A sample version of the Oklahoma license plate with the “Sacred Rain Arrow” sculpture. COURTESY PHOTO

Court: Man can challenge Oklahoma 'rain god' plate

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
06/17/2013 08:48 AM
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.

News

BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
05/27/2016 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – From May 24-26, Sequoyah basketball coach Jay Herrin hosted a boys basketball camp to introduce and maintain basketball fundamentals for children in grades first through ninth. “We work on the fundamental skills – dribbling and basket shooting. Got a lot of different-aged groups and got a lot of different-ability groups. But we try to tailor it to the kids’ needs whether a beginning player or a more advanced player,” he said. Herrin, a Cherokee Nation citizen, said the three-day camp saw approximately 90 children attend. “What’s good is to get these guys out doing something. School is out now, and trying to keep them active is one thing,” he said. Herrin said he reaches out to former and current players to help coach and assist campers. “A lot of my former players, some of them are playing basketball in college. A lot of them are current players. Plus we have a young lady (Maci Dale) helping us from Kansas (High School) who just graduated who is doing it as a community service project,” he said. “They help coach and assist in teaching skills and help referee and kind of do everything they have to do to kind of keep it running smoothly.” Creek Nation citizen William Leach, a Sequoyah High School graduate, said volunteering is a way to give back to the community, which makes him feel good about himself. “Helping out the kids and I like giving back. It’s a lot of fun. I think they’re just getting the most out of having fun and enjoying the game. And I think they just like being around each other, you know. They like to have fun,” Leach said. “I like coming to the community. There’s not many camps around here. You can go to Tulsa and the kids have camps every weekend. So anytime I get a chance to help out, I like to help out and give back,” he said. The camp is offered to students in grades first through ninth. They don’t have to be Cherokee or attend Sequoyah Schools. The cost is $40, which provides free breakfast and lunch, if needed, and a T-shirt. Campers in grades first through fifth go from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and campers in grades sixth through ninth attend in the afternoon. Although the boys camp is done, the girls three-day camp will begin May 31. Those interested in attending can show up at the Place Where They Play gym at 8 a.m. and fill out an application. The gym is located on the SHS campus. Herrin said he tries to hold the camps each summer after school ends. “They can learn a lot of teamwork, a lot of social skills besides just the benefit of getting out and being active. Getting off video games and sitting inside and getting out and doing something is really good for these guys,” he said.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
05/27/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In April, the Tribal Council passed a law creating a judgment fund that would be used to pay for any judgment against the Cherokee Nation. “The judgment fund is modeled after the U.S. government judgment fund. What the premise of the idea is that Congress, which would be the council in our scenario, would appropriate money to a judgment fund. And they would do that based on what the risk may be out there any given year,” Attorney General Todd Hembree said. Hembree said it falls to the legislators because they appropriate monies for the tribe’s annual budget. “When there is a judgment against the Cherokee Nation…well that money would have to come from somewhere. So that means it would have to come from a budget that otherwise wasn’t intended for,” he said. “What a judgment fund does is an exercise in good government. The council knows and departments know that if there is a judgment, it comes out of this fund. It doesn’t affect any other budgets. They can plan…knowing that nothing is going to disrupt that.” Hembree said many governments have judgments funds and that it was time for the tribe to follow suit. As of publication, no monies were in the judgment fund but creating the fund was the first step, he said. “The legislation is passed. It’s been signed. So sometime in the next two to three months the council will need to make a determination of how much money to put in there and to appropriate that money,” he said. Departmental budgets are being submitted to the council, he said, so this is an opportune time to decide what should be placed within that fund. The Attorney General’s Office would certify any judgment, he said, whether it’s from the CN court system or another court against the CN. Once certified, he added, the tribal treasurer would pay the judgment out of the fund. “It’s not a first-come, first-served. No one party claimant can take more than half (of what is in the fund) any given fiscal year. You take up to half of it and then next year you take more or the other half of your judgment,” he said. “Or, at any time, just like any budget modification, the council can add more money into the judgment fund as the year goes on.” Any judgments following the date the fund was signed into law would be tied to receiving their payments through this fund. Having this fund, Hembree said, brings budgetary stability to the tribe. “We have departments that make an estimate of their expenditures for the next year. It just helps solidify that nothing’s going to come an disrupt, no judgment will come in and disrupt that next year’s budget…If there’s a judgment, it doesn’t have to come out of education’s budget or health. It comes out of the judgment fund,” he said. “They won’t have to worry…we’re taking that out of the equation.