Former Sequoyah High School football coach Brent Scott, shown here during a 2007 game, has filed a wrongful termination suit, along with former Assistant Athletic Director Dale Miller, against the Cherokee Nation. In October, the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association ruled Scott and eight SHS football players ineligible to participate with the team for rules violations regarding summer camps. MARK DREADFULWATER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

2 terminated Sequoyah employees file suit

Larry Grigg, former Sequoyah High School boys basketball coach and athletic director, instructs his players during a 2007 game. Grigg was recently terminated from Sequoyah Schools along with former Assistant Athletic Director Dale Miller and former Sequoyah football coach Brent Scott. Scott and Miller have filed wrongful termination suits. TRAVIS SNELL/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Larry Grigg, former Sequoyah High School boys basketball coach and athletic director, instructs his players during a 2007 game. Grigg was recently terminated from Sequoyah Schools along with former Assistant Athletic Director Dale Miller and former Sequoyah football coach Brent Scott. Scott and Miller have filed wrongful termination suits. TRAVIS SNELL/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
01/15/2013 08:37 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Former Sequoyah High School employees Brent Scott and Dale Miller have filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in Cherokee Nation District Court against SHS Superintendent Leroy Qualls and the CN after receiving notifications of their firings on Dec. 7.

“They were given a 30-day notice and their employee ended on Jan. 7,” former Principal Chief Chad Smith, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said.

According to court documents filed on Dec. 21, the plaintiffs allege Qualls, who signed the termination letters, violated their rights to due process by “terminating their employment without cause.”

Qualls declined to comment due to the pending litigation.

Court documents state that Qualls did not consult or get the consent or approval of the SHS board of education to terminate the plaintiffs as required by CN law and that he breached employment agreements with the plaintiffs by failing to perform in good faith.

“They have a constitutional right to due process and pre-termination hearings,” Smith said.

Scott, who was the head football coach; Miller, the former assistant athletic director; and former Athletic Director Larry Griggs, who is not part of the suit, were placed on administrative leave after the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association declared in October that 12 football players played during the season while ineligible. The OSSAA decision forced Sequoyah to forfeit all nine regular season victories, its district title and its spot in the Class 3A football playoffs.

Scott was scheduled to appear before the OSSAA board on Jan. 9 for a reinstatement hearing, but it was continued to February.

The OSSAA declared the players and Scott ineligible in October because in the summers of 2009 to 2012 Sequoyah paid for players to attend sports camps, a violation of OSSAA rules. Eleven of the 12 players were later reinstated to play the next season’s sports. However, quarterback Brayden Scott, Brent’s son, was not reinstated.

Scott was hired as head football coach on Aug. 9, 2004. Miller was hired on March 16, 1992, and Grigg was hired on Aug. 4, 1997.

Smith said Scott and Miller aren’t currently working. The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to contact Grigg but was unsuccessful.

Smith also filed a temporary injunction motion, which if granted, would prohibit the school “from terminating the plaintiffs employment until their case may be heard on the merits.”

The temporary injunction hearing was scheduled for Jan. 2 but was continued until Feb. 6.

“We should have a full hearing on whether Qualls had the authority to fire them,” Smith said. “My request is to keep them (Miller and Scott) on the payroll.”

Nothing has been scheduled in another wrongful termination case filed by three other SHS former employees against the CN administration.

Plaintiffs Geary Don Crofford, Teresia Knott and Louie Jackson filed a suit on Nov. 2 in the District Court against Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin Sr. and Education Services Director Dr. Neil Morton after being laid off during a June reorganization of the school.

“We intend on winning all of these cases,” CN Attorney General Todd Hembree said. “The Sequoyah High School employees that were laid off and/or terminated, we did so within the Cherokee Nation policy, procedures and law and we look forward to winning these cases.”

Crofford, former dean of academics; Knott, former dean of leadership; and Jackson, former dean of students, were laid off along with five other Sequoyah employees. Two of the eight employees have been rehired in different positions at Sequoyah.

“They have the right to file their suit,” Hembree said. “I’ve never begrudged anyone from having their day of court when they think they have been wronged, but in this instance they haven’t been. It was a decision that was made, like I said, in accordance with the policies and procedures of the Cherokee Nation, but I don’t think any more or less of them for bringing their day in court.”

918-453-5000, ext. 6139

About the Author
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter.    

In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization. • 918-453-5000 ext. 6139
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter. In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization.


