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 JAMI MURPHY
08/30/2014 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During the Cherokee National Holiday weekend, Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses officials unveiled plans to build the Cherokee Springs Plaza, a travel destination that will include venues for dining, shopping and gaming. An artist’s rendering shows the complex including retail spaces, restaurant sites, auto sales lots, office spaces, a convention center, two hotels and a casino. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said purchasing the former Cherry Springs Golf Course property and the vacant land parallel to Highway 62 was a business decision of CNB “knowing that anytime they do anything it’s first class.” “It was the largest contiguous piece of property left in the capitol of the Cherokee Nation, and they’ve been on the drawing board for almost a year now with some of the best land developers in the country coming up with their plan to make this a showpiece in not only all of Indian Country, but I think it’s going to be a showplace for Oklahoma,” Baker said. The approximate 150 acres will bring more traffic to Tahlequah and more attention to the CN, he said. “Just be an awesome, awesome development for this part of Oklahoma,” Baker added. When officials unveiled the project, they said there would be spots for approximately six national restaurants. “I don’t know anybody in this part of the country that hasn’t said ‘I wish we had this’ or ‘I wished we had that.’ People don’t realize the dollars that go to Muskogee or go to Tulsa to just go out to dinner, and we think we can reverse that to where folks from Muskogee are going to be coming this way,” Baker said. “Folks from Tulsa, they can play golf. They eat at our restaurants and eventually stay at our hotel. It’s just going to be a destination of a mixture of fine dining, shopping, a casino resort, golfing. It’s going to tie everything together here at the Cherokee Nation.” Baker said the space would also include a convention center so people who often use convention centers at hotels in the Tulsa area can stay closer to home. He added that CNB Executive Vice President Chuck Garrett had much to do with what the CN envisioned for the property and was the “perfect fit to carry the ball.” Garrett said he’s looking forward to helping execute Baker’s vision for the property. “As chief said, I think that for the first time the citizens of Tahlequah and Cherokee County are going to have the entertainment and amenities that they deserve. They’re no longer going to have to travel to Tulsa, Muskogee or other larger cities outside of the area to enjoy a restaurant or some shopping opportunities that they’ve previously had to travel for,” he said. “We also hope to be providing a venue for entertainment and other community activities within a conference center that will be attached to a hotel.” The project will be completed in three phases, Garrett said. Phase 1 will include the “civil engineering” portion of the project that will consist of road construction and pad sites where potential businesses will be developed. “So our initial efforts will be focused on the engineering and road construction necessary for the development including water, sewer and those sorts of things,” Garrett said. The first thing citizens will see, he said, will be pad sites along the highway that will be the future homes of restaurants. Phase 1 is underway and is expected to be complete in 12 to 18 months. But citizens will see work on the property within the next month, Garrett said. CN Communications officials said the project’s total cost is about $170 million and will encompass approximately 1 million square feet. Officials also said it should be complete in 24 to 48 months. Once everything is complete, Baker said, the CN would continue with its plan to move the Cherokee Nation Immersion Charter School into what will be the former Cherokee Casino Tahlequah, located west of Sequoyah Schools along Hwy 62. “We designed it that way when we built it…so we won’t have two casinos. But when we build the one there (behind Cherokee Springs Golf Course), the one out here (Hwy 62) will become the immersion school,” Baker said. Check back with the Cherokee Phoenix for updates as this story develops.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/29/2014 02:12 PM
In this month's issue: • Hard Rock Cherokee Tower under revamp • Cherokee Phoenix wins awards at NAJA conference • Tribe requests IHS help to build Tahlequah hospital • Watt strives to enlighten others with his artwork ...and much more. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2014/8/8483_2014-09-01.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a> to read this month's issue.