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/26/2016 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation donated $195,000 on May 26 to eight area Boys & Girls Clubs in northeastern Oklahoma. The organizations serve Cherokee and Native American students in their summer and afterschool programs. The CN gave checks to clubs in Adair, Sequoyah, Cherokee, Mayes, Nowata, Rogers, Delaware and Washington counties. Currently, the programs serve more than 10,000 students. “We remain a proud and consistent financial supporter of the mentoring work done by the Boys & Girls Clubs,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Participating in the activities of a local club means access to community-based mentors and educational opportunities that will help our youth grow into their full potential. Supporting the mission of Boys and Girls Club is another opportunity where Cherokee Nation can have a positive influence in the lives of Cherokee children." The tribe has contributed more than $2 million total since 2008 to help the afterschool programs continue character and leadership development among both Cherokee youth and non-Native students. “The Boys & Girls Clubs provide an invaluable service to thousands of students within the Cherokee Nation,” Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said. “These clubs provide a safe place for children to learn and grow, while also offering new experiences and a variety of hands-on activities. The Cherokee Nation is proud to partner with these eight clubs in order to enhance their programs for Cherokee and non-Cherokee students alike.” With the second-largest enrollment of any club in the CN, the Boys & Girls Club of Sequoyah County depends heavily on CN funding to maintain operations at the club’s six facilities in Sequoyah County. “Cherokee Nation’s support means a lot to the Boys & Girls Club of Sequoyah County. It enables us to continue to provide funding for our programs and kids that need us the most in the county,” Laura Kuykendall, Boys & Girls Club of Sequoyah County representative, said. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America serves more than 4 million young people throughout the country and on military bases worldwide. <strong>The CN donated to the following clubs.</strong> Organization-Enrollment-Award Amount Adair County- 1,181- $21,797.52 Bartlesville- 1,187- $21,908.66 Chelsea- 327- $6,035.49 Tahlequah- 4,325- $79,827.26 Delaware County- 926- $17,091.34 Green Country-Pryor- 420- $7,7502.01 Nowata- 669- $12,347.85 Sequoyah County- 1,530- $28,239.47
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/26/2016 10:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to a United Keetoowah Band press release, UKB Assistant Chief Joe H. Bunch was sworn in as principal chief during a May 25 ceremony held in the UKB Community Service Court Chambers. UKB District Judge Dewayne Littlejohn administered the oath of office to Bunch a day after the Tribal Council voted to remove former Principal Chief George Wickliffe from office during an impeachment process. “This is an unfortunate event, but we are going to move forward. Many of our members depend on our services and in what we do as elected officials. This is a good time to start the healing process. I expect nothing but the best as we move forward,” Bunch said after taking his oath. Bunch was elected in a 2014 special election to serve the final two years of the late Assistant Chief Charles Locust’s four-year term. With the removal of Wickliffe, Bunch now fills the principal chief’s role for the remainder of that four-year term. Wickliffe was elected to his third four-year term in November 2012. On May 24, UKB citizens listened to articles of impeachment against Wickliffe by Tahlequah District Rep. Anile Locust and Tribal Secretary Ella Mae Worley. Among the allegations against Wickliffe were: • Prohibited Worley and her predecessor, Shelbi Wofford, from having full access to the tribe’s financial records, its now-closed casino and nongaming businesses, • Signed multiple contracts without Tribal Council authorization, • Authorized almost $400,000 in cash advances to himself and Delaware District Rep. Jerry Hansen, Saline District Rep. Charles Smoke and Goingsnake District Rep. Willie Christie (Christie has since repaid the tribe), • Used a tribal credit card to pay his personal accounts with DirectTV, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) and Oklahoma Natural Gas, as well as at least two of his son’s bills, • Used a tribal credit card to reclaim at least three guns from a local pawn shop, • Used a tribal credit card to buy tires for three Tribal Councilors, plus a range top and air conditioning unit for a family member, • Provided himself with $5,000 in scholarship funds after the tribe curtailed its higher education program, • Allowed the UKB Corporate Authority Board to sell a $30,000 tribal vehicle to the late Assistant Chief Locust for $5,000, • Authorized the disbursement of more than $40,000 from the tribe’s general fund and more than $4,000 from the motor fuel fund to Charles Locust’s widow without Tribal Council approval, and • Allowed his personal secretary to apply for services that she was not eligible for, as well as drive a government-issued vehicle without a current driver’s license. Wickliffe initially balked when given the opportunity to respond to the charges. When he did accept a microphone, he said he could not be wholly blamed for the tribe’s financial straits since its casino closed in 2013 and would have returned the money if he had been asked. “I don’t owe the tribe anything,” he said. “Neither does the council. I didn’t know the United Keetoowah Band could do this.” The Tribal Council adjourned into executive session for 90 minutes before reconvening and voting 7-4 to remove Wickliffe from office for violating the UKB’s Constitution. The Tribal Council also barred him from holding an elected or appointed position within the tribe. Following the removal vote, Bunch ordered Wickliffe to turn in his office keys and tribal cell phone and was escorted out by UKB Lighthorse. Wickliffe has seven days from May 24 to file an appeal in the tribe’s court system. The next UKB election will be Nov. 7. All district representative, treasurer, secretary, assistant chief and principal chief positions will be open for election.