10/09/2015 12:00 PM
SALLISAW, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizens who are junior or seniors in high school can participate in upcoming free ACT prep classes in preparation for December ACT exams. Cherokee Nation Foundation provides the classes that begin the last week of October. The classes are set to conclude on Dec. 12 with the National ACT exam. “This is by far one of the most important things we do here at the foundation,” CNF Executive Director Janice Randall said. “We work with each student to prepare them for the test and help them get into the university of their choice. A high score can drastically impact where they can attend and the financial resources available to help them succeed.” The six-week course will be offered at Carl Albert State College in Sallisaw and Indian Capital Technology Center in Muskogee. The curriculum includes interactive instruction by a Princeton Review instructor and three practice tests. According to a CNF press release, in previous years students have increased their scores by an average of 3.5 points, and some individual scores have increased by as much as 10 points. The deadline to enroll in the course is Oct. 20. Carl Albert State College will offer the classes on Monday evenings from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ICTC will offer the classes on Tuesday evenings from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Students can visit their high school guidance counselors to pick up a registration form or they can call CNF at 918-207-0950.
10/08/2015 10:30 AM
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Normally this time of year at Haskell Indian Nations University, they'd be getting ready for the homecoming football game. But not this October. There'll be no game because Haskell recently cut its football program to save money. Students, faculty and alumni were stunned to hear university President Venida Chenault's announcement last spring, The Kansas City Star reported "So," a first-year player tweeted at the news, "I left my loved ones and traveled 800 miles chasing a dream that has now been taken from me. Wow." But also there's recognition across campus that Haskell is in a tight spot. When a university can't afford enough professors to teach all the classes students would like to take, it's hard to justify spending on football. Yet at this low point in Haskell's history, there is a new sense of hope as the school's board of regents meets this week to discuss possibly taking a bold step that could help escape decades of fiscal starvation. It's far from a sure thing, but the conviction has grown that something has to change. "I think we have entered a time where we realize we can't rely on government funding to supply what we need here," said student Lori Hasselman, editor of the school newspaper. While many small colleges scrape to get by, Haskell is a special case as the only four-year university open solely to members of American Indian tribes and wholly owned by the American taxpayers. That relationship has limited its ability to grow and, at times, to take care of basic needs. Over the past 131 years, the federal government has spent untold millions of dollars to feed, house and educate tens of thousands of young Native Americans, who pay no tuition and minimal student fees in fulfillment of treaty obligations. But that support has often fallen short, with little promise it will ever improve. The erosion in federal support over the decades means Haskell has roughly half as many faculty members today as it did 30 years ago, yet enrollment hasn't diminished nearly that much. Why does Haskell Indian Nations University matter? University president Venida Chenault explains that Haskell trains leaders for American Indian tribes across the United States. Many of its buildings are run down, its technology out of date. Only this past summer did Internet access become available in the school's dormitories, thanks to grants that also paid for new dorm room furniture and other upgrades. In addition, school officials have been trying to address decades of academic issues without much success. Among them, few four-year degree programs and a freshman dropout rate that one top Haskell official called "dismal." The graduation rate, The Star found, is less than half the national average for public four-year universities. So while the sudden death of Haskell's football team was barely a blip on the American sports scene, Chenault's move reinforced a longstanding belief across Indian Country. Which is that Haskell might be better off if it broke free from its federal masters in the Department of the Interior. Under such a plan, Haskell would continue to receive base financial support from taxpayers, but without the federal red tape that limits its ability to raise other funds to fix its many deficiencies. "What we all hope for Haskell for the future is that it's truly controlled by tribal people," said Carrie Billy, president of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. The issue has been been debated off and on for decades. But this time, the matter is getting serious attention. School administrators have been discussing it with students and faculty and talking to members of the Kansas congressional delegation. The cause was bolstered this summer by a report from Haskell's accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission, concluding that federal rules and funding constraints divert time and energy away from the university. That's what former Haskell president Gerald Gipp has been saying since the 1980s, when he first suggested breaking free of government control and faced opposition from other Indian leaders who feared it would mean the end of federal financial support. "I think the reality is setting in that they need to do something different," Gipp said recently. "Obviously, to do nothing is not the thing to do." Doing nothing certainly is one of the options regents have. Another is asking Congress for legislative fixes that would allow Haskell to operate without some of the federal regulations that make it difficult to hire faculty even when there is