Cherokee Freedmen descendant Anthony King, center, asks a question while Freedmen descendants Raymond Foreman, left, and William Lawrie listen during a July 14 meeting in Muskogee, Okla. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Freedmen anticipate winning citizenship rights

Cherokee Nation citizen David Cornsilk shares tribal registration information with Cherokee Freedmen descendants during a July 14 meeting in Muskogee, Okla. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX A Cherokee Freedmen descendant wears a T-shirt that honors his heritage during a July 14 meeting in Muskogee, Okla. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen David Cornsilk shares tribal registration information with Cherokee Freedmen descendants during a July 14 meeting in Muskogee, Okla. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
07/20/2012 08:28 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Area Cherokee Freedmen descendants gathered July 14 at the First Missionary Baptist Church to discuss the latest development in their fight for Cherokee Nation citizenship, saying justice would soon be served on their behalf.

On July 2, the Department of Interior filed a counterclaim against the Nation to obtain a declaratory judgment that the 1866 Treaty between the CN and United States provides Freedmen descendants with certain rights and privileges, including tribal citizenship.

The counterclaim is now part of a lawsuit filed in 2009 by the CN against five Freedmen and the Interior in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma in Tulsa. No hearing dates have been set for the suit or the counterclaim.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been waiting for justice to be served for the Cherokee Freedmen,” said Kathy Washington, one of the Freedmen defendants in the case.

She said many of her ancestors are on “all the Cherokee rolls” and her great-great-great-great grandfather was a by-blood Cherokee named Mose Mackey.

“We come from a long line of Cherokee history and to be told that our history no longer matters, it really does hurt. It deeply hurts,” she said. “We came across the Trail (of Tears) and suffered along with the Cherokee and helped build the Nation.”

A Sept. 2, 2011, injunction from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia allows Washington and approximately 2,800 other Freedmen to have CN citizenship while the case is pending.

Washington said she’s praying that soon other Freedmen would be able to enroll in the CN, too.

CN citizen David Cornsilk, a supporter of Freedmen citizenship, spoke to about 50 Freedmen who attended the July 14 meeting. He said he believes with the Interior’s counterclaim Freedmen are “close” to victory and the CN would soon start processing Freedmen applications that have been in the Registrar’s Office since March 2007.

On March 3, 2007, CN voters amended the tribe’s constitution requiring a citizen to have an ancestor with Indian blood on the Dawes Roll.

“I’m not trying to speak for the chief (Bill John Baker)…it just makes sense to me that if people have been denied the ability to be registered in the tribe for as long as you folks have, they need to take special steps to go ahead and get those that have been sitting there waiting through the process,” he said.

Cornsilk walked Freedmen through the registration process and provided tips for getting citizenship applications processed with minimal delays.

Freedmen are basing their rights to CN citizenship on the 1866 Treaty, which was signed after the Civil War. The treaty dictated terms to the CN because it allied with the Confederacy.

In support of its countersuit, the Interior alleges Article IX of the treaty provided, and the CN agrees, that all Freedmen “who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owner or by law, as well as all free colored persons who were in the country at the commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months, and their descendants, shall have all the rights of native Cherokee…” Also in November 1866, the CN amended its constitution to comply with treaty.

The Interior is also asking the court to rule that the treaty provided Freedmen and their descendants with “all the rights of native Cherokees,” including the right to citizenship; that the Five Tribes Act and other statutes did not repeal the 1866 Treaty; and that the March 3, 2007, Cherokee constitutional amendment is “inconsistent with the treaty.”

In May, CN Attorney General Todd Hembree filed for a declaratory judgment against the Interior, asserting the treaty “did not guarantee to Freedmen and their descendants eternal, unimpeachable rights to citizenship within the Cherokee Nation.” Additionally, Hembree’s complaint seeks a judgment declaring that the treaty “does not bestow upon…Freedmen a right to citizenship within the Cherokee Nation that cannot be altered by the Cherokee Constitution.”

Hembree said he looks forward to having “all interested parties in the same courtroom and getting a definitive resolution to this matter.”

will-chavez@cherokee.org


918-207-3961

About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years.

