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.
STILWELL, Okla. – To help with the construction a splash pad, the Cherokee Nation donated nearly $40,000 to the City of Stilwell.
“We are all one big community, and it means a lot to us for the Cherokee Nation to work with us on this project,” Stilwell Mayor Ronnie Trentham said. “The things we want to do as a city we couldn’t do alone, so the partnerships between us and the tribe and other groups are needed. We are a better community because we work together.”
The splash pad will be located at the Edna M. Carson Stilwell Community Park. City officials expect the project, totaling $464,000, to be completed by May 2015.
“Stilwell has always been a hub of Cherokee activity because we have so many citizens living there and working there at our Cherokee Nation Industries facility,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “This represents a good investment for the Cherokee Nation, as it enables the community and its leaders to expand the infrastructure and deliver more offerings for people.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Two Cherokee Nation citizens have produced a 2015 calendar titled “Birds of the Cherokee Nation” that has photographs of area birds and their Cherokee names in the Cherokee syllabary.
Jeff Davis, of Warner, and David Cornsilk, of Tahlequah, collaborated on the calendar. Cornsilk researched the Cherokee names for the birds and Davis provided the photographs.
Each bird in the calendar can be found in the Cherokee Nation, Davis said.
“I take a lot of photographs, and birds are some of my favorite subjects because I descend from the Bird Clan. I thought about doing one initially, and then David approached me about doing one, and we wanted to do it in Cherokee,” Davis, who is also an artist and direct descendant of Principal Chief John Ross, said. “The reason we wanted to do Cherokee is to not only be different, but to also help promote the language and help people learn the language.”
Cornsilk said he used to live in Kenwood in Delaware County, which is known for being a traditional Cherokee community, and would listen to the Cherokee speakers there talk about birds and the meaning of the birds’ names.
“Something I noticed was a lot of the older speakers they knew a lot of birds’ (names), and the younger speakers didn’t know very many. So it was something, I guess, that was fading out of the language, and so I started collecting the names of birds in Cherokee,” he said. “I always thought I’d publish a book, but then I thought a calendar would be a lot of fun.”
He said because Cherokee speakers and others learning the language don’t regularly use the names of birds, plants and animals, the words are in danger of being forgotten.
Davis said many Cherokee speakers just use the word jee-squa, which means bird, for every bird.
Cornsilk said after he met Davis he learned about Davis’ love of birds and his photographs of local birds. So they decided to work together to produce the calendar.
Each bird in the calendar has a Cherokee syllabary and English phonetic name. Each bird photo also has a brief explanation of what the bird means to the Cherokee and other stories about each bird.
On the calendar’s back cover is a copy of the Cherokee syllabary to help people translate the bird names and the names of the months in Cherokee listed with the photos. Also included in the calendar is a list of moons associated with each month and what Cherokee beliefs are associated with each moon.
Cornsilk credits the list of what the moons meant to Cherokees to William Eubanks, a Cherokee translator in the 1890s. Also, Cherokee linguist Lawrence Panther translated the calendar name.
Davis said if the calendar is successful, he and Cornsilk might publish a second calendar next year because he has many more bird photos and Cornsilk, who has been collecting Cherokee names for plants and animals for about 30 years, has more Cherokee names for birds. He added the men have also had requests to do a calendar with plants used by Cherokee people for medicine and may do one with Cherokee names for trees using Davis’ photos.
Davis and Cornsilk said they might also produce flash cards with birds, plants and trees.
The calendars are available for $10 at the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop and the Spider Gallery in Tahlequah. By mail order, the price is $12.95 each, which includes shipping. PayPal or postal money orders are accepted. For PayPal send payment to: email@example.com, and to mail payment, send to: J. Davis, P.O. Box 492, Warner OK 74469.
“I think our main purpose was to preserve a portion of the Cherokee language that seemed to be fading...to make a contribution to the efforts the tribe is making and individual Cherokees are making as well (to preserve the language),” Cornsilk said.
Davis said the response to the calendar has been positive.
