House approves Native American liaison bill

03/20/2012 04:10 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – State lawmakers voted March 13 to increase the number of individuals qualified to serve as Native American liaisons to the governor of Oklahoma.

Current law states, “Any person appointed to the position of Oklahoma Native American Liaison shall be an American Indian of at least one-fourth blood.”

House Bill 2563, by state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, would change the qualification so that the Native American liaison merely has to be “a member of a federally recognized Indian tribe” possessing “valid proof of membership.”

“To institute a blood-degree requirement duplicates the past discriminatory practices of the federal government,” Wesselhoft said. “The federal government typically set an arbitrary blood-percentage requirement to institute an artificial definition of an Indian and ultimately deny treaty obligations. The state of Oklahoma should not take that path.”

Wesselhoft, a citizen of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, is also an elected representative in that tribe’s legislature.

“Most tribes rely on the historic 1893 Dawes Rolls to ascertain membership in a tribal nation,” Wesselhoft said. “If one is directly related to an Indian listed on the Dawes Rolls, then that person qualifies as an Indian. It is appropriate that the state take its lead from tribal government in this regard.”

Wesselhoft added that imposing any blood degree requirement to obtain a state government job is “discriminatory and ultimately destructive.”

“We should celebrate the diversity of our culture in Oklahoma, not set artificial requirements on what makes someone a ‘true’ Native American,” he said.

The position of Oklahoma Native American Liaison was created last session to replace the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. The governor has not filled the position. Wesselhoft said in the future he plans to author a bill to make the liaison position a Cabinet post.

House Bill 2563 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 62-19 vote. It now proceeds to the state Senate.


