TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on Feb. 21 unanimously voted to accept an apology from the U.S. Forest Service Southern Region for damages to a Trail of Tears site in the Cherokee National Forest near Coker Creek, Tennessee.
In July 2015, U.S. Forest Service cultural resource managers notified higher-ranked Forest Service officials that they had discovered damage made in 2014 to a site on a Trail of Tears section. The damage consisted of holes dug by a bulldozer and other heavy equipment.
“At that site, 35 large holes were dug into the historic Trail of Tears to create large, earthen berms,” Sheila Bird, Cherokee Nation special projects officer, told the Cherokee Phoenix in 2016. “They used bulldozer and other heavy equipment, and this earthmoving resulted clear and extensive damage to the historic national trail.”
She added that Forest Service employees did the work and claimed that it was done for erosion control and to prevent areas of the Trail of Tears from washing out.
“This is a well-known and mapped Trail of Tears path, but it was not marked because it was privately owned. This land was purchased by Conservation Fund and held for the U.S. Forest Service,” she said. “The District Ranger failed to follow federal laws requiring consultation with Indian tribes. The Forest Service has acknowledged fault and committed to restoring the site.”
According to a Feb 21 resolution, the U.S. Forest Service-Southern Region “recognizes the cultural and historic significance held by the Cherokee Nation regarding the Trail of Tears historic site and extends an apology for the unfortunate and adverse effects that have occurred.”
It also states the “Cherokee Nation agrees to consult on a government to government basis with the U.S. Forest Service-Southern Region regarding the restoration and mitigation of these adverse effects to this Trail of Tears sacred site.”
It adds that as a “Good Faith Effort” and to commit to jointly pursue meaningful mitigation the Tribal Council accepts the apology.
Also during the meeting, Tribal Council voted 17-0 to support the nominations of Michael Doublehead and Steven Wilson as commissioners to the Tax Commission. They also voted Ceciley Thomason-Murphy onto the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.
Tribal Councilors voted to donate three surplus vehicles from the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service to the Nowata Police Department and Muskogee and Delaware counties sheriff’s offices.
Three CN citizens were also honored with the Cherokee Medal of Freedom – John Thomas Cripps III, who served in the U.S. Army, and John Paul Atkinson and Jesse James Collins, who served in the Oklahoma Army National Guard and were activated in 2011 to the RECON 1-279th 45th Infantry to Afghanistan.
Two budget modifications were also passed. The comprehensive capital budget was increased by $1.8 million for a total capital budget authority of $279.6 million. The tribe’s operating budget was also increased by $2.1 million for a total budget authority of $666.6 million. The changes consisted of a decrease in the general fund by $92,000 and increases in the indirect cost pool, motor vehicle tax, Department of Interior Self Governance and IHS Self Governance and budgets.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During its Jan. 16 meeting, the Tribal Council unanimously amended the tribe’s fiscal year 2017 capital and operating budgets, increasing both funds.
With Tribal Councilors Curtis Snell and Wanda Hatfield absent, legislators added $76,837 to the capital budget for a total budget authority of $277.8 million. Officials said the increase came from a carryover environmental review for roads projects.
Legislators also increased the FY 2017 operating budget by $132,762 for a total budget authority of $664.5 million. Officials said the increase stems from grants received and authorized carryover reconciliation, new funding awards and an ending grant.
In other business, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden honored three Cherokee veterans with Cherokee Warrior Awards for their military service.
Dale Leon Johnson was drafted in 1967 and sworn into the Army at Fort Polk, Louisiana. In 1968 he was transferred to Fulda, Germany, serving with Company C 19th Maintenance Battalion USAUR as a tank mechanic. He was honorably discharged as Specialist 4 in 1973. He and his wife Patricia have been married for 51 years and he recently retired from AEP/PSO after 37 years working as a lineman.
Shad Nicholas Taylor enlisted in the Oklahoma Army Guard in 1983 while still in high school. After basic and advanced training in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, he spent almost 10 years working at Camp Gruber near Muskogee. His duty included tours to Panama and Jamaica for hurricane relief. In 2003 he was deployed for 12 months to Fallujah, Iraq, for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Days before being sent home from Fallujah, he was wounded, sent to Bagdad, Kuwait, and Germany before finally going Fort Sill in Lawton to heal. He said he takes pride in all the commendations he has received and was honored to receive the awards and medals for his 20-plus years of service.