“People not only love the pictures but also learn how to pronounce the words. I’ve had several mothers tell me that they are teaching their children words from this, which is really what we wanted...something educational and beautiful,” he said.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The North American Indian Court Judges Association recently honored Cherokee Nation District Court Clerk Kristi Moncooyea for her work with the court.
Moncooyea, who received the “Court Support Excellence Award,” has served as the only clerk for the District Court for the past 10 years and is “the amiable face that greets everyone who comes to the Cherokee Nation District Court,” a NAICJA statement reads.
“Handling the workload of at least three or four clerks all by herself, she handles the extraordinary caseload with great energy and resourcefulness,” the statement reads. “In addition to maintaining the court’s docket and case files, she answers the phone and patiently deals with attorneys, parties, law enforcement officers, and community members on a daily basis.”
Moncooyea, who is a CN citizen, said it is “very humbling” to be recognized by the NAICJA.
“I consider it an honor and privilege to work in the Cherokee Nation judicial system providing assistance to our Cherokee citizens as well as the general public who require services of the court,” Moncooyea said. “I share this award with the awesome court staff I work with daily who are always there to assist and help make the courthouse a friendly place to come to.”
District Court Judge John T. Cripps said Moncooyea is “a role model and inspiration” for tribal court personnel who are often challenged to do a great deal with very little assistance or resources.
“She is always courteous and respectful. I can find no one who does not appreciate her work and her abilities. She is the epitome of what a tribal employee should exemplify,” Cripps said.
Moncooyea is the first to receive the “Court Support Excellence Award,” from NAICJA.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission on Oct. 14 voted to remove two voting precincts and limit the time news reporters can shoot inside precincts during elections to five minutes.
Commissioners said a precinct in Cookson was added during the Tribal Council’s redistricting process but never opened as a polling place. Commissioner Shawna Calico said a decision was needed on whether to keep Cookson’s polling place or remove it. She said after some research, voters were going to have to drive either north or south around Lake Tenkiller to vote in Cookson.
“So this (Keys) is still the central location, so I say we just leave it at Keys (and remove Cookson),” she said.
Commissioner Teresa Hart asked how many voters were located in that area and Calico said there were more voters on the Keys side of Lake Tenkiller than the Cookson side. According to an EC report, Keys has more than 500 voters registered and Cookson had a little more than 150.
Calico motioned to remove Cookson’s precinct from Dist. 3 and Commissioner Carolyn Allen seconded it. The motion passed with Calico and Allen voting yes and Hart voting no. EC Commissioner Martha Calico was absent.
Commissioners also removed the precinct in Paradise Hill and placed it in Gore. EC Chairman Bill Horton said it would be more feasible for voters.
“Probably Gore will encompass more local people than Paradise Hill’s got,” he said.
Commissioners then approved the revised precinct map, which is to be printed opposite of the voter registration form. Shawna Calico motioned to remove Cookson and Paradise Hill from the precinct map and add Gore as a location. The changes made to the precinct map passed with a 3-0 vote.
The EC also changed a policy regarding media coverage at voting precincts. The change limits media access to five minutes in a precinct. EC officials said the new policy models the state’s voting laws.
“We took the Oklahoma statutes and what they do and kind of adopted our situation to allow cameras into the election closure and photograph but limit the time so that they wouldn’t disrupt the voting process,” EC attorney Harvey Chaffin said.
The policy amendment passed unanimously.
The Cherokee Phoenix requested a copy by-laws and the rules and regulations but they are currently not in their “final form” and will not be submitted or published until then.
“The Election Commission Rules and Regulations shall be published and transmitted to the Council no later than 90 days before the first day of filing for the election,” EC Administrator Madison Cornett said.
She said the rules and regulations would apply, but do not have to be approved by Tribal Council. The by-laws were expected to be approved at the next regular EC meeting.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Oct. 27, parents can begin registering their Cherokee children for the Cherokee Nation Angel Project.
CNAP, formerly known as Angel Tree, is a program that allows the public to purchase and donate clothing, toys and other gifts for Cherokee children who live within the 14-county tribal jurisdiction, and who may not otherwise receive gifts during the holiday season, according to a CN press release.
