A sample version of the Oklahoma license plate with the “Sacred Rain Arrow” sculpture. COURTESY PHOTO
Court: Man can challenge Oklahoma 'rain god' plate
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – A federal appeals court said on June 11 that an Oklahoma man can sue the state over its Indian “rain god” license plate, ruling that the depiction of a noted sculpture on 3 million license plates could be interpreted as a state endorsement of a religion.
Keith Cressman of Oklahoma City sued a number of state officials in 2011, arguing that Oklahoma’s standard license plate depicted Native American religious beliefs that run contrary to his Christianity. U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton dismissed the lawsuit in May 2012 but the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it on June 11.
Cressman would prefer to “remain silent with respect to images, messages and practices that he cannot endorse or accept,” the appeals court said. The man’s lawyer, Nathan Kellum of the Center for Religious Expression in Memphis, Tenn., said Cressman did not want to display an image that communicates a message “which he finds objectionable.”
“He doesn’t want to be forced to say something that he does not want to say,” Kellum said.
Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, which is defending the lawsuit, said the appeals court’s decision presents another opportunity to review the case.
“We’ll continue to defend the state’s position that Oklahoma’s license plate design does not violate Mr. Cressman’s constitutional rights,” Clay said.
It is against state law to cover up the image, so to avoid displaying the image Cressman initially purchased a specialty license plate that cost $37 more than the standard plate and had a $35 renewal fee. He then purchased a cheaper specialty license plate, which cost $18 more than the standard plate and cost $16.50 for renewal.
The standard Oklahoma license plate depicts Allan Houser’s “Sacred Rain Arrow” bronze sculpture, which has been on display at Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum for about 20 years. The tag’s design was adopted in 2008 in a license plate reissuance plan that marked the first time in almost 16 years that the state had issued redesigned license plates for the more than 3 million vehicles registered in the state.
The sculpture depicts an Indian shooting an arrow skyward to bring down rain. Cressman’s lawsuit alleged that the sculpture is based on a Native American legend in which a warrior convinced a medicine man to bless his bow and arrows during a time of drought. The warrior shot an arrow into the sky, hoping the “spirit world” or “rain god” would answer the people’s prayers for rain.
According to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center website, “the piece depicts a young Apache warrior shooting his arrow towards heaven with the hope of carrying a prayer for rain to the Spirit World.”
Oklahoma’s previous license plate featured the Osage Nation shield in the plate’s center. The “Sacred Rain Arrow” sculpture is featured on the far left hand side of the new plates.
The appeals court’s decision says Cressman “adheres to historic Christian beliefs” and believes it is a sin “to honor or acknowledge anyone or anything as God besides the one true God.”
He eventually decided not to pay the additional fees but to cover up the image on the standard plate without obscuring letters, tags or other identifying markers on the plate. He said state officials told him it was illegal to cover up any part of it and he might have to pay a $300 fine.
Cressman is still paying additional fees for specialty license plates on two vehicles registered in the state but “does not want to incur extra expense to avoid expressing a message contrary to his religious beliefs,” the decision states.
“Mr. Cressman’s complaint states a plausible compelled speech claim,” it concludes. “He has alleged sufficient facts to suggest that the ‘Sacred Rain Arrow’ image on the standard Oklahoma license plate conveys a particularized message that others are likely to understand and to which he objects.”
State Treasurer Ken Miller, who authored the license plate reissuance legislation while serving in the Oklahoma House, said the lawsuit ‘is another case of political correctness run amok.”
“I am proud of my Christian heritage and the rich heritage of our state, which is appropriately honored with the beautiful Allan Houser sculpture on the license plate.” Miller said in a statement.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Budget cuts of 3 percent that began in January for Oklahoma agencies, including its public schools, will grow deeper beginning in March, the state's finance director warned on Monday.
Collections to the state treasury have continued to come in below projections, exacerbating the revenue failure that was declared in December, Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger said in an email to state agency directors and finance officers.
"We are communicating as proactively as possible because we recognize how challenging continued changes to the reduction levels will be for agencies," Doerflinger wrote.
The exact amount of the reductions won't be known until next week after the state's Board of Equalization updates the forecast for the fiscal year that ends June 30. Doerflinger noted that because the Legislature is in session, state leaders could take further actions that could affect the size of the next reduction.
House Speaker Jeff Hickman said before the session started that lawmakers might consider a bill to adjust agency allocations to protect priority areas like education and public safety, mandating deeper cuts to a state agency to ease the reductions for another.
