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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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. • 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.


Senior Reporter
09/03/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Executive and Finance Committee members unanimously passed the largest Cherokee Nation comprehensive budget at $767.1 million during an Aug. 31 budget hearing. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the fiscal year 2016 budget, the largest every approved by the committee, would allow the CN to meet the needs of its citizens. “The unprecedented financial growth is directly due to the success of our businesses, strategic investments, concentrated effort in third-party health care billing, increased number of federal grants and overall excellent financial stewardship,” Baker said. “With an increased annual budget, Cherokee Nation citizens and employees will see our tribal programs and services grow meeting the needs of our people. When we have more dollars to grow our capacity and serve Cherokee people that is a great thing.” CN Treasurer Lacey Horn said the FY 2016 budget includes “unprecedented” investments in health services for Cherokee people, and the budget increased an estimated $35 million when compared to the FY 2015 budget of $731.6 million, which the Tribal Council approved in September 2014. Horn said Health Services was expected to see a nearly $30 million increase. “Our push to pursue more grant funding opportunities has been successful, and I’m proud that we can offer our citizens even greater access to services in new and expanded facilities,” she said. Also, Career Services was expected to receive a nearly $2.5 million increase, with higher education scholarships getting an increase of $1.5 million. The Commerce Department was to get an additional $3.5 million, and Human Services was expected to get a nearly $3 million bump. “Those funds will likely help put more citizens into new homes and jobs, and help our elders and families with utility assistance and childcare services, respectively,” Horn said. She said no departments or program received major reductions in the budget. Horn added that the Executive & Finance Committee generally approves the budget within one to two days of hearings but this year the committee approved it within the first day. “Hearings are scheduled over a few days to give Tribal Council the time and luxury to go over programs in detail if they choose too,” she said. “Quick approval comes from Tribal Councilors who understand the budget process and believe administration is directing programs properly for the Cherokee Nation to better serve our people.” With its Aug. 31 approval, the budget is set to appear on the Sept. 14 Tribal Council agenda. Citizens can view the FY 2016 budget on after the Tribal Council approves. Citizens can also find the tribe’s budget and financial outlook at the Popular Annual Financial Report link on <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
09/01/2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Leaders from the Cherokee Nation, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians gathered on Aug. 28 at Red Clay State Park for a historic Tri-Council meeting. The event marked the first time all three federally recognized Cherokee tribes assembled for a council meeting at Red Clay. After Georgia passed laws displacing Cherokees and preventing Cherokee leaders from meeting, the Cherokee capital was moved from New Echota (now in Georgia) to just over the Tennessee state line in Red Clay. Nearly a dozen separate council meetings were held there between 1832 and 1837. “The gathering of our Cherokee governments at this sacred site is not only historic, but a strong reflection of our inherent sovereignty,” Cherokee Nation Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd said. “It is because of our Cherokee ancestors’ spirit of perseverance that we are able to gather and conduct the business of our people. We must always keep that in mind and protect that right for our future generations.” The Tribal Councilors voted on several resolutions: • Requiring all cultural or historical presenters or artisans claiming to be Cherokee to be verified by one of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes, • Recognizing, commending and supporting the efforts of the Cherokee Language Consortium and requiring that all Cherokee language materials distributed to the public, such as billboards, signs, brochures, newsletters and pamphlets, be approved by at least three members of the Cherokee Language Consortium to assure accuracy and authenticity, • Recognizing the ongoing contribution of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in enhancing visitors’ understanding of Sequoyah and the Cherokee people’s history, and • Affirming no change can be made to the Cherokee syllabary without the consensus of the Tri-Council. During Tri-Council, attendees also visited Cherokee, North Carolina, and toured the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ recently completed $28 million justice center and the tribe’s $80 million hospital under construction. Attendees also watched a performance of the play Sliver of a Full Moon, written by CN citizen Mary Kathryn Nagle and directed by CN citizen Betsy Richards. Tri-Council unites the legislative branches of government of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes and is designed to create a unified and federally recognized Cherokee voice dedicated to promoting and advancing tribal sovereignty. The CN will host the next Tri-Council meeting in 2016.