Money

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
12/22/2014 11:23 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – In a special Dec. 15 meeting, the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors approved two transfers for lands in West Siloam Springs and Roland to Cherokee Nation Construction Resources for future home construction projects. Twenty-nine lots of land in West Siloam Springs and 26 lots in Roland will be used for housing. CNCR, a division of CNB, will oversee the construction of 52 homes and then sell them to the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation after they are built. The HACN provides housing for CN citizens. “We are at the point where we need to take care of administrative matters transferring title of land so that the appropriate entity can move forward with the work at hand,” CNB Executive Vice President Charles Garrett said. In West Siloam Springs, the HACN and CNCR are in the process of finalizing an agreement, officials said. They said the agreement states that CNCR will construct homes on sites previously approved by the HACN, and upon completion, the HACN will purchase those homes from CNCR. Cherokee Nation Enterprises, the entertainment division of CNB, previously held the 29 lots behind the WSS Cherokee Casino. “It was in effect surplus property. So we’re going to be re-engineering that area...for the construction of these homes,” Garrett said. Garrett asked the board to consider transferring the land from CNE to CNCR. Previously, the board transferred the land from CNE to the HACN. To expedite the financing of the homes, it was deemed “more advantageous” to transfer the land to CNCR and for Construction Resources to build the homes and then allow the HACN purchase them, he said. “That’s the sequence of events we expect, and will be documented in the agreement,” Garrett said. “We’ll give them (HACN) an invoice and that invoice will reflect cost, and we’re currently contemplating a plus-3 percent service fee.” Garrett said he and CNB Chief Financial Officer Doug Evans were working a way to allocate the cost to CNE for giving up the land for the two housing projects. In Roland, Cherokee Nation Property Management, another CNB entity, has under contract 26 lots of property. Garrett requested the board reassign that contract to CNCR and then provide authorization to CNCR to close on the property on Dec. 17. Garrett said it’s the same strategy as in West Siloam Springs. CNCR would build 23 homes on the Roland and the HACN would purchase those homes from CNCR after they are built. The board approved the transfer of the property from CNPM to CNCR and authorized Construction Resources to close on the property.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/21/2014 04:00 PM
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar’s reference to American Indians as “wards of the federal government” has struck a harsh chord with tribal members and legal experts in the days following a discussion about a controversial Arizona land deal that would make way for the country’s largest copper mine. The Arizona Republican was responding to concerns from Phil Stago of the White Mountain Apache Tribe when he made the comment that stunned people at the round-table talk. Stago said the phrase is antiquated and ignores advances made in tribes managing their own affairs and seeking equal representation when it comes to projects proposed on land they consider sacred. “He kind of revealed the truth - the true deep feeling of the federal government: `Tribes, you can call yourselves sovereign nations, but when it comes down to the final test, you’re not really sovereign because we still have plenary authority over you,’” Stago told The Associated Press. Gosar spokesman Steven Smith said that wasn’t the intent of the congressman, whose constituents in the 4th Congressional District include Apache tribes. He didn’t respond to requests to elaborate further. “If that’s what he got out of that, I think it’s misconstrued,” Smith said. “If you look at the work the congressman has done, that’s far from the truth.” Smith said Gosar has been an advocate for strengthening the relationship between tribes and the federal government. He pointed to legislation he sponsored this year that would do so. Gosar held the discussion Friday in Flagstaff with Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who grew up with Stago on Arizona’s Fort Apache Reservation. Dozens of people attended the meeting to discuss land, mining and forest issues with the representatives. One topic they addressed was a proposal to swap 2,400 acres of southeastern Arizona’s Tonto National Forest for about 5,300 acres of environmentally sensitive land throughout the state controlled by a subsidiary of global mining giant Rio Tinto. Stago said the proposal was disrespectful to tribal sovereignty. Gosar said: “You’re still wards of the federal government,” according to the Arizona Daily Sun. While former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall described tribes’ relationship with the federal government as that of a ward to its guardian in the 1830s, that characterization has long been irrelevant, experts in federal Indian law said. Tribal members once seen as incompetent in the Supreme Court’s eyes became U.S. citizens in 1924, and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 pushed the concept of tribal sovereignty and self-determination, said Troy Eid, a Republican and former U.S. attorney in Colorado. Congress maintains control over Indian affairs. However, the Interior Department is moving away from archaic paternalism when it comes to relationships with tribes, a