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 TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
12/18/2014 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – During its Dec. 5 meeting, Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission Chairwoman Stacy Leeds announced that starting in January the commission would require a series of amendments to its regulations to implement the recently amended Gaming Commission Act. “As you all know as soon as we hit the ground running in January we will require a series of amendments to our own regulations to implement the new ordinance, and our first order of business will be taking up changes to licensing,” Leeds said. CN Attorney General Todd Hembree said that whatever changes are made would come from the CNGC. “If policies are changed they will go through the Administrative Procedures Act, and there is a publication period and a public comment period,” he said. “These will not happen overnight. There are processes.” In April, Tribal Councilors limited the CNGC’s regulatory powers over Cherokee Nation Entertainment operations with Legislative Act 07-14. In June, the council made technical changes to that act with LA 17-14. Principal Chief Bill John Baker signed both acts but the amendments didn’t become law until they received National Indian Gaming Commission approval on Oct. 27. Before the NIGC approved the amended act, the CNGC regulated all gaming operations, including auditing, to ensure compliance with the act and any regulations adopted by the CNGC. The CNGC also enforces any gaming-related compacts with the state. The amendment calls for the CNGC to regulate and issue regulations only related to CNE’s gaming operations and follow only the NIGC’s minimum internal control standards or MICS. Before, the CNGC was required to establish tribal internal control standards or TICS to meet the tribe’s specific gaming needs. Nongaming operations would include areas such as food, beverage, hotel and entertainment. Because the CNGC would no longer be regulating them, they would fall under the regulation of Cherokee Nation Businesses and CNE, according to the amended act. “So it’s my understanding that the attorney general will visit with the council, see what their desires are and he’ll propose back to us regulations that would be put into effect and those would be put into effect in this body and through our regulatory process just like everything else,” Leeds said. “But I think as a courtesy to the council we get their point of view about how that is carried through and then it becomes part of our general regulatory structure like anything else would.” Hembree said if there were changes in policy there would be changes in the way CNB does business and it would have to follow the law and the policies. He added that he has met with Leeds, Gaming Commission Director Jamie Hummingbird, CNB officials to address changes and questions. “With any change there are questions. One thing I believe the intent of the amendments were was to ensure that CNB played on a level playing field with other gaming facilities and that the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission was able to maintain their very well oversight of the gaming operations and that they adhere to the strict federal standards that are there,” Hembree said. “It comes into the interpretation of what is an operational facility, what is a gaming activity. Those are the questions that we are working out. I do not believe that there will be much that changes from the implementation of these amendments.” Hembree said he, Leeds and Hummingbird also met with NIGC legal staff in Washington, D.C., to discuss issues that may or may not arise. “I wouldn’t say concerns, but there’s unknown because we’re exploring new ground on this,” he said. “There are going to be questions that if X happens how does that effect Y, and that’s why we are meeting and working out the details and implementation. We’re not just blindly going into this. Before these things happen we talk it out and make sure we are all on the same page.” The revised act also called for the creation of a three member, non-voting advisory board to be made up of Tribal Councilors. According to the act, Tribal Councilors shall appoint the advisory board with members serving three-year terms. Leeds said the CNGC knows there will be an advisory board but commission officials have no guidance on how or when it’s going to be implemented. According to the previous and revised act, the CNGC is part of the tribe’s executive branch that carries out the Nation’s responsibilities under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the NIGC’s regulations. The act states the CNGC shall be consistent with all laws and resolutions of the Tribal Council. When asked if the advisory board violates the Constitution’s separation of powers clause, Hembree said it does not because the board would serve as a non-voting board. He added that advisory board members would get access to information that a sitting commissioner would get. Hembree also said, as of Dec. 11, he had not met with the Tribal Council but would be giving suggestions to its legal counsel “as to the policies of how the advisory members are chosen, their length of term, how they resolve any potential or perceived conflicts of interest.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/18/2014 02:23 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Hunger Buster Beef Cuts, a made-in-Oklahoma company, donated 720 pounds of beef cuts to the Cherokee Nation Foundation to supplement programs helping the tribe’s citizens facing food insecurities. Wal-Mart, Hunger Buster and Jason Christie, professional angler and CN citizen, presented the donation to tribal officials on Dec. 11. “Our mission is to provide education assistance to Cherokee students,” CNF Executive Director Janice Randall said. “We know hunger is often an obstacle to learning. This is a way for us to support the Nation’s efforts in addressing food insecurities and provide more food for backpacks going home with kids this winter.” As part of Christie’s partnership with Hunger Buster Beef Cuts and Wal-Mart, the company is donating 25 percent of all products sold at participating Wal-Mart locations to the CNF in the form of beef sticks. Hunger Buster as well as Cherokee Nation Businesses sponsors Christie. “Wal-Mart is proud to partner with Hunger Buster Beef Cuts and Jason Christie to provide a great product to our customers,” Jim Enneking, fishing buyer for Wal-Mart, said. “We are excited to be part of the donation to the Cherokee Nation Foundation to combat hunger.” Christie and Wal-Mart chose the CNF to receive the beef cuts in hopes a portion would be used to support backpack programs throughout the rural areas of the CN as well as other CN programs addressing food insecurities. Backpack programs provide a bag of shelf-stable food to elementary, junior high and high school students at risk of going hungry over weekends and school holidays. “I am a big advocate of giving back to the community, and Cherokee Nation is a major part of our community,” Christie said. “I take pride in representing Hunger Buster Beef Cuts not only because they are a healthy snack, but because of their 25 percent donation of food to charities. I value being a part of that.” Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick was instrumental in forming the partnership and praised the donation. “Jason is a former educator and coach at a rural school district and is aware of some of the hardships our kids face,” he said. “His generosity to give back to our tribe and help these kids from missing one less meal is overwhelming. It takes a tribe to raise these children.” “We couldn’t be more proud of Jason and his example of leadership and giving back,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “We will work diligently alongside the foundation to ensure this donation supplements our existing programs. I know it will be utilized by Cherokee families and Cherokee children in need.” Hunger Buster beef sticks are 100 percent beef, gluten-free, low-calorie, low-carb, low-sugar and contain no MSG or trans fat. “Jason Christie is a valuable partner of ours, having been a major supporter of our products and our mission to help feed the hungry,” Richard Cranford, owner of QuarterShare LLC, said. “We are pleased that the Cherokee Nation Foundation is his choice to receive our donation. To provide children with nutritious snacks is a principal priority for our company.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/18/2014 12:21 PM
TULSA, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Technologies, a division of Cherokee Nation Businesses, has advanced and expanded its abilities to support unmanned systems integration and operations. Recently retired Department of Defense acquisition professional and naval aviator John Coffey is leading CNT’s efforts to offer unmanned support and services. “We have a long standing relationship with several key agencies focused on developing unmanned systems,” Steven Bilby, president of CNB diversified businesses, said. “John’s experience and knowledge has proven to be valuable and we look forward to his leadership in advancing our position in the market.” Coffey teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create and implement an unmanned systems strategy that delivers recommendations for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems and other unmanned technologies as well. “This is a wonderful opportunity for CNT to advance into a thriving business with the potential to have a lasting economic impact and create jobs,” Coffey said. “There is estimated to be $70 to $100 billion pumped into the economy through the development of UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) over the next 10 years, and CNT is striving to be at the forefront of the industry.” The team works to conduct in-depth analyses of new and developing systems and evaluates the different observation requirements in hopes to establish how those needs can be attained by using unmanned aerial vehicles. According to a CN press release, the two major systems in development are the Puma, a ship-launched unmanned aerial vehicle specializing in low-altitude and short-endurance missions and the Global Hawk, which is the size of a 737 aircraft and made for high-altitude and long-endurance missions. “Our goal is to match systems to requirements that will increase organizational observing capacity and develop high-science-return missions such as high-impact weather monitoring, polar monitoring and marine monitoring,” Coffey said. “Unmanned systems have the potential to efficiently, effectively and economically fulfill observation requirements in an environmentally friendly manner, and it is a privilege to be a part of these industry advancements.” For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokee-cnt.com" target="_blank">www.cherokee-cnt.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/18/2014 10:18 AM
PORTLAND, Ore. – Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, a national group of Native American parents dedicated to ending the use of Native mascots, have shown support for the Oklahoma City Public School Board of Education’s recent decision to stop the re¬enactment of the 1889 Land Run and to change the name of the Redskins mascot at Capital Hill High School. According to its press release, the group stated it applauded “the efforts of Native American students and parents of OKCPS Native American Student Services to educate their community on the harm of Native mascotry.” For more information, call Jennie Stockle at 918-¬312-¬0467 or email jenniestockle@yahoo.com or call Jacqueline Keeler at 503-¬915-¬5011 or email <a href="mailto: jackiekeeler@mac.com"> jackiekeeler@mac.com</a>.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
12/18/2014 08:06 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At its Dec. 9 meeting, the Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission denied a request by former Principal Chief Chad Smith for an investigation of current Principal Chief Bill John Baker and his use of monies prior to the 2015 tribal election. Commissioners and their attorney in executive session discussed a letter sent by Smith that alleges Baker is illegally operating push polls, stating that Baker’s “illegal expenditures continue.” “On Nov. 11, 2014, Cherokee citizens Pat Stanek of Portland, Oregon, and Brenda Smith Jaye reported push polls,” the letter states. Smith also states he sent the same request to CN Marshal Shannon Buhl with his point of contact being Deputy Marshal Scott Craig, who informed Smith that the CN Attorney General’s Office told the Marshal Service to terminate the investigation until the EC determined there was wrongdoing. In a response letter from EC Chairman Bill Horton, he states the commission requested EC attorney Harvey Chaffin to determine if any illegal activity had taken place. “Mr. Smith’s letters allege acts of expenditures in violation of Election Law. No provision in Election Law prohibits expenditures more than six months prior to an election,” the letter states. “Further, no prohibition is found prohibiting a potential candidate from making expenditures from their own funds more than six months prior to an election. The prohibition is on