherokee Hills Golf Club near the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The dining and entertainment options are projected to create 1,000 permanent jobs and hundreds of other jobs during construction. We expect to annually generate $120 million in sales and attract 2 million additional visitors to the area. Our partner, Woodmont Outlets, is spearheading the $80 million development that will increase the number of visitors to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa in the coming years. Cherokee Nation Entertainment broke ground on two casinos is 2014, which will provide hundreds of Cherokee jobs. In Roland, we launched an $80 million project with expanded dining, entertainment and hotel space, which will bring 100 new jobs to the region. In August, we broke ground on the Cherokee Casino South Coffeyville, just south of the Kansas border. This casino will also create 100 jobs in an area that has been left out of CN economic development for too long. A good job leads to family stability. I’m proud that in 2014, I signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for all CN employees. CNB followed suit by passing a similar resolution. The bump to $9.50 an hour was simply the right thing to do for our employees and our people. We have more Cherokees working for our businesses than ever before, so this increase helps them better meet their families’ needs. That’s a source of pride for me, just as the expansion of our car tag program is. In June, a compact with the Oklahoma Governor’s Office allowed us to offer car tags for the first time to Cherokees living anywhere in Oklahoma. People said it could not be done, but I’m thankful we were able to achieve this. In 2014, also saw the CN preserve vital pieces of our culture and history. Bison retuned to the CN through a federal surplus program, and we could not be happier. We have reconnected a piece of our heritage to our bright future. The herd of bison will grow, creating a boon in cultural tourism and other economic development opportunities. The CN was also proactive in working with high tech companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft to incorporate our language and syllabary across multiple user platforms. This guarantees our language will thrive as people use it to communicate in modern ways such as texting and email. I am proud of what we have done in 2014 and look to building on these successes in 2015. As I have said, a good government makes life better for its people and for future generations. When we are healthy and have jobs and home security, we are more hopeful. That is what we are working toward every day for Cherokee people. All these achievements were made possible through the grace of God and because of the team effort of our thousands of dedicated employees, and to them I extend a sincere “wado.” So on behalf of all those at CN working hard on your behalf, I wish you all the blessings of a happy New Year.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
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.
BY BRYAN POLLARD
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.