spokeswoman said. The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ website notes the federal government is a trustee of Indian property - not the guardian of all American Indians and Alaska Natives. Eid said the language that defines core concepts of Indian law is old and often ethnically offensive. “Wards of the federal government” is no different, he said. “That’s just not appropriate,” Eid said. “In the heated context of what this represents, it’s especially inappropriate to be resorting to what amounts to race baiting.” The trend has been for tribes to take more control over their affairs while holding the federal government to promises generally born out of treaties. In exchange for tribal land, the government promised things like health care, education and social services in perpetuity for members of federally recognized tribes. Some tribes are taking advantage of federal laws that allow them to prosecute felony crimes and assert jurisdiction over non-Natives in limited cases of domestic violence. They also have the authority to approve trust land leases directly, rather than wait for BIA approval. Sam Deloria, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who served for 35 years as director of the American Indian Law Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said tribes welcome discussion about policy matters. But when someone makes a comment like Gosar’s, “it doesn’t contribute much to the debate,” he said.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/21/2014 12:00 PM
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) – The Northern Arapaho tribe has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that proposed Internal Revenue Service rules could cause Native Americans to pay higher insurance premiums or lose health care benefits. Tribal leaders said the recently proposed IRS interpretation of the large-employer mandate would unlawfully exempt Native Americans working for the tribe from receiving tax credits and cost-sharing benefits specifically outlined by new federal health laws. Northern Arapaho Business Council members said the IRS rule would eliminate tribal tax credits for health care benefits and make those earning more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level exempt from cost-sharing provisions that currently cover Native American insurance premiums. “The Northern Arapaho Business Council fully supports what Congress and the president have accomplished with the Affordable Care Act,” said Northern Arapaho Councilman Darrell O’Neal, “but the folks in the agencies have taken a wrong turn in implementing it.” The Northern Arapaho Tribe has about 10,000 enrolled citizens and shares a large reservation in Wyoming, southeast of Grand Teton National Park. It employs more than 600 people. The tribe insures its workers with plans from the federal health insurance marketplace and provides more than 80 percent of premium costs, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. Under the rule, tribal governments and agencies are considered large employers. Those Native Americans employed by the tribes would be subject to provisions of the large-employer mandate. More than 62 percent of Northern Arapaho members live below the poverty line. If approved, the rule would take effect Jan. 1. The rule-making is on hold, awaiting results of the case, filed in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming. The tribe said Congress did not intend the health care legislation to block Native Americans’ benefits and that the IRS rulemaking exposes a rift between legislation and the executive branch. The IRS referred calls to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/20/2014 04:00 PM
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) – California’s Pala Indians have launched their Internet gambling site in New Jersey following a test period in November, becoming the first tribe to do so in the state. The Pala Band of Mission Indians received permission from New Jersey gambling regulators for a full launch of the website in a partnership with Atlantic City’s Borgata. PalaCasino.com started taking bets on Nov. 29, Jim Ryan, CEO of Pala Interactive, the tribe’s Internet gambling arm, said. “We had a solid weekend and we have yet to start marketing,” he told The Associated Press. “We believe we are breaking into the New Jersey market at the perfect time.” The tribe’s entry into New Jersey’s online market comes at the anniversary of Internet gambling, which has not produced nearly the amount of revenue state officials had hoped. When it began on Nov. 25, 2013, New Jersey officials were projecting a $1 billion a year industry in its first year. To date, only about one-tenth of that, or $111 million, has been won online by the casinos. The tribe, which runs the Pala Casino and Spa in San Diego County, California, is using one of the Borgata’s online gambling licenses. Like other New Jersey Internet gambling providers, it can only take bets from customers within New Jersey’s borders. It plans to launch an online poker site in the first quarter of 2015. The site’s full debut came days after New Jersey gambling regulators said they had found no evidence Ryan was involved in a 2006 cheating scandal at his previous employer. The report determined the UltimateBet scandal occurred while Ryan was head of Excapsa Software. That firm’s software was used to cheat players by revealing their hidden cards to other users, resulting in losses of nearly $20 million to players. But the software was developed by a different company that predated Ryan’s employment at Excapsa, according to the report. The money was ultimately refunded. The Pala site uses