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 WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
10/23/2014 12:45 PM
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.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
10/22/2014 01:08 PM
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 State 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 of the changes but was told that until they pass the Tribal Council they are not final. “The By-laws and Rules & Regulations of the Election Commission that have been approved through the Election Commission still have to go through Council for approval before they are official, so those aren’t ready,” EC Administrator Madison Cornett said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/22/2014 11:42 AM
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.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/21/2014 01:06 PM
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.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
10/21/2014 08:05 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee youth from across northeastern Oklahoma were sworn in as Tribal Youth Councilors on Oct. 13 by Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Justice Darrell Dowty. The 17 youth raised their hands and took their oaths of office during the Tribal Council meeting. The TYC will serve a one-year term and gather monthly for a meeting and activities. Activities could consist of a guest speaker, a cultural tour/activity, leadership training or community service projects. “I just think it’s fantastic that we have some up-and-coming leaders. This Youth Council is growing our leaders for the future. I’m very appreciative of the ones who agreed to serve and the staff who are helping them,” Tribal Councilor Tina Glory Jordan said. Tribal Youth Councilor from Kansas, Oklahoma Taylor Armbrister, 15, said he wants to serve on the council because he knows it will offer opportunities for him to better himself along with learning more about his Cherokee culture and heritage. “I just saw an opportunity to better myself. I look forward to doing some community service. It’s always a joy to help people in need,” he said. Along with Armbrister, the Tribal Youth Councilors are Ja-li-si Pittman, 20, of Tahlequah; Haylee Caviness, 17, of Tahlequah; Jacob Chavez, 17, of Tahlequah; Haley Teehee, 17, of Tahlequah; Kaley Teehee, 17, of Tahlequah; Morgan Mouse, 16, of Welling; Ashton Shelley, 17, of Park Hill; Summer Eubanks, 17, of Stilwell; Elizabeth Hummingbird, 17, of Stilwell; Sarah Pilcher, 16, of Westville; Cierra Fields, 15, of Fort Gibson; Blake Henson, 16, of Fort Gibson; Bradley Fields, 15, of Locust Grove; Ashlee Fox, 17, of Bartlesville; Abigail Shepherd, 15, of Ochelata; and Cassidy Henderson, 15, of Welch. The TYC was established in 1989 to provide leadership opportunities for Cherokee youth and to educate youth about the tribal government, culture, history and language. “It’s a wonderful opportunity and a true privilege to serve on the Youth Council,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. During the meeting, Baker presented a framed proclamation to former Tribal Youth Councilor and current TYC Coordinator Lisa Trice-Turtle and other former Tribal Youth Councilors. The proclamation honors the 25th anniversary of the council, which officially formed Oct. 14, 1989. Baker read the proclamation, which stated the program has kept “the Cherokee Nation in the forefront of youth programs.” “The Tribal Youth Council strives to promote and protect Cherokee lifeways through community service projects and leadership opportunities, it has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of youth. Now therefore, I, Bill John Baker, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, do hereby proclaim Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, as celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council,” Baker read. Trice-Turtle thanked current and past Tribal Councilors for supporting the TYC. “Some of their children and relatives are now on the Tribal Youth Council or have served on the Tribal Youth Council. We have over 161 former Tribal Youth Council members who are in professional employment for the Cherokee Nation as well as the private sector. I just want to say thank you for supporting our tribal youth programs and keep supporting us,” she said. Hummingbird said she wanted to join the council to be more involved with her nation. “I’m proud of my culture and just love to have this opportunity to learn more about my culture,” she said. She said wants to learn how the Tribal Council operates and what the council does during meetings. A Keys High School senior, Shelley said she believes it’s important for youth to be involved in their nation and to support it because the youth will someday inherit the CN. “I just want to learn everything I possibly can from our elders and just everyone involved with the council,” she said. “I believe this experience will help me go further in life in general, not just in college, but everything.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/20/2014 11:50 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tahlequah Public Schools Foundation is hosting its 2014 Glow Golf Fall Event on Oct. 30 to raise funds for TPS. The event is a four-member team golf scramble with teams teeing off at dusk on the city’s course located at 2200 W. Golf Course Road. Registration for begins at 6 p.m. Sponsorship levels are diamond at $2,500; platinum at $1,000; gold at $500; team at $300 and media at $200. Most packages include four T-shirts, glow golf materials, a flashlight, dinner and drinks. According to its website, the foundation’s mission is to encourage the local community to support the TPS educational system, secure contributions and distribute funds and equipment for the students’ educational benefit. The website states the TPSF was organized in 1989 by concerned citizens who believe Tahlequah’s quality of life and economic development are directly related to the quality of its educational system. It is an independent, nonprofit, charitable organization established to assist the school in improving the quality of education in the district. The foundation is separate from TPS but works closely with the school system and administration. For more information about the golf scramble, call 918-456-3761 or 918-456-1300. Or email <a href="mailto: healthfirstchiropractic@yahoo.com">healthfirstchiropractic@yahoo.com</a>.