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
02/01/2016 02:00 PM
Heroes deserve hope. That’s a mission that will be fulfilled as we create more opportunities for the brave men and women who have given so much of themselves to our great country through their military service. A new tribal program launched in partnership between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will ensure Native military veterans have access to safe and secure housing. This partnership is especially significant because it marks the first time the HUD/VA housing assistance program has included tribes. Nationwide, $5.9 million will be distributed among the selected tribal governments. It’s an admirable goal, and I am proud the Cherokee Nation will be one of 26 tribal governments nationwide to share in federal funding to provide long-term housing for veterans who need a permanent home. We will provide 20 vouchers to Cherokee veterans for rental assistance thanks to $194,000 awarded to our tribe. As most of us know, Indian people serve in the military at a higher rate than any other group, and this program targets homeless veterans within tribal jurisdictions. There is no better way to honor the service and sacrifice of Cherokee veterans than by making sure they have a roof over their head. In our communities, homelessness may not be the textbook definition of “homeless.” We don't see as much traditional homelessness in Indian Country as other racial populations because our people take care of one another. We don't kick people out on the streets. However, many Indian families and homes are severely overcrowded. This is one of the examples of “homelessness” within our tribal communities. Cherokee Nation was selected to participate because we have raised the bar for veteran services. We have a state-of-the-art veterans center, which provides veterans invaluable resources and services, and we have a memorandum of understanding in place with the VA to treat Native veterans with routine health care in tribal facilities. I applaud HUD Secretary Julián Castro for traveling to Oklahoma for the sole purpose of sharing this news with tribal leaders and for the White House’s efforts to curb the rate of veteran homelessness. This new effort will ensure Cherokee patriots get the assistance they desperately need after serving our country. As Secretary Castro said, we can “create a better 21st century for all Americans.” We are already working with the VA to identify 20 Cherokees veterans who need adequate housing. My administration has been defined by homes and hope. I am so proud we will be able to do this for our veterans. Anytime you can help provide the basic necessities for a Cherokee Nation citizen and for a veteran, it is the right and honorable thing to do. Heroes deserve hope. I believe this program will be a great success and hope it will perpetuate and help more deserving souls in the future.
Principal Chief
12/01/2015 10:30 AM
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all. It’s hard to believe 2015 is already coming to a close, but time flies when good things are happening in our Nation. We’ve accomplished more this past year than perhaps any other year in the history of the Cherokee Nation. On the health care front, we’ve opened three of the four health centers we promised to build using casino dollars. Cherokees in Adair, Sequoyah and Washington counties are now being served in more spacious health centers with newer equipment while enjoying a wider variety of services. Cherokees in Delaware County are up next, as the new Sam Hider Health Center in Jay is nearly complete. When I was elected a little more than four years ago, I pledged to make health care a priority, and I have followed through on that promise. Earlier this year, we became one of the largest employers in Nowata County, practically overnight, when we opened Cherokee Casino South Coffeyville. The casino brought more than a hundred jobs to that community, where jobs are sorely needed. South Coffeyville has welcomed us with open arms, and we are happy to finally have a presence in that corner of the Cherokee Nation. Not only did we reinforce our sovereign rights to hunt and fish our lands freely this past year, but we also expanded that sovereignty to include hunting and fishing rights across all of Oklahoma. Previously, the patchwork of Cherokee trust land, fee simple land and non-Cherokee-owned land made jurisdiction confusing, and many Cherokees feared receiving a citation from state game and wildlife officers. Likewise, those game and wildlife officers feared unnecessarily citing Cherokees for legally hunting our lands. Now, with the hunting and fishing compact I signed with Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, there is no more confusion. Cherokees may now pheasant hunt in western Oklahoma, trophy fish on Lake Texoma in southern Oklahoma or deer hunt right here in Cherokee country like our ancestors did, free of concern about boundaries. Hunting and fishing licenses will be mailed to all Cherokees who are 16 and older and living in Oklahoma beginning Jan. 1. To ensure we have your correct address on file, visit www.Cherokee.org and click on services > citizenship > updating your information. Also on the natural resources front, we took a major step in protecting and preserving our resources for generations to come. I appointed the first secretary of Natural Resources, Cherokee Nation citizen Sara Hill, to oversee all of the Cherokee Nation’s interests in water rights, fish and wildlife, environmental conservation and more. The position was established by the 1999 Cherokee Nation Constitution but has remained vacant for nearly 20 years. It was time to stop acting like our natural resources are a secondary issue, when in fact they’re some of our most precious gifts. As Indian people, if we do not protect our resources, who will? I look forward to the strides we will make in this area in the years to come and am eager to share our progress with you as we accomplish great things. Lastly, I want to thank each and every one of you for your continued prayers and support as Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and I continue to work on your behalf. It was the greatest honor of my life to be re-elected this year to a second term serving all of you. We accomplished so much this past year, and I pledge to work just as hard the next four years. On behalf of myself, Deputy Chief Crittenden and the more than 9,000 employees of the Cherokee Nation, we’d like to wish all of you a very merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year. Many blessings to each of you in 2016.