money in the budget for it. Most regents declined The Star's request for comment about their stances, but regent Elvira Largie from the Navajo Nation is among those who isn't interested in taking halfway measures. She's for Haskell leaving the federal system, the sooner the better. "Let's just get it done," Largie said. If Native Americans take over Haskell, the symbolism won't be lost on tribal people. The government founded Haskell eight years after Custer's defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn and six years before the blue coats took their revenge at Wounded Knee. Its initial purpose in 1884 was to strip Native American children of their languages and cultures. Teach them "the white man's ways." Now Haskell's mission is quite the opposite. It's charged with building leadership capacity in an era when federal Indian policy is focused on strengthening tribal self-determination and cultural preservation. There are 36 other tribal colleges and universities in the nation, all with similar missions. Thirty-five of them are owned by individual tribes and, with few exceptions, operate like community colleges. They mostly offer two-year degrees to students who live nearby. Only Haskell and its sister institution, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, N.M., serve tribal people from all 50 states. Many of the 850 students who arrived at Haskell's 320-acre campus in east Lawrence this fall don't live near tribal colleges. And they may not have the money or the grades to go elsewhere. For them, Haskell, with its low admission standards and free tuition policy, provides their best shot at getting a college education. Sioux. Ojibwa. Cherokee. Aleut. They come from distant rural communities and ordinary suburban neighborhoods. Some from desperate poverty, and others are solidly middle class. Haskell students are often the first members of their families to attend college, and many come unprepared. Forty percent of freshmen drop out before the second year. Fewer than a third of freshmen students stay on to earn a two- or four-year degree. That's above the national average for community colleges but far below the rate for four-year institutions. But current and former faculty members are quick to say that no matter their qualifications, Haskell students come filled with enthusiasm, big hearts and a yearning to learn more about their cultures. "There are no better students to teach than Haskell students," said retired professor Denise Low. American taxpayers spend roughly $12 million a year to underwrite Haskell's operations, including all but a tiny portion of the cost of feeding, housing and educating the students. Haskell's board of regents insists that students pay no tuition, saying they are owed a free education in exchange for their ancestors ceding millions of acres to the government. Those living in the dormitories, however, pay a flat $715 fee each semester; less if they live off campus. By comparison, tuition and fees alone for one semester at the University of Kansas top $5,000. Room and board can more than double that. Many private colleges struggle to pay their bills and might welcome having a guaranteed line item in the federal budget the way Haskell does. But being a ward of the United States government has many drawbacks, Haskell's regents and administrators say. The biggest being that the school's budget is subject to the same financial constraints as other federal agencies. Haskell's operating budget rose just one half of 1 percent over the last four school years. KU's operating budget went up 15 percent, thanks to having more sources of revenue rather than just one in Haskell's case. Most public universities get money from their state, government grants, private endowment funds, as well as tuition and fees. Over on Mount Oread, KU always seems to have construction going on. While Haskell's in need of $18 million just to fix what's broken. One of its oldest buildings, historic Hiawatha Hall, has been locked up for years because the government won't spend money on it. "It has a very bad problem with mold," Haskell spokesman Steve Prue said. "The remediation for mold alone will probably cost $2 million." Not only is money tight at Haskell — funding can be volatile. When Congress imposed across-the-board budget cuts on nearly all federal agencies a couple of years ago, Haskell had to slash its tight budget accordingly. Each time the threat of a government shutdown looms, Haskell's administrators are instructed to draw up contingency plans. In making a case for changing Haskell's governance last month, Chenault reminded students that other colleges look to alumni and other donors for frills like football, taking care of buildings and endowing professorships. But Haskell doesn't have that flexibility, she said. Any money given to the university goes into the federal pot, so donors are wary of giving. Their attitude, Chenault said, is "if we give you a million, then you're going to get cut by a million." Haskell's newly revived foundation — inactive for more than a decade after its former director looted it — is one way around that. Money from the foundation could be earmarked for specific needs, but the foundation is more than $69 million shy of its $70 million fundraising goal. "We have a foundation," former regent Lenore Stiffarm said, "that is limping along." Haskell offers a mix of two-year and four-year degree programs, although some would like to see those associate's degree programs phased out. That way Haskell could afford to offer more than the four bachelor degrees now available to students — business, elementary education, American Indian studies and environment science — and possibly add master's and even Ph.D. programs. Some see Haskell someday becoming a destination for graduates of two-year tribal colleges wanting to complete their bachelor's degrees. "We are the de-facto national American Indian, Alaskan native university," said longtime Haskell professor Daniel Wildcat. "Let's be that true flagship." Right now, that dream is beyond reach. Given its limited resources and the restrictions the government imposes on