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 STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
03/22/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on March 20 amended Legislative Act 30-04 to limit “holdover” clauses to six months for people appointed to certain Cherokee Nation boards and commissions after their terms expire. According to the amendment, after six months, if no one is confirmed or appointed for the expired seat, it becomes vacant. The act passed 15-1 with Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan voting against it. Tribal Councilor David Thornton was absent. During the Feb. 22 Rules Committee meeting, Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis said having some positions “holdover continuously for years” creates an “unstable environment” and a “time limit” is needed. “We have some positions that holdover continuously for years, a year or two. Maybe some having been longer, I don’t know. In my opinion it’s an unstable environment and we need to set a time limit,” she said. “It shouldn’t take more than a month or two to reappoint or replace a board member or commissioner, but set a time limit of six months to do that.” Chrissi Nimmo, CN assistant attorney general, said on Feb. 22 that boards and commissions such as Cherokee Nation Businesses, the Cherokee Nation Tax Commission and Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission would be affected by the amendment, while the Election Commission and Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board would not. “I do believe that the way it’s written is the Election Commission and the Editorial Board would not be subject to…this at all because they both have their own statute on holdover previsions,” Nimmo said. “So this excludes Election Commission, Editorial Board, non-Cherokee entities for which we appoint and approve board members. The way the previous law was written any commission, board, agency that has it’s own enacting legislation that talks about how they’re appointed, how they holdover, this doesn’t change that. This is kind of the catch all for the ones that aren’t specifically mentioned elsewhere.” Thornton on Feb. 22 said he didn’t “see the point” of the amendment. “The very first thing I see is on E. of this legislation, the last sentence, ‘If no reappointment or new appointments have been confirmed, that seat becomes vacant.’ Well that seat’s vacant period if someone’s not sitting in it. Why should we have to make someone fill that seat within six months? This is counteracting exactly what I think you’re trying to do,” he said. Tribal Councilor Keith Austin on Feb. 22 said he was not “opposed” to the legislation but wished it included the EC and Editorial Board. “My only problem with it is that it doesn’t affect the problem with the Election Commission and it doesn’t fix the problem with the Editorial Board because the Editorial Board member that we appointed…is replacing one that was in holdover status for almost a year. Those two agencies both have a history of long holdover status. It’s important, especially with the Election Commission, that they have a full working staff. This is exactly what we need except for those two agencies and they’re excluded,” he said. Tribal Councilor Dick Lay on Feb. 22 said that passing the amendment was a “good start.” “This is the council, this is what we can affect today. We can affect and take on the other issues tomorrow. We can’t cure the world’s ills on one sweeping motion. This sets the progress for the boards and commissions that we have control over at this point and time,” he said. “This is a good start and I think it’s a bold move for this council to set the tone that you can’t just holdover these boards forever.” Nimmo added that the amendment would not apply retroactively. “We all agree that this can’t apply retroactively because our Constitution says,” she said. “There might be a disagreement on what retroactive means. Does it mean that someone who is currently in holdover status after six months they’re gone? I think probably not. I think to avoid retroactive application that this would only apply to newly appointed and confirmed people.” In other business, legislators: • Re-approved Leroy Qualls as a Cherokee Nation Foundation board member, • Increased the fiscal year 2017 capital budget by $102,733 to $279.5 million, • Increased the FY 2017 operating budget by $1.2 million to $667.9 million, • Approved a contract for the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Healthy Living program, and • Authorized an application for a National Park Service grant to survey the Rose Cottage site.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
03/22/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During the March 21 Rules Committee meeting, Tribal Councilors indefinitely tabled legislation aiming to have Cherokee Nation citizens vote this year on whether the tribe should allow same-sex marriage. “This has been an extremely sensitive subject within the Cherokee Nation. The Osages (Osage Nation), they had an election yesterday. It was favorable for the same-sex community. It passed 52 percent. The thing is, their people had a vote in the matter. Our people didn’t have a vote in the matter,” Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick, the legislation’s sponsor, said referring to Attorney General Todd Hembree’s Dec 9 opinion. The opinion, which has the weight of law, states two sections of the CN Family and Marriage Act – one defining marriage as between a man and woman and another prohibiting parties of the same gender to marry– were unconstitutional. Following the opinion, CN citizens Dawn Reynolds-McKinley and Kathy Reynolds-McKinley filed their marriage license on Jan. 19 at the CN Courthouse. As of publication, only two same-sex