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

About the Author
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter.    

In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization.
TESINA-JACKSON@cherokee.org • 918-453-5000 ext. 6139
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter. In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization.

Money

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
12/22/2014 11:23 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – In a special Dec. 15 meeting, the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors approved two transfers for lands in West Siloam Springs and Roland to Cherokee Nation Construction Resources for future home construction projects. Twenty-nine lots of land in West Siloam Springs and 26 lots in Roland will be used for housing. CNCR, a division of CNB, will oversee the construction of 52 homes and then sell them to the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation after they are built. The HACN provides housing for CN citizens. “We are at the point where we need to take care of administrative matters transferring title of land so that the appropriate entity can move forward with the work at hand,” CNB Executive Vice President Charles Garrett said. In West Siloam Springs, the HACN and CNCR are in the process of finalizing an agreement, officials said. They said the agreement states that CNCR will construct homes on sites previously approved by the HACN, and upon completion, the HACN will purchase those homes from CNCR. Cherokee Nation Enterprises, the entertainment division of CNB, previously held the 29 lots behind the WSS Cherokee Casino. “It was in effect surplus property. So we’re going to be re-engineering that area...for the construction of these homes,” Garrett said. Garrett asked the board to consider transferring the land from CNE to CNCR. Previously, the board transferred the land from CNE to the HACN. To expedite the financing of the homes, it was deemed “more advantageous” to transfer the land to CNCR and for Construction Resources to build the homes and then allow the HACN purchase them, he said. “That’s the sequence of events we expect, and will be documented in the agreement,” Garrett said. “We’ll give them (HACN) an invoice and that invoice will reflect cost, and we’re currently contemplating a plus-3 percent service fee.” Garrett said he and CNB Chief Financial Officer Doug Evans were working a way to allocate the cost to CNE for giving up the land for the two housing projects. In Roland, Cherokee Nation Property Management, another CNB entity, has under contract 26 lots of property. Garrett requested the board reassign that contract to CNCR and then provide authorization to CNCR to close on the property on Dec. 17. Garrett said it’s the same strategy as in West Siloam Springs. CNCR would build 23 homes on the Roland and the HACN would purchase those homes from CNCR after they are built. The board approved the transfer of the property from CNPM to CNCR and authorized Construction Resources to close on the property.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/21/2014 04:00 PM
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar’s reference to American Indians as “wards of the federal government” has struck a harsh chord with tribal members and legal experts in the days following a discussion about a controversial Arizona land deal that would make way for the country’s largest copper mine. The Arizona Republican was responding to concerns from Phil Stago of the White Mountain Apache Tribe when he made the comment that stunned people at the round-table talk. Stago said the phrase is antiquated and ignores advances made in tribes managing their own affairs and seeking equal representation when it comes to projects proposed on land they consider sacred. “He kind of revealed the truth - the true deep feeling of the federal government: `Tribes, you can call yourselves sovereign nations, but when it comes down to the final test, you’re not really sovereign because we still have plenary authority over you,’” Stago told The Associated Press. Gosar spokesman Steven Smith said that wasn’t the intent of the congressman, whose constituents in the 4th Congressional District include Apache tribes. He didn’t respond to requests to elaborate further. “If that’s what he got out of that, I think it’s misconstrued,” Smith said. “If you look at the work the congressman has done, that’s far from the truth.” Smith said Gosar has been an advocate for strengthening the relationship between tribes and the federal government. He pointed to legislation he sponsored this year that would do so. Gosar held the discussion Friday in Flagstaff with Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who grew up with Stago on Arizona’s Fort Apache Reservation. Dozens of people attended the meeting to discuss land, mining and forest issues with the representatives. One topic they addressed was a proposal to swap 2,400 acres of southeastern Arizona’s Tonto National Forest for about 5,300 acres of environmentally sensitive land throughout the state controlled by a subsidiary of global mining giant Rio Tinto. Stago said the proposal was disrespectful to tribal sovereignty. Gosar said: “You’re still wards of the federal government,” according to the Arizona Daily Sun. While former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall described tribes’ relationship with the federal government as that of a ward to its guardian in the 1830s, that characterization has long been irrelevant, experts in federal Indian law said. Tribal members once seen as incompetent in the Supreme Court’s eyes became U.S. citizens in 1924, and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 pushed the concept of tribal sovereignty and