accepting contributions more than six months prior to an election. Mr. Smith’s letters do not allege that campaign contributions have been accepted more than six months prior to the election.” The letter further states the commission would not act on Smith’s request because it found no investigation was warranted because no election laws look to have been violated. In other business, the EC voted to mail out voter identification and voter registration notification cards. EC officials said notification cards are sent out after a voter-initiated change is made. The card tells the type of voter one is and his or her precinct. “The red card goes out in May for the jurisdictional voters (voters who vote within the 15 districts), which gives the address of their precinct location,” EC officials state. “The reason there are red cards sent out in May to the jurisdictional voters is because we have to confirm addresses of all the precincts locations and let voters know at least 45 days before the election. Red cards are not sent out to the At-Large voters who are not registered in the districts because they vote by absentee ballot.” It costs approximately 34 cents to mail either card. That cost is subject to change depending on postage. As of Dec. 1, there were 63,498 registered voters, which is subject to change daily. The EC voted to use the post cards it previously operated with and revisit the new cards after the 2015 election. “They will go to all voters who either send in a new application or make any changes,” officials said. The EC approved the voter ID or “red card” that EC Director Connie Parnell presented at the meeting. Also, commissioners heard two public requests, one from At-Large tribal citizen Deborah Scott and one from the Cherokee Phoenix. Scott requested that EC official attend a meeting in Anadarko to present information to assist voters in the 2015 election. That request was denied because the information requested is online or will be near the first of the year, officials said. The Cherokee Phoenix requested that it and the EC enter into a memorandum of understanding reflecting an agreement that the Phoenix not be charged for any public documents requested from the EC, including voter lists. “Under the Cherokee Nation Freedom of Information Act, disclosure of these documents is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in any commercial interest,” the Phoenix request states. “We believe that this agreement would be beneficial to both departments because it would demonstrate the Election Commission’s commitment to transparency, and it would allow the Cherokee Phoenix to reliably report this valuable public information to the Cherokee people.” However, the EC denied the request stating the Phoenix is like anyone else and should pay for voter lists.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/16/2014 04:00 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal officials appear to have violated ethics rules governing impartiality in awarding a contract to evaluate schools attended by tens of thousands of Native American students, a federal watchdog says. The report comes as President Barack Obama makes high-profile promises to fix the schools, which are among the nation’s lowest performing and have been plagued by crumbling buildings needing $1 billion in repairs. It is the latest to highlight problems in the management and oversight of the schools. The Interior Department’s inspector general investigation concerned an $800,000-plus contract awarded early in Obama’s term to assess the schools’ management and student achievement. The main focus was Brian Drapeaux, who served as chief of staff of the department’s Bureau of Indian Education, when the contract was issued and later became acting director. The initial contract had been awarded to Personal Group Inc., a South Dakota-based company, where Drapeaux had worked on separate occasions, including within 12 months of joining the Interior Department. A department contract specialist raised conflict of interest concerns and canceled the contract and said the company, known as PerGroup, could not participate in the contract at any level and that all key decision makers should certify that there was no conflict of interest. She alleged in 2011 that she had been removed from handling the contract because of her actions. Nevertheless, the IG concluded, PerGroup was allowed to stay on the project as a subcontractor under another company and was responsible for 41 percent of the contractual work. Keith Moore, who served as director of BIE until 2012, along with Drapeaux maintained a longstanding friendship with PerGroup, according to the inspector general. The report said the two officials “appear to have acted in violation of federal ethics regulations governing impartiality ... and the use of public office for private gain.” “Finally,” it said, “other BIE officials who knew of these conflicts of interest chose to ignore them during the procurement process.” The IG said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia had declined to prosecute the case but referred it back to the Interior Department for further action, which was taken on Sept. 30. “This issue is considered resolved and no further action will be taken,” Jessica Kershaw, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said in an email. She said the department would not reveal the action because of privacy reasons. Kershaw said the department did not adopt the contractor’s recommendations. Drapeaux and Moore declined to comment. Officials from PerGoup did not respond to requests for comment. Obama addressed the challenges facing Native American youth in a historic visit to an Indian reservation last summer and again at the White House summit this week. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has announced a series of steps to restructure the federal bureaucracy that oversees the schools and turn more control over tribes. Just this week as part of the White House summit on Native Americans, Jewell reaffirmed the federal government's historic failures in connection with the schools, which goes back to the 19th century when many Native American children were forcibly assimilated in boarding schools away from their families. The government has a treaty and trust responsibility to run them, and about 40,000 students attend the more than 180 schools. The IG report follows one by the Government Accountability Office that found the schools had millions in unaccounted for dollars, including money for special education. The IG’s findings were posted initially online, but the IG’s office temporarily took the report down to make minor adjustments. It was reposted.