Jimmy Donald Quetone is a graduate of Northeastern State University. He served as a teacher and basketball coach for East Central High School in Tulsa before being drafted by the Army in 1954. He was stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky and Fort Sam Houston in Texas. He served in the 97th Machine Record Unit where he was responsible for keeping records for personnel and equipment in the 4th Army Area. He was honorably discharged in 1956 and returned to the education field. He retired working as the CN director of Education in 2001. Quetone is also an inductee of the NSU Athletic Hall of Fame and continues to serve others by volunteering at the Tahlequah Senior Citizens center.
In reports, Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton recognized the CNB and CN Entertainment Community Impact Teams for raising $21,406.67 for the “Heart of a Nation” campaign, which will be used to help buy needed medical equipment for tribal citizens.
A check was presented to Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Crittenden for the campaign.
“All across the board we’ve got a very giving company both in terms of time and money,” Slaton said. “What it’s intended to do is impact in a positive way, helping Cherokee people.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During its Nov. 14 meeting, the Tribal Council unanimously reconfirmed Todd Hembree as the Cherokee Nation’s attorney general.
Hembree was reappointed for a period of five years from January 2017 to January 2021 after being re-nominated by Principal Chief Bill John Baker.
Hembree was first appointed to serve as attorney general in January 2012. Previous to that he served as the attorney for the Tribal Council for 12 years.
“I am very honored to be afforded the opportunity to serve the Cherokee Nation for another term as attorney general. However, the many successes that this office has had over the last several years has only been made possible due to the dedication and hard work of the staff,” Hembree said. “The Cherokee people are very fortunate to have such a group working for them.”
Legislators also unanimously approved Sheryl Rountree, of Tahlequah, to serve a five-year term on the Sequoyah High School board of education. Tribal Council approval is needed because the tribe operates the school. Rountree will serve from December 2016 to December 2021.
Her resume states she has 31 years of experience as a professional educator that includes five years as school counselor. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1980, a master’s degree in school counseling in 1995, graduate certification as a secondary and elementary principal in 2000 and a graduate certification as a superintendent in 2002. All of her degrees and certificates were earned at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
She has taught or counseled students at Westville, Woodall, Tahlequah, Briggs, Grandview and Tenkiller schools.
“I appreciate the nomination, and I hope to do a good job. I’m eager,” Rountree said.
The Tribal Council also unanimously approved Dr. James Stallcup to serve on the Cherokee Nation Health Partners board.
In 2004, the CN partnered with Tahlequah City Hospital, now called Northeastern Health System, to form Cherokee Health Partners “to assure there is alternative health services in certain specialty areas and for the Cherokee Nation to work together with TCH for the best health services for its citizens.”
Stallcup, a non-Native American, is serving as the tribe’s interim executive medical director until the position is permanently filled. Stallcup has worked for the CN for about six years, with two years as medical director for the Bartlesville Health Center and Will Rogers Health Center in Nowata.
He did not attend the Nov. 14 meeting but said previously that the CN health system is “incredible” in the care that it provides and the system has “an exceptional group of providers and nursing staff.”
He also previously said he is looking forward to the opportunities the tribe will have with the new Indian Health Service Joint Venture building that will be built adjacent to W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah.
In other business, legislators unanimously approved a resolution to honor CN Security Officer Joe Polecat who “saw a large amount of smoke in the vicinity of (CN) cultural grounds” on Sept. 29 and took action. After arriving at the fire, Polecat radioed for assistance and then “took immediate action,” using fire extinguishers to try to contain the fire.
In his report, Security Manager John Paden writes Polecat used his experience as a volunteer firefighter to take control of the situation. Polecat asked Paden to locate a water hose at a nearby residence and to start watering down the property near the residence. Later, Security Officer Richard Acorn arrived on the scene when the fire was within 15 feet of the residence. Acorn and Paden watered around the property while Polecat was at the front of the fire using extinguishers.