self-determination, said Troy Eid, a Republican and former U.S. attorney in Colorado. Congress maintains control over Indian affairs. However, the Interior Department is moving away from archaic paternalism when it comes to relationships with tribes, a spokeswoman said. The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ website notes the federal government is a trustee of Indian property - not the guardian of all American Indians and Alaska Natives. Eid said the language that defines core concepts of Indian law is old and often ethnically offensive. “Wards of the federal government” is no different, he said. “That’s just not appropriate,” Eid said. “In the heated context of what this represents, it’s especially inappropriate to be resorting to what amounts to race baiting.” The trend has been for tribes to take more control over their affairs while holding the federal government to promises generally born out of treaties. In exchange for tribal land, the government promised things like health care, education and social services in perpetuity for members of federally recognized tribes. Some tribes are taking advantage of federal laws that allow them to prosecute felony crimes and assert jurisdiction over non-Natives in limited cases of domestic violence. They also have the authority to approve trust land leases directly, rather than wait for BIA approval. Sam Deloria, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who served for 35 years as director of the American Indian Law Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said tribes welcome discussion about policy matters. But when someone makes a comment like Gosar’s, “it doesn’t contribute much to the debate,” he said.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/21/2014 12:00 PM
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) – The Northern Arapaho tribe has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that proposed Internal Revenue Service rules could cause Native Americans to pay higher insurance premiums or lose health care benefits. Tribal leaders said the recently proposed IRS interpretation of the large-employer mandate would unlawfully exempt Native Americans working for the tribe from receiving tax credits and cost-sharing benefits specifically outlined by new federal health laws. Northern Arapaho Business Council members said the IRS rule would eliminate tribal tax credits for health care benefits and make those earning more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level exempt from cost-sharing provisions that currently cover Native American insurance premiums. “The Northern Arapaho Business Council fully supports what Congress and the president have accomplished with the Affordable Care Act,” said Northern Arapaho Councilman Darrell O’Neal, “but the folks in the agencies have taken a wrong turn in implementing it.” The Northern Arapaho Tribe has about 10,000 enrolled citizens and shares a large reservation in Wyoming, southeast of Grand Teton National Park. It employs more than 600 people. The tribe insures its workers with plans from the federal health insurance marketplace and provides more than 80 percent of premium costs, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. Under the rule, tribal governments and agencies are considered large employers. Those Native Americans employed by the tribes would be subject to provisions of the large-employer mandate. More than 62 percent of Northern Arapaho members live below the poverty line. If approved, the rule would take effect Jan. 1. The rule-making is on hold, awaiting results of the case, filed in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming. The tribe said Congress did not intend the health care legislation to block Native Americans’ benefits and that the IRS rulemaking exposes a rift between legislation and the executive branch. The IRS referred calls to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/20/2014 04:00 PM
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) – California’s Pala Indians have launched their Internet gambling site in New Jersey following a test period in November, becoming the first tribe to do so in the state. The Pala Band of Mission Indians received permission from New Jersey gambling regulators for a full launch of the website in a partnership with Atlantic City’s Borgata. PalaCasino.com started taking bets on Nov. 29, Jim Ryan, CEO of Pala Interactive, the tribe’s Internet gambling arm, said. “We had a solid weekend and we have yet to start marketing,” he told The Associated Press. “We believe we are breaking into the New Jersey market at the perfect time.” The tribe’s entry into New Jersey’s online market comes at the anniversary of Internet gambling, which has not produced nearly the amount of revenue state officials had hoped. When it began on Nov. 25, 2013, New Jersey officials were projecting a $1 billion a year industry in its first year. To date, only about one-tenth of that, or $111 million, has been won online by the casinos. The tribe, which runs the Pala Casino and Spa in San Diego County, California, is using one of the Borgata’s online gambling licenses. Like other New Jersey Internet gambling providers, it can only take bets from customers within New Jersey’s borders. It plans to launch an online poker site in the first quarter of 2015. The site’s full debut came days after New Jersey gambling regulators said they had found no evidence Ryan was involved in a 2006 cheating scandal at his previous employer. The report determined the UltimateBet scandal occurred while Ryan was head of Excapsa Software. That firm’s software was used to cheat players by revealing their hidden cards to other users, resulting in losses of nearly $20 million to players. But the software was developed by a different company