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
11/25/2014 03:27 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation will hold its annual “Light Up” event at 5 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the Cherokee National Capitol Square. The event will feature the Cherokee National Youth Choir, holiday lights as well as cookies and hot cocoa for guests. Following the event will be the Tahlequah Christmas Parade of Lights at 6 p.m. in downtown Tahlequah.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
11/25/2014 08:00 AM
VINITA, Okla. – More than 150 people attended the Cherokee Cultural Day event on Nov. 22 at the Cherokee Nation Vinita Health Center. The Vinita Indian Territory Coalition and Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez sponsored the second annual event. “This is the second year that I have helped host. We call it ‘Cherokee Culture Day’ at the Vinita health clinic. Last year I came up the idea right before I got elected to council, but I wanted to honor the National Treasures in Vinita because we rarely get a lot of culture activities in Vinita,” Vazquez said. The event had several cultural activities for the community to take part in, including cornhusk dolls, handprint making, basket weaving, story telling and flute playing. Vazquez said she invited two National Treasures to the event as well. “I brought two National Treasures. I try to focus on different ones each year because there are 40-something still living,” she said. Some members of the VITC also volunteered to make Indian tacos and sell them to raise funds for the local Special Olympics team. CN citizen and VITC President Paula Butcher said the VITC raised nearly $700. The money raised will be used to send about 10 kids to the Special Olympics winter games in Oklahoma City. Vazquez said even with the rain the day was a success. “Even though it was cold and rainy people were looking for something to do, and all the artists sold well, and everyone loved it. In fact, I had people come up to me that said ‘how can I participate next year as an artist?” she said. “We were amazed at how busy it was, and I had a door prize drawing every hour.” She added that seeing people of all ages enjoying the many activities was a great sight. “But I think what was just the cutest thing was that different ages of people learning to make baskets…one elderly man standing there working on a basket and an elderly woman was sitting there making the cornhusk dolls. She’d never got to do that before, and then we had lots of kids. So it was fun for everybody,” Vazquez said. Vazquez said she’s thankful for all the help from the volunteers as well as the donation of the location by the CN Vinita Health Center. Vazquez said they plan to continue to have this event each year and eventually grow the VITC and make it into a CN community organization. Cherokees interested in getting in touch with Vazquez can email victoria-vazquez@cherokee.org or call her at 918-323-2980.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter
11/24/2014 08:37 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – It’s been 10 years since Oklahoma voters approved State Question 712, the constitutional amendment that allowed state tribes to bring in compact games, like those at casinos in Las Vegas, into their respective casinos. Cherokee Nation, along with those who supported SQ712, celebrated the state question’s 10th anniversary during a Nov. 17 gathering at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said passing SQ712 was a “win-win” for the state, tribes, Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association, Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma and education. “You’ve heard the numbers of economic development and the $1.3 billion impact that only the Cherokee Nation had,” he said. “There are 39 tribes in the state of Oklahoma, and they all have similar circumstances. We are the economic engines of northeastern Oklahoma. We could not be that without 712.” Former Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry expressed how he had faith in SQ712. “We have so much to be proud of in these 10 short years,” he said. “If you just think about it tribal gaming in the state of Oklahoma has been an unbelievable impact.” Henry said SQ712 betters Oklahomans today and would continue to do so. “I don’t think there’s anything that we’ve done as a state in the last 50 years that has the kind of impact that SQ712 has,” he said. “There were visionaries who saw a great vision in the future, but none of us anticipated the incredible impact of 712 that we see today. I don’t think any of us fully grasp the future of this program and where we’re headed and the incredible things that will result in the state of Oklahoma for all Oklahomans, Native American and not, in the future.” Cherokee Nation Businesses interim CEO Shawn Slaton said he’s thankful that Baker has given CNB the opportunity to build clinics and a new hospital in the tribe’s jurisdiction from a portion of the tribe’s gaming profits. “Everyone’s talked about the vision of 712 and where that’s taken us. Chief, I appreciate your vision beyond that and what you’ve allowed the businesses to do with the profits,” he said. “Gov. Henry, I really appreciate you pushing that (712) to a vote of the people, and I’d like to thank the people of the state of Oklahoma for passing it because without them this wouldn’t be possible.” Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission Director Jamie Hummingbird said the addition of compact games to Cherokee casinos has brought in people who would otherwise travel to Las Vegas or Tunica, Mississippi, to game. “Just by virtue of having the ability to take advantage of some of the game libraries that are offered by some of the class three gaming manufactures has brought a lot of new players out to the facilities,” he said. Hummingbird said there are approximately 6,500 gaming machines and 83 table games in Cherokee casinos. “The table games are all compact,” he said. “As far as the total number of compact machines, 60 percent of that roughly is compact games. Our ratio is roughly 60/40 between compact games and Class II games.” Hummingbird said the game ratio has stayed at 60/40 percent for approximately five years but that it could change depending on players’ tastes. “If they are wanting more compact games, or games that we can only get through the compact, then that’s what we will see,” he said. “A lot of this is going to be dictated by the players.” Hummingbird said when looking back he didn’t believe anyone could foresee what SQ712 has provided for tribes and the state. “I think that the overall impact the tribe’s have had by virtue of having the compacts through SQ712 have far exceeded what anybody had anticipated 10 years ago,” he said. “We’ve done this through an effort between the tribal government, including the gaming commission, as well as the casino operators, as well as the vendors and the state. I think the success is not just because of one piece of the puzzle, but just by having everybody working together to make sure it has been a success. It’s been a complete team effort.” After the 2004 election, the CN was one of the first tribes to sign a gaming compact with Oklahoma. Currently 33 of 39 tribes in Oklahoma have gaming compacts. Since the signing the compact, which expires in 2020, the CN has created approximately 4,000 jobs. It has also paid more than $100 million in fees to support Oklahoma’s horse racing industry and approximately $126 million for education. Tribes in Oklahoma have provided approximately $895 million for the state under SQ712. The revenue brought in last year was approximately $122 million. The state originally projected tribes would bring in $71 million per year.
