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.

Election

BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
07/03/2015 12:48 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to certified recount results, Wanda Hatfield and Betsy Swimmer are still the top two vote-getters who will face each other in the July 25 runoff for the At-Large Tribal Council seat. Following the June 27 general election, Election Commission officials posted results showing Hatfield leading with 25.94 percent of the ballots cast at 1,057 votes. Swimmer was second with 18.9 percent or 770 votes. Following the July 2 recount, Hatfield continued to lead with 1,057 votes, but Swimmer lost seven votes to finish with 763. The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to learn what happened to the seven votes, but as of press time EC officials were unavailable for comment. Swimmer said she was confident the EC had valid numbers. “So I’m pleased that it came out like it did,” she said. “I’m pressing forward and I plan to win the election.” Hatfield said the top three finishers remained the same with the recount and congratulated Swimmer on being in the runoff. “It has been a great experience and the next three weeks will be extremely busy reaching out to the At-Large Cherokee citizens,” she added. Candidate Shane Jett, who requested the recount, received 717 votes in the general election, but saw his vote count lowered to 713 in the recount. Jett said with the 2015 election being his first venture into Cherokee politics it was a learning experience, especially the importance of voters ensuring they cast their ballots correctly. “They (EC) had to throw away over 350 absentee ballots because they either did not sign them, notarize them or fill them out properly. So those votes were never counted,” he said. “It’s important that people slow down and make sure their vote counts. I hope everyone gets out and votes for their candidate of choice because their (Cherokee) Nation is worth it.” The EC performed the recount with CN Supreme Court justices present before certifying the results. Runoff absentee ballots will be mailed on July 13-14 and the runoff election will take place on July 25. All successful candidates are to be sworn into office on Aug. 14, according to the CN election timeline.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
07/02/2015 11:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to the certified results from a July 2 recount, William “Bill” Pearson has beaten Keith Austin by six votes to win the Dist. 14 Tribal Council seat. Original certified results from the June 27 general election showed Pearson receiving 534 votes for 50.5 percent of the ballots cast, while Austin garnered 533 votes for 49.95 percent. Austin filed for a recount, which the tribe’s Election Commission performed. After that recount, Pearson had 525 votes for 50.2 percent compared to Austin’s 519 votes at 49.7 percent. The votes tabulated during the recount consisted of precinct, absentee, early absentee and precinct challenged. The recount had 23 votes less compared to the original count. EC officials said that occurred because of human error when inputting votes. “The challenged ballots from the districts were processed on Sunday (June 28) beginning at ”1 p.m. through 12:11 a.m. on Monday and resulted in 349 out of approximately 700 challenged ballots being accepted,” an EC statement reads. “The 349 ballots were then fed through a voting machine that was pre-defined for absentees, to get the vote count for the various races and candidates. The card from the machine was then placed in the computer to print out the challenged vote results. And unbeknownst to the operator it recorded the ballots as absentee votes then the operator took the printout of challenged ballots and manually entered them for the appropriate race and candidate, resulting in the 349 votes being entered twice.” The EC statement also reads that once this was discovered, those votes entered into the machine under absentee were removed. The challenged votes that were correctly placed in districts remained in those districts. “Resulting in the 349 being correctly counted,” the release stated. The Cherokee Phoenix contacted Pearson but he was unavailable for comment at the time of publication. In an email statement, Austin did not state whether he would appeal the recount results to the Supreme Court but that he appreciated the EC’s hard work. “They have the impossible job of determining a certifiable winner in a race that could not be closer,” Austin wrote. “Obviously, we want to work with the Election Commission and the Supreme Court to help determine that the election results are accurate. Cherokees took the time to vote because they have faith in our Nation. We owe it to them to ensure their intentions are honored and their votes count.” The EC certified the recount on July 2 in the presence of Supreme Court justices. Candidates have until July 6 to appeal election results with the Supreme Court. Provided there are any appeals, the Supreme Court would hear those cases July 7-9. Candidates elected to office during the general and runoff elections are expected to be sworn in Aug. 14, according to the tribe’s election timeline. The runoff election is set for July 25. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/7/9410_ExplanationofRecalculationofVoteCount.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the Explanation of Recalculation of Vote Count document.
BY CN COMMUNICATIONS
Cherokee Nation
07/01/2015 06:22 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — At-Large Tribal Council candidate Shane Jett submitted a formal recount request Wednesday to the Cherokee Nation Election Commission after certified General Election results showed Jett finished third to candidates Wanda Hatfield and Betsy Swimmer. After Election Commission officials tabulated challenge ballots Sunday, results had Jett with 717 votes to Hatfield’s 1,057 votes and Swimmer’s 770 votes. Hatfield and Swimmer are scheduled for a run-off election Saturday, July 25, since no candidate garnered more than 50 percent of the vote, pending the outcome of the requested recount. Election Commission officials are now waiting on a formal order from the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court to begin preparation for the recount. Officials must have the recount completed by Friday, July 3. A recount for the District 14 race was ordered by the Supreme Court on Tuesday after candidate Keith Austin submitted a formal request late Monday. District 14 candidates Keith Austin and William Pearson were separated by one vote in the certified election results.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/01/2015 02:14 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Oklahoma Fire fastpitch softball team will face girls from all across the country when they travel July 13-18 to Gulf Shores, Alabama, to compete in the USSSA National World Series. The team is comprised of 14 girls, 12 of which are Cherokee, from the Tahlequah area. They reserved their spot for the series on June 21 by capturing the Oklahoma State 12u Rec/All-Stars Championship in Bixby. The team is also fundraising for the trip. It created a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $15,000. To visit the page, go to <a href=" http://www.gofundme.com/okfire" target="_blank">http://www.gofundme.com/okfire</a>. The team is also holding an Indian taco sale from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 3 at the Oklahoma American Legion Post 135 In Tahlequah. Tickets can be purchased in advance from parents, players and team partner O’Reilly Auto Parts.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/01/2015 12:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – Jonathan Powell, director of marketing and business development for Cherokee Nation Industries, was recently named to the Federal Communications Commission’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council. “It is an honor to receive this nomination and to have the opportunity to serve as a voice for rural and tribal communities while influencing advancements in our nation’s communications systems,” said Powell. “My focus is providing the best services to all citizens, continuing to bridge interoperability gaps and ensuring rural and tribal land is a consideration when making recommendations to the FCC.” A CN citizen and Pryor native, Powell has more than 20 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern State University in finance and a master’s degree in business administration from Oklahoma City University. Powell will join the fifth charter of the CSRIC, which provides guidance, expertise and recommendations to the FCC to ensure optimal security and reliability of the nation’s communications systems. The council addresses the availability of communications during natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other events that result in exceptional strain on the communications infrastructure, as well as the rapid restoration of communications services in the event of widespread or major disruptions. “Mr. Powell is a valuable asset at CNI, leading teams in the areas of market strategy and research, partnership development, sales planning and business development,” said Chris Moody, CNI president. “As a leader within a tribally owned business, he provides a unique and valuable insight to the CSRIC that will be crucial for the future of communications in tribal entities and Indian Country.” Members of the CSRIC are appointed by the chairman of the FCC and selected from public safety agencies, consumer or community organizations or other nonprofit entities and the private sector to balance various expertise and viewpoints.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/01/2015 08:37 AM
In this month's issue: • Baker, Crittenden win 2nd terms • 6 Tribal Council candidates win, 2 are incumbents • Dist. 6, At-Large council races head to runoffs • Chief, governor sign hunting, fishing compact ...plus much more. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/7/9402_2015-07-01.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the July 2015 issue of the Cherokee Phoenix.