Bill John Baker

Candidates for 2015 election declare

S. Joe Crittenden Chad Smith Cara Cowan Watts Lee Keener
S. Joe Crittenden
BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
01/10/2014 02:55 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Despite the filing period for the Cherokee Nation’s next election being more than a year away, three CN citizens have stated their intentions to run for the principal chief position in 2015.

Current Principal Chief Bill John Baker, former Principal Chief Chad Smith and Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts have publicly stated they plan to run for the position in 2015.

As of Jan. 10, CN Election Commission officials said they had not set dates for the candidate filing period. According to the tribe's election law, the filing date shall be a four-day period commencing at 8 a.m. on the first Monday of March of the election year and end at 5 p.m. on the first Tuesday following the first Monday.

Baker, who was elected principal chief in 2011, said he intends on having a second term as principal chief.

“We’re making progress everyday. We’ve got $100 million in our hospital and clinics. We’re in different stages of construction. We’re building homes for our people for the first time in a decade. We’ve done more scholarships for Cherokee students than have ever been done. The businesses are more profitable than they have ever been. We’ve expanded car tags to the entire state of Oklahoma. I mean things that have been dreamed about for years have happened only in the first two years of my administration.”

Baker also said he plans to have Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden as his running mate in the 2015 election.

“When I was running the first time, one of the things I heard when I was out in the communities was the need for positive change,” Crittenden said. “I believe change has happened and working with someone who has a vision and such a benevolent heart like Bill John Baker, it’s easy to follow someone like that. It’s been a good couple of years and I look forward to more.”

Smith, who announced his intention to run on Dec. 23, served three terms as principal chief from 1999 to 2011. Smith lost to Baker after a tumultuous election that had four recounts, the federal government intervening and a second chief’s election.

“Thousands and thousands of Cherokees have believed in me in the past years, and in the last election, and continue to share our optimistic vision for our Cherokee Nation,” he said.

Smith said he currently has no running mate.

Cowan Watts, who was elected as a Tribal Councilor in 2003, currently represents the tribe’s Dist. 13. She said she decided to run for chief in 2015 because she wants to continue serving the Cherokee people.

“I pledge to restore the Cherokee Nation to the Cherokee people by ensuring Cherokee preference in hiring and contracting is fully enforced,” Cowan Watts said. “By serving the Cherokee people first, there are many opportunities to improve our government and protect tribal sovereignty for future generations.”

Cowan Watts’ running mate for the deputy chief seat will be fellow Tribal Councilor Lee Keener, who represents Dist. 14. Keener said he is deciding to run as deputy chief because he feels the Nation is on an uncertain course.

“We will work with the council to bring transparency to our government, increase our productivity and workforce and expand access to health care, housing and education. Instead of making promises, we will deliver on them. It's time for new faces and new perspectives. We need new thinking in government. I run for the Cherokee families and for the future that they will inherit.”

The CN is Oklahoma’s largest American Indian tribe and one of the nation’s biggest, with a citizenship of more than 300,000 people. The Tahlequah-based tribe has a 14-county jurisdiction in eastern Oklahoma.

As of Jan. 9, the CN had more than 50,000 registered voters, according to EC officials.

According to a previous Cherokee Phoenix article, more than 15,000 voters cast ballots in the 2011 principal chief election.