marriage licenses have been filed with the District Court. Walkingstick said as a legislator he did not think the attorney general’s office should be making laws because that was the Tribal Council’s job. Other legislators questioned whether to move forward with Walkingstick’s act because of a case in District Court challenging Hembree’s opinion. Tribal Councilor Curtis Snell on March 20 filed a declaratory judgment petition asking the court to declare lawful the two Family and Marriage Act sections Hembree opined were unconstitutional. “I don’t know at this time if it’s gone to the courthouse. I’m at odds to whether we should vote on it or not,” Tribal Councilor Dick Lay said. Tribal Councilor Keith Austin said he couldn’t vote for the legislation because the CN Constitution states “equal protection shall be afforded under the laws of the Cherokee Nation.” “Based on that alone, I can’t vote for something that denies a portion of our population a privilege or a benefit that is afforded other portions of our population,” he said. “That Constitution says equal protection. It doesn’t say equal protection for straight people. It says equal protection.” He added that he sees it as a violation of the Tribal Council oath of office to support legislation conflicting with the CN and U.S. constitutions. “If the voters came to us with an initiative petition then we would deal with that,” he said. “But for us to promote a law that is in conflict with the United States Constitution, I interpret that to mean that we are violating our oath of office.” Hembree said he wasn’t on either side of the same-sex marriage issue but on the side of the CN Constitution. He added that Walkingstick’s legislation was a legal nullity. “If you want to attempt to amend the Constitution to make gay marriage illegal, Mr. Walkingstick, I recommend that you do that. But in the resolution that you brought forward it doesn’t do that at all,” he said. “And whoever helped you draft this, Mr. Walkingstick, didn’t do it correctly.” Following the discussion, legislators voted 13-3 to table the bill with Tribal Councilors Shawn Crittenden, Lay and Walkingstick voting against. Tribal Councilor Don Garvin was absent. Kathy Reynolds-McKinley, who attended the committee meeting with her wife, said afterward that “equality shouldn’t be voted on, it should be expected” and that she and Dawn were happy to see the legislation not approved. “We don’t expect 100 percent support, but at bare minimum hope for mutual respect among tribal members,” she said. Walkingstick said the meeting “opened the eyes of our Cherokee people on our executive branch and attorney general.” “The Tribal Council has great faith in the Cherokee people and their ability to self-determine what’s right for them. It’s the Cherokee people’s tribe. I will make every effort that their voice will be heard, instead of one person or a few making the laws,” he said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
03/21/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Sequoyah High School will celebrate the 2017 3A state champion Sequoyah Lady Indians basketball team at 5:30 p.m. on March 22 at The Place Where They Play gymnasium on the SHS campus. According to an email from Athletic Director Marcus Crittenden, the public is invited to attend and celebrate “the outstanding achievements of these players and coaches.” “This is the second gold ball in three years for the Lady Indians, and the fifth in program history,” Crittenden said.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
03/21/2017 08:15 AM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – President Donald Trump is paying homage to a predecessor, Andrew Jackson, with the highest form of flattery. Trump says the nation’s seventh president reminds him an awful lot of himself. The president paid a visit on March 15 to The Hermitage – Jackson’s Nashville home - to commemorate Jackson’s 250th birthday. Trump hailed Jackson as “one of our great presidents” and described some of their similarities. Trump’s team has long seized on parallels between the current president and the Tennessee war hero, comparing Jackson’s triumph in 1828 over President John Quincy Adams to Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton last year. Trump described Jackson as a fellow outsider who pledged to represent the forgotten worker and took on the Washington establishment. “It was during the revolution that Jackson first confronted and defied an arrogant elite,” Trump said. “Does that sound familiar to you?” he asked his crowd. “Oh, I know the feeling, Andrew.” Trump said Jackson’s victory “shook the establishment like an earthquake” and talked about how he’d tried to sweep out government corruption, improve veterans’ care and impose tariffs on foreign countries to protect American workers - all things Trump pledged to do during his campaign. Trump spoke after taking a tour of the property, which included a stop at the home’s library. There, the curator told Trump that Jackson subscribed to 16 newspapers and made notes on stories about which ones he liked and disliked. On one editorial, he drew a big black “X'” to show his disapproval. “We know that feeling,” said Trump, who has been known to scrawl angry notes on reporters’ stories with a black Sharpie and send the marked-up stories back to them. Following a tour of the property the president placed a wreath at Jackson’s tomb. He stood, saluting, as taps played. Jackson has enjoyed a moment of resurgence thanks to Trump, who mused during his first days in Washington that “there hasn't been anything like this since Andrew Jackson” and hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office after moving in. Historians had been souring on the slave-owning president, whose Indian Removal Act of 1830 commissioned the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands. More than 4,000 died during their journeys west. Jackson’s standing had fallen so much that that the U.S. Treasury opted to remove Jackson from the $20 bill. But Howard Kittell, the President and CEO of the Hermitage mansion, said attendance at the museum has surged since the election. “Jackson is probably getting more media attention now than when he was president,” he said.President Trump visited President Andrew Jackson’s home in March to celebrate his birthday.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
