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.


10/05/2015 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At its Sept. 18 meeting, the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission approved two upgrades for Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s system software. Tracy Christie, CNGC gaming systems analyst, said he reviewed all of the information provided and saw a need for an upgrade. “The issue was that there were a couple of key boxes, it was retaining the data in the actual box and whenever you logged into the web server you weren’t able to see that data, but with these two upgrades and it being tested, it resolved that issue,” he said.
10/05/2015 02:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – The Tulsa Cherokee Community Organization will host its monthly meeting at 6 p.m. on Oct. 6 at the Tulsa United Indian Methodist Church located at 1901 North College. The meeting will feature Cherokee Nation citizen Regina Gayle (Martin) Thompson, of Locust Grove, who will bring her traditional basket weaving skills. According to TCCO officials, meeting attendees will be able to weave their own Cherokee basket. “As a certified Cherokee Nation TERO artist, Thompson is uniquely qualified to teach Cherokee basket weaving. Thompson’s award-winning Cherokee baskets are on display in public collections across the Cherokee Nation throughout northeastern Oklahoma and as far away as Washington, D.C., in the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum. Private collectors have taken her Cherokee baskets abroad to Australia, Switzerland, India, France, England,” a TCCO release states. “My mentor is the incredible Cherokee National Treasure, Bessie Russell. I am blessed and humbled by the art and skill of Cherokee double wall basket weaving. My grandmother, a full-blood Cherokee, weaved baskets to put food on the table while my grandfather served in France during World War II,” she said. “My grandmother would create mid-size baskets for the market to trade for eggs, flour, chickens, and sometimes sewing material.” All materials will be provided by TCCO through Tribal Council General Assistance grant funds provided by Dist. 13 Tribal Councilman Buel Anglen. There is no cost for the class, the release states. To contact TCCO, email <a href="mailto:"></a> or call TCCO President Brandon Caruso at(805) 551-6445. You can also visit TCCO’s Facebook page at Tulsa Cherokee Community Organization.
10/05/2015 10:04 AM
MURPHY, N.C. – After nearly two years of construction and $100 million Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel opened its doors on Sept. 28, according to The facility is owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and will be managed by Caesars Entertainment LLC. It’s expected to create approximately 900 to 1,000 jobs, features a 50,000-square-foot gaming floor with 70 table games and 1,050 slot machines and a full-service 300-room hotel. While the casino does not have any formal dining or restaurants, visitors will be able to choose from the Panda Express, Starbucks, Papa John’s, Earl of Sandwich and Nathan’s Famous located in the casino’s Food Market. Regional General Manager and Harrah’s Senior Vice President Brooks Robinson said the casino would positively affect the tribe and area. “For the area, we know we’re going to have around 1,000 jobs. It will put around $40 million into the local economy through payroll that will be here. For the tribe, it will just be another way to build the revenue stream and through tribal distribution. All of the projections look like it should be very successful for the tribe,” Robinson said. Estimated by officials to draw in excess of 1 million visitors annually, the Valley River Casino is the tribe’s second Harrah’s casino. The first and larger Harrah’s Cherokee Casino also located in Jackson County, sits at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It recently underwent a $650 million expansion and now boasts 150,000-square-feet of gaming space.
10/02/2015 12:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – On Oct. 22, the Beatles tribute band, The Fab Four, will perform at The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The Fab Four’s stage performances include three costume changes representing every era of the Beatles ever-changing career, from the moptop early days in London to the shaggy-haired final public performance on the Apple headquarters’ rooftop. Formed in 1997, this loving tribute to the Beatles has amazed audiences in countries around the world, including Japan, Australia, France, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico and Brazil. In 2013, The Fab Four received an Emmy for their PBS special “The Fab Four: The Ultimate Tribute.” For more information about the tribute band, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. Tickets go on sale Oct. 1 and start at $40. For more information, call The Joint box office at 918-384-ROCK or visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
10/02/2015 10:00 AM
PHOENIX – Native American activist and Cherokee Nation citizen Jess Sixkiller was slain in a home invasion on Sept. 25. He was 78. Reports state his wife locked herself in a room and called 911 around 3:15 a.m. after she heard noises inside the home she shared with her husband. When the police arrived they removed her from the home and re-entered the home to perform a sweep and discovered the body of Sixkiller, who had been shot to death. “The Cherokee Nation and tribal citizens throughout the country lost a true champion with the tragic passing of Jess Sixkiller. He was the first Native detective on the Chicago Police Force and in Phoenix he continued to champion the rights of Indian people. He was a warrior and advocate for Native rights, especially urban-based Indian people,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker in a statement. “Throughout Indian Country, Jess will be forever known as a man committed to his Native brothers and sisters who suffered as a result of federal relocation and assimilation policies.” Baker said as the leader of the National Urban Indian Organization, Sixkiller fought tirelessly for the rights of those he said faced a different kind of crisis than Indians living close to their community or on the reservation. “Jess was a man who led by example, and I was proud to have met and known this iconic activist. He was proud to be Cherokee, and we are proud of him. He will be missed immensely, and we are holding his family in our thoughts and prayers,” Baker said. By the time he was 30 years old, Sixkiller was the first Native American to become a detective for the Chicago Police Department. Soon he gained national recognition within the National Congress of American Indians. He was an urban representative to NCAI’s annual conference in 1968 from the Chicago American Indian Center. At that conference in Seattle, Sixkiller was elected to chair a 12-person committee called the National Urban Indian Consultation that was charged with studying the issues impacting urban American Indians living away from reservations. The committee progressed rapidly and received an $88,500 grant from the Ford Foundation and formed the National Urban Indian Organization. Sixkiller became the organization’s first director. The Phoenix Police Department described the home invasion as “random” and has no suspects. Phoenix Police Homicide detectives are asking anyone who may have seen or heard anything at the time of the shooting or anyone who has information about this homicide to call Silent Witness at (480) WIT-NESS. As always, any caller may remain anonymous. A memorial fund has been set up in Sixkiller’s name at Wells Fargo Bank. Donations can be made to Wells Fargo Bank, Jess Sixkiller Memorial, account No. 2457886071.
10/01/2015 02:00 PM
VONORE, Tenn. – The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum is offering a Cherokee language class from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Oct. 19 and 26 and Nov. 2 and 9. Cost of the class is $40 for all four nights. Shirley Oswalt and Mary Brown, who are Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian citizens, will teach the class. People interested in taking this class should call the museum at 423-884-6246. In case of inclement weather, please call before coming. Sequoyah was born near the museum site in 1776. The mission of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, a property of the EBCI, is to promote the understanding and appreciation of the history and culture of the Cherokee Indians in Eastern Tennessee, particularly the life and contributions of Sequoyah. The museum collects, preserves, interprets and exhibits objects and data that support this mission.