tesina-jackson@cherokee.org


918-453-5000, ext. 6139

News

BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
07/29/2016 08:15 AM
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Arkansas group trying to get a casino initiative on the state’s November ballot has officially gotten approval for extra time to collect voter signatures. On July 28, the Arkansas secretary of state confirmed that Arkansas Wins in 2016 collected 63,725 verified signatures, earning the group 30 extra days to get enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 general election ballot that would expand commercial gaming operations to Washington, Boone and Miller counties. Should the measure pass, Cherokee Nation Entertainment has an agreement in place to own a casino, hotel and entertainment venue in Washington County, the state’s third-most populous county and home to the University of Arkansas’ flagship campus in Fayetteville. As per state statute, the group has to get signatures from 84,859 registered Arkansas voters from at least 15 different counties. However, if a proposed initiative gets at least 75 percent of the required signatures by the initial canvassing deadline, organizers can receive extra time to collect more signatures. The deadline for the Arkansas secretary of state to certify ballot questions for the Nov. 8 election is Aug. 26. On July 27, CNE Chief Operating Officer Mark Fulton told the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors at its July meeting in Catoosa, Oklahoma, that organizers expected to know the exact number of signatures still needed before the end of July. More than 92,000 signatures were collected during the initial window and unofficial testing came back with a validation rate in the mid-70 percent range, he said. “We would have loved to have had 85,000 signatures by that first deadline, but they (Arkansas Wins in 2016) are moving along great,” Fulton said. In a statement, Arkansas Wins in 2016 spokesman Robert Coon said he was upbeat about the group’s chances at getting enough valid signatures during the extra timeframe. “Our campaign has covered significant ground in a short period of time because voters across the state understand the positive impact this proposal will have in the form of jobs, economic growth, tourism and tax revenue,” he said. “We’re pleased with the results of the secretary of state’s validation process, and we remain confident in our ability to obtain the number of signatures necessary over the next several weeks to place this amendment on the ballot this November.” Currently, gaming options in Arkansas are restricted to a statewide lottery, a horse race facility with video poker in Hot Springs and a dog racing track in West Memphis. Arkansas law only allows casinos at facilities with parimutuel betting. In a June interview with the Tulsa World, CNB officials said the Cherokee Nation’s business entity would not help gather signatures and would only help with campaigning if the measure gets on the ballot. Fulton repeated the no-canvassing stance on July 27 before the CNB board. According to financial reports filed July 15 with the Arkansas Ethics Commission, CNB donated $1 million to Arkansas Winning Initiative Inc., a separate nonprofit entity with the same stated goal and officers as Arkansas Wins in 2016. Neither CNB nor CNE is listed on any financial statements submitted by Arkansas Wins in 2016. The Cherokee Phoenix filed a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of any agreements between CNB and Arkansas Wins in 2016 regarding CNB’s involvement in the Arkansas ballot initiative and the terms of the potential casino construction. Citing confidentiality clauses and proprietary information listed within the agreement, the request was denied on July 26, but in the rejection letter FOIA Officer Gwen Terrapin wrote that CNB and CNE are parties to a contribution agreement with Arkansas Winning Initiative Inc.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/28/2016 03:13 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation attorney general’s office and Cherokee Nation Foundation filed separate cases in the tribe’s District Court against former CNF Executive Director Kimberlie Gilliland for alleged embezzlement and fraud. The attorney general’s case lays out criminal charges against Gilliland, seeking jail time and fines. Former Attorney General Diane Hammons has been appointed as a special prosecutor for the case, according to CN Communications. The CNF, represented by attorney Ralph Keen Jr., filed a civil case in District Court, seeking a repayment by Gilliland of $232,000 in funds in addition to more than $900,000 in punitive damages.” Attorney General Todd Hembree said it’s the duty of the attorney general to safeguard assets of the CN. “During this investigation, we uncovered fraud and corruption that cannot, and will not, be tolerated in our organization,” he said. According to the release, the charges stem from a more-than-two-year investigation involving irregularities in Gilliland’s salary, travel, spending and awarding of CNF scholarships. Gilliland was appointed to serve as executive director in 2009 and served until 2013. “The primary mission of the Cherokee Nation Foundation is to provide higher education opportunities to qualifying Cherokee students as a means of reaching their full academic potential,” Keen Jr. said. “Significant assets have been wrongfully embezzled and converted to the detriment of those deserving students. It is my client’s solemn duty and obligation to utilize the full extent of civil law to recover those assets and return them to the mission for which they were intended and entrusted.” An arraignment hearing has been set for 11 a.m. on Aug. 12 at the District Court, according to a court document. For more information, visit http://www.cherokee.org/attorneygeneral/Home.aspx. Check back with the Cherokee Phoenix for further developments.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/27/2016 05:00 PM
