Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Inter-Tribal Council shows unified front

BY Phoenix Archives
04/09/2012 03:01 PM
BY Bill john baker
Principal Chief

Last month, Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden and I, along with a few members of the administration and Tribal Council, visited our nation’s Capital for the National Congress of American Indians’ winter session.

As you all may have heard, while in Washington, I met with my counterparts from the Muscogee (Creek), Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole nations to discuss resuming the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes. Muscogee (Creek) Chief George Tiger and I – the two newest heads of the bunch – were elected president and vice-president respectively.

As sometimes happens, the organization fell by the wayside several years ago as each tribe went its own way. However, as our predecessors acknowledged more than 60 years ago when forming the council, there are many issues facing Indian Country today that are bigger than any single tribe. Health care access, language preservation, education, water rights and preservation of our natural resources are just a handful of the concerns facing all Indian nations. With that in mind, we are making another attempt to resume the council in an effort to support each other and present a unified front on key issues when needed.

In keeping with that goal, one of the first moves by the newly re-established council was to bring together the nearly two dozen tribes based in eastern Oklahoma for a meeting with Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk. The NCAI is a wonderful opportunity to network and share concerns, but it does not lend itself well to extended conversations about mutual issues facing multiple tribes from a single region.

Although bringing together that many heads of state is not an easy task, it is a lot easier and more financially responsible to ask a handful of people from the federal government to come to Oklahoma versus have the leadership from all of eastern Oklahoma’s corner of Indian Country travel to Washington.
Along with my fellow chiefs from the Inter-Tribal Council, I was pleased to see representatives from more than 15 tribes at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino last month for a successful meeting with Secretary Echo Hawk. As wonderful as it was to meet with leaders from across the United States the previous week at NCAI, there is something special to be said about getting together with our neighbors.

I sincerely hope that this is only the beginning of a new era of cooperation to better advance the interests of Natives across not only Oklahoma but also Indian Country as a whole. Although we may have our differences, they are far outweighed by our shared similarities.

