Council alters its travel policy

02/11/2014 08:09 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on Jan. 30 altered their travel policy prohibiting any councilors who declare their candidacies for the principal chief or deputy chief seats from using council travel funds or being reimbursed for any travel other than to committee and full council meetings.

The policy, sponsored by Tribal Councilors Tina Glory Jordan and Jodie Fishinghawk, passed 10-5 in the council’s Rules Committee meeting. Tribal Councilors Jack Baker, Julia Coates, Don Garvin, Lee Keener and Cara Cowan Watts voting against it. Tribal Councilors Harley Buzzard and Frankie Hargis were absent.

Because it is a policy change the item did not have to appear on the Tribal Council’s Feb. 10 agenda, and Glory Jordan was expected to sign the amendment, making it effective in February.

Under the new policy, once Tribal Councilors declare or announce their respective candidacies for the principal chief or deputy chief seats they will not be allowed to use council travel funds and shall not be reimbursed for any travel other than to regular or special committee and full council meetings.

“I believe firmly that council members should use travel money only for official business, not for politics,” Fishinghawk said. “A majority of councilors agreed. The policy is simple: a councilor can travel anywhere they want and even campaign for chief; they just cannot use tribal funds to do so. A couple of our colleagues appeared to be crossing the line, but that won’t be a problem anymore.”

Fishinghawk said the change was brought up because she believed that Cowan Watts and Keener have been abusing the travel policy by “politicking on the tribe’s dime.”

In a Jan. 10 Cherokee Phoenix article, Cowan Watts and Keener stated their intentions to campaign as running mates with Cowan Watts vying for the for principal chief seat and Keener for the deputy chief post in the tribe’s 2015 election.

Fishinghawk said she saw a Facebook posting by Cowan Watts announcing her intention to run for principal chief. She added that if any other councilor had announced their respective intentions to run for a higher office, the policy would also apply to them.

Those interested in running for CN governmental seats in the tribe’s next election can’t file until March 2015.

Keener said the policy change was a simple case of “tyranny of the majority.”

“They think they can do whatever they want to attempt to silence the minority and keep us from doing basic job functions required by the Cherokee Nation Constitution, law and policy,” Keener said.

He said the change was arbitrary and that it denied Cowan Watts and himself travel reimbursements for official business such as to the Joint Tribal Council with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians or the National Congress of American Indians.

“Other official travel required to do our jobs is also stopped,” he said.

Legislative Act 17-09 gives the legislative body the authority to set its own rules and procedures for travel expense reimbursement. The act states that council shall develop internal policies and procedures for reimbursement of mileage and travel expenses concerning any meetings of the Tribal Council, conducting official tribal business or attending other meetings in furtherance of their duties of office.

But Cowan Watts said with the new policy she can’t get reimbursed for traveling to the district she represents for community meetings.

“I live about 20 miles away from the nearest border of District 13 because the same group (of majority councilors) put me in a district where I do not live,” she said. “The majority has taken away reimbursement and funds for travel within my own district when I still have more than a year and a half to serve the Cherokees in portions of Tulsa and Rogers counties.”

At the Jan. 30 meeting, Cowan Watts made a motion to make a friendly amendment to the policy suggesting that it allow councilors who declare or announce their principal chief or deputy chief candidacies to be reimbursed when traveling to the Cherokee National Holiday, Joint Council, Presidential Inauguration events and NCAI meetings. The friendly amendment was denied.

“I understand tribal resources are not to be used for campaigning,” Cowan Watts said. “I do not understand the behavior of tyrants who abuse their power to silence the voice of the minority. By cutting Lee Keener and my day-to-day travel monies for council business, as well as other official travel such as Joint Council with the Eastern Band, the majority has deliberately penalized the minority for disagreeing with the chief and is stopping us from doing our job.”