Principal Chief
11/03/2015 10:30 AM
At the Cherokee Nation we are committed to protecting our air, water, land and wildlife for future generations. That’s why I recently announced the first-ever appointment to an important Cabinet-level position in my administration. This position was originally established by the 1999 Constitutional Convention. Unfortunately, it was never filled, but this key advisory role cannot go vacant any longer. I have appointed attorney Sara Hill as the new secretary of Natural Resources, and last month she was confirmed by the CN Tribal Council and took her oath of office. In her role as secretary she will ensure our natural resources are properly preserved for the future of the CN and our people. I am so proud to say we are finally making our natural and environmental resources a priority. Our natural habitats and environment must be a factor in every decision we make. We have a responsibility to leave this land, this water and this air pure and clean for future generations. Sara previously served as the deputy attorney general of the CN, with expertise on environmental issues, water rights and natural resource protection. Her hard work has helped the CN maximize our inherent sovereign rights, and she has been critical in developing preservation programs that benefit our citizens. She chairs the CN Interdisciplinary Water Work Group and is working on the feasibility of a potential hydroelectric project on the Arkansas River. Sara has long served the CN in many ways, successfully representing our interests before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in Cherokee Nation v. Nomura – a case that successfully upheld full compliance of the Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Act for out-of-state Indian child adoption cases. Additionally, she is a dedicated special assistant United States attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma. Part of her mission will be ensuring that sustainability is a part of every conversation we have and every decision we make at the CN. Since time immemorial Cherokees have considered the impact of our actions on our environment and our surroundings. Our elders teach us about our connection to plants, animals and all natural elements. We must be steadfast in the stewardship of our natural resources. We have an obligation to protect these precious resources for the next seven generations. As our teachings tell us, that is the Cherokee way. We cannot leave today’s environmental issues for our children and grandchildren to solve. That is an unfair burden. The secretary of Natural Resources will work at the highest level of my administration, assuring that we are protecting and preserving our natural resources and environment. We have a better vision of preservation, and we must take action to ensure we reach our goals. With the secretary of Natural Resources in place, coupled with the leadership of the Tribal Council, we have the ability to develop laws that will truly enhance the sustainability of our land, water and air for generations to come. The Cherokee people deserve that. Clean air, safe water and a fertile land will always be our foundation for long-term health as a tribe and a people.