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
05/25/2016 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After a 90-minute executive session, the United Keetoowah Band’s Tribal Council on May 24 voted 7-4 to remove Principal Chief George Wickliffe from office. “Turn in your keys, walkie-talkie, radio and anything else you have,” Assistant Chief Joe Bunch said, drawing cheers from the standing room only crowd at the Jim Proctor Elder Community Center. Along with removal from office, Wickliffe was also barred for life from holding any elected or appointed positions within the tribe. [BLOCKQUOTE]Citing financial improprieties, the tribe’s treasurer, Ella Mae Worley, filed three articles of impeachment against Wickliffe earlier in the month. Among the allegations against Wickliffe contained within the three counts were: • Prohibited Worley and her predecessor, Shelbi Wofford, from having full access to the tribe’s financial records, its now-closed casino and nongaming businesses, • Signed multiple contracts without Tribal Council authorization, • Authorized almost $400,000 in cash advances to himself and Delaware District Rep. Jerry Hansen, Saline District Rep. Charles Smoke and Goingsnake District Rep. Willie Christie (Christie has since repaid the tribe), • Used a tribal credit card to pay his personal accounts with DirectTV, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) and Oklahoma Natural Gas, as well as at least two of his son’s bills, • Used a tribal credit card to reclaim at least three guns from a local pawn shop, • Used a tribal credit card to buy tires for three Tribal Councilors, plus a range top and air conditioning unit for a family member, • Provided himself with $5,000 in scholarship funds after the tribe curtailed its higher education program, • Allowed the UKB Corporate Authority Board to sell a $30,000 tribal vehicle to the late Assistant Chief Charles Locust for $5,000, • Authorized the disbursement of more than $40,000 from the tribe’s general fund and more than $4,000 from the motor fuel fund to Locust’s widow without council approval, and • Allowed his personal secretary to apply for services that she was not eligible for, as well as drive a government-issued vehicle without a current driver’s license. “I didn’t do this because I wanted to,” Worley said. “I did this because it is the right thing to do. This is the people’s money.” On all counts against Wickliffe, the Tribal Council reached a simple majority on each against him. However, as per the UKB Constitution, at least two-thirds of the Tribal Council had to vote for Wickliffe’s removal, as well as barring him from holding any elected or appointed position. Those voting for removal were Worley, Bunch, Secretary Joyce Hawk, Tahlequah District Rep. Anile Locust, Sequoyah District Rep. Barry Dotson, Illinois District Rep. Peggy Girty and Flint District Rep. Tom Duncan. The final officer to cast a vote for removal, Hawk silently deliberated for several minutes, eliciting calls of “Do the right thing” and other comments from the crowd. Hansen, Smoke, Christie and Canadian District Rep. Eddie Sacks voted against Wickliffe’s removal. Cooweescoowee District Rep. Clifford Wofford was absent. Wickliffe has seven days to file an appeal with the tribe’s judiciary. Elected to his third four-year term in November 2012, the now-former chief said little during the hearing and initially balked when given the opportunity to defend himself. When he did accept a microphone, he said he could not be wholly blamed for the tribe’s financial straits since its casino closed in 2013 and would have returned the money if he had been asked. “I don’t owe the tribe anything,” he said, eliciting jeers from the audience. “Neither does the council. I didn’t know the United Keetoowah Band could do this.” Escorted by Lighthorse officers, Wickliffe did not speak to reporters after the hearing.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/25/2016 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials donated $15,000 to the Hulbert Police Department earlier this month to help maintain the city’s fleet of police vehicles. Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan presented a check to Hulbert Police Chief Casey Rowe. “It’s important to help our communities, especially when it involves protecting residents and keeping neighborhoods in Hulbert safe,” Jordan, of Hulbert, said. “Sometimes city budgets can only go so far, so it’s great that the Cherokee Nation could help the city police department meet some of its needs.” The funds are from Tribal Councilors Jordan, David Walkingstick and Joe Byrd from Tribal Council law enforcement funds. “In this small community, donations help out a lot,” Rowe said. “It lets us show how safe our community can be with the Cherokee Nation’s help and we really appreciate this donation.”