BY STAFF REPORTS
11/21/2014 02:39 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – On Jan. 15, comedian Kevin Nealon will bring his stand-up comedy tour to The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. As one of the longest running cast members on “Saturday Night Live,” Nealon created some of the show’s most memorable characters, including The Subliminal Man, Hans and Franz and a reoccurring role as an anchor on Weekend Update. In 1988, he earned an Emmy Award nomination as part of the “SNL” writing team. Since his time on “SNL,” Nealon has encountered great comic success with an extensive film career starring in films such as “Just Go With it,” “Eight Crazy Nights,” “The Wedding Singer,” “Happy Gilmore,” “You Don’t Mess with The Zohan” and “Blended.” Nealon’s other film credits include “Joe Dirt,” “Daddy Day Care,” “Good Boy,” “Grandma’s Boy” and “Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star.” He starred in the television show “Weeds” until the final season in 2009 and is a sought-after guest star on television shows “Hot In Cleveland,” “Franklin & Bash,” “Monk,” “Fat Actress,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Still Standing.” In 2008, Nealon released his first book, “Yes, You’re Pregnant, But What About Me?” – a comical look at the male perspective of pregnancy. In 2009, he scored his first one-hour, stand-up special, “Kevin Nealon: Now Hear Me Out!” which aired on Showtime. In 2012, he recorded his second Showtime stand-up special, “Whelmed… But Not Overly.” Tickets to the show start at $35 and can be purchased online at <a href="http://www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com" target="_blank">www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com</a> or by calling 918-384-ROCK. For more information on Kevin Nealon, visit <a href="http://www.kevinnealon.com/" target="_blank">kevinnealon.com/</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
11/21/2014 12:18 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – After touring and recording for the past 44 years, ZZ Top will be performing on Jan. 16 at The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers will perform classic hits ranging from “Sharp Dressed Man” to “La Grange” and “Legs” and "Tush" along with “I Gotsta Get Paid” and other new material from “La Futura,” their latest album with producer Rick Rubin. ZZ Top formed in Houston in 1969, becoming an international touring act in the 1970s. Their unique hybrid of dirty blues and hard rock, incorporating new sounds and technology, earned them induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. The band will be releasing a comprehensive greatest hit collection titled “The Baddest of ZZ Top.” They will be sharing bills with Jeff Beck next summer and undertaking a slate of tour dates on their own in the fall. Tickets to the show start at $60 and can be purchased online at www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com or by calling 918-384-ROCK. For more information on the band, visit <a href="http://www.zztop.com" target="_blank">zztop.com</a>.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
11/21/2014 08:40 AM
LOST CITY, Okla. – American flags lined the dirt road leading up the Swimmer Church in rural Lost City on Nov. 11 as veterans and their families came to partake in the church’s annual Veterans Day program. One of the event’s organizers, Pat Martinez, said her late mother, Lora Crittenden, and her mother’s best friend, Juanita Allen, began honoring veterans at the church 25 years ago on Veterans Day. She said her late uncle, Bob Crittenden, was a prisoner of war during World War II, and her mother and Allen thought it would be nice to honor Bob and other veterans in the community on Veterans Day. “So they called and they went to see people and asked people to come to Veterans Night. They made little trinkets and used crate paper (to make decorations). It’s evolved to 25 years later to what it is now,” Martinez said. “We give them something to remember the church and also to remember them being a veteran. We’re proud of this small community coming together and making a difference.” During the program, veterans enter the church after everyone else is seated and are seated in the front. Veterans are presented with certificates and medals and are asked to stand or sit on the stage and tell everyone the military branch in which they served. After the program, which includes a welcome from the pastor and patriotic songs, the veterans walk next door to the church’s fellowship hall for a potluck meal. Martinez said the church’s congregation understands a program and a meal is “not much” to thank the veterans for their willingness to sacrifice themselves to help protect the country. “If you served during peace time or if you were combat, our freedom still depends on men and women like you,” she said during the program. “God bless you veterans and God bless America.” Cherokee veteran Ross Gourd, who lives in the nearby community of Double Springs, served in the Army from 1969-71. He has been coming to the Swimmer Church Veterans Day program for 13 years and appreciates that veterans have a place to get together on their day and enjoy a home-cooked meal. He is a recipient of the Cherokee Warrior Award from the Cherokee Nation. Jimmy Carey of Hulbert served in the Air Force during the Vietnam era from 1966-70. “I did what I had to do to show that my people were supportive of this government. I think it’s the greatest government there is. It’s not perfect, but it’s great, and I wouldn’t want to live anyplace else,” he said. A CN citizen, Carey taught the Cherokee language at Sequoyah High School for 14 years and worked for the Nation for 22 years. He retired from teaching this past spring. It was his first time attending the church’s Veterans Day program and he said he was “impressed.” “This is what can happen when you get to thinking you need to do something. I like it. I really do. I’ll be back next year,” he said. Martinez said 20 to 25 veterans attend the program each year, but as the years pass there are less and less World War II and Korean War veterans. “We hope the younger ones will pick up the torch and come,” she said.