08/19/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Aug. 10, six outgoing Tribal Councilors, who either termed out or gave up their seat, were honored with plaques during their last day of meetings. Former Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory Jordan thanked her constituents for entrusting her as their representative. “I believe we’ve made the situation a little better for them. I’m very proud of what we did for the Head Start Program,” she said. “I love the fact that we’ve given out more scholarships this year than we’ve ever given out before. And if you can educate a young person that’s really all they ever want from the tribe because they’re go on, they’ll be productive and they’ll take care of their families.” She said she loves that the tribe is building houses again and receiving one is a life-changing event. “We’ll never be able to build enough houses, but we’re getting there. As you have people that you satisfy on the program, you have five more that are coming on to the program. But I love the fact that we’re building houses again,” Jordan said. Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts said she hopes she left the tribe a little better with her service during the past 12 years. “I know I am a better person for having served and am thankful for the experience,” she said. “I will continue to pray for the Cherokee Nation and our government and business staff who work diligently throughout the year to serve our Nation. My thoughts and prayers are with them as they make decisions for the Nation.” She added that she would continue her community service by working with Native students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and scholarships. Tribal Councilor Janelle Fulbright said one of the best things she’s seen happen within the CN during her eight years on council was the construction of the new Redbird Smith Clinic and dialysis center in Sallisaw. “And I just consider it a privilege to serve, a privilege and an honor, and I’ve greatly enjoyed my eight years. “The newly elected council members, I have great confidence in them that they will carry on and be very responsive to the needs of our people,” she said. Tribal Councilor Lee Keener said he was humbled and honored to represent the Cherokee people. “It’s been an awesome experience. One of the best experiences of my life. I’ve learned a lot. I wish every Cherokee citizen could experience being on council so they could understand their government and what goes on,” he said. “I hope that I’ve done it to the best of my ability as far as voting, and it’s been a very good education for me and I’ll have it with me for the rest of my life.” Tribal Councilors Jodie Fishinghawk and Julia Coates said a few words regarding their service to the tribe during the Aug. 10 Tribal Council meeting. Fishinghawk said she wanted to thank Adair, Delaware and Ottawa counties for the privilege to serve. “Thank you to the great employees we have over hear at the Nation,” she added. Coates said it has been an honor to serve on the behalf of the At-Large people. “I’ve said it at so many community meetings. It takes a lot of effort for the At-Large folks to remain involved and to remain connected, and it’s very gratifying to see how very many of them do continue to make that effort. I’ve tried to advocate as strongly as I possible could on your behalf,” she said. “And I appreciate the trust and honor that you have given me in these eight years and I hope I have fulfilled your trust in me.”
