Cherokee Nation citizen Annetta Neal and her husband Don stand in front of a stainless steel tank in their winery in Stroud, Okla. The couple owns and operates StableRidge Vineyards, which is a CN Tribal Employment Rights Office-certified business. TRAVIS SNELL/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Movie inspires Oklahoma couple to open winery
Don Neal, left, talks to two taste-testing customers as his wife Annetta laughs at the couple’s StableRidge Vineyards in Stroud, Okla. Annette is a Cherokee Nation citizen. TRAVIS SNELL/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
STROUD, Okla. (AP) – Every morning when Annetta Neal wakes up, she can peer out the window at her workplace.
While some people may not want to get up and immediately be reminded of how they are about to leave their cozy home and head to work, Neal doesn’t mind.
Her office is surrounded by rolling hills and rows of grapevines. Her desk sits behind an area where a priest once taught lessons of Jesus Christ turning water into wine, or using wine to teach His disciples about his life.
The words of wine have been echoing within the walls of the former Catholic church on Route 66 in Stroud for nearly 10 years as the home of StableRidge Vineyards, founded and owned by Neal and her husband, Don Neal.
The two entered the wine business after spending most of their lives in other careers, Annetta as a teacher and Don in the banking industry.
Annetta came from a family of teachers, with her mother and sister working in classrooms, and her grandmother teaching elocution.
“I was told it was the perfect occupation for a mother because you could be home at summer,” she said. “It was an occupation for women that was wide open.”
She received her teaching degree at East Central University, where she met Don. The two were married in 1970 and have been embarking on adventures together ever since. Annetta’s first teaching assignment was helping students improve their reading skills. Then the couple moved to Louisiana, where Annetta had her own pottery studio.
When they moved back to Oklahoma in 1981, she returned to the classroom. For more than 20 years, she taught first and second grade in Milfay. She loved teaching, but she always thought there was something more out there to life.
That’s when she and Don sat down one night to watch the movie “A Walk in the Clouds.”
“I remember thinking, ‘What a wonderful romantic movie, just walking through the vineyard,’“ she said. “Don saw it and thought growing grapes sounds like fun.”
The idea of starting a winery was born.
If Annetta was going to start on this new journey in life, she was going to do it right. She headed off to classes to learn about the science of making wine. For the next two years, she went to Texas and California for classes while continuing to teach her beloved students.
Then fate intervened in their lives when a 1999 tornado that hit Moore also made its way northeast and did a lot of damage to the property down the hill from them, where a Catholic church sat next to a home.
“We decided this was the opportunity to acquire the property next to us,” she said.
The property wasn’t in the best condition. They had to remove a lot of old steel and tear down chicken coops and other old buildings. Once it was cleaned up, they planted their first crