Appeals Court: Freedmen can sue principal chief

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.


11/19/2014 10:01 AM
WASHINGTON – Photographer Dana Gluckstein is working alongside Amnesty International to honor Native American Heritage Month. In doing so they announced the tour of DIGNITY: Tribes in Transition, an award-winning photography exhibition that honors indigenous peoples worldwide. Exhibition photographs are being shared on social media sites during November. The exhibition will open on Jan. 29 at the Boston University Art Gallery. According to a Boston University College of Fine Arts press release, DIGNITY’s artistry, power and impassioned call to action create a historic exhibition in support of indigenous peoples, who represent six percent of the global population. DIGNITY previously toured in European museums for the past several years. More exhibition dates and locations will be announced soon. To view Gluckstein’s work, visit her Twitter and Instagram @DanaGluckstein.
11/18/2014 01:52 PM
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Revenue at U.S. casinos jumped more than 6 percent in 2012, the first significant increase in three years as economic growth picked up speed and more casinos opened in several markets. But revenue generated by Indian casinos rose less than 2 percent the same year, Casino City’s North American Gaming Almanac found. Growth is limited due to regulations restricting tribal casino expansion beyond reservations and differences between tribes over how best to expand, said Vin Narayanan, editor-in-chief of Casino City. “There’s a giant political question about that,” he said. Total gambling revenue in 2012 was $94.47 billion, with the largest share, $40.38 billion, from casinos and card rooms. Tribal casinos generated $28.14 billion followed by lotteries ($23.41 billion) and racing and sports gambling ($2.55 billion) in 2012. Casino revenue grew by a fraction of 1 percent in 2011 and 2010 and fell nearly 6 percent in 2009 as the steepest economic downturn since the Depression took hold. Year-to-year revenue changes are vastly different from one state to another. In Ohio, for example, total gambling revenue jumped by one-third from 2011 to 2012 as casino gambling ramped up. But in New Jersey, seventh largest among the states in overall gambling revenue in 2012, casino revenue fell from $3.69 billion in 2009 to $2.71 billion in 2012 as three Atlantic City casinos shut. Nevada, California and New York are the top three states in casino revenue. Narayanan said saturation is the culprit for the decline of Atlantic City’s casinos, but it’s not an issue elsewhere. “Are there too many casinos in the market? As far as Atlantic City is concerned, there are too many casinos on the market,” he said. But casinos opening in Ohio are satisfying “pent-up demand,” he said. Similarly, the legalization of casino gambling in Maryland in 2008 and the opening of the state’s first casino in 2010 generated tremendous revenue. Casino and card room revenue increased from $27.6 million in 2010 to $377.8 million in 2012. Total gambling revenue jumped to $1.15 billion in 2012 from $760.6 million in the same period. “Maryland is a place that’s just taking off,” Narayanan said. The opening of casinos in Massachusetts in the next few years is expected to lead to a significant new source of revenue, possibly at the expense of neighboring Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos. Narayanan questioned if gamblers who check out a Massachusetts casino will still be comfortable traveling to Connecticut’s tribal casinos. “That’s a real good question,” he said.
11/17/2014 03:09 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Phoenix offers a digital alternative to keep in touch with the news and events posted by the Cherokee Phoenix for those on the go who want to stay in the know. The Cherokee Phoenix Weekly is a digital newsletter that’s emailed every Wednesday. It consists of the latest news and feature stories, links to and space for advertising. The newsletter is also used to notify its subscribers of important breaking news and can be viewed on any mobile device. To subscribe, go to <a href="" target="_blank"></a> and scroll down to the Cherokee Phoenix Weekly Digital Newsletter section on the right side of the page. To inquire about advertising on the newsletter, email <a href="mailto:"></a>.