The 3 percent cuts ordered last month are expected to cost public schools about $47 million for the rest of the fiscal year that ends June 30. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said at the time she believes continued cuts could force some school districts to close their doors before the end of the current school year.
Already, the University of Oklahoma announced a plan to cut about $20 million in spending through a voluntary retirement offer, travel restrictions and a reduction in staff resulting from attrition. OU President David Boren announced Monday he also intends to recommend a pay cut of 3 percent for himself and other top administrators, including vice presidents and deans, for the upcoming fiscal year.
Revenue collections have fallen below the estimate upon which the state-appropriated budget for this fiscal year was based. Lawmakers are facing even deeper cuts to agency budgets for the fiscal year that begins July 1, with a hole of about $900 million, or 13 percent. That figure is expected to grow larger once the final revenue figures are certified next week.
Much of the decline is a result of the plummeting price of oil and natural gas, and the impact of the energy industry's contraction on the state's economy. The state's individual income tax rate declined in January from 5.25 percent to 5 percent, a move that will cost the state about $147 million annually when fully implemented.
STILWELL, Okla. – According to Adair County court records, a Cherokee Nation marshal on Jan. 12 arrested CN employee Joshua Lee Littlefield, 26, for claiming ownership of tribal equipment that was pawned at a shop in Stilwell.
Court documents state that James Harper, a Cherokee Nation Marshal Service investigator, arrested Littlefield for pawning an Infocus projector to H&H Pawn Shop on or about Dec. 7 and signing an ownership certificate for the projector when it belongs to and was stolen from the CN.
According to state law, any person selling or pledging property to a pawnbroker who uses a false declaration of ownership shall be guilty of a felony, upon conviction. The fine for a violation shall not exceed $500.
Court documents show District Court Judge Liz Brown on Jan. 11 issued an arrest warrant and a $3,000 bond. Records state the warrant was served on Jan. 12 and that Littlefield posted bond that day.
According to court records, Littlefield on Jan. 20 pleaded not guilty to one felony count of false declaration of ownership to a pawnbroker and that he was to reappear on Feb. 17 in Adair County District Court.
In a Feb. 10 email, Chrissi Nimmo, CN senior assistant attorney general, said the CNMS was investigating possible theft of electronic equipment but did not state if Littlefield was the focus of that investigation.
“Regarding…inquiry regarding J. Littlefield, and his state arrest for ‘false declaration of ownership of pawn,’ I can tell you that the Marshal service has an open investigation regarding possible theft of electronic equipment. Because it is an open investigation, we are unable to release any additional details at this time,” Nimmo wrote.
Human Resources officials said Littlefield, as of Feb. 10, still worked for the tribe as a health technical analyst for Health Services’ Information Technology department. CN Communications officials added that Littlefield was on leave, but didn’t specify what type.
As of publication, the Cherokee Phoenix attempted to contact Littlefield for comment but was unable to reach him. Court records show no attorney listed for Littlefield.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission on Feb. 9 voted to recommend election law changes that will go before the Tribal Council’s Rules Committee on Feb. 17.
Election Commissioner Carolyn Allen made a motion that the EC adopt the law changes that were discussed during the EC’s Policy Committee meeting. Allen then made a motion to recommend those changes to the Tribal Council.
One election law change the EC recommended defines “term” to mean a full four years in which the elected or appointed officer may perform the functions of office…and shall not include the remainder of any unexpired or partial year. Another recommendation adds language that fines $5,000 to any person who fails to file as a candidate for office after receiving in-kind contributions and/or raised funds in excess of $1,000.
Also on Feb. 9, the EC voted to purchase a safety deposit box and selected the commissioners and staff needed to be able to retrieve the box.
The Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. on Feb. 17. The election law amendment item is No. 8 under New Business, according to the Rules Committee agenda.
CLAREMORE, Okla. – Steve Gragert, former Will Rogers Memorial executive director, will open the 2016 Milam Lecture Series telling about his Aug. 15 visit to the plane crash site that claimed the lives of Will Rogers and Wiley Post.
Rogers and Post died Aug. 15, 1935, in Point Barrow, Alaska.
The lecture will be at 7 p.m. on Feb. 18 in the Will Rogers Memorial Museum Theatre in Claremore. Admission is free and open to the public.