“More than 2,200 children received holiday gifts through the program last year,” the release states.
To qualify for the program, children must be 16 years of age or younger. Applicants must provide proof of income for all household members over the age of 18. For example, a family of three must not exceed $2,061 in household income per month, and a family of four must not exceed $2,484 per month.
Those applying must provide a proof of residency and tribal citizenship card for each child.
For more information, please call 918-266-5626, ext. 7720 or 918-458-6900.
Applications must be filled out at the following locations from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Nov. 7.
<strong>Beginning Oct. 27</strong>
Salina: A-Mo Health Center, 900 N. Owen Walters Blvd.
Catoosa: Indian Child Welfare Office, 750 S. Cherokee St., Suite O
Muskogee: Three Rivers Health Center, 1001 S. 41st St. E.
Vinita: Vinita Health Center, 27371 S. 4410 Road
<strong>Beginning Oct. 28</strong>
Chouteau: Chouteau Public Schools, 521 N. McCracken
Collinsville: Victory Cherokee Community Building, 1025 N. 12th St.
Nowata: Will Rogers Health Center, 1020 Lenape Drive
Pryor: Cherokee Heights Housing Addition, 133 Cherokee Heights
Stilwell: Indian Child Welfare Office, 401 S. 2nd
Westville: 402 S. Park St. (house across from Westville Junior High)
Jay: Cherokee Nation Human Services, 1501 Industrial Park
<strong>Beginning Oct. 30</strong>
Bartlesville: Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation, 1003 S. Virginia
<strong>Beginning Nov. 3</strong>
Tahlequah: W.W. Keeler Complex Financial Resource Building, 17675 S. Muskogee Ave.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Three Cherokee communities will host Halloween-related events before and during Halloween.
In Marble City, citizens are hosting the “Trail of Terror” to provide a safe but scary fun for those who dare to walk the trail. This is the ninth year for the outdoor event, and it will be held one mile south of Marble City from 7:30 p.m. to 11:55 p.m. on Oct. 24-25. People should follow signs to the Noisey Ranch.
Admission is $3 per person. Because the trail is outdoors, no flip-flops are allowed to prevent injuries. It will take 15 to 20 minutes to walk through the trail, which is situated in 10 acres of woods.
This year, the eighth grade class at Marble City School is doing a special scene. A volunteer work crew from Haskell Indian Nations University is also assisting with the trail. This year’s big feature is a maze and a psychedelic tunnel, said coordinator Tamara Hibbard.
“All the workers are volunteers. We put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into getting it ready. We just do it for the enjoyment of the people. We never break even with admission,” she said. “Any money that we take goes back for expenses like fuel for the generator, fog juice, fake blood, props and costumes.”
A free “Daisy Trail” will be available for small children that will include carnival games and non-scary stuff. For more information, call Hibbard at 918-315-2583.
After trick or treating on Halloween, families are invited to the Rocky Mountain Cherokee Community Organization’s “Haunted Trail and Kiddie Carnival” from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the organization’s community building.
All activities are free except for the concession stand. Cherokee storyteller Sequoyah Guess will be the guest storyteller. The trail and storytelling will be held behind the community building, weather permitting. Games and concession stand will be held inside.
The trail will not be suitable for younger children. Carnival-type games will be set up and suitable for anyone.
The Rocky Mountain Community is located off of 100 Hwy. in Adair County, about seven miles west of Stilwell. For more information, call Vicki McLemore at 918-506-0487.
The Brushy Cherokee Action Association will host a “Haunted House and Trail” and a hayride from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 29-31 at the Brushy Community Center building. Events will last until 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 31.
Cherokee Nation staff members Stephanie Buckskin and Mary Owl, along with Brushy volunteers, are building and installing the “Haunted House and Trail.”
BCAAA welcomes all residents of Brushy and surrounding communities to the Halloween events. Admission is $2 per person and $10 per family. Concessions will be available.
The Brushy Community Center building is located seven miles north of Sallisaw on Hwy 59 on E. 1010 Road.
For more information call Gary Bolin at 918-315-7797 or Newton Spangler at 918-575-5998.