a different platform, Ryan said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/20/2014 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Candidates running for office in the 2015 Cherokee Nation General Election can pick up their election packets beginning on Jan. 5 at the Election Services Office. According to an Election Commission press release, the filing period for candidates will begin on March 2, and will continue until 5 p.m. on March 5. If any candidate wishes to withdraw their candidacy he or she may do so 10 days following the close of the filing period, the release states. Seats open are for principal chief, deputy chief as well as Tribal Council districts 1, 3, 6, 8, 12, 13, 14 and one At-Large. Registered voters residing outside the CN jurisdiction who wish to vote by absentee ballot may fill out an absentee ballot request to be processed from Feb. 2 to May 8, the release states. Absentee ballot requests will be available at the Election Services Office and online at <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/elections" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/elections</a>. Absentee ballots will be mailed out on May 26-27 by the Election Commission. Voter registration will close March 31. To print a voter registration form online visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/elections" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/elections</a> or pick up one in person at the Election Services Office. Citizens can request to have one sent by email or fax. Also, voters with address changes, name changes or any changed information will need to submit a new voter registration application, according to the release. The Election Services Office is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It’s located at 22116 S. Bald Hill Road. For more information call 918-458-5899.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
12/19/2014 02:42 PM
EUCHA, Okla. – Eucha residents gathered on the evening of Dec. 13 to celebrate the opening of the new Eucha Community Center. The center’s opening was five years in the making after setbacks prevented residents from completing the 50-foot-by-75-foot building, which will be used by the Eucha Indian Organization and community. “We had a lot of problems. The roof blew off twice while we were trying to build it. Some of the guys got dissatisfied and they quit, but some of them stayed on. And then about three months ago I started coming up here and working on the inside of it,” community organizer Tad Dunham said. “We finally got it finished. Actually we got it finished yesterday (Dec. 12).” The center’s opening coincided with the annual Eucha Fire Department Christmas dinner. The fire department and its firefighters are a centerpiece for the community located about four miles west of Jay in Delaware County and about two miles north of Lake Eucha. Dunham said when the lake was built in 1952 the town was moved to its present location. In years past, the fire department, which is next door to the community building, backed its trucks out of the fire station to make room for events. “We always worried about them freezing this time of year because some of the water lines are only an eighth of an inch that go to the gauges and they freeze really quickly,” Dunham said. “Now we don’t have to pull them out. We can use this building (community center), and it just makes everything greater. Plus we have more room in here.” Cullus Buck, EIO chairman and EFD assistant chief, said the center would “mean a lot” because it gives residents a place to meet without using the fire station. “We opened up the fire department many times for family reunions and different things, and now this will take care of that, and we won’t have to worry about our trucks freezing,” Buck said. He said he wants to use the center to keep the area’s Cherokee heritage alive by having craftspeople and others visit to share their knowledge. “I’m going to try to get some beading classes in. My wife, she knows how to (do) that and some basket weaving. We had a guy come up and said he would teach knife (making), and I’ve got a couple of people who are interested in teaching the Cherokee language,” Buck said. He said he appreciates any help the Cherokee Nation could provide in preserving Cherokee heritage in Eucha but believes there are residents qualified to teach the Cherokee language and arts and crafts. The CN’s Community Work Program provided $116,000 to build the center, and the nearby Seneca-Cayuga Tribe in Grove and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe in Wyandotte also provided assistance. The Eastern Shawnee donated the building’s appliances, and the Seneca-Cayuga helped fund the Christmas dinner. “It wasn’t just the Cherokee Nation. Different tribes helped pitch in to get it (community center) done,” Buck said. “There was one point I wanted to give up. We got it all ready to go, had all the trusses up, and they all fell in because we had a tornado right down the road.” Dunham said he believes the building will begin an era in the community because people now have a gathering place for reunions, parties, weddings and funerals. “It’s going to open up the whole area for the community, not just the Eucha community but the surrounding area. It will be a general purpose building for the whole community,” he said. “I want to thank the Cherokee Nation not only for this building, but everything else they do for the community and all the Cherokee people – all the health care they provide, the roads they build – if you look around you can see their mark on about everything in the area, so we really appreciate the Cherokee Nation.”