06/24/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation donated $75,000 to organizations that ensure school children get snacks and school supplies when they return to school this fall. In northeastern Oklahoma at least 20 organizations participate in backpack programs that send backpacks home with students who are in need of everything from school supplies to nutritious weekend snacks. The tribe donated the funds from its donations and charitable contributions budget. Tribal Councilors individually delivered the checks totaling $75,200 to the churches, schools and organizations in their areas. “We have a responsibility to our children, especially those in need, to ensure they have access to basic and essential items when they are away from structured activities like school and church,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Networking with these partners, organizations that have similar values and a mission to help kids, enables us all to do more, and that is critical if we hope to raise healthy and happy children in northeast Oklahoma. If we can address any insecurity a child has at home, whether it’s food or clothing or supplies, then we are helping build a better tomorrow.” The programs serve 3,643 students, with half of those students being CN citizens. Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said the tribe is able to help more families when developing healthy partnerships with organizations inside the 14-county jurisdiction. “By partnering with churches, schools and organizations inside the communities, we are able to make the greatest impact with our tribal dollars,” Byrd said. “These organizations know the needs of our young people in their respective communities, and I am proud that the Cherokee Nation can contribute to meeting those needs.” Organizations receiving funds are in Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Delaware, Mayes, Muskogee, Nowata, Rogers, Sequoyah and Washington counties. New Life Church in Stilwell received $15,000 to help. At the beginning of every school year, the church hosts a cookout and backpack giveaway night for parents and students in Adair County. The church also partners with four rural Adair County schools and uses the donation to provide nutritious weekend snacks to students every week during the school year. “We are so thankful to be able to partner with the Cherokee Nation and help students and parents in our area with necessary school supplies and nutritious snacks on the weekend,” said New Life Church Pastor Max Ford. “The tribe’s generosity is a godsend for our community, and we are more than happy to help pass that blessing on to those in need.” <strong>Receiving Donations</strong> Organization, County, Award New Life Church, Adair, $15,040 Hulbert Public Schools, Cherokee, $9,388.32 Tahlequah Public Schools, Cherokee, $3,689.94 Craig County Salvation Army, Craig, $1,121.49 Okay Public Schools, Delaware, $1,961.74 Choteau-Mazie Public Schools, Mayes, $781.04 First United Methodist Church Locust Grove, Mayes, $710.95 Boulevard Christian Church, Muskogee, $2,350 Chandler Road Church of Christ, Muskogee, $555.45 Eastern Heights Baptist Church, Muskogee, $1,516.82 First United Methodist Church Muskogee, Muskogee, $1,602.27 Grace Ministries Inc., Muskogee, $341.82 Warner Public Schools, Muskogee, $3,845.45 Boys & Girls Club of Nowata, Nowata, $6,118.14 Oologah United Methodist Church, Rogers, $791.58 Rogers County Salvation Army, Rogers, $14,248.42 Hillside Pentecostal Church, Sequoyah, $1,388.64 Lee’s Chapel Assembly of God, Sequoyah, $2,307.27 The BOD Church, Sequoyah, $1,132.27 Agape Mission of Bartlesville Inc., Washington, $6,308.39
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
06/23/2016 06:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – As the 2016 “Remember the Removal” cyclists prepared to finish the last few miles of their nearly 1,000-mile journey from Georgia to Oklahoma, some reflected on what it meant and what they learned. The youngest rider, Jack Cooper, 15, of the Birdtown Community in Cherokee, North Carolina, followed in his father’s and sister’s footsteps to ride the three-week trek through six states to Tahlequah. “I was always told it’s a challenge both mentally and physically, that there’s no words to describe it after you’ve done it. You have to go on the journey,” he said. He said he agrees with the assessment that people have to make the journey themselves to truly appreciate what Cherokee people endured during the forced removals in 1838-39. “It is amazing. Growing so much as a family with people you’ve never met, experiencing the heat and experiencing suffering and joy all at the same time, it’s amazing,” he said. Cooper said that during the ride he learned lifelong leadership skills and to cooperate with others. “I’ve grown so much as a person,” he said. Before the ride, Kelsey Girty, 22, of Warner, said she knew the journey would be physically challenging and that she would be tested as she rode through the territory her ancestors walked along the Trail of Tears’ Northern Route. But as she prepared to ride into Tahlequah to see family and friends, she said she found it tough to find words to describe her experiences. “Everyone says you have to see it, you have do it, to actually feel it,” she said. She said she has a deeper connection to the people who took the ride with her and to herself. She learned things she never knew about her culture and heritage by taking part in the trip, she said. Girty added that if someone wanting to make the journey were to ask her what is special about it she would tell them the unity and bonding among the cyclists is the most special. “Everyone just comes together. We’re all so different. None of our personalities are the same,” she said. “Everyone comes together as a family.” Marisa Cabe, of the Wolfetown Community in Cherokee, North Carolina, said she knew the ride was not only going to be physically difficult but “emotionally and spiritually” difficult, too. She said the ride’s physical and emotional demands didn’t match what she imagined. “The heat, the constant pedaling, it’s all been much more physically challenging than I ever could have imagined, “Cabe said. The 50-year-old had to “trailer up” or put her bicycle in the trailer and ride in the van on June 22, the day before the cyclists made it to Tahlequah because she overheated. “I didn’t want to. I cried a little bit when they told me I had to. I wanted to do what they (Cherokee ancestors) were able to do, and then I stopped to think not everybody walked. People had to be helped. I had to be helped… and that’s hard for me to accept, but I’m thankful that I had the people here to help me,” she said. An unexpected but pleasant surprise for Cabe was how close the cyclists became. She said the group likes to say they are not Cherokee Nation or Eastern Band but are “one tribe.” “We’re Cherokee. That’s all there is to it,” she said. “Whether the federal government recognizes it or not, we as people realize that we’re one tribe, one nation.” Cabe thanked the support staff that helped the cyclists along the way and her fellow cyclists who helped her finish the ride. “It’s just been an amazing journey, and I’m thankful that I did it,” she said