that predated Ryan’s employment at Excapsa, according to the report. The money was ultimately refunded. The Pala site uses a different platform, Ryan said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/20/2014 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Candidates running for office in the 2015 Cherokee Nation General Election can pick up their election packets beginning on Jan. 5 at the Election Services Office. According to an Election Commission press release, the filing period for candidates will begin on March 2, and will continue until 5 p.m. on March 5. If any candidate wishes to withdraw their candidacy he or she may do so 10 days following the close of the filing period, the release states. Seats open are for principal chief, deputy chief as well as Tribal Council districts 1, 3, 6, 8, 12, 13, 14 and one At-Large. Registered voters residing outside the CN jurisdiction who wish to vote by absentee ballot may fill out an absentee ballot request to be processed from Feb. 2 to May 8, the release states. Absentee ballot requests will be available at the Election Services Office and online at <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/elections" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/elections</a>. Absentee ballots will be mailed out on May 26-27 by the Election Commission. Voter registration will close March 31. To print a voter registration form online visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/elections" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/elections</a> or pick up one in person at the Election Services Office. Citizens can request to have one sent by email or fax. Also, voters with address changes, name changes or any changed information will need to submit a new voter registration application, according to the release. The Election Services Office is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It’s located at 22116 S. Bald Hill Road. For more information call 918-458-5899.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
12/19/2014 02:42 PM
EUCHA, Okla. – Eucha residents gathered on the evening of Dec. 13 to celebrate the opening of the new Eucha Community Center. The center’s opening was five years in the making after setbacks prevented residents from completing the 50-foot-by-75-foot building, which will be used by the Eucha Indian Organization and community. “We had a lot of problems. The roof blew off twice while we were trying to build it. Some of the guys got dissatisfied and they quit, but some of them stayed on. And then about three months ago I started coming up here and working on the inside of it,” community organizer Tad Dunham said. “We finally got it finished. Actually we got it finished yesterday (Dec. 12).” The center’s opening coincided with the annual Eucha Fire Department Christmas dinner. The fire department and its firefighters are a centerpiece for the community located about four miles west of Jay in Delaware County and about two miles north of Lake Eucha. Dunham said when the lake was built in 1952 the town was moved to its present location. In years past, the fire department, which is next door to the community building, backed its trucks out of the fire station to make room for events. “We always worried about them freezing this time of year because some of the water lines are only an eighth of an inch that go to the gauges and they freeze really quickly,” Dunham said. “Now we don’t have to pull them out. We can use this building (community center), and it just makes everything greater. Plus we have more room in here.” Cullus Buck, EIO chairman and EFD assistant chief, said the center would “mean a lot” because it gives residents a place to meet without using the fire station. “We opened up the fire department many times for family reunions and different things, and now this will take care of that, and we won’t have to worry about our trucks freezing,” Buck said. He said he wants to use the center to keep the area’s Cherokee heritage alive by having craftspeople and others visit to share their knowledge. “I’m going to try to get some beading classes in. My wife, she knows how to (do) that and some basket weaving. We had a guy come up and said he would teach knife (making), and I’ve got a couple of people who are interested in teaching the Cherokee language,” Buck said. He said he appreciates any help the Cherokee Nation could provide in preserving Cherokee heritage in Eucha but believes there are residents qualified to teach the Cherokee language and arts and crafts. The CN’s Community Work Program provided $116,000 to build the center, and the nearby Seneca-Cayuga Tribe in Grove and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe in Wyandotte also provided assistance. The Eastern Shawnee donated the building’s appliances, and the Seneca-Cayuga helped fund the Christmas dinner. “It wasn’t just the Cherokee Nation. Different tribes helped pitch in to get it (community center) done,” Buck said. “There was one point I wanted to give up. We got it all ready to go, had all the trusses up, and they all fell in because we had a tornado right down the road.” Dunham said he believes the building will begin an era in the community because people now have a gathering place for reunions, parties, weddings and funerals. “It’s going to open up the whole area for the community, not just the Eucha community but the surrounding area. It will be a general purpose building for the whole community,” he said. “I want to thank the Cherokee Nation not only for this building, but everything else they do for the community and all the Cherokee people – all the health care they provide, the roads they build – if you look around you can see their mark on about everything in the area, so we really appreciate the Cherokee Nation.”