OOLOGAH, Okla. – The annual Will Rogers & Wiley Post Fly-In will be held Aug. 13 at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch. The event commemorates the Aug. 15, 1935, deaths of Rogers, a Cherokee humorist, and Post, a pilot, in Point Barrow, Alaska, 81 years ago. Pilots from throughout the area will land small planes on a 2,000-foot grass airstrip at the ranch. Some of the visiting planes are vintage warplanes from World War II and other eras. The fly-in provides an opportunity for the public to get a close-up look at airplanes and meet the pilots. Pilots are also able to meet fellow aviators and people who appreciate their planes. Called the “crash heard around the world,” newspapers all over the world reported the deaths of Rogers and Post. The two were in search of a mail and passenger air route from the West Coast of the United States to Russia. Pilots start landing shortly after daybreak and spend the morning showcasing their antique and classic planes. The fly-in started with a simple program in the shade of the house where Rogers was born on Nov. 4, 1879. It grew from a dozen or so planes to 50 planes in 2004 to a record number in 2015 of more than 130 pilots and their planes. The event outgrew the parking and a part of the ranch pasture is now parking. The “2016 National Day of Remembrance ” will be celebrated for the second year to honor any pilot and passengers who have died in a small plane crash. A lapel pin, with a picture of Rogers in a flight jacket has been designed to pay tribute to flyers. A gold circle surrounds Rogers’ photo with his quote, “She’s a beautiful day and we are flying high.” It will be presented to a family member of a deceased pilot or passenger. Additional pins are $5 each. Names of deceased pilots or passengers will be honored on the website willrogers.com, if requested. Rogers and Post are enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame and Oklahoma Hall of Fame. The major airport in Oklahoma City is the Will Rogers World Airport. Wiley Post airport, a feeder airport, is just a few miles away. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Gates will open at 7 a.m. and people are encouraged to bring lawn chairs. There will be classic cars and motorcycles on display, activities for children and food vendors. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.willrogers.com" target="_blank">www.willrogers.com</a>.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL
The Oklahoman © 2016
07/27/2016 01:00 PM
PHILADELPHIA – Four years ago, at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker called President Barack Obama “the best president for Indian Country in the history of the United States.” Baker is here this week hoping Hillary Clinton succeeds Obama in office next year. “I truly believe that Hillary gets the issues of sovereign nations,” Baker said on Monday. Baker recalled her talking to tribal officials in the mid-1990s, when her husband, Bill Clinton, was president. That discussion was soon followed by an executive order that cut through red tape and allowed tribes to deal directly with government agencies, rather than working through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he said. “I'm proud to support Hillary Clinton,” Baker said. “I think she will make a wonderful president.” The Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, is hosting delegates and visitors this week in a tent on the grounds of the Wells Fargo Center, where the Democratic National Convention is being held. The tribe has speakers scheduled throughout the week, including U.S. senators. Monday's speaker was former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris, who represented Oklahoma from 1964 to 1973, served as national Democratic Party chairman and ran for president. His former wife, LaDonna, was a prominent American Indian activist. The Chickasaw Nation is sponsoring meals in the Cherokee Nation tent. Kalyn Free, an Oklahoma delegate at the convention and an attorney for the Cherokee Nation, said Baker and his staff have dozens of meetings scheduled here this week with business leaders and members of Congress. “Our mission is to ensure tribal issues like education opportunities, improved health care access and job development that will spur economic growth in Indian County remain at the forefront of policymakers,” she said. Baker's chief of staff, Chuck Hoskin, was on the committee that wrote the platform. Muscogee Creek National Council Speaker Steve Bruner served on the rules committee. Baker's mother, Isabel Baker, a longtime Democratic activist in Oklahoma, is also a delegate here. Free said Obama “prioritized our issues like never before. He populated his staff with talented Native people, hosted tribal summits, reached settlements in the Cobell and Keepseagle cases, passed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and signed the Violence Against Woman Act. … He has set the bar very high for his successor, and I know (Clinton) will raise it even higher.” Baker met with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in Washington earlier this year and said he doesn't understand why Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump would refer to her as Pocahontas. “It makes no sense to me whatsoever,” Baker said. Warren, who was born in Oklahoma, was heavily criticized four years ago for claiming to be a Cherokee while on the faculty at Harvard University. The Cherokee Nation was not able to verify her ancestry, and Trump has chided her for it numerous times. Baker said Monday that Trump “is probably a shrewd businessman and probably a good father. “I just don't think his rhetoric is what America wants or needs.” – Reprinted with permission
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
07/26/2016 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Don’t bank on seeing Cherokee Nation or the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association officials playing fantasy football any time soon. Speaking to attendees on July 14 of the Reservation Economic Summit inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, CN Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Ross Nimmo, OIGA Executive Director Sheila Morago and OIGA Chairman Brian Foster said while they are not necessarily opposed to daily fantasy sports, that type of gaming constitutes a violation of the exclusivity provisions of Oklahoma’s current gaming compacts. Daily fantasy sports involves participants picking professional athletes to be a part of their fantasy teams for anywhere from a day to a year. Depending on those athletes’ real-life performances, a participant can win cash or other prizes. Sites such as DraftKings.com and FanDuel.com contend that fantasy sports is a game of skill rather than gambling because successful participants often research different athletes, playing conditions and other potential factors before forming their teams. However, none of the RES panelists are buying that argument. “We all know people who have no knowledge or skill of specific players who play fantasy football or whatever sport is in season,” Ross Nimmo said. “We’re (tribes) not necessarily against daily fantasy sports. We want to be involved with them. However, we have a legal right to administer and oversee certain types of gaming in this state, and it’s important that the tribes all be on the same page when it comes to this.” The current gaming compact used by the CN and more than 25 other tribes across the state provides for exclusivity