Appeals Court: Freedmen can sue principal chief

BY STAFF REPORTS
12/21/2012 09:10 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A federal court on Dec. 14 ruled that descendants of slaves who were owned by Cherokee Nation citizens can sue the tribe’s current chief in an attempt to restore their tribal citizenship.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned a lower court’s ruling that the case could not proceed because the tribe was not a defendant in the case and couldn’t be compelled to abide by the court’s ruling.

“Applying the precedents that permit suits against government officials in their official capacities, we conclude that this suit may proceed against the Principal Chief in his official capacity, without the Cherokee Nation itself as a party,” Judge Brett Michael Kavanaugh wrote in the unanimous ruling.

The court noted that an 1866 treaty granted the former slaves known as Cherokee Freedmen all tribal rights, including the right to vote. But in 2007, the tribe approved an amendment to its constitution requiring all tribal citizens to have a by-blood Native American ancestor listed on the Dawes Roll, thus rescinding the tribal citizenship of about 2,800 Freedman descendants.

The Freedmen claim the chief – and through him the sovereign tribe – broke federal law by not honoring the treaty. Chad Smith was serving as principal chief in 2007 when the constitution was amended.

Marilyn Vann, a Freedman and the plaintiff in the case, said she was pleased with the court’s ruling and looked forward to having the merits of the case determined in court.

“We look forward to continuing on until we have final vindication of the enforcement of our rights,” she said.

Vann said slaves owned by Cherokees played an integral role in the survival of the tribe along the Trail of Tears during the forced relocation of most of the tribe in the 1830s from their ancestral homelands in the southeast to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. And she likened the Freedmen’s plight today to the struggle for civil rights by blacks in the South during the 1950s.

CN Attorney General Todd Hembree said the tribe is pleased that the appellate court reaffirmed in its ruling that the Nation is a sovereign government.

“However, the Court of Appeals also ruled that the interests of the tribe can adequately be represented through its elected officers,” Hembree said. “Although our principal chief stands ready, willing and able to protect and defend the Cherokee Nation Constitution and the will of its people, we believe that the entity that should be tasked with that responsibility is the Nation itself.”

Removing the Freedmen from the tribe was not a racially motivated decision, but one of a tribe’s sovereign ability to determine who is a citizen, Hembree said.

“It’s not asking too much that in order to be a citizen of an Indian tribe, that you be Indian,” he said. “We believe that’s very important, and so did the Cherokee people, and we intend on representing their will in this case.”

Vann et al v. Salazar was dismissed in September 2011 by federal Judge Henry Kennedy in Washington, D.C. Ken Salazar is the current United States Secretary of the Interior.

The plaintiffs appealed the dismissal, which forced the CN to file a response. Oral arguments for an appeal of the dismissed Freedmen case were heard in October.

The lawsuit was filed in 2003. Vann and five other Freedmen contend the CN, with approval from then-Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, prevented them from voting in the 2003 CN elections.