BY BRYAN POLLARD
08/29/2014 10:23 AM
The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board will be meeting via conference call at 9 a.m. CDT, September 10, 2014. To attend, please use the conference call information listed below. The meeting agenda is <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2014/8/8480_140910_EB_Agenda.pdf" target="_blank">here</a>. Dial-in: 866-210-1669 Entry code: 4331082
BY JOSH NEWTON
08/29/2014 08:31 AM
Tahlequah Daily Press TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Authorities with the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service and Ontario Provincial Police in Canada say that until last month, a man living in Tahlequah had been presumed dead as a result of a 1977 barn fire. “The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service, acting on a tip, did locate Ronald Stan alive and living in Tahlequah on Aug. 5,” said Amanda Clinton, the Cherokee Nation communications director. She said the tribe would make no other comment about the discovery. Authorities in Canada say Stan, who has been living in Tahlequah under the alias of Jeff Walton, disappeared from his home in Ontario nearly 37 years ago. According to media reports out of Canada, Stan lived in the former Township of East Williams in Middlesex County, but was reported missing when a barn caught fire on Sept. 29, 1977. Witnesses reportedly saw Stan near the barn before it broke out into a blaze. Remnants of a body were never found, but in 1986, Stan was declared legally dead in Canada. He had reportedly left behind a wife and children there. But authorities in Canada say a recent audit of Stan’s disappearance somehow connected the supposedly missing person to a man living near Tahlequah, 69-year-old Jeff Walton. According to some media reports, police used Facebook connections to pinpoint Walton in Cherokee County. Authorities have not said what Stan’s motives might have been for disappearing 37 years ago, nor whether the barn fire thought to have taken his life was or is now considered to have been suspicious. But Canadian officials have suggested Stan faces no criminal charges there. Stan’s 35-year-old son, Jeff Walton Jr., told the Toronto Star that his family is “still trying to put all the puzzle pieces together.” He said family members from Stan’s U.S. life learned of the former life last month. Stan reportedly has grandchildren in the U.S. as well. On April 23, 2000, Stan, under the name of Walton, married Cherokee County resident Debra E. Proctor in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Court records show Proctor and Stan divorced earlier this month – according to Walton Jr., because of the revelation of his father’s secret Canadian past. In Proctor’s petition for divorce, she cites “incompatibility” between herself and Stan. Walton Jr. told the Toronto Star that his father now suffers from vascular dementia and heart disease, and was in a nursing home when authorities began to uncover Stan’s past. According to court documents, Stan has also gone by the name of Jeff Winton, and reportedly spent some time in Louisiana after leaving Canada. “It’s been tough on me, but he’s still my father,” Walton Jr. told the Toronto Star. “It doesn’t change the man I knew for 35 years. Hopefully one day, he can sit down and write a book and remember all the stuff he’s been through in his life. It’d be a damn good book, I’ll tell you that, just from what I’ve heard.” Canadian media also reported that the Ontario Provincial Police have closed their case. – REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/28/2014 01:21 PM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – The stables are filling up as quarter horse racing returns to Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs on Sept. 6 for a fifth consecutive year. The schedule features 28 days of American Quarter Horse Association, Appaloosa and Paint races through Nov. 8. Races begin at noon every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each day features 12 races. Popularity of the track’s quarter horse racing meet continues to draw some of the most talented people in the sport to WRD. “We are very excited that Eddie Willis and Toby Keeton, the top two trainers in earnings in the United States, will be returning with full stables to compete at this year’s meet,” Jesse Ullery, WRD racing secretary and simulcast manager, said. The 2014 WRD racing schedule features 34 stakes races. Top 10 qualifiers from the non-pari-mutuel Kansas Jackpot Trials and Black Gold Division 350 Futurity Trials previously held on Aug. 23 will be part of the opening race cards for the finals on Sept. 9. Both finals include added money, with the Black Gold Division 350 Futurity Finals guaranteeing $150,000, while $25,000 is promised for the Kansas Jackpot Futurity Finals. Race fans visiting on Sept. 28 will witness the $15,000 added AQHA Zoetis Starter Allowance Challenge, the $27,500 guaranteed AQHA John Deer Juvenile Challenge Finals, the $30,000 added AQHA Red Cell Distance Challenge Finals and the AQHA Adequan Derby Challenge Finals, worth an estimated $32,500. The 400-yard Black Gold Division 400 Futurity Finals for 2-year-olds on Oct. 5 also promises to be an exciting event, adding $150,000 to the pot with $7,500 going to stallion awards. “We have a very competitive stakes program this year for all ages of horses. There is a lot to see,” Ullery said. The $294,625 Black Gold Futurity Championship highlights the meet on Nov. 8. The finale on Nov. 8 also includes the $25,000 Oklahoma Horsemen’s Association Mystery Derby Finals and the Oklahoma Horsemen’s Association Mystery Futurity Finals Grade II, worth $75,000. Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs is located 3 miles east of Claremore on Highway 20. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeecasino.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeecasino.com</a> and click on the Will Rogers Downs tab or call (918) 283-8800.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
08/26/2014 02:28 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation department employees are completing work in preparation for the Cherokee National Holiday. The annual event begins on Aug. 29 and ends Aug. 31. A listing of holiday event times and locations can be found <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2014/8/8400_HolidayGuide2014.pdf" target="_blank">here</a>. The task of preparing for nearly 100,000 visitors requires multiple departments to work together to complete the variety of improvements to event locations. Cherokee National Holiday Director Lou Slagle acknowledged CN Facilities Dept. for taking on the majority of the physical labor.