bill-baker@cherokee.org


918-453-5618

Opinion

BY TRAVIS SNELL
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.
BY LEE KEENER
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.
BY BILL JOHN BAKER
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.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
05/05/2014 11:18 AM
Who says you can’t have it all? Lately my reality has been just that. However, I haven’t been doing it alone. During the past year I have experienced several changes. All of which have changed not only my life, but my family’s, too. In March 2013, I had the opportunity to finally purchase my own car, a new model. That was exciting. I had been having trouble with mine and I badly wanted to purchase a new car. I never thought I could, but I did and that was a fantastic blessing. Two months later, my family and I moved into a new house built by the Housing Authority of Cherokee Nation under the tribes’ new home construction program. My in-laws allowed us to purchase a small piece of property from them north of Tahlequah for the home to be built upon. I filed for the program the week of its inception in April 2012, and a year later we moved into our first new home. That was a dream come true. Without that program I’m afraid it would have been far longer for me to buy a home, a new home at that. In June, my then-partner Mike Murphy and I discovered we were expecting our second child. So together we have four children. This news was quite surprising, but great. We thought having another child wasn’t a possibility any longer considering we’d tried for nearly two years, but we were blessed with another boy. I thought I had my hands full with one in the home (the other two live outside the home). So on Jan. 27, we welcomed the newest Murphy, Austin. So after all these changes and the welcomed surprise why not go ahead and throw another one in the mix. Mike and I finally got married. I had taken my maternity leave a week before going into labor. So my last week of my leave we planned a small, nice ceremony on the Cherokee Nation Courthouse grounds beneath a beautiful magnolia tree. And the ceremony was just that, beautiful. CN citizen David Comingdeer officiated. So on April 8 at 4:08 p.m. on the grounds of the historic courthouse, David gave the prayer and welcome in both Cherokee and English and proceeded with the marriage ceremony. I have waited nearly seven years to marry Mike and for whatever reason in the past it just wasn’t the right time. So on that day I walked to a floral archway where Mike stood as Jami Custer and we left that ceremony as Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murphy. Now I’ve returned to work, a much-awaited return in my eyes. I have missed the past three months without writing for the Cherokee Phoenix and contributing to what I feel is a much-needed news outlet for our Cherokee people. It feels great to be back working again. Even though we’ve spent the past seven years as a couple, I want to try and be as a good of a mother and wife as I can. Why wouldn’t I? But life is a lot of work. In today’s society, many women and men attempt to do it all. They want to work, bring up babies, have personal relationships and still try to find the time for themselves. I tell you, it’s not easy. It can be done, but there’s a lot of help behind the scenes that many don’t see. For example, purchasing my new car couldn’t have been achieved without my employment with the Cherokee Phoenix. Working for the past seven years has allowed me the opportunity to establish better credit and work steadily and that afforded me the opportunity for the new car. My home would not have been possible without the help of CN citizens William and Deborah Smoke. They have helped us more than words can express. And finally, the old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” I think can be linked to our relationships. Many people have had a hand in my and Mike’s seven-year courtship, both good and bad, but either way all leading us where we are today, married. We can have it all. But when you look at it, really look at what you’re accomplishing, I don’t think you’re doing it alone. Many people are there helping, some we can’t even see. Thanks friends, family and extended family for all you’ve done behind the scenes.
BY Phoenix Archives
12/03/2013 11:36 AM
BY BILL JOHN BAKER Principal Chief The Christmas season is here and it reminds me to think about what truly matters to all of us. Some people worry the Christmas holiday has become more and more commercial, and each year we get a little further away from the essence of what makes it important. I hope this season we all feel the warmth of love and kinship, the realization of our noble wishes and see the true possibilities and purpose of the Holy Spirit. When the holidays come around every year, our lives suddenly take on a larger meaning than simply living for ourselves. We think of our loved ones, our extended families, our long-lost friends and our neighbors. As chief of the Cherokee Nation, I think of our 320,000-plus citizens and want the best for each and every one. One of the lessons I reflect on every Christmas is how much more important it is to do for others than to do for yourself. Somebody recently asked me to relay my favorite Christmas memory. I have a lifetime of wonderful stories and memories, but one recollection stands out. One of my favorite Christmas memories revolves around my Grandmother Audie Baker. She was a school teacher at Briggs and every Christmas season was a special time for this rural Cherokee County community. Every year the holidays began with a community pie supper to raise money for presents for the school’s students. It was the kind of pie supper where the person who bought the pie, got to eat it and enjoy it with the person who baked it. Grandmother always gave me money to buy a pie. The money was then used to buy gifts for the kids in my grandmother’s room, which consisted of fourth through sixth graders. She would divide the money up evenly and we would gather around the catalogs from OTASCO and Western Auto down at my granddad’s barbershop. We would look through them and she would ask my advice on what to get the boys. It was usually 500 .22 shells or 25 .410 shells or a nice hunting knife. But she always knew what each boy owned and what would make the right gift for them. That was just the life of a rural school teacher back then. Being a rural school, Briggs usually started before we did at Tahlequah Public Schools so I’d go with my grandmother and I got to know all her students. Also during the Christmas season, I helped my dad make huge pans of peanut brittle. We would fill sacks with hard candy, apples, oranges and peanut brittle and deliver them with the other gifts at grandmother’s school. These memories are lasting to me because it was so great to see the children light up with joy over the gifts we picked out. It’s amazing what just a few dollars will buy. As a child, it was also special because my grandmother valued my opinion on what her students would like best. It taught me the ultimate lesson: that it truly is better to give than receive. As a boy, I learned this universal truth from my grandmother: when you give to others, you emerge with a renewed sense of hope for yourself and for the world. To me, that is the spirit and essence of the Christmas season and that is a value that guides me every day. From my family and the family of Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, I want to wish you a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year. <p><i><center><a href="mailto:bill-baker@cherokee.org">bill-baker@cherokee.org</a></center></i></p> <p><i><center>918-453-5618</center></i></p>
BY Phoenix Archives
10/01/2013 08:37 AM
BY BILL JOHN BAKER Principal Chief The Cherokee Nation, with more than 320,000 citizens, is the largest sovereign tribal nation in the United States and the economic engine that drives growth in northeast Oklahoma. The power of tribal governments and tribally owned businesses fuel economic development in the region. I am proud to announce the Cherokee Nation made a $1.3 billion economic impact on our state last year. During my time in office, the Cherokee Nation and its businesses have made significant investments in roads, schools, law enforcement, health care, education and infrastructure that benefit all Oklahomans, whether you’re Cherokee or not. In the past year, we played a role in multiple business expansions, startups and relocations into the Cherokee Nation jurisdiction. We strive to continually raise the level of hope in Oklahoma – hope for a better and brighter future. The Cherokee Nation plays a critical role in ensuring Oklahoma remains a great place to live and raise a family. We proudly reinvest our business profits in people, services and facilities to build a better and brighter future for today, tomorrow and the next seven generations. The Cherokee Nation and its businesses directly employ more than 9,000 people. Due to our operational and economic successes, we support an additional 5,000 jobs indirectly. And we have a concrete plan to bring even more jobs to northeast Oklahoma. Today, we have more Cherokee Nation citizens working for our government and businesses than ever in the history of our Nation. The Cherokee Nation’s economic portfolio is much broader than gaming, operating in a number of diverse industries. We have successful business interests in the construction, telecommunications, aerospace, defense, advanced manufacturing, technology, real estate and health care fields. This business portfolio continues to broaden as our economic success thrives. Last year, Cherokee Nation Businesses had its most successful contracting year winning nearly $375 million in federal and commercial contracts contributing to an overall 9.5 percent revenue increase. We have broken all records this year in production output, dividends and number of employees resulting in more money to deliver services to Cherokee Nation citizens and all Oklahomans. Oklahoma is our home and our success is the state’s success. We are proud partners with the state of Oklahoma and hundreds of county and municipal governments. A strong Cherokee Nation means a strong Oklahoma. A thriving Cherokee Nation means more prosperity and jobs in communities within the tribe’s boundaries and all across this great state. And we’re not going anywhere. To put it simply, we are a corporate headquarters that is never leaving this state. We want to bring jobs to Oklahoma, not send them out of state. We are the Cherokee Nation and while we were once forced to leave our homelands, no one will ever force us to leave Oklahoma. We are here to stay. The success of Oklahoma – in job creation, preserving our quality of life – takes all of us working together, and we are proud to continue that legacy. <p><i><center><a href="mailto:bill-baker@cherokee.org">bill-baker@cherokee.org</a></center></i></p> <p><i><center>918-453-5618</center></i></p>