Principal Chief
10/01/2015 04:00 PM
With today’s modern technologies, it seems almost everything can be done online. Now, count your Cherokee Nation health care among those things done with greater ease, thanks to technology. Transitioning CN data into the modern era is critical for the tribe to be efficient in providing critical services to our citizens. That’s why we’ve recently made digital upgrades a priority. The CN health system, the largest tribally operated health system in the United States with more than 1 million patient visits annually, recently embarked upon an effort to upgrade to electronic health records. This moves our eight health centers and W. W. Hastings Hospital into a new era of ease and efficiency. The transition from the old system to the new system requires some patience. Change and modernization are not always easy, but in the end we will be more efficient and effective with the delivery of health care. To me, that is one of the most important things we can do. Once fully transitioned, this will allow patients to access medical records from their computers or even their smartphones. That means faster and more complete access to test results, diagnostic records and treatment history. This makes it easier for patients to actively participate in their health care by creating more direct engagement and better coordination with their caregivers. CN health centers will soon have portals for self check-in and patients will be able to schedule appointments and view their records online. Patients will also be able to use the system to renew prescriptions, view X-rays, check medical records, review visit summaries and read instructions from doctors. This is revolutionary compared to the old system. It also empowers our citizens to be more in control of their health care by having direct access to their own medical data. Health care customer service for our Cherokee people has been stuck in a bygone era, making it hard for patients and health care providers to communicate and share information. This new system conforms to today’s modern, electronic world. Currently, half of the Nation’s patient health records are paper and half are electronic, and many patients have multiple charts at multiple CN health centers. That has made it difficult to access all of a patient’s files quickly or even to share information between health professionals. The new electronic health record system creates one universal chart number for each patient, easily shared not just within our health system, but also with outside hospitals for contract health services. Lab work and radiology results will post electronically as soon as they’re available. Ultimately, doctors will have more accurate data at their fingertips, which means making better decisions for overall patient health care. We strive to ensure CN remains your health provider of choice. Without a doubt, we have one of the finest health care systems in Oklahoma, and throughout Indian Country. We are continually striving to make it bigger, better and faster for our patients. I look forward to this new electronic health record system as it makes health care in the CN more navigable, more pleasant and more efficient. We are proud of these advancements and hope you, our citizens, are too. Even though culture and tradition are the foundation of our tribe, it is extremely important for us to use emerging technology to bring our people together and to make our services more efficient and convenient.
Principal Chief
07/31/2015 10:00 AM
Wado to all Cherokee Nation citizens who participated in the recent elections for principal chief, deputy chief and Tribal Council. Regardless of whom you supported in the election, if you took time to vote, you expressed your voice and participated in our democratic process, which is critical to our future success. I thank God, my family, my friend Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and our supporters for the honor and opportunity to serve another term. I invite you all to the inauguration ceremony at 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 14 at the Sequoyah Schools gymnasium, “The Place Where They Play.” The address is 17091 S. Muskogee Ave. in Tahlequah. It’s critical that our citizens engage in our leadership selection process. I encourage all Cherokees to become involved and learn about the issues and processes that shape our government. Moving beyond the election, we now return our focus and attention to what truly matters, and that is the future of the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee people. Another term in office will allow us the opportunity to keep building upon the progress we’ve made together during the last four years. We have multiple projects in motion that will be absolute game-changing endeavors for our future, and over the next four years we will continue to focus on building a better world for all Cherokees. The most important issue for our future is access to quality health care. Four years ago, Cherokees agreed our tribal health care was at a crisis point, so we invested $100 million from casino profits into health care expansion and improvements. Our record-breaking gaming profits should be utilized to benefit Cherokee Nation citizens. That is the reason we pursued gaming in the first place 25 years ago. This has allowed us to build new clinics in Jay and Ochelata and expanded health centers in Stilwell and Sallisaw. Soon, we will break ground on a 450,000-square-foot facility at the W.W. Hastings Hospital site in Tahlequah. The planned facility at that location will provide space for 1,200 new employees who will, in turn, provide quality care for our people. Once the facility is built, we can launch our own medical school, where we hope to partner with Oklahoma State University to provide hands-on education right here in the Cherokee Nation. This means we will educate and train health care professionals who will one day staff our clinics and new hospital. We will keep advancing our economic growth and finish major retail and entertainment expansion projects in Tahlequah and Catoosa. Additionally, we will implement statewide hunting and fishing licenses for all Cherokee Nation citizens near the end of year. We are also investing in our iconic structures by making a major renovation to our tribal headquarters in Tahlequah, a project that has been ignored for almost 40 years. Along with that, the refurbishing of our historic Cherokee capital building in downtown Tahlequah shows our commitment to the future. It’s imperative that we convince even more Cherokee Nation youth that a college education is possible with our tribal scholarships. No qualified student who applied last year was turned down, and we supported nearly 4,000 Cherokees in college, a record number. We will help even more students in the future, honoring our ancestors’ deep commitment to education. We want more Cherokees to enjoy the American dream of homeownership and put our Cherokee tradespeople to work building these homes. Hundreds of folks are taking advantage of our housing program, and thousands of Cherokees are now employed building those homes, including cement finishers, carpenters, bricklayers, roofers and plumbers. Financial success for Cherokee families is equally important. We will keep advancing job development and driving the economy of northeast Oklahoma. We have a talented staff that is adept at securing federal grants to create jobs, programs and provide services for Cherokee people. Additionally, increased diversification of Cherokee Nation Businesses in our jurisdiction will continue to create cash flow for our tribe and increase self-sufficiency for our citizens. Over the next four years, we will keep up that momentum and continue building on this successful foundation. We will continue looking for partnerships that create opportunities for our people, such as the Macy’s expansion in Owasso that is creating thousands of good jobs for Cherokees and non-Cherokees alike. We’ll be sharing even more updates and more exciting news during the Cherokee National Holiday State of the Nation address. Please make plans to join us this coming Labor Day weekend for our annual homecoming event the first weekend in September. With great enthusiasm and pleasure, we look forward to serving you, the Cherokee people, for another four years. Wado.
07/10/2015 11:42 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to the Cherokee Nation Election Commission, the new election for the Dist. 14 Tribal Council race between William “Bill” Pearson and Keith Austin will be held on July 25, the same day as the runoff races for the Dist. 6 and At-Large Tribal Council seats. The EC scheduled the Dist. 14 election after the CN Supreme Court on July 8 determined that a winner could not be determined with mathematical certainty. Pearson was certified the winner of the Dist. 14 race after the June 27 general election by one vote. Following a recount on July 2, his lead had been extended to six votes. However, Austin appealed the recount results to the Supreme Court alleging that ballots were cast that should not have been accepted, ballots were cast that should have been accepted and two absentee ballot envelopes could not be found. “There is one challenged ballot that was rejected that should have been accepted; there are eight voters who live outside of Dist. 14 who are incorrectly registered to vote in Dist. 14 who voted; there are two voters who voted by absentee who ballots were rejected that should have been accepted; there is one voter whose absentee ballot was accepted, but the commission cannot locate his affidavit envelope and there are two absentee voters who the commission has not given voter credit to,” Austin’s appeal stated. After hearing testimony, the court ruled in Austin’s favor and ordered the EC to schedule a new election. According to an EC statement, the EC will accept absentee ballot requests from CN citizens registered to vote in Dist. 14 through July 13. It also states that in-person absentee voting, or early walk-in voting, will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on July 18 and July 21-23 at the Election Services Office at 22116 S. Bald Hill Road. EC officials also said a secured drop box for the personal delivery of absentee ballots would be available at the Election Services office from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on July 21-25. EC Chairman Bill Horton said voters who received an absentee ballot in the first election would automatically receive one for the July 25 elections. However, if a CN citizen didn’t vote in the general election wants to vote absentee on July 25, then he or she must complete an absentee ballot request. Precinct locations for Dist. 14 and 6 will not change for the upcoming elections. Dist. 14 covers parts of Rogers, Craig and Tulsa counties. Precinct locations are at the Rogers County Building’s Front Room located at 416 S. Brady in Claremore, the Boys & Girls Club located at 119 N. Ash St. in Chelsea and the Oologah Assembly of God Church located at 13462 S. Hwy. 169 in Oologah. The Dist. 6 runoff is between Natalie Fullbright and Bryan Warner. The district covers the eastern part of Sequoyah County. Precinct locations for that district are in Sallisaw at the United Methodist Church located at 2100 McGee Dr., in Belfonte at the Nicut/Belfonte Community Center at 474894 State Hwy. 101, in Marble City at the Town Hall located at 120 A N. Main St. and at the Cherokee Community Center at 603 N. Main St. in Muldrow. For a precincts map, go to <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/Portals/0/Documents/ElectionCommission/2014/precinct%20map%2010-14-14%20approved.pdf" target="_blank">http://www.cherokee.org/Portals/0/Documents/ElectionCommission/2014/precinct%20map%2010-14-14%20approved.pdf</a> The At-Large runoff is between Betsy Swimmer and Wanda Hatfield. It has no precinct and is voted by absentee. For more information, call 918-458-5899 or toll free at 1-800-353-2895 or email <a href="mailto: Election-Commission@cherokee.org">Election-Commission@cherokee.org</a>.