“With Polecat’s experience as a volunteer fire fighter and quick thinking along with his concern for others, Polecat saved both homes that were in the path of the grass fire,” states the resolution. “The Council of the Cherokee Nation hereby recognizes Cherokee Citizen Joe Polecat for his service to citizens of the Cherokee Nation as a security officer and volunteer firefighter, which protects and saves people of fire danger.”
The council also modified the tribe’s operating budget for fiscal year 2017 by adding $5.4 million for a total budget authority of $661.8 million.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council approved a resolution on Oct. 17 authorizing the Cherokee Nation to execute a lease agreement with Chilocco Wind Farm, LLC, a company owned by PNE Wind USA, Inc.
According to the resolution, the tribe “since time immemorial has exercised the sovereign right of self-government on behalf of the Cherokee people…” and “the Cherokee Nation encourages economic development and acknowledges renewable energy resources are necessary to prevent land and air pollution as an alternative to the use of fossil fuels and is part of our long-term solution toward energy sustainability.”
“Be it resolved by the Cherokee Nation that the Council recognizes that Chilocco Wind Farm, LLC will obtain debt financing and equity investments to fund the wind resource infrastructure project and that it is necessary to grant a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for the sole purpose of allowing Chilocco Wind Farm, LLC to initiate causes of action against the Cherokee Nation in the event of default under the terms of the Wind Resource Lease Agreement,” the legislation states.
Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilors Dick Lay and Buel Anglen both discussed openly why they would vote against the legislation.
“I think it’s going to essentially destroy our Chilocco property. It’s our trust property the only trust and only property we have left of the old Cherokee Outlet,” said Lay. “It’s impossible for me to vote for a waiver of sovereign immunity so that some foreign controlled windmill company can get a bank loan. I just can’t bring myself to do that.”
Councilor Anglen agreed with Lay saying that the need for the company to have the waiver of sovereign immunity to borrow money without knowing background or anything about it is something he cannot do.
“My true reason for not supporting this Chilocco property – I have relatives that attended boarding school there and to me it’s just going to destroy that property and just in my heart I cannot support destroying that property. If it was private property, I’m all for windmills…but not on the Chilocco Indian property,” he added.
Councilor Harley Buzzard, who originally didn’t support this legislation, said he would be in support of it stating that after the earthquake around CN Holiday he was even more so interested in cleaner energy.
“Then I thought about the windmill farm and how clean energy that is and I thought about the injection wells that are up and down the northern part of Oklahoma which cause the earthquakes in my opinion,” he said. “I know we’ll always have to have oil for what we do, but this is a small part in getting away from those oil companies now that’s ruining part of our lands.”
Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd said he also was very hesitant in the beginning.
“But I did speak with those tribes also. Visited with the leader of the Kaw Nation and they have a wind farm right there and they shared with me, this will be good. I think the money that we’ll be bringing in, but it’s not just about the money. It’s an alternative resource of energy that we’re looking into here,” he said. “We have to look at other sources of energy.”
The Cherokee Phoenix requested a copy of the Wind Resource Lease Agreement, but was denied due to “confidentiality obligations” and said that the start on construction is expected to be within the next two years.
“As this is an ongoing development the start of construction is depending on many factors. At this point full advancement of construction is anticipated for late 2017 or early 2018,” said Kenny Wheeler, project manager for PNE Wind USA, Inc. “Also the start of operation of the project is depending on many factors. Our best estimate at this point is late 2018.”
Wheeler added that the final decision on where the energy will be distributed has not been made, but the energy once determined will be marketed to another entity.
“Cherokee Nation will receive revenue in form of a lease payment. The lease payment is tied to the revenues of energy sales,” he added. “Due to confidentiality obligations we are not at liberty to share the revenue details. Please get in contact with the relevant authorities of Cherokee Nations government or Cherokee Nation Businesses.”
At this time, this is the only wind farm operated by PNE Wind USA, Inc. in the area of the Chilocco Indian School.
The resolution passed 10-6 with Councilors Lay, Anglen, Don Garvin, Baker, Crittenden, Walkingstick voting no. At Large Councilor Wanda Hatfield was absent.
Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill said this wind farm will bring in revenue in the form of land leases with PNE Wind USA, Inc., but not the actual wind energy produced.
“It really just is a ground lease. The money will come in through the lease process. We do benefit from the money that comes through there (the project) in the sense that it supports the ground leasing. The only time we would get additional payments beyond that off of the leasing would be if there was a real big spike in energy prices. If that energy was a lot more valuable that we expected it to be then Cherokee Nation, if they got a windfall, they could share in that. We don’t anticipate that being the case, but if it occurred the Cherokee Nation could make additional money off of that. We are doing the ground lease so that the development can occur,” Hill said.
She added that she appreciates this deal because it is helping to produce a more clean energy, which in the end will be a great help to the Cherokee people.
“I think that is a benefit that we can see as the wind farm moves forward,” she added.
Minimum payments expected from the lease are around $1,000,000 per year, although that amount can change year to year. According to officials, two other tribes have leases also with PNE Wind USA, Inc. the Kaw Nation and Otoe Missouria.
In addition, the Tribal Council confirmed the renomination of Shannon Buhl as Marshal for the CN. His term was set to expire in November. The new term will begin in November 2016 and end in November 2021.
The Tribal Council amended the agenda to add a resolution from committee authorizing the participation in a nationwide elder needs assessment.
According to the legislation, the CN has partnered with the “University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Services to provide a past Needs Assessment instrument, evaluation, and reporting with no cost to the Cherokee Nation.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Six Tribal Councilors voted against adding to the agenda a resolution authorizing a wind resource lease agreement between the Cherokee Nation and Chilocco Wind Farm LLC. Despite passing the legislation an hour earlier in a reconvened Rules Committee meeting, the measure failed to get a two-thirds vote during the Sept. 12 Tribal Council meeting.
With Tribal Councilors Harley Buzzard and Rex Jordan absent, Tribal Councilors David Walkingstick, Dick Lay, Jack Baker, Shawn Crittenden, Don Garvin and Buel Anglen voted against adding the wind farm legislation to the agenda.
According to the resolution, the Tribal Council had previously authorized Cherokee Nation Businesses to obtain “grant funding to support feasibility studies as to the development of wind energy within the jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation.” It also states that it would be “economically advantageous” for CN to create wind energy resources in Kay County on its Chilocco trust property.
“We’re looking for alternative energy,” Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd said. “It’s on the heels of the Dakota pipeline issue where we protect our land, we protect our resources.”
Byrd said some Tribal Councilors were not in favor of building a wind farm in the Chilocco area and wanted to keep the land untouched.
“After a few years, it will be a mess to clean up,” Garvin said. “We’re trying to protect our land, and I don’t think that’s good use for the our land. I think (we should) leave it like it is, try to be good neighbors to the people (that live) up there around it.”
The legislation also calls for a limited waiver of sovereign immunity if the entity seeking to bring suit against the CN is Chilocco Wind Farm LLC or its successors or assigns; the claim is for breach of contract and seeks only actual or liquidated damages, including attorney fees, resulting from the Nation’s noncompliance with the Wind Resource Lease Agreement; and that any action can only be brought in the United States for the Northern District of Oklahoma.
The resolution is slated to be on the October agenda because it passed the Rules Committee.
However, Tribal Councilors did pass a resolution supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.
The resolution states the Standing Rock people have an “inherent right” to protect their lands, historic and sacred sites, natural resources, drinking water and families from “this potentially dangerous pipeline.”
“The good thing is, is Indian Country is coming together and we are many. Together we are strong,” Walkingstick said.
Tribal Councilors also authorized the development of a three-year plan for Public Law 102-477 activities that includes the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs, the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, the Job Placement and Training program, the Adult Education Program and the Self-Governance Vocational program. The tribe’s current plan expires Sept. 30.
Legislators also amended the fiscal year 2016 comprehensive operating budget by adding $2.1 million for an authority of $684.8 million. The increase stems from grants received and increases in the General Fund, Department of Interior-Self Governance, Indian Health Service-Self Governance and Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act budgets.
Legislators approved the tribe’s $277.7 million capital and $656.4 million operating budgets for FY 2017 with only Tribal Councilor Shawn Crittenden voting no.