Senior Reporter
08/18/2015 01:19 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During an Aug. 17 Rules Committee meeting, Tribal Councilors chose new chairs and co-chairs for their six standing committees. The new committee leaders follow the election of eight Tribal Councilors in June and July. Five of those eight legislators are new to the Tribal Council. Dist. 2 Tribal Councilor and former Principal Chief Joe Byrd was elected as speaker of the 17-member body. Byrd also serves as chairman of the Rules Committee. Dist. 5 Tribal Councilor David Thornton was initially chosen as deputy speaker, but he withdrew his name. Dist. 11 Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez was then chosen as deputy speaker. Dist. 7 Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis was chosen as the body’s secretary. She was also chosen as co-chairwoman of the Rules Committee, and is the new chairwoman of the Health Committee. New Dist. 6 Tribal Councilor Bryan Warner was chosen as co-chairman of the Health Committee. Dist. 3 Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick will serve as chairman of the Education Committee, and Dist. 4 Tribal Councilor Don Garvin will serve as co-chairman. Dist. 15 Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor was chosen to chair the Executive & Finance Committee, while Dist. 14 Councilor Keith Austin was chosen as co-chairman. Dist. 12 Tribal Councilor Dick Lay will continue as chairman of the Community Services Committee, and Dist. 10 Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard will serve as co-chairman. Dist. 9 Tribal Councilor Curtis Snell also will continue to chair the Resources Committee, and new Dist. 1 Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan will co-chair that committee. Councilors also serve as advisory members on the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors. Current members include Byrd, Hargis, Snell and Thornton. Vazquez, Jordan, Austin and new At-Large Tribal Councilor Wanda Hatfield were added as advisory board members during the Aug. 17 meeting. Warner then nominated former Dist. 6 Tribal Councilor Janelle Fullbright to serve on the CNB board. Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said Fullbright would make the board “even stronger than it is.” Fullbright said she believed she was well-qualified for the position because she served on the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission for nine years and attended many gaming seminars and workshops regarding tribal gaming. She also served on the Tribal Council for eight years with her second term ending on Aug. 14. Fullbright was unanimously confirmed to the CNB board.
08/12/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At the Aug. 10 meeting, Tribal Councilors unanimously approved the Cherokee Nation’s fiscal year 2016 Indian Housing Plan that asks the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for money for tribal housing programs. According to the IHP, the tribe is requesting $28.6 million to disperse to housing programs such as overcrowded households, college student housing and housing rehabilitation. In an earlier committee meeting, Community Services Executive Director Ron Qualls said the FY 2016 funding is almost identical to FY 2015. Qualls added that it is important to realize “the funding that is being budgeted for the upcoming 2016 fiscal year is the 2015 (FY) funds.” “I can’t recall exactly when the 2015 funds came in. I believe it might have been January or February of last year. That’s the reason that we always prepare the Indian Housing Plan on the previous year’s funds,” he said. “We’re coming up on 2016 fiscal year, and the 2016 funds are, as far as I can say, nowhere in sight. It’s the way the federal government works as far as the budget goes. We just don’t know when the budget will be approved, so we always work on prior year’s funds. That way we have the funds.” Qualls said in prior years funds have been received anywhere from three to five months late. Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard said he would like to see more funding for Project-Based College Housing Assistance. The fund is currently at $601,865. “College is really important to our young kids. The more we can get in college, the better off we’re going to be in the long term,” he said. “If we can increase that up to $800, $900,000 next year, I think I’d help us all. I’d like to see the college fund increased, if at all possible. I realize that something else will have to take a hit if we do increase this. I just think college education is going to be the key for our kids to be successful.” Tribal Councilor David Thornton asked if money was a problem when it came to building homes under the Homeownership Replacement Home Program. “We put $1.4 million in replacement homes and we build about 15 a year, from what I understand,” he said. “Is there any reason we can’t build more than 15 except for money?” David Pruitt, Housing Services/Housing Rehabilitation director, said there isn’t enough money. “I know a couple, three years back we took discretionary funding and added it to that program,” Thornton said. “When we do the budget we need to go through and check on that and see if we can’t help some of these people that need replacement homes because their homes are so deteriorated and in bad shape that they can’t live in it. We have to tear the things down and replace them. There’s several of them out there in my district, Cherokee County and Adair County that need replaced.” Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory Jordan said the program needs more funding because it serves the neediest people. “If we take money and put it there by just moving it around in this NAHASDA (Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act of 1996) budget, it is going to take funding away from another program that also truly believes, and we believe, is serving the neediest of our people,” she said. “It’s a balancing act.” She said if a program needs more money than another, its budget could be amended monthly. “This was something that was hard for me to learn eight years ago. I wanted to make all those changes right then, but then I learned that you could, on a monthly basis, amend your Indian Housing Plan as you saw it fit for your people,” she said. Tribal Councilors also approved a grant submission to the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. According to the resolution, the CN has been an SDPI grant recipient since the program’s inception in 1997. Since then, the CN “has utilized SDPI funding to provide a wide range of services, staffing, equipment and supplies for the prevention and treatment of diabetes for the past 18 years,” the resolution states. It also states that numerous CN citizens and patients at CN health facilities have benefited from the program. “This grant program has been a blessing to the Cherokee Nation and allowed our health care system to provide critical services to thousands of diabetic citizens,” Tribal Councilor Janelle Fullbright said. “With the continuation of funding, our diabetes program will continue to reduce the number of diabetes patients in the Cherokee Nation and educate our citizens on diabetes prevention.” Legislators also approved a resolution accepting trust land status for five acres near the Oaks Mission School (Rocky Ford) in northern Cherokee County. Councilors also unanimously authorized the tribe’s Information Technology Department to donate surplus office equipment to Moffett Police Department in Sequoyah County. In other news, Tribal Councilors Glory Jordan, Fullbright, Jodie Fishinghawk, Cara Cowan Watts, Lee Keener and Julia Coates were each given time to say a few words about their time serving on the legislative branch. Cowan Watts, who served from 2003-11, said she is honored to have been able to represent the tribe and its citizens, especially those in Rogers and Tulsa counties. “At times even when it was a challenge it was truly a blessing, and I’ll always look at this part of my life as something that was successful,” she said. “I want to say particularly that I appreciate the staff of our government and businesses who quietly serve the Cherokee Nation, our people, often without fanfare each day. You are noticed, not just by elected leadership, but by our constituents and those that you serve with such passion. I’ll miss my colleagues who graciously served with me, consistently extended their hand in friendship and respect. You will be missed in my daily work life as I return to my engineering career. I pray for all levels of leadership throughout the Cherokee Nation and wish our tribe and community much success as we move forward.” Watts served as the deputy speaker of the Tribal Council and co-chair of the Executive and Finance Committee from 2007-11. Fishinghawk, who served for two consecutive terms, said she would like to thank all the employees who work for the tribe, among others. “I’d like to thank Adair County, and I guess Delaware and Ottawa county at one time, for allowing me the privilege to serve you all,” she said. Beginning in 2011, Fishinghawk served as the chairwoman of the Executive Finance Committee until the end of her term. On Aug. 14, eight Tribal Councilors, along with Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, were slated to be sworn into office. The Tribal Councilors are Rex Jordan (Dist. 1), David Walkingstick (Dist. 3), Bryan Warner (Dist. 6), Shawn Crittenden (Dist. 8), Dick Lay (Dist. 12), Buel Anglen (Dist. 13), Keith Austin (Dist. 14) and Wanda Claphan Hatfield (At-Large). The inauguration is slated for 10:30 a.m. at The Place Where They Play at Sequoyah High School.
08/04/2015 02:31 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During the July 29 Resources Committee meeting, officials with the tribe’s Management Resources announced that the department had put in a request for the purchase of 50 additional bison from the Badlands Bison Roundup. “There is a surplus of bison in the Badlands and they’re going to do another round up,” Executive Director Bruce Davis said. “They expect another 600 to 700 head. It doesn’t mean that we will get 50 because they are 60 tribes vying for them, but we were lucky enough last year to get them. I think we’ll get some.” He said there have also been placement requests made for the potential influx of bison such as in Sallisaw, near the Cherokee Heritage Center and the Jack Brown Center. Davis indicated that some of the bison calves already located within Cherokee Nation would eventually be cut from the herd and placed in a feeder program for slaughter. Heifers in the herd would be kept as cows until such time they were also appropriate for slaughter. Tribal Councilors expressed concerns over how the bison are tested for diseases, including brucellosis, but Management Resources officials said the herd has been kept in isolation to test before being moved. Officials also said they have also drafted a cattle operation proposal that would be presented at a later date. “We would love to start a cattle herd,” Davis said. “We have the property and the hay. We have the meats to take care of them, and we have the personnel.”