The plaintiffs sought a court order declaring the elections invalid. They also wanted the DOI secretary to not recognize the results of the elections until Freedmen were permitted to vote.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
09/02/2015 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. –The Tribal Film Festival is set to take place on Sept. 4-6 during the Cherokee National Holiday. Those in attendance can expect to watch indigenous films, ranging from children’s films to horror films. There will also be locally filmed features and documentaries. During the festival, 41 films will be screened totaling more than 21 hours of film time. The event kicks off at 11 a.m. Sept. 4 and is expected to go until 11 p.m. There will be a red carpet event, wine and cheese tasting and a silent auction at 5:30 p.m. On Sept. 5, film screenings kick off at 11 a.m. with the last one showing at 7 p.m. After the last film Red Dirt Southern Rock band Badwater will perform at 9:30 p.m. Admission for the live music is $5 and includes two beers for the first 200 people in attendance. On Sept. 6, those in attendance can expect a day featuring “kids flixs” starting at 1 p.m. TFF sponsors include TribalTV, Cherokee Nation, Osage Casino and Acrylic Graphics and Designs. The Dream Theatre is located at 312 N. Muskogee Ave. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.tribalfilmfestival.com" target="_blank">www.tribalfilmfestival.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/01/2015 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) – Cherokee Nation Foundation is hosting an open house during the 63rd annual CherokeeNational Holiday Sept. 4-6. CNF hopes to raise awareness about the organization and its mission to help Cherokeeyouth succeed academically and achieve their higher education goals. The open house is Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 800 S. Muskogee. Students, parents and teachers are encouraged to stop by for goodie bags and to gather information about CNF programs and scholarship opportunities. “Most people do not know that we have programs for students as young as fifth grade,” said Janice Randall, executive director of Cherokee Nation Foundation. “We have so many ways to help prepare Cherokee students, and we are dedicated to helping as many of them as possible. We just have to let them know who we are and how we can help.” CNF also plans to reveal its new branding initiative at the open house. “The Cherokee National Holiday is the perfect time to reintroduce ourselves and remind the Cherokee people that we are here to help,” said Randall. “We want Cherokee students to understand the value of higher education and know it is within reach for each and every one of them. We work diligently with all of our students to help them prepare for their academic journey and keep them informed about resources to help them succeed.” For more information, contact Cherokee Nation Foundation at (918) 207-0950 or Janice Randall at jr@cherokeenationfoundation.org.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/01/2015 08:35 AM
In this month's issue: • The principal chief, deputy chief and eight Tribal Councilors take their oaths of office on Aug. 14. • CN files lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson' • CCO brings Cultural Enlightenment Series to Briggs community • OK tribes approach $1B in state fees ...plus much more. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/9/9576_2015-09-01(rev).pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the Sept. 2015 issue of the Cherokee Phoenix.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
08/31/2015 12:00 PM
DURANT, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Emalea Hudgens, a junior at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and a double major in psychology and music, recently spent a semester studying at the Swansea University, a public research university based in Wales of the United Kingdom. Hudgens received the title of Brad Henry International Scholar in 2014 and she studied abroad this past spring. The Jay native is a Cherokee Nation citizen and Harvey Scholar recipient. She is also a Savage Storm Leader and was selected to be in the President’s Leadership Class for 2012-13. Hudgens is a member of the Southeastern Chorale, Sparks Dance Team and Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority, according to the SOSU Communications Department. “I am very blessed and excited to get this opportunity to study abroad and become immersed in a different culture,’’ Hudgens said to the Southern, the SOSU newspaper. “It has been a life-long dream of mine to travel the world, and I cannot wait to share the stories and experiences with family and friends.” Hudgens said she felt fortunate to have studied overseas. “It has always been a dream of mine to study abroad and to live in Europe for a period of time. I hope to learn about their culture and get opportunities to work there myself, getting the experience that I need to do so. I just think it would be cool to work in a different culture.” She told the Cherokee Phoenix she was nervous to leave Oklahoma and live in a culture different than hers. “To say the least, it turned out to be the most life-changing experience. During my stay in Wales, I travelled to 11 different countries across Europe,” she said. “It was amazing to see the different cultures and the different people. I came to find people were very interested in hearing about the American culture and they found it fascinating to learn that I was a member of the Cherokee Nation.” Hudgens said studying abroad opened her eyes to many ideas about the world. “It is common to think the world is scary, but it is also very beautiful and filled with beautiful things,” she added. “Since travelling, I have created a passion to want to continue to travel and go see more of the world. I encourage everyone to travel if they get the opportunity.”