“There’s some good things, some really good things in here,” Crittenden said. “I said I’m going to give it a year and I’m going to see my roadblocks. Like I said, there’s good things in here, and I’m confident in the year to come that some of those we can work together to get through those roadblocks. I promise myself I’d do that and I feel confident in the year to come. I’m going to say no on this.”
Tribal Councilors also authorized the CN as a National Congress of American Indians member with Principal Chief Bill John Baker as the designated representative. In his absence, he would appoint one of 42 people as an alternate delegate, which includes Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, all 17 Tribal Councilors and various CN officials.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At their Aug. 15 meeting, Tribal Councilors passed a new Whistleblower Protection Act after learning earlier this year it was repealed in 2012.
The act is to protect employees from “retaliatory action” when participating in “protected activities” such as reporting alleged wrongdoing of a co-worker, supervisor or elected official.
The vote passed unanimously with Tribal Councilor Wanda Hatfield absent.
During the July 12 Rules Committee meeting, Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo said the act would replace the one that legislators repealed in 2012.
“When the Ethics Act was amended in, I believe, 2012 it was included in the language… this repeals Title 28. When you repeal a title you repeal all of the title,” she said. “No one caught that at the time that the Ethics Act was passed…It should have said it repeals this section of Title 28, but what it said was it repeals Title 28. When the new Ethics Act was passed…it took out the whistleblower language.”
Tribal Councilor Buel Anglen said as soon as he heard the Whistleblower Act was no longer in place he and others worked to reinstate it.
“Of course that opened my eyes up when I found out that there was that one case where we found out that the Whistleblower Act was not in effect anymore and that it had been taken out,” Anglen said. “So I asked some of the council people that were on it when it came out, why did that happen, and none of them knew anything about it. It was kind of worded in there to where it didn’t look like anything had changed, eliminated…So we just jumped right on it to get it back in once we found that out.
“(Tribal Councilor) Dick Lay and I took the charge on it,” he added. “We got it back in, and I think now the employees can feel comfortable again. If something’s going on, they speak up and not have to worry about losing their job or anything else.”
Nimmo said new language states “protected activity does not include false information provided by the employee.” Nimmo said what this means is that the employee’s allegations have to be “true.”
“What we intended by putting this language in is saying that what they report has to be true. So it keeps an employee from making up something,” she said. “The way that this is written, also in the burden of proof, that if an employee made up false information and they were terminated for that and they filed a claim under the Whistleblower Act in District Court of the (Cherokee) Nation, which would be the AG’s office defending the Nation, could prove that the information that they shared was false and they knew that it was false then they don’t get their job back, they don’t get back pay and they’re not protected under the Whistleblower Act because the Whistleblower Act is intended to protect employees who make a good-faith effort to shed light on possible wrongdoing by the government.”
Also at the Aug. 15 meeting, legislators transferred tribally owned trust lands to mutual-help home participants. According to legislation, the tribe acquired Delaware County land in 1937 and 1938 from the United States. The tribe later set aside certain areas within that land to be leased “for the construction of Mutual-Help Homes.”
The legislation states within portions of this trust land the tribe “established multiple housing Subdivisions” and “desires to transfer the following Mutual Help-Home sites to the participants in Trust.”
The legislation lists Peggy Wagnon, Jerry and Velma Tagg, Molly Sapp, Stanley and Amy Proctor and Roxanne and Cordell Smith as the participants of the project, which will be in Kenwood.
Legislators also authorized the tribe to lease trust land to the CC Camp Community Organization.
According to legislation, the land is 26.48 acres in Adair County located on Hwy 59 that encompasses the Cherry Tree Red Gym and softball fields. The legislation states the organization will lease the land from the tribe for $1 a year for 25 years beginning this year.
Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis said leasing “this property to the organization will only lead to more community events and create a tighter bond between Cherokee families.”
In other business, legislators:
• Reconfirmed Susan Chapman Plumb to the Cherokee Nation Foundation board and Jeff Limore to Sequoyah High School board of education, and
• Authorized a grant of easement for right-of-way to the Adair County commissioners for the reconstruction of a bridge in the Lyons Switch community.