Gragert, who started his involvement with Will Rogers in 1967 working on the Will Rogers Research project at Oklahoma State University, was named museum director in 2006, serving until 2014. He edited or co-edited 17 of the 22 volumes in the scholarly series “The Writings of Will Rogers,” published by OSU and two volumes of “The Papers of Will Rogers.”
Gragert is also expected to share his most recent research on Will Rogers the humanitarian.
For more information, call 918-341-0719 or toll free 1-800-324-9455.
GLENPOOL, Okla. – Deputy Principal Chief S. Joe Crittenden and Cherokee artist Bill Glass Jr. were honored at the 2016 Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival on Feb. 5 at the Glenpool Expo Center.
As part of its 30th anniversary, the GTIAF honored veterans and Native Code Talkers.
Crittenden, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, said he was surprised and humbled at being selected as the honorary chairman of the GTIAF.
“The theme of this year’s festival was honoring our veterans and Code Talkers,” he said. “CNB (Cherokee Nation Businesses) represented the Cherokee Nation with a sponsorship at the Bear level, $5,000.00. It is my understanding that we have helped with this event in the past.”
According to the GTIAF program, Crittenden is a champion for the rights and privileges of American military veterans, and during his tenure as deputy principal chief he has supported programs to better serve the brave men and women who have served the United States.
Among the featured artists was Glass, who was honored as the elder artist. According to the GTIAF, the festival annually honors a Native American artist whose support of American Indian art has been extraordinary throughout his or her lifetime.
“It’s an honor and its fun to see the new artists that are coming up and doing so good. I always think of art as cultural retention for our tribes,” Glass said. “This is the first time in a long time that I’ve been here. Some friends nominated me and it’s an honor to be selected.”
This year’s featured artist was Choctaw Nation citizen Gwen Coleman Lester, who paints and draws Choctaw history, legends and culture.
According to the GTIAF, “Lester began her artistic career in the commercial sector and gradually moved to fine art working in colored pencil, charcoal, pastel, watercolor, acrylic, and occasionally oils.”
A primary mission of the festival has been to provide scholarships to Native students. Money raised via sponsorships and auctions helps aid that cause. The weekend event included an art market, cultural demonstrations, silent and live auctions, honor dances and Cherokee fiddling.
“Today the Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival is a national premier juried art show, which showcases Native art, cuisine and entertainment. Most importantly, many Native students have been recipients of the Festival’s scholarship program. Scholarships began in the early 1990s,” a GTIAF official said.
The art festival is a project of the National Indian Monument and Institute, a national non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Officials with the Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission are urging CN citizens who want to vote in the 2017 Tribal Council elections to register to vote or ensure that their voter registration information is correct at the Election Commission Office.
“The 2017 election year is fast approaching and we would like to encourage the Cherokee citizens who would like to vote in the 2017 Council elections to register to vote,” an EC press release states. “Registered voters of the Cherokee Nation who have had an address or name change should also complete a voter registration form and submit to the Election Commission Office to update your registration information.”
According to the release, a registered voter living in the tribe’s jurisdiction who has moved to a new district and wishes to change precincts within his or her district shall re-register for a new district and/or precinct on or before the last business day in March of the election year. In 2017, that day will be Friday, March 31.
According to CN law, every resident registered voter shall be registered to vote in the district of his or her residence. Also, a resident registered voter shall have the right to vote only for a Tribal Council candidate of the district in which the voter resides and cannot vote for a candidate of any other district.
Tribal Council seats that are up for election next year are districts 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 15, and one At-Large seat.
EC officials said At-Large registered voters should be registered to vote in the At-Large District, unless a voter has elected to remain a voter in a district pursuant to Article VI, Section 3 of the CN Constitution.
At-Large voters who move to new at-large address should provide the EC their new addresses for registration and mailing purposes. At-Large voters who move to addresses within a jurisdictional district should reregister within the district of their new addresses.
EC officials also stressed that tribal citizenship cards do not automatically register citizens to vote in CN elections and that citizens wanting to vote must register with the EC. According to CN law, one must be 18 years old as of the election day to register to vote. Also, a person must be registered to vote no later than the last business day in March of the election year.
Registration and change of address forms are available at the EC Office located at 22116 S. Bald Hill Road or online at <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/election" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/election</a>.
For more information, call 918-458-5899 or toll free at 1-800-353-2895. One can also email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a> or visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/election" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/election</a>. The EC’s mailing address is P.O. Box 1188 Tahlequah, OK 74465.