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
12/08/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation attorney general’s office filed a lawsuit on Nov. 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma against the United States, Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs and other agencies claiming the federal government mismanaged the tribe’s trust funds. According to a CN Communications release, the suit asks the U.S. to give an “accurate accounting of the Cherokee Trust Fund, which includes property, land, funds and other resources.” The lawsuit states the intent is to “resolve accounting and related equitable claims” that the CN brings against the federal government and some of its agencies and bureaus relating to the government’s management of the CN’s trust fund, including money generating obligations owed by the government to the CN. “Within the Trust Fund, the United States held and managed vast resources for the Nation including inter alia, money; proceeds from the sale of land or profits from the land; money from surface leases for agriculture, surface, oil and gas mining leases, coal leases, sand and gravel leases, businesses, and town lots; income from property owned by the Nation’ buildings; the Nation’s records; and money resulting from treaties or other agreements,” the lawsuit states. During an April 28 Rules Committee meeting, prior to the Tribal Council’s approval of the litigation, Attorney General Todd Hembree said the lawsuit’s purpose was to have a proper accounting of and to rectify any and all trust violations or trust responsibilities that were not fulfilled by the U.S. to the CN. “This is a monumental lawsuit. We discussed the details of the arrangement…This does involve treaty rights. So therefore, in accordance with the Consent to Litigation Act, before going forward we must have a council resolution,” Hembree said. “ This is a once-in-a-lifetime type of suit, and we hope to be very judicious in its prosecution and to be a game changer for the Cherokee Nation when it’s all complete.” When the Tribal Council discussed the lawsuit on April 28, Tribal Councilor Dick Lay asked if there was any kind of waiver of sovereign immunity included with the legislation. Hembree said “no” and that the lawsuit wouldn’t require a waiver either. “It is very advantageous for the Cherokee Nation. The way it’s structured, if I was the plaintiff in this lawsuit I’d be comfortable with it,” Hembree said. According to the suit, outside attorneys representing the tribe are from the Indian and Environmental Law Group in Tulsa, Hunsucker Goodstein PC in Washington, D.C., and Askman Law Firm in Denver. The Cherokee Phoenix requested costs for the outside attorney contracts through CN Communications and a Freedom of Information Act request on Dec. 5, but as of press time neither had been received. Some Tribal Councilors during the April 28 meeting said other tribes had seen success with similar lawsuits against the U.S., so in essence the groundwork had already been laid for the CN. Tribal Councilor David Thornton said the case was not expected to be resolved quickly, but over several years. Hembree said he hopes to prosecute the case within three years, but believes both sides would settle at some point. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2016/12/10841__nws_161205_TrustLitigation.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to read</a>the complaint document.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
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BY LINDSEY BARK
Staff Writer
12/08/2016 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to unofficial results, Joe Bunch won the Dec. 5 runoff for United Keetoowah Band principal chief against Anile Locust. Unofficial results show Bunch received 58.64 percent of the votes (302 votes) while Locust received 41.36 percent (213 votes). A total of 515 UKB citizens voted in the tribe’s nine districts. Bunch said he thanks the UKB citizens for “overwhelmingly” electing him for his first full term as principal chief. He has served as interim-principal chief since May after the Tribal Council voted to remove former Principal Chief George Wickliffe from office, a decision that the UKB courts later upheld. “I look forward in using my 32 years experience in tribal government moving our tribe forward. It will be an honor and privilege working with federal agencies in resolving our shortage of federal resources provided to all federally recognized tribal governments,” Bunch said. “I plan to move our tribe forward by getting land in trust, re-establish our gaming portfolio and develop our economic status while safeguarding our rich Keetoowah tradition and heritage. Thank you Keetoowah voters for your confidence in me.” In a Facebook post, Locust commented about conceding the race to Bunch. “It was truly a great race for the office of the chief. I had fun. I met a great bunch of people, and I was honored to have so many people support me…Pray for Joe Bunch and the rest of our leaders as this is what we are commanded to do,” she states. The Cherokee Phoenix contacted Locust for comment but she declined. Bunch was expected to be sworn into office on Jan. 7. According to the UKB Election Board, results would not be official until five days after the date of the election for any protests, appeals or recounts of election votes.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/07/2016 12:00 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – The Cherokee Heritage Center will close to the public for 16 days beginning Jan. 1 after another season of promoting Cherokee history and culture. “This has been a busy year for the heritage center, and we have welcomed visitors from across the country,” Tonia Hogner-Weavel, interim CHC director, said. “We are thankful for the generous support of all of our sponsors and donors and look forward to bringing a full, fun-filled schedule again in 2017.” As the tourism season winds down, CHC will operate under holiday hours effective Dec. 1. The CHC will be closed to the public Dec. 23-26. From Dec. 27-31, it will open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. From Jan. 1-16 it will close to the public, and from Jan. 17 to May 27 it will open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Guided tours through the ancient village Diligwa will be offered twice daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. While the CHC operates independently from the tribe, it continues to promote tourism within the Cherokee Nation. More than 50,000 guests visited the CHC throughout the year, taking advantage of everything the organization has to offer. In addition to permanent exhibits and archives, CHC featured four exclusive exhibits, four art shows, monthly cultural classes, group tours and various educational events. It is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive. For information on 2017 season events, operating hours and programs, call 1-888-999-6007 or visit <a href="http://www.CherokeeHeritage.org" target="_blank">www.CherokeeHeritage.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/07/2016 09:30 AM
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BY STAFF REPORTS
12/06/2016 12:00 PM
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