11/17/2014 08:09 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to a Cherokee Nation Election Commission statement, the last day register to vote in the tribe’s upcoming June 27 general election, as well as a potential July 25 run-off election, is March 31. Open for the 2015 election are the principal chief and deputy chief seats, as well as seats for Tribal Council districts 1, 3, 6, 8, 12, 13, 14 and an At-Large seat. Legislative Act 04-14 states that CN citizens who are 18 years of age or older on the date of the election may apply to be a registered voter. Also, tribal citizens who are 17 years old and can show that their birth dates are prior to the election date shall be allowed to register to vote. “Persons who have never been registered to vote before or who are not currently registered in the district of their residence and persons who are registered but who need to change their registration information may apply by filling out and mailing a Cherokee Nation Election Commission Voter Registration Application form,” the EC statement reads. According to the EC, each person who submits an application will receive a written EC response. “The response is either a Voter Identification Card listing the new voter’s precinct and district location or a letter that explains the reason or reasons the application for voter registration was not approved,” the statement reads. “Any person who has submitted a Voter Registration Application and who has not received a response within 30 days should contact the Election Commission Office.” EC officials said EC staff members are preparing for several voter outreach events and have completed events at Westville High School, Cherokee Eldercare and Sequoyah High School. “The Cherokee Nation Election Commission is reaching out to all ages of Cherokee citizens,” EC Director Connie Parnell said. “The voter registration is well-received and the office is commended on their efforts to increase voter registration for the 2015 general election.” According to EC records, there were 37,415 registered voters as of April 2011. As of Nov. 4, 2014, there were 63,236 registered voters. Officials said new voters and voters who have had name or an address changes should fill out new voter applications. EC officials said it’s important to have the most current information before the next election. They added that if a voter is registered, then the voter should verify that his or her information is correct. Voter applications are available at the EC Office located at 22116 S. Bald Hill Road in Tahlequah and at most community meetings. Applications also are available Citizens may also receive it by email or fax. For more information call 918-458-5899 or toll free at 1-800-353-2895. One can also fax 918-458-6101 or email To mail a form to the EC office use P.O. Box 1188, Tahlequah, OK 74465. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
11/14/2014 02:40 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – On Nov. 17, the Cherokee Nation is hosting a luncheon at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa celebrating the 10 years since Oklahoma voters passed the State Question 712. The constitutional amendment allowed the state to negotiate with Oklahoma tribes to operate Las Vegas-style gaming, opening the door to a new market for tourism and hospitality in the state. Collectively, Oklahoma tribes have generated nearly $900 million since 2004. At the lunch, which starts at 11:30 a.m., Gov. Brad Henry, who served from 2003-11, will join Principal Chief Bill John Baker and other tribal, state and local officials to reflect on the economic impact of gaming in Oklahoma over the past decade. During the past 10 years, the Nation’s businesses have created more than 4,000 jobs that span gaming, hospitality, information technology, personnel services, distribution, manufacturing, telecommunications, environmental services and security and defense industries.
11/14/2014 01:39 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Nov. 3, Cherokee Nation held its first My Brother’s Keeper summit to set goals after being among 15 tribes and more than 100 communities nationwide to accept the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative in September. The initiative was launched by President Barack Obama so communities could find solutions to help more low-income, young men of color, including Native Americans, graduate from high school and college, become productive citizens and future leaders. “As Native people, we have historically shared responsibility addressing issues facing our children and families,” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said. “I believe the My Brother’s Keeper program will help strengthen opportunities for Native youth, especially boys and young men. It will give them the chance to overcome obstacles they face every day, so they can find success in their life.” Part of the initiative is to ensure all children are prepared to enter school and read at grade level by the third grade. It also aims to help more young people graduate from high school and complete post-secondary education or college. It asks tribes and communities to ensure that young adults find employment and are safe from violent crime. “The My Brother’s Keeper initiative is not a new federal program, but rather a call to action for community leaders and tribal and local governments across the United States,” CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “The program is about leaders working together to build and execute strategies that will give boys and young men the essential tools they need to succeed.” CN department leaders will form a workgroup to review tribal policies to ensure those addressing youth and education issues are as effective as possible and help the tribe meet challenge goals. The workgroup will also develop a tracking system to measure the effectiveness of new policies so a plan of action can be launched by March 26. The workgroup will meet regularly to guarantee requirements are met within 180 days of accepting the White House’s challenge. The next meeting for the My Brother’s Keeper workgroup is scheduled for Nov. 19. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.