it, Haskell has been in survival mode for years. Students like senior Alicia Gangone may not understand all the reasons behind that, but she understands how it affects her and her classmates. "If you miss getting into a class that's only offered in the fall, you have to wait to the next year to take it," says Gangone, last year's homecoming queen, from Sisseton, S.D. Back in the mid-1980s, Haskell had at least 75 full-time teachers. Now there are 44, up from the mid-30s, teaching a smaller student body. To carry that load, Haskell profs teach four classes each semester, compared to three at many state universities. "Our classes are getting bigger," said professor Rhonda LeValdo, the sole member of the media communications department. "We need more faculty. The majority of us are stretched pretty thin." Government red tape also has an impact on staffing. Like many other schools, Haskell has part-time, adjunct professors filling in at a cost of $1,000 per credit hour. Until recently, Haskell handled their hiring, but federal rule changes farmed that out to a private contractor at an additional $800 per credit hour. That means Haskell can afford fewer adjuncts than it might otherwise. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell acknowledged the staffing concerns following the commencement address she gave at last spring's graduation. "The funding hasn't kept up," she said. "We really need Congress to step up and support the budget for Indian education." However, Haskell can only expect "stable funding" from the Department of Interior over the next couple of years, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Republican who represents the district that includes Lawrence. The Obama administration says it is committed to Indian education. But the focus is on grade-school and high-school students in schools run by the tribes and the Bureau of Indian Education. "While money for Haskell is important," Jewell said, "we owe it to Haskell to do a better job on the education of the young people that are going to end up here." A translation by Haskell regents chairman Russell Bradley: "We are not a priority." If Haskell's regents seek the university's independence, there's precedent. Until 1986, the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, N.M., was also part of the government and in worse shape than Haskell. "The charter for me was the only way we could be where we are now," said Ryan Flahive, IAIA's archivist. "Without it, we would have folded." Under that congressional charter, IAIA is guaranteed base federal funding, but the feds don't tell the institute how to spend the money or set rules on hiring and procurement. The Smithsonian Institution operates similarly, as do Howard and Gallaudet universities in Washington, D.C. In his report to Congress last march, IAIA's chief financial officer said the school got $51 million from outside sources in the past five years, roughly equal to what Congress appropriated. "I feel Haskell should be funded the same way as the Institute of American Indian Arts," said Stiffarm, the former regent. Whatever path the regents choose, they recognize it won't be easy taking that next step. They'll need the backing of the Bureau of Indian Education and some, if not all members of Kansas' congressional delegation to get anything done. So far, the BIE has been supportive, at least in terms of Haskell having an internal debate on governance. Whereas "guarded" might be the best way to describe the state's all-Republican congressional delegation when responding to The Star's request for comment this week. Sen. Pat Roberts said in a prepared statement that he's been concerned about the quality of education provided at Haskell for a long time, but stopped short of endorsing a change in governance. "I would be interested in first visiting with Haskell Indian Nations University faculty, students and community stakeholders," he said, "about how we can improve both the education of Haskell students and ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely." Jenkins went further, vowing to help see "what can be done at a Congressional level to . get government out of the way to let them focus on their mission of offering a quality education to Native American students in Kansas and from across the country." Sen. Jerry Moran was the most open to change, saying he looks forward to examining Haskell's proposal. "I will continue working with the Haskell community to support their mission of providing a quality education for Native Americans," he said.
10/07/2015 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Foundation has partnered with the American Indian Resource Center to provide more than half a million dollars to Cherokee County students annually. The federal grant will be received for four years at $584,000 a year, which totals approximately $2.3 million for the length of the grant. The grant will help fifth through eighth grade Native students prepare for their futures with college and career readiness. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to enhance and expand our services to students within the Cherokee Nation,” CNF Executive Director Janice Randall said. “Our first priority is helping Native youth succeed, and we are far more capable of doing that by partnering with organizations that have a similar mission.” According to a CNF press release, the CNF and AIRC collaborated with Cherokee Nation’s Education Services and the Cherokee Immersion Charter School for the U.S. Department of Education’s grant funding. The grant will help provide ACT preparation, after-school tutoring, career services, financial literacy, job training and leadership development. The funding will also support a new computer lab at the immersion school, as well as teacher recruitment, college campus tours and STEM-related activities such as robotics programs and summer camps. “The best investment we can make as a tribe is in our children,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “In the past four years we’ve increased the number of scholarships to our students, established programs to ensure our children are prepared for the workforce and developed leadership skills in our youth to prepare them for the future. As we continue making education a priority, we are grateful the federal government understands the life-changing impact these programs have on our children.” The AIRC is managing the grant and expects to serve approximately 2,000 students annually, which began Oct. 1. “We are thrilled to be one of the four partners who are bringing this funding into the heart of Cherokee Nation,” AIRC Program Evaluator Pam Iron said. “This project serves as a model for how the AIRC helps connect resources and opportunities to Native students so they are better prepared for a successful future.” According to the release, the grant is part of more than $5.3 million awarded to a dozen recipients through the Native Youth Community Projects program. For more information, call CNF at 918-207-0950 or email <a href="mailto:"></a>.