for certain forms of gambling in Oklahoma in return for an annual fee. Prior to the 2016 state legislative session, a measure was introduced that would have allowed for daily fantasy sports leagues in Oklahoma. However, with the proposal viewed as a potential violation of the compact, the state’s tribes banded together to stop the proposal. “We killed that bill in seven hours,” Morago said, calling any legislative consideration of the state giving up exclusivity fees in exchange for $500,000 in commercial licensing fees “fuzzy math.” According to the OIGA, tribal gaming had a $4.2 billion economic impact statewide in 2014, the most recent year with available data. Since the implementation of Oklahoma’s Class III gaming compacts more than a decade ago, tribal casinos have contributed $1.3 billion just to the state’s education fund. “By far, gaming is the largest job creator in several counties,” Morago said. “The biggest misconception is that all Indians are rich because of gaming. It’s going to take more than 30 years (of gaming) to make that happen.” State-tribal gaming compacts, including the CN’s, are set to expire on Jan. 1, 2020. With Kansas and other states turning to commercial gaming to fill budget holes, all three panelists urged Oklahoma’s tribes to work together and present a united front in the pending negotiations. “If there are any changes, it is very important that the tribes are united on this,” Ross Nimmo said. “That way it’s a lot harder for the state to make extreme changes. If one tribe goes out on their own and strikes a deal, there’s not much leverage.”
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
07/26/2016 08:30 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – National Museum of American Indian officials, Cherokee Nation leaders and Native veterans gathered July 21 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to discuss and share ideas about the creation of a National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial would be built on NMAI grounds, and a committee is traveling Indian Country to gather ideas and support for the $15 million project. “Many fine, young Native men and women have served. To all of them, through the generations, we owe a debt of gratitude. They are true American heroes and deserved to be included. With all of the monuments that are in Washington, D.C., none of them (specifically) recognize Native veterans. This monument will do that, so it’s especially important that we get this done,” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said at the meeting. He added that the memorial should “be representative of all tribes” in the country. In 2013, Congress authorized the establishment of a National Native American Veterans Memorial on the NMAI’s grounds to give “all Americans the opportunity to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of Native Americans in the United States armed forces.” However, the legislation states no federal funds may be used for the memorial’s creation. Therefore, all funds must be raised. The memorial will be located prominently outside the NMAI in an area not yet chosen. The NMAI is located between the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall and the U.S. Capital. Northern Cheyenne veteran and former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Chickasaw Nation Lt. Gov. Jefferson Keel, a Vietnam veteran, chair the advisory committee for the memorial. Also, 24 committee members represent the geographic diversity of Indian Country and several branches of the U.S. armed forces. “I’ve listened to other people talk about things that they see, their vision for this memorial. We’re talking about a design that educates America about what the warrior spirit really is,” Keel said. “How do we capture that in a single memorial? How do you put in (the ideas) of every tribe in this country? You’re talking about 567 federally recognized tribes.” Keel said such consultation meetings are important for gathering ideas from as many tribes as possible. The meetings began in January. Keel, NMAI Director Kevin Gover and other committee members will visit all 12 regions of the country through June 2017 seeking input and support for the memorial. During the fall of 2017, the committee will call for design proposals, and in the summer of 2018, a jury will select a final design. Construction will begin in the fall of 2018 with a completion date set for fall 2020. The memorial will be unveiled and dedicated on Veterans Day 2020. Some veterans who spoke at the July 21 meeting suggested that technology be used to tell more of the Native American military service story that the memorial won’t be able to fully tell. For instance, an app could be created for smart phones that would allow visitors to learn more about Native veterans and their long history of serving this country. Cherokee Nation citizen Carol Savage, of Grove, spoke about family members who served in the military and said she hopes the memorial will make a “visual impact.” She used the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., that utilizes bronze statues of soldiers walking through a rice paddy as an example that makes a visual impact. Muscogee (Creek) Marine veteran Joe Taylor, of Tulsa, said he wants the memorial to reflect the spirituality of Native people and wants the committee to ensure the memorial gets an original design. “I’d like to see something that’s going to be there to remind people that there is a spirit that moves us,” Taylor said. Gover said there would not be room for all ideas and stories of Native veterans, so that’s why he is glad the Library of Congress has asked the NMAI for help in reaching Indian Country to gather veterans’ stories. He said the NMAI is hoping to assemble “the best roster possible” of every Native person who has served in the U.S. armed forces and plans to place those names in a new area inside the museum. “We want it to be where somebody can walk up and read some general information, but then they could look up a specific veteran and see their relatives or their friends or whomever they would like to see,” Gover said. “In order to do that we’re going to need a lot of help from the tribes because tribes have better lists of their veterans.” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he at some point would discuss with the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors about donating to the memorial fund. “I think you’ll be surprised how this will be received in Indian Country for fundraising,” Baker said. To learn more about the memorial, visit <a href="http://www.AmericanIndian.si.edu" target="_blank">Click here to view</a> or email <a href="mailto: NMAI-NativeVeteransMemorial@si.edu">NMAI-NativeVeteransMemorial@si.edu</a>.