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
08/31/2015 10:00 AM
NEWKIRK, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation, with the approval of five other tribes, negotiated a lease of more than 8,000 acres to Weatherby Energy for oil and gas exploration at the former Chilocco Indian School in Kay County. CN Real Estate Services Director Ginger Reeves said meetings were held between the CN and Kaw, Pawnee, Ponca, Otoe-Missiouria and Tonkawa tribes in 2009. “Public Law 99-283 in the Federal Register grants Cherokee Nation the authority to lease the trust acres,” she said. “The leases are recorded at the Kay County Clerk’s Office in Newkirk, Oklahoma.” According to CN Resolution 134-09, Reeves said then Principal Chief Chad Smith and the Tribal Council approved a resolution to lease the property. “Regarding the referenced lease, the six Chilocco tribes’ trust lease was approved April 4, 2011, and has until April 4, 2016, to drill and produce or expire. Samson Resources Company, the current lessee, is in the process of assigning the lease to a Texas group (MPG Energy Inc., a subsidiary of Weatherby Energy.) Real Estate Services is processing that assignment approval through the BIA,” she said. Weatherby Energy has received Bureau of Indian Affairs approval for this assignment, officials said. The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to contact Weatherby Energy but did not receive a response as of publication. The Chilocco properties are trust and fee lands and the lease covers both. “The fee land lease will expire Nov. 5, 2015, unless they drill and produce. This fee lease was also recently assigned by Samson to the Texas group. Real Estate Services is processing the assignment for Cherokee Nation approval,” Reeves said. “Both leases were five-year leases and are filed in Cherokee Nation Title Plant. There is also a smaller acreage lease on fee lands at Chilocco with another oil company, which was in place before the lease started.” When the previous leases ended in the early 1990s, Reeves said it covered 320 acres and leased for $11,520 over a three-year term. She said it lasted longer because of oil and gas being produced in “paying quantities” from the property. Officials said the CN receives $8,736.30 on trust property annually plus $6,985.23 on fee property for a total of $15,721.53. A total of 8,152.61 acres are under lease with more than 5,000 acres being trust land and more than 2,300 acres in fee.
BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
08/31/2015 08:21 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials have filed a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. claiming the companies misbranded the drug Risperdal and failed to disclose risks posed to elderly patients. According to drugs.com, Risperdal is an antipsychotic medicine and is used to treat schizophrenia and symptoms of bipolar disorder and manic depression. Risperdal is also used in autistic children to treat symptoms of irritability. Initially filed by the tribe in April in Sequoyah County, where the drug was distributed at the Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw, the suit was moved in July to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma in Muskogee. According to court documents, the CN claims the companies admitted to selling the “misbranded” drug for unapproved uses more than a decade ago, during the time the tribe purchased it. The tribe also claims that from 1999 through 2005, the companies sold Risperdal for uses that were not approved as safe and effective and between March 3, 2002 and Dec. 31, 2003, the CN purchased the drug after the defendants expressed that the drug was not misbranded. The suit also claims negligence, breach of warranty, unjust enrichment and violation of the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act on the part of the companies. Court documents state the tribe “is entitled to restitution to the extent of the increased revenue received by defendants from Risperdal prescriptions that were purchased or reimbursed by the Cherokee Nation and which resulted from the sale of misbranded Risperdal.” The tribe is asking for a judgment of $75,000 for “attorney fees, civil penalties and all other relief this court deems just and equitable.” “The crux of our case is that unbeknownst to us, this drug is a bad drug,” CN Attorney General Todd Hembree said. “We prescribed it through our clinics to our citizens. We now know it’s a bad drug and we don’t do it anymore, but as a result of it damaging our citizens, we incur the extra costs of having to take care of those citizens. Money that we otherwise would not have spent if it had not been for this bad drug.” Currently, no hearing has been scheduled. In 2013, Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. reached a $2.5 billion settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over the marketing of the antipsychotic drug for failing to warn that it could cause gynecomastia, which is abnormal development of breasts in males. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler served as an expert witness for the family that issued the lawsuit and testified that Johnson & Johnson knew about the risks associated with Risperdal but failed to disclose the data showing the extent to which youth may develop gynecomastia. According to the Wall Street Journal, lawsuits continue to be filed against Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. across the country. The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to get a comment from Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals but was unsuccessful. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/8/9571_nws04_150814_JJSuit.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the lawsuit.