10/02/2015 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Grand View School third grade students on Sept. 22 got to spend their “veggie bucks” to buy fruits and vegetables during a farmers market that was set up at the school. Each student received $12 worth of “veggie bucks” to spend at the market because the school is one of five schools in the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction to receive grant money through the Centers for Disease Control’s Partners to Improve Community Health program. “This is our ‘Farm to School’ program. It is funded by the Centers for Disease Control, given to Cherokee Nation…gave to Tahlequah’s Best Program who gave it to us,” Tahlequah Farmers Market President Marla Saeger said. Saeger said the grant allowed the Tahlequah Farmers Market to visit five area schools so that students could buy produce and learn more about where food comes from. Those other schools were Woodall, Cherokee Elementary, Greenwood Elementary and Heritage Elementary. “We have been funded again for the next two years and we will be expanding each year,” she added. Students from other grades were also allowed to experience the market and purchase food with their own money. Rashelle Vaughn, Grand View child nutrition coordinator, said the market was a great opportunity for all the children at Grand View. “We want to teach kids where food comes from. Unfortunately, we live in a time period where we’re really losing that connection and kids don’t know where their food comes from. They think the supermarket is the end and they don’t know there’s farmers behind these things,” Vaughn said. “We are trying to get them to see the farmers market and open their mind to it and eyes because they don’t, a lot of them, don’t know it exists, and we’re trying to make them more aware and educate the kids on that about buying local and in our community.” CN Public Health Educator Hillary Mead said the goal was to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables in children as well as develop the “Farm to School” program in Tahlequah. “And increase the visibility of the farmers market and to increase their knowledge of participating in the market (in Tahlequah),” Mead said. The Tahlequah Farmers Market is open from 8 a.m. to noon each Saturday at Norris Park. The market will run through October and will re-open in April. “We’ve got corn. We’ve got every kind of vegetable. We’ve got eggs. We’ve got cheese. We’ve got crafts. We’ve got meat,” Saeger said. On most Saturdays, she said there are anywhere from 10 to 15 booths set up during the market and on average 400-600 people visit the market each weekend. Vendors accept cash, credit, cards debit cards, food stamps and the senior nutrition program. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or call 918-207-7671 or 918-931-0742.
09/14/2015 12:00 PM
BOULDER, Colo. – The Native American Rights Fund is seeking applicants for its 2016 Summer Law Clerkship program, which allows second-year law students to gain experience in a professional setting. The deadline for applications is Sept. 25. The application for the 10- or 12-week program requires a cover letter addressed to Matt Campbell, resume’, legal writing sample, law school transcript, letter of recommendation and list of three references. Clerkship positions are full-time and available in all three NARF locations of Anchorage, Alabama, Boulder and Washington, D.C. Students who are selected to participate will earn $24 per hour. The organization seeks students who will have completed their 2L year by summer 2016. Students must have taken Native American law coursework, have experience with research and are able to draft legal memoranda. The organization also prefers applicants with previous employment experience, Natural Resources coursework and familiarity with tribal communities. NARF was founded in 1970 and is the oldest and largest nonprofit law firm dedicated to asserting and defending the rights of Indian tribes, organizations and individuals across the nation, according to the organization’s website. To apply, submit applications to Chrissy Johnson Dieck at 1506 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80302. For more information, call 303-443-7776.
09/14/2015 10:00 AM
WASHINGTON – The National Indian Education Association recently named Cherokee Nation citizen Yvonne Deerinwater Hensley as its 2015 Classroom Teacher of the Year. Henlsey is an English teacher at Edmond Memorial High School in Edmond, Oklahoma, and serves as a co-teacher for “Native American Expressions” with the Edmond Indian Education program. She has served the Native community as a teacher for more than 32 years. Hensley has contributed to the Oklahoma Indian Education Teacher Resources, run by Oklahoma State University, and has taught with the Johnson-O’Malley summer program for 12 years. She has been awarded the Distinguished Service Award for her years of service from the Edmond Public School District and was named the Oklahoma Council for Indian Education Teacher of the Year Award in January. As part of the honor, she and four others will be celebrated at the NIEA awards luncheon Oct. 16 in Portland, Oregon, as part of the NIEA’s 46th annual convention and trade show.