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

Court: Man can challenge Oklahoma 'rain god' plate

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.


10/26/2016 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Thanks to its sellout success at the Cherokee National Holiday, the Cherokee Phoenix is bringing back its Buffalo Gouge-designed T-shirts, with a slight twist, for the upcoming shopping season. The T-shirts will be similar to the T-shirts the Cherokee Phoenix sold at the Cherokee National Holiday during Labor Day weekend. However, the words “NATIONAL HOLIDAY” and the year “2016” will be omitted from the shopping season shirts. Also, Gouge’s signature will be moved closer to the artwork. The Cherokee Phoenix’s logo will also adorn the left sleeve. Gouge said the Cherokee National Holiday design was inspired by the original Cherokee Phoenix logo with modern modifications. As the phoenix rises from the fire, the seven Cherokee clans are featured behind the bird. The Phoenix banner is amid the bird’s wingspan, and above the banner are seven stars also representing the clans. “Because the national holiday shirts that Buffalo designed for us sold out so quickly and because we had so many people asking if we were going to print them again, we decided to do a second run for the holidays season with a slight modification,” Assistant Editor Travis Snell said. “We hope the people who didn’t get a shirt during the Cherokee National Holiday will get one for the upcoming shopping season.” A run of 300 shirts were printed in graphite heather gray ranging in sizes small to 3XL. Shirts are $20 and available at the Cherokee Phoenix office. Shoppers can stop by the office located in the Annex Building (old motel) on the W.W. Keeler Complex or order by calling 918-207-4975. Shipping is $5 per order with a maximum of three shirts per order. More shirts may be printed depending on demand. Earlier this year, Cherokee Phoenix staff members came up with the idea to introduce a T-shirt that would differ from the tribe’s Cherokee National Holiday T-shirts. Snell said he initially thought of Gouge and approached him to be the first artist to bring the idea to life. When it came to designing the shirt, Snell said staff members gave Gouge an idea of what they wanted it to represent as well as freedom to create. After several meetings with the staff regarding the shirt’s look, the design came to fruition. The Cherokee Phoenix staff printed 200 shirts for the Cherokee holiday and sold out in two days. Snell said the Cherokee Phoenix plans to continue using artists such as Gouge to create Cherokee National Holiday T-shirt designs annually. Cherokee Nation, United Keetoowah Band and Eastern Band citizens are encouraged to email their design ideas to <a href="mailto: travis-snell@cherokee.org">travis-snell@cherokee.org</a> by Jan. 1.
10/26/2016 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials honored Vietnam veteran Leonard McCarty with the Medal of Patriotism at the Oct. 17 Tribal Council meeting. Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden gave the medal to McCarty, 77, of Vian, as acknowledgement for his service to the country. Sgt. 1st Class McCarty was born July 12, 1939, in Owasso and joined the U.S. Army in 1958. McCarty completed basic training at Fort Carson, Colorado, and advanced individual training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He spent the next 10 years of his military career improving and building infrastructure on U.S. military bases. In 1968, McCarty deployed to Vietnam where he was part of a team that recovered and retrieved fallen soldiers so that their bodies could be shipped home. After his tour in Vietnam, McCarty returned to the United States and was stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison, where he wrote training and testing materials as part of a forward-planning process for the Army. McCarty retired from the Army in 1978 after 20 years of service. “It was an honor to serve my country, to serve my nation and to serve the people of my country. I would not have changed anything in my life,” McCarty said. “I’m just proud to be a Cherokee.” McCarty received numerous medals and ribbons for his service, including the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, six Good Conduct Medals, Vietnam Service Medal with five campaign stars and more. Each month the CN recognizes Cherokee service men and women for their sacrifices and as a way to demonstrate the high regard in which the tribe holds all veterans. Native Americans, including Cherokees, are thought to have more citizens serving per capita than any other ethnic group according to the U.S. Department of Defense. To nominate a veteran who is a CN citizen, call 918-772-4166.
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham
10/26/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation ONE FIRE along with tribal dignitaries and several young people helped Principal Chief Bill John Baker on Oct. 5 declare October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the CN. Baker made the declaration official by signing a proclamation. ONE FIRE Executive Director Nikki Baker-Limore said she felt the signing of the proclamation was important for several reasons. “It’s important because 39 percent of Native women will suffer from domestic violence in their lifetime,” she said. Baker-Limore added that getting the word out about ONE FIRE services was crucial. “We can help these women survive.” Some of ONE FIRE’S October events included a booth at the W. W. Keeler Tribal Complex with information about ONE FIRE Victims Services programs and domestic violence prevention, a bulletin board at W.W. Hastings Hospital with domestic violence stats and information regarding ONE FIRE programs and intertribal meetings in Durant to share information about ONE FIRE programs as well as domestic violence and sexual assault information. Other ONE FIRE events included asking CN employees to wear purple on Oct. 20 and an annual Pack It Purple game at Sequoyah High School is scheduled for Oct. 28, in which ONE FIRE staff was expected to sell T-shirts before and at the game to blanket the stands with purple. Purple footballs and information pertaining to ONE FIRE programs were also expected to be given out, and domestic violence stats were to be made available during the game. For the ONE FIRE hours emergency hotline, call 1-866-458-5399. For more information, call 918-453-6939, 918-772-4257, 918-453-5684 or 918-772-4258.
10/25/2016 01:45 PM
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Oct. 21 designated eight counties that are fully or partially located within the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction as primary natural disaster areas due to damages and losses caused by a recent drought. Those counties are Adair, Cherokee, Delaware, Mayes, McIntosh, Muskogee, Rogers, Sequoyah, Tulsa and Wagoner in northeastern Oklahoma. “Our hearts go out to those Oklahoma farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling Oklahoma producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.” All counties listed above were designated natural disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency, provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity. Other FSA programs that can provide assistance, but do not require a disaster declaration, include the Emergency Conservation Program; Livestock Forage Disaster Program; Livestock Indemnity Program; Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program; and the Tree Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at <a href="http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov" target="_blank">http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov</a>.
10/24/2016 04:00 PM
FORT YATES, N.D. – Cherokee Nation officials and employees presented a $10,000 check to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in mid-October to help with attorney fees and delivered three truckloads of firewood to the Sacred Stone Camp where thousands of people continue to unite to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. According to a CN press release, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd and other tribal representatives met with several Standing Rock Sioux officials as well as campsite leaders and water protectors while in North Dakota. Hoskin Jr. said the Cherokee people are ones who have been “dispossessed, forcibly removed and had economies built on the backs of our people in their natural resources.” “That is a history that the Lakota and Dakota who are now protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline share,” Hoskin Jr. said. “It is a history that Indigenous people all over this world have shared and we are here to help change that history.” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Vice Chairman Jesse McLaughlin said having the CN’s support meant much. “We are grateful. It’s getting cold and we are hunkered down until the end so we want everyone to stay warm. Firewood, fuel, and winterized tents are the biggest needs,” he said. According to the release, after approval from the CN Tribal Council, CN donated $10,000 to help the Sioux tribe with attorney fees and other costs to keep out the pipeline. Including the 54 ricks of wood delivered in October, the tribe has donated more than 100 ricks with plans to send another delivery in November. “This is the first time in history of tribes sustaining this much energy for one cause. It’s not about one tribe, it’s about all tribes coming together for a common cause,” Byrd said. “The Cherokee Nation is standing up for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all tribes who deserve a voice and respect.”
10/24/2016 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokees For Standing Rock group and the Mankiller Flats Water Protectors will host “Stickball for Standing Rock” on Oct. 29 on the grounds of the Cherokee Nation Male Seminary Recreation Center. According to the event page on Facebook, The Mankiller Flats Water Protectors are putting on a round robin stickball tournament to benefit the camps near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. “Men and women teams will play each other in round robin format. The men’s team with the most wins will play the women’s team with the most wins and the winner will be the champ and will win T-shirts,” the page states. “Max players per team is 10 and minimum is 4.” The entry fee for each team is $50. The event will include youth activities, arts and crafts tables as well as Indian tacos. Sticks will be available for those who don’t own any. To sign up for the tournament contact Abraham Bearpaw, Callie Benoit or Cole Hogner on Facebook or visit <a href="https://www.facebook.com/events/1862207080675938/?active_tab=about" target="_blank">https://www.facebook.com/events/1862207080675938/?active_tab=about</a> to view the event page. The event will begin at 10 a.m. The Male Seminary Recreation Center is located at 1123 W. Fourth St.