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
Reporter
08/31/2015 12:00 PM
DURANT, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Emalea Hudgens, a junior at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and a double major in psychology and music, recently spent a semester studying at the Swansea University, a public research university based in Wales of the United Kingdom. Hudgens received the title of Brad Henry International Scholar in 2014 and she studied abroad this past spring. The Jay native is a Cherokee Nation citizen and Harvey Scholar recipient. She is also a Savage Storm Leader and was selected to be in the President’s Leadership Class for 2012-13. Hudgens is a member of the Southeastern Chorale, Sparks Dance Team and Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority, according to the SOSU Communications Department. “I am very blessed and excited to get this opportunity to study abroad and become immersed in a different culture,’’ Hudgens said to the Southern, the SOSU newspaper. “It has been a life-long dream of mine to travel the world, and I cannot wait to share the stories and experiences with family and friends.” Hudgens said she felt fortunate to have studied overseas. “It has always been a dream of mine to study abroad and to live in Europe for a period of time. I hope to learn about their culture and get opportunities to work there myself, getting the experience that I need to do so. I just think it would be cool to work in a different culture.” She told the Cherokee Phoenix she was nervous to leave Oklahoma and live in a culture different than hers. “To say the least, it turned out to be the most life-changing experience. During my stay in Wales, I travelled to 11 different countries across Europe,” she said. “It was amazing to see the different cultures and the different people. I came to find people were very interested in hearing about the American culture and they found it fascinating to learn that I was a member of the Cherokee Nation.” Hudgens said studying abroad opened her eyes to many ideas about the world. “It is common to think the world is scary, but it is also very beautiful and filled with beautiful things,” she added. “Since travelling, I have created a passion to want to continue to travel and go see more of the world. I encourage everyone to travel if they get the opportunity.”
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
08/31/2015 10:00 AM
NEWKIRK, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation, with the approval of five other tribes, negotiated a lease of more than 8,000 acres to Weatherby Energy for oil and gas exploration at the former Chilocco Indian School in Kay County. CN Real Estate Services Director Ginger Reeves said meetings were held between the CN and Kaw, Pawnee, Ponca, Otoe-Missiouria and Tonkawa tribes in 2009. “Public Law 99-283 in the Federal Register grants Cherokee Nation the authority to lease the trust acres,” she said. “The leases are recorded at the Kay County Clerk’s Office in Newkirk, Oklahoma.” According to CN Resolution 134-09, Reeves said then Principal Chief Chad Smith and the Tribal Council approved a resolution to lease the property. “Regarding the referenced lease, the six Chilocco tribes’ trust lease was approved April 4, 2011, and has until April 4, 2016, to drill and produce or expire. Samson Resources Company, the current lessee, is in the process of assigning the lease to a Texas group (MPG Energy Inc., a subsidiary of Weatherby Energy.) Real Estate Services is processing that assignment approval through the BIA,” she said. Weatherby Energy has received Bureau of Indian Affairs approval for this assignment, officials said. The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to contact Weatherby Energy but did not receive a response as of publication. The Chilocco properties are trust and fee lands and the lease covers both. “The fee land lease will expire Nov. 5, 2015, unless they drill and produce. This fee lease was also recently assigned by Samson to the Texas group. Real Estate Services is processing the assignment for Cherokee Nation approval,” Reeves said. “Both leases were five-year leases and are filed in Cherokee Nation Title Plant. There is also a smaller acreage lease on fee lands at Chilocco with another oil company, which was in place before the lease started.” When the previous leases ended in the early 1990s, Reeves said it covered 320 acres and leased for $11,520 over a three-year term. She said it lasted longer because of oil and gas being produced in “paying quantities” from the property. Officials said the CN receives $8,736.30 on trust property annually plus $6,985.23 on fee property for a total of $15,721.53. A total of 8,152.61 acres are under lease with more than 5,000 acres being trust land and more than 2,300 acres in fee.
BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
08/31/2015 08:21 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials have filed a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. claiming the companies misbranded the drug Risperdal and failed to disclose risks posed to elderly patients. According to drugs.com, Risperdal is an antipsychotic medicine and is used to treat schizophrenia and symptoms of bipolar disorder and manic depression. Risperdal is also used in autistic children to treat symptoms of irritability. Initially filed by the tribe in April in Sequoyah County, where the drug was distributed at the Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw, the suit was moved in July to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma in Muskogee. According to court documents, the CN claims the companies admitted to selling the “misbranded” drug for unapproved uses more than a decade ago, during the time the tribe purchased it. The tribe also claims that from 1999 through 2005, the companies sold Risperdal for uses that were not approved as safe and effective and between March 3, 2002 and Dec. 31, 2003, the CN purchased the drug after the defendants expressed that the drug was not misbranded. The suit also claims negligence, breach of warranty, unjust enrichment and violation of the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act on the part of the companies. Court documents state the tribe “is entitled to restitution to the extent of the increased revenue received by defendants from Risperdal prescriptions that were purchased or reimbursed by the Cherokee Nation and which resulted from the sale of misbranded Risperdal.” The tribe is asking for a judgment of $75,000 for “attorney fees, civil penalties and all other relief this court deems just and equitable.” “The crux of our case is that unbeknownst to us, this drug is a bad drug,” CN Attorney General Todd Hembree said. “We prescribed it through our clinics to our citizens. We now know it’s a bad drug and we don’t do it anymore, but as a result of it damaging our citizens, we incur the extra costs of having to take care of those citizens. Money that we otherwise would not have spent if it had not been for this bad drug.” Currently, no hearing has been scheduled. In 2013, Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. reached a $2.5 billion settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over the marketing of the antipsychotic drug for failing to warn that it could cause gynecomastia, which is abnormal development of breasts in males. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler served as an expert witness for the family that issued the lawsuit and testified that Johnson & Johnson knew about the risks associated with Risperdal but failed to disclose the data showing the extent to which youth may develop gynecomastia. According to the Wall Street Journal, lawsuits continue to be filed against Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. across the country. The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to get a comment from Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals but was unsuccessful. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/8/9571_nws04_150814_JJSuit.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the lawsuit.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/27/2015 04:00 PM
LONGMONT, Colo. – The First Nations Development Institute is accepting applications for five $1,000 Native Agriculture and Food Systems Scholarships until Sept. 30. The program is to encourage more Native American college students to enter agricultural-related fields so they can one day assist their communities with food production, improving health and nutrition and eliminating food insecurity, according to the organization’s website. The scholarship can be used in degree fields such as agribusiness management, agriscience technologies, agronomy, animal husbandry, aquaponics, fisheries and wildlife, food production and safety, food-related policy and legislation, horticulture, irrigation science, plant-based nutrition and sustainable agriculture or food systems. Scholarship applicants must be a full-time undergraduate student majoring in agriculture or an agricultural-related field, be Native American with proof of tribal enrollment, have at least a 3.0 GPA and demonstrate a commitment to helping their community reclaim local food-system control. Applicants are also required to submit an enrollment verification form, unofficial transcript, letter of recommendation from a faculty member and a 250-500 word essay addressing how their degree program will help regain control over their local food and explaining how the money would be used. The FNDI’s mission is to strengthen American Indian communities by investing and creating institutions and models that support economic development. To apply, visit <a href="http://www.firstnations.org/grantmaking/scholarship" target="_blank">www.firstnations.org/grantmaking/scholarship</a>. For more information, call 303-774-7836 or email <a href="mailto: ktallmadge@firstnations.org">ktallmadge@firstnations.org</a> or <a href="mailto: mwhiting@firstnations.org">mwhiting@firstnations.org</a>.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
08/27/2015 02:00 PM
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – A Wyoming company has entered a partnership to develop a Washington state coal port for shipments of the fuel to Asia, in a deal that gives Montana's Crow Tribe the future option of a 5 percent stake in the project. Cloud Peak Energy paid $2 million up front and will pay up to $30 million to cover permitting expenses for the Gateway Pacific Terminal, in exchange for a 49 percent stake in the project, spokesman Rick Curtsinger said Friday. The port in the Puget Sound, just south of the U.S.-Canada border, would accommodate almost 60 million tons a year of coal and other commodities. Cloud Peak, based in Gillette, plans to construct a major mine on the Crow Reservation. Coal companies hope exports to Asia will shore up their industry, which has been battered by competition from cheap natural gas and more stringent restrictions on pollution caused by burning the fuel. Port sponsor SSA Marine retained a 51 percent ownership in the project. The tribe's stake in the port would come out of Cloud Peak's share, and Curtsinger said there is no upfront financial obligation for the Crow. However, if the Crow exercises its ownership option, the tribe would be responsible for 5 percent of construction financing, Curtsinger said. Washington state's Lummi Nation has pressed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny the project's permit because it would disrupt the tribe's fishing practices. The proposal also has met strong opposition from environmental groups worried about the greenhouse gases and other pollutants produced by burning coal. Crow Chairman Darren Old Coyote said the deal still needs approval from the tribal Legislature. Construction of the port would make it easier for Cloud Peak to develop and mine coal on the reservation, he said. "It's basically a low-risk, 5 percent stake," he said. Construction costs for Gateway Pacific have been estimated at $700 million, although that could change depending on any conditions attached to pending permits from state and federal agencies, said SSA Marine Senior Vice President Bob Watters. Watters said environmental studies on the proposed port could be done by the end of 2016. The ownership agreement gives Cloud Peak the right to exit the deal during the permitting phase and return its interests to SSA Marine. A previous deal gave Cloud Peak the option to move almost 18 million tons of coal annually through the port.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/27/2015 12:00 PM
BILLINGS, Mont. – The Professional Indian Horse Racing Association has launched a new website where Indian Relay fans will find everything they need to know about the current relay season, including PIHRA team members and current standings, as well as hotel, ticket and sponsor information for the All Nations Championships. This year, the All Nations Indian Relay Championships will be held Sept. 17-20 at the historic MetraPark Grandstands in Billings. The top teams representing 15 Indian nations will compete for more than $75,000 in money prizes, expenses and the coveted Champions’ Jackets and Belt Buckles. PIHRA was founded to promote Indian Relay, horsemanship and safety and has developed a season-long championship series, culminating with the All Nations Indian Relay Championships. There were 17 founding teams in 2013. Today, PIHRA membership is expected to exceed 60 teams. The teams come from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Montana, South Dakota and Canada. The tribes represented in relay include Oglala Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Crow, Shoshone-Bannock, Eastern Shoshone, the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Umatilla Confederated Tribes. For more information, visit the new website at <a href="http://www.letsrelay.com" target="_blank">www.letsrelay.com</a>.