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Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
05/19/2016 02:45 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tribal Council unanimously amended the Cherokee Nation’s election law during its May 16 meeting after removing the definition of “term” as a full four years when pertaining to an elected office. Previously, the Rules Committee added the definition to Legislative Act 04-14 to further define “term” within the CN Constitution. However, during the May 16 meeting, Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez, who sponsored the act, introduced it with an amendment. “I have one small change. We will be striking the definition of ‘term’ in its entirety,” she said. Tribal Councilor Jack Baker seconded the motion before the body voted by acclamation. After the meeting, Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor told the Cherokee Phoenix that the legislation’s intent was to make tribal elections run more smoothly. “Changes needed to be made to avoid issues that have come up in past elections such as a candidate raising funds and campaigning then not filing for office. There were some very good changes made with this act, and it was important for this council to work through the details until we reached a solution we could all live with. In the end, the only issue we could not agree on was the definition of ‘term.’ It speaks to the integrity of this council that we were able to work together to find a solution that we all could agree on and I am pleased that it passed unanimously,” she said. Tribal Councilor Dick Lay, who opposed defining term as “a full four years,” said he was happy the definition was removed from the legislation. “Council can now move forward to important issues on behalf of Cherokee citizens.” Vazquez deferred comments to Attorney General Todd Hembree, who said he believes several necessary changes were made to the election law with the amendment. “I’m proud of the collaboration between the council, the Election Commission and the AG’s office making these amendments happen,” he said. Regarding the “term” definition being pulled from the amendment, Hembree said the Tribal Council did not define what constitutes a complete term, but left that interpretation up to the plain reading of the Constitution. In March, the Rules Committee discussed the word “term” in the Constitution, and Hembree said that “term” was not defined within the election law. “Nowhere during the election law have we ever defined what a term of office is.” The committee then voted to define “term” as “consecutive full four (4) years in which the elective or appointed officer may perform the functions of office and enjoy its privileges, a term shall not include the remainder of any unexpired term or partial year.” However, after debate during the April 12 Tribal Council meeting, legislators sent back the act to the Rules Committee for review. The committee again approved the “term” definition with a 9-6-1 vote until May 16 when it was pulled from the amendment. Also with the election law change, Tribal Councilors moved the general election from the fourth Saturday in June of the election year to the first Saturday to allow the Election Commission more time to for election matters. They also defined the term “candidate” as a person who has raised funds and/or accepted in-kind contributions in excess of $1,000 or has filed for office. With this change, one can be considered a candidate before actually filing for an elected position. Other changes included a new section for record retention and assessing a civil penalty for a person who has become a candidate and fails to file as one. Also at the May 16 meeting, the Tribal Council approved Pamela Sellers as the EC’s fifth member. Sellers took her oath during the meeting with Supreme Court Justice John Garrett presiding. The body also approved Valerie Rogers to the Home Health Services board and the Comprehensive Care Agency or PACE board. Councilors also approved nine donations of surplus equipment to various organizations within the CN.
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
04/12/2016 05:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on April 12 sent back to the Rules Committee Legislative Act 04-14, which amends the Cherokee Nation’s election code, after several legislators voiced concerns regarding the definition of “term.” In March, the committee defined “term” as “consecutive full four (4) years in which the elective or appointed officer may perform the functions of office and enjoy its privileges, a term shall not include the remainder of any unexpired term or partial year.” Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard said on April 12 that he could not support the act. “I feel like the Cherokee people had a constitutional convention and had decided what they wanted in the election code…I think we’re really messing with the Constitution of the Cherokee Nation if we go to changing some of the wording of that act. I could see if this passes as it’s stated, we’re going to have some problems with further elections that come down the road,” he said. Tribal Councilor Buel Anglen added that from what he’s read in the Constitutional Convention transcripts those involved did not want to add the word “full” when referring to one’s elected term. “There’s a lot of good stuff in this election law that we looked over for a long time, but at this time, putting that one (definition) in there is going to keep me from supporting this act,” Anglen said. Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor said she felt the committee discussions were geared toward making the election code clearly match the CN Constitution. “And so, I feel like our intent was to match the Constitution, which says in several areas a term is four years. If the Constitution can stand on its own, I’m not opposed to taking out “EE” (the section in the legislation defining term), but I just want to clarify that our intention was to firm it up and match the Constitution.” Tribal Councilor Dick Lay offered a friendly amendment to remove the section defining “term,” and Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez initially accepted it. She later revoked the friendly amendment and motioned to send the legislation back to Rules Committee. That motion passed with no opposition. Legislators also unanimously authorized the “approval of a loan agreement and limited waiver of sovereign immunity” as part of the Indian Health Service Joint Venture expansion in Tahlequah. According to the legislation, the CN will accept and execute a general obligation credit facility loan agreement “with a group of lenders to be arranged by BOKF, NA dba Bank of Oklahoma” and approved by the CN in a principal amount of $170 million to finance construction of the Cherokee Nation Tahlequah Outpatient Facility. The body also passed an act creating the Cherokee Nation Judgment Fund, which “governs all judgments, inclusive of attorney fees and interest, entered against the Cherokee Nation or any department, agency or subdivision thereof.” According to the act, “all monies accruing to the credit of the fund are hereby appropriated, and shall be budgeted and expended by the Treasurer for the payment of eligible claims.” Legislators also approved the three initial members of the Cherokee Immersion Charter School board: Rufus King, Melvina Shotpouch and Russell Feeling. According to CN Communications, all three are Cherokee speakers and will serve five-year terms. “Through the Cherokee Immersion Charter School, the Cherokee Nation is cultivating a new generation of Cherokee speakers,” Council Speaker Joe Byrd said. “The revitalization of our language is of the utmost importance, thus making this board extremely vital. We need governing school board members who not only speak our language, but understand the seriousness of the mission of our school.” The Tribal Council also: • Authorized interviews and research within the CN by the National Institute of Justice Regarding Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault regarding violence against Indian women; • Amended Title 21 of the CN code annotated relating to offenses against property; • Authorized the name change of Sallisaw Creek to National Cherokee Nation Park; • Allowed CN to lease tribal trust land to the Kenwood Rural Water District for a water treatment plant, tank, pump station and wells; and • Supported the deployment of the F-35 Lightning II Fighter Aircraft to the 138th Fighter Wing. Legislators also amended both the capital and operating budgets for fiscal year 2016.
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
03/15/2016 04:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At its March 14 meeting, the Tribal Council approved the renomination of Chuck Hoskin Jr. as the Cherokee Nation’s secretary of state. He has served as state secretary since 2013 and officially began his second term following his confirmation and oath of office. Hoskin, who served as a Tribal Councilor from 2007-13, thanked Principal Chief Bill John Baker and the legislators for the “confidence” they have in him. “I appreciate the confidence that each of you have, and I will do my best to continue in good service to the (Cherokee) Nation,” he said. “We've got great challenges ahead, and I’m glad to be on the part of the team that is taking that on, and I do appreciate working with you and all of your colleagues, Mr. Speaker (Joe Byrd).” Hoskin’s wife, January, held the Bible as Supreme Court Justice John Garrett swore him into his second term. Councilors also separated the Education and Culture Committee, creating a respective committee for each. Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez said one of the best ways to continue preserving the Cherokee culture is to give it its own committee. “It’s very important to highlight the culture and the opportunity that we have to carry forward the Cherokee legacy of culture, art and language. It’s my theory that it can best be done by having a separate Culture Committee instead of having it as part of education/culture,” she said. They also authorized the tribe to lease trust lands to Burgher Haggard LLC “for the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Mustang Program.” Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick voted against the resolution, but Tribal Councilor David Thornton said it is important to help the horses. “The thing I think of when I think of horses is the Trail of Tears and I think about our people coming across from North Carolina, Tennessee all that way. And people, there’s some of them that would have never made it if it hadn’t been for a horse,” he said. “I think this is a great time to bring these horses here to this land because in time of need. We needed them and now they need us.” According to legislation, the horses would have trust land set aside in Adair and Delaware counties for five years beginning Oct. 1. There is also an option for a renewal of five additional years at a price that is set forth by the BLM. Tribal Councilors also amended wording within the Employment Rights Act. According to legislative details, Title 40, subsection 103 was amended to include “if a business is owned by a trust, it must be held in trust with over 51 percent of Indian trustees and 51 percent and more of the beneficiaries of the trust must be Indians to maintain majority Indian control of the business.” Another ERA amendment included “if the business is a trust owned business, the business must certify Indian trustees and beneficiaries and TERO (Tribal Employment Rights Office) will then” determine if the business would be given Indian preference within the TERO section of the act. Legislators also passed a resolution supporting Oklahoma House Bill 2261, which changes the definition of who can sell “Indian art” under the American Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act of 1974. The proposed measure, which passed the House 90-0, defines “American Indian tribe” as any Indian tribe federally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and “American Indian” as a citizen or enrolled member of an American Indian tribe. Councilors also authorized the acceptance of five tracts of day school land in fee. The lands consist of the former Cave Springs School in Cherokee County, Mulberry Hollow School in Adair County, Oak Hill School (Piney) in Delaware County, Ballou School in Mayes County and Redbird Smith School in Sequoyah County. Councilors also authorized the BIA to update the tribe’s Inventory of Tribal Transportation Facilities to include the Rocky Mountain School Road extensions 1 and 2 in Adair County. They also increased the fiscal year 2016 operating budget by $878,981 to $657.6 million. In it the DOI-Self Governance received an increase of $56,200. The remaining $822,781 came from grants. In other business, legislators: • Revised the tribe’s 2016 Indian Housing Plan to provide rental assistance for Native American veterans who qualify, • Amended the Motor Vehicle Licensing and Tax Code to include items manufactured homes, commercial trailers, farm trailers and CN vehicles to the license plates section, • Authorized the CN to negotiate and/or advertise for bid to lease tribal units on fee or trust land for grazing and farming, and • Reconfirmed Jack L. Spears to the Environmental Protection Commission and Johnnie Earp to the Economic Development Trust Authority board of directors.
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
02/18/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During its Feb. 16 meeting, Tribal Councilors unanimously declared support for the continual operation of dependent public schools located within Cherokee Nation jurisdiction. According to the resolution, there are 26 dependent public schools located within the jurisdiction. Those schools have 6,965 students enrolled, and 3,294, or 47 percent, of them are CN citizens. The resolution states the CN percentage of students enrolled at the schools is higher than the number of CN students enrolled at independent schools within the tribe’s jurisdiction and that the closure of dependent schools would have a “devastating” effect on CN citizens attending and the CN families living in surrounding communities. Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd said keeping the rural schools open is important for “the good of the students and community.” “The small, rural dependent school districts are the heartbeat of their community, and the Cherokee Nation has an obligation to help keep that heartbeat going,” Byrd said. “Whether it is financial support through car tag sales or vocal support through legislation, this Tribal Council stands united in backing our dependent school districts and helping them keep their doors open.” Tribal Councilors also passed an act affirming and codifying CN laws and statues. Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor said the act acknowledges that tribal officials have created a volume of five books titled “Cherokee Nation Code Annotated” that has the tribe’s laws and resolutions within them. “It took quite a while to do, but it’s just making it official that those are our laws and our resolutions, basically everything that we have,” she said. “If somebody wants to look up a law for some reason they can do it in one place now.” Taylor said the books can be found in the legislative offices and the Attorney General’s Office. The books can also be purchased at the CN Gift Shop for $455. Legislators also confirmed John Sparks, of Norman, to the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission; Shaun Shepherd, of Tahlequah, to the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors; and Fannie Robinson, of Kansas, Oklahoma, to the Cherokee Nation Tax Commission. Sparks and Robinson were approved unanimously while three legislators opposed Shepherd’s confirmation. Sparks said he is thankful for the opportunity to serve on the CNGC. “Thank you all for having me, and I just want you to know how flattered and honored I am to be asked to serve…to execute my duties in this role,” he said. While serving on the CNB board, Shepherd said he looks forward to the challenges it holds. “Mr. Speaker, council, I want to thank everybody in this administration for putting their trust in me for this position,” he said. “I look forward to the challenges, and look forward to serving the Cherokee Nation and its citizens.” Councilors also passed a resolution supporting the CN’s Promise Zone application. The Promise Zone is a White House initiative that consists of the federal government investing in and partnering with tribal communities to increase economic activity, create jobs, leverage private investment, reduce violent crime and improve educational opportunities. According to, Promise Zones are “high poverty communities.” The initiative provides resources such as tax incentives, pending enactment of tax incentives by Congress and grants to these communities. Currently the only location in Oklahoma designated as a Promise Zone is the Choctaw Nation, which occurred in 2014. Councilors also unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the Bureau of Indian Affairs to revise and update the tribe’s Inventory of Tribal Transportation Facilities to include three new routes. The routes are in Ottawa County and consist of S610 Loop, EW-0190 Road and NS-4610 Road. In other news, councilors increased the fiscal year 2016 capital budget by $2.2 million to $121.6 million. The increase of $2,245,423 went to the Motor Vehicle Tax budget. Councilors also increased the FY 2016 operating budget by $1.9 million to $656.7 million. In it the General Fund increased by $84,578, the Motor Vehicle Tax increase by $1,156,896 and DOI-Self Governance received $124,108. The remaining $609,208 came from grants. The council also passed nine resolutions authorizing the donation of surplus office equipment to Nowata Cherokees in Nowata County, Redbird Stomp Grounds in Sequoyah County, Boys and Girls Club in Delaware County, 51 West Fire Department in Adair County, Brushy Cherokee Community Organization in Sequoyah County, Boys and Girls Club in Sequoyah County, Stokes Stomp Grounds in Sequoyah County and Belfonte Baptist Church in Sequoyah County. The next Tribal Council meeting is set for 6 p.m. on March 14.
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