03/20/2017 07:45 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court on March 20 heard arguments regarding Cherokee Nation citizen Randy White’s appeal of the Election Commission decision that disqualified him as a Dist. 11 Tribal Council candidate. Dist. 11 covers Craig County, northern Mayes County and northern Nowata County. Prior to appeal arguments, the court rejected two motions – one for intervention in the case by the tribe’s attorney general’s office and the other to dismiss made by the EC. Attorney General Todd Hembree said he should be able to intervene because of his responsibility to uphold the CN Constitution. However, White’s attorney, Deb Reed, said the election law (Title 26) states the EC contracts with its attorney and that no other attorney may work on its behalf. Regarding the dismissal motion, EC attorney Harvey Chaffin said Title 26 states the EC may present evidence and testimony and that it “intends the EC be made a party.” “Once they’ve made a decision it’s my job to support that decision,” he said about the EC. Reed said Title 26 does not say “shall be a party” and that the EC had made its ruling. After a recess, the court denied both motions and stated the EC was welcome to present its evidence and testimony. Attorney Curtis Bruehl – representing Chance Hayes, who challenged White’s candidacy – said, “to run (for office) you need to have Cherokee blood running through your veins.” He said the 2006 Lucy Allen v. Cherokee Nation ruling states the “only time a legal right, under Cherokee law, depends on Cherokee blood, is when a person decides to run for elected office…we rely on the blood degree findings of the Dawes Commission to make sure our principal chief and council members are Cherokee citizens by blood. This guarantees Cherokee control of government, but that government is ultimately elected by a larger and more diverse constituency of citizens.” White is Shawnee by blood but a CN citizen via an 1869 agreement with the U.S. government to adopt Shawnees. In court documents, Bruehl states White is a CN citizen by adoption but not “by blood.” He said the CN Constitution states the Tribal Council will consist of those “who are citizens by blood of the Cherokee Nation.” Chaffin said there are three types of CN citizenship – Cherokees by blood, Delaware by adoption and Shawnee by adoption. He said the Allen case sets forth the reasoning why the “by blood” be Cherokee and not just a citizen to be a candidate for office. “Cherokees want to be governed by the Cherokees,” he said. Reed said Article 6, Section 3 of the CN Constitution states “any citizen by blood of the Cherokee Nation…” can be a Tribal Council candidate. Reed has argued that the statutory definition of “citizen by blood” includes Shawnee Cherokees based on a 2007 Constitutional amendment, 1999 Constitutional Convention delegate intent and the attorney general’s representations to the federal courts. She has also stated the CN Citizenship Act requires a person to “prove back directly to an individual who is listed by blood on a base roll.” She states the act defines the “by blood base roll” to include Shawnee Cherokees for CN citizenship. “‘Base roll’ means a specific list of individuals used for determining tribal citizenship…Those final rolls by blood used for citizenship purposes are Cherokee by blood, Cherokee minors by blood, Delaware Cherokees and Shawnee Cherokees,” she stated. She added that she agrees CN citizens elect their representatives and that White is “asking for a chance to run.” After the hearing, White said he doesn’t understand the confusion because all parties “go by what the Constitution states.” “They’re all arguing the same thing, but if they meant you had to be Cherokee blood, actual Cherokee blood, then they need to write it that way and they didn’t,” he said. “We’ve had other Cherokee Shawnees and Cherokee Delaware on council before. Why now is it being challenged?” Reed said Greg Pitcher, a Cherokee Shawnee, and Wathene Young, a Cherokee Delaware served on Tribal Council previously. According to the Tribal Council’s website, Pitcher served Craig and Nowata counties, and Young was an At-Large councilor. The court said it would rule by March 28. To view court documents relating to the case, visit cherokeecourts.org.
BY STAFF REPORTS
03/20/2017 01:00 PM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – On March 25, the Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club will host its annual wild onion lunch complete with salt pork, fry bread, grape dumplings and sassafras tea. “This season brings the cleansing of the body and the thinning of the blood and fond memories of going with my daddy in his old white Ford truck. Walking through the woods alongside the running creek water until we discovered the green tips of spring peeking through the blanket of autumn leaves,” said Debra West, IWPC president. “The Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club welcomes you to share our tradition.” The lunch will be from noon to 2 p.m. at the Claremore Senior Citizen’s Center located at 475 E. Blue Starr Drive. Adult tickets are $15 and children 10 and under are $5. Tickets are available at the door. For reservations, call Ollie Starr at 918-760-7499.