06/23/2016 02:00 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix recently followed the 2016 “Remember the Removal” cyclists for part of their trip from New Echota, Georgia, to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. From June 15 to June 23 we will feature video profiles of two cyclists daily. Today is Tosh Welch of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The ride is held annually to commemorate the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their Southeastern homelands during the winter of 1838-39. The bicycle ride originated more than 30 years ago as a leadership program that offered Cherokee students a glimpse of the hardships their ancestors faced while making the same trek on foot. Follow the cyclists’ journey at <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or with the Twitter hashtag #RememberTheRemoval.
06/23/2016 12:00 PM
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A group hoping to put a casino legalization measure on the Arkansas ballot this fall says it has signed an agreement with Cherokee Nation Entertainment to operate one of the casinos. Arkansas Wins in 2016 announced Thursday the agreement with the Cherokee Nation group to operate a casino proposed in Washington County in northwest Arkansas. The tribe's gaming and hospitality company owns and operates nine casino properties in Oklahoma. Arkansas Wins is trying to gather the nearly 85,000 signatures from registered voters needed to place its proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Arkansas Wins says the project would not involve efforts to seek tribal land trust status. The ballot measure also proposes casinos in Boone and Miller counties. The group has until July 8 to submit its petitions.
06/23/2016 10:00 AM
The Cherokee Phoenix recently followed the 2016 “Remember the Removal” cyclists for part of their trip from New Echota, Georgia, to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. From June 15 to June 23 we will feature video profiles of two cyclists daily. Today is Kevin Jackson of the Cherokee Nation. The ride is held annually to commemorate the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their Southeastern homelands during the winter of 1838-39. The bicycle ride originated more than 30 years ago as a leadership program that offered Cherokee students a glimpse of the hardships their ancestors faced while making the same trek on foot. Follow the cyclists’ journey at <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or with the Twitter hashtag #RememberTheRemoval.
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
06/22/2016 04:00 PM
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The 18 cyclists of the “Remember the Removal” ride each had their own ideas about the three-week ride and what they might experience. Now that’s it’s nearly over, some shared their thoughts about the journey through seven states. Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians rider Tosh Welch, of the Wolfetown Community in North Carolina, said he knew it would be difficult but he never expected such a strong bond would form between the EBCI and Cherokee Nation cyclists. “We just refer to ourselves as Cherokee now,” he said. “The weakest person can pick up the strongest person at the strangest time or the quietest person can tell the funniest joke, and that kind of gets us through our day.” Welch said he also didn’t realize there would be so many emotional moments, especially when the cyclists knew they were traveling where their ancestors are buried in unmarked graves or where their ancestors suffered while waiting to cross the Mississippi River. “Sometimes white people were kind enough or courteous enough to let them be buried in their cemeteries,” he said. “A lot of people are walking around with a card in their pocket and they can claim to be Cherokee, but I think until you connect with your history, you connect with your culture and the things that took place, which is what we’re doing gives you a better perspective on what it means to carry that (Cherokee citizen) title with your name.” CN rider Stacy Leeds, of Muskogee, Oklahoma, said before the ride she thought the two groups would gel. “I think what has been true for me is that it’s almost like a family member or a partner or a spouse and you think, ‘I couldn’t love this person any more than I do right now,’ and then you spend more time with that person and you know that bond keeps growing and growing. That’s how I feel about the other riders,” she said. Along with strong bonds between the riders, Leeds also said she felt strong emotions visiting sites where Cherokees were held prisoner or walked and stopped for a time. “Nothing prepares you for how emotional and how spiritually impactful those places are going to be. At a few of those places you could literally feel the spirits of people. It was pretty powerful, and I don’t think anything can prepare you for that moment,” she said. “Being with that many Cherokees together at a place like that was pretty profound. I think that grew with each place.” As she was riding on June 18 to Springfield, she said she was thinking about her Cherokee ancestors and knew some of them had an idea about where they were going thanks to communication with family referred to as “Old Settlers” who had earlier moved to Indian Territory. “But to be on this journey and really not know what lies at the end and how that was going to play out has been on my mind a lot today,” she said. She said the Springfield ride was good for the group and the Oklahoma cyclists could feel they were getting close to home, but for her Cherokee ancestors “every day would have been more exhaustion and more dread from not knowing what lies ahead.” CN rider Nikki Lewis, of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, said she had mixed emotions as the ride winds down. “It’s been good. It’s been bad. I’ve been angry. It (emotions) is just like the hills (the cyclists rode), up and down, up and down,” she said. “Walking the actual trail they were on, that changed my whole perspective. I was like ‘wow.’ Hearing us walk was loud, but hundreds of them walking must have been loud with kids crying and not knowing where their next stop was going to be. “We know we’re going to get to stop. We know we’re going to get food. We know there’s going to be an end, but they didn’t know that,” she added. Hearing about what to expect on the ride from friends and his daughter Corlee, who rode the trek in 2015, helped EBCI rider Tom Hill, of the Yellowhill Community in North Carolina, but he said he now understands people have to experience it for themselves. “You can’t really explain it to somebody who hasn’t been on the ride, and I’m starting to feel that, especially the closeness we are creating here,” he said. “I think it’s important that people do this so that they understand these kinds of relationships can develop.” He said the bond the cyclists created is the ride’s most special aspect. As a therapist, he said he understands the historical trauma many tribal people suffer from, but he wants to see a change. “I want to walk away from the historical grief and trauma part where we say, ‘oh, poor me.’ We have to focus on the strength. The fact that these folks walked across this country to Oklahoma, that’s where we build from,” he said. “They didn’t know where they were going, but they created homes for their families, same for the families in western North Carolina. The folks that stayed there created homes for us. It’s those strengths that we need to build on.” Lewis said it’s difficult to explain the ride to those who haven’t made the journey and that they would have to experience it themselves to truly understand what it means and how it changes a person. “I can tell them everything I felt, and they might be like, ‘oh, that’s neat,’ but it’s not going to be the same without them doing it themselves. Whether it’s in car or you’re actually riding it (trail), it will change their whole mindset of really what our ancestors went through.”