01/13/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During its Jan. 11 meeting, the Tribal Council, via Legislative Act 17-15, increased the fiscal year 2016 operating budget by $1,773,125 making the total operating budget authority $654.7 million. The modification consisted of adding $1.8 million in grant and carryover funding, as well as a decrease of approximately $75,000 from several tribal funds. Although there was no discussion during the meeting, Tribal Councilor Dick Lay abstained during the act’s voting. All other legislators voted to approve. The act passed 16-0-1. In an email, Lay stated he abstained because of inefficiencies in the Cherokee Nation’s Rehabilitation Housing group and the fact the tribe’s administration is making changes to it. “They may move CN Rehab employees to the CN Housing Authority. The CN administration placed in the budget mod (modification) to move the funding from CN Rehab to the CN Housing Authority,” Lay said. “These items were in CN Rehab budgets, and now have been sent to the CN Housing authority. “The CN Rehab Housing is a CN government entity, under the authority of the CN government. These 79 CN Rehab housing jobs had full vesting and employment rights in the CN government,” he added. “The CN Housing Authority is not a CN government department. It is a State of Oklahoma agency. I’m being told its employees are considered at-will employees. The CN government essentially funds the state agency – the CN Housing Authority. Because it has not been explained, and I’m still not sure how the CN Rehab group will be improved, and more importantly, because I’m concerned for the 79 CN government Rehab Housing employees and their families, I voted abstain instead of yes.” Councilors also approved the donation of surplus office equipment to the Foyil Community Building. Also, Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in his State of the Nation address that CN officials met with Secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro to discuss a new program that will benefit Native American veterans who are homeless. “We were one of 26 tribes nationwide to be selected. It gives us an opportunity to get 20 veterans that are homeless into safe, sanitary, decent housing with our partnership with the VA (Veterans Affairs),” Baker said. “If you know them, help us locate them.” He also said the Attorney General’s Office and the tribe’s One Fire program has secured a $400,000 grant to “increase awareness and help prosecute more cases involving sexual assault against women.” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden also honored three veterans during the meeting, giving them CN Medal of Patriotism awards. The veterans were Chester Benton Havenstrite, who served in the Army during the Cold War; Selbert Lee Taylor, who served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War; and Samuel Jordan, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War.
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
12/15/2015 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tribal Council on Dec. 14 approved a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Eastern Oklahoma Region for wildland and fire management. “Basically the (wildland and fire) resolution allows us to continue to receive funding from the BIA and we work with them in protecting our tribal lands,” Willard Mounce, CN Tribal Employment Rights Office administration officer, said. Mounce said as of Dec. 14 the tribe’s Wildland and Fire Management program did not have a firefighter over it, but that the position was expected to open. He said to be eligible for the position one has to pass an endurance test as and meet specific BIA requirements. Until the position is filled, he said the BIA would provide a firefighter during the increased fire season. The agreement is approved annually, Mounce said, and funds $65,000 to the tribe. Tribal Councilors also approved a bill allowing the CN to become a Native American Fish and Wildlife Society member. The NAFWS has been in existence since 1983. It assists tribes with establishing fish and wildlife programs, supporting funding for tribal fish and wildlife programs and educating and training Native fish and wildlife biologists, managers, technicians and conservation officers. However, to benefit from the group’s services, the CN must first be a member. “Be it resolved by the Cherokee Nation, that this Council hereby wishes to become a member of the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society and to participate in the services provided by the organization and its staff; and be it further resolved; that this Resolution of Support be submitted to the NAFWS; and be it further resolved; that the Cherokee Nation supports the efforts of the NAFWS to secure funding to maintain the organization and the services that will be provided directly to tribal fish and wildlife programs,” the legislation states. Both resolutions passed unanimously. The Tribal Council also unanimously passed Janie Dibble’s nomination to the Comprehensive Care Agency or PACE board. Also, legislators approved the re-appointments Carrie Philpott and Farrell Prater to the Registration Committee, Amon Baker to the Sequoyah High School board of education and Nathan Barnard to the Appeals Board. Councilors also unanimously approved CN citizen Chris Carter to the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors. He resigned from the Cherokee Nation Tax Commission effective Dec. 14, upon confirmation to the CNB board. “I am very pleased with the opportunity to share insights from my many years as a businessman for the benefit of all the citizens of the Cherokee Nation,” Carter, a business owner from Vinita, said. During the State of the Nation, Principal Chief Bill John Baker recognized the Cherokee Renegades, a basketball team of Cherokee men who won the National Indian Association championship in 1981, and the new CN Tribal Youth Council. In other news, CNB CEO Shawn Slaton said fiscal year 2015 was a success bringing in $123 million in net income. He also reported that the Roland Casino hotel opened on Dec. 10 and that CNB employs more than 4,600 CN citizens and has more than 80 percent Native American in its employment. Also, Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation Director Gary Cooper reported that 6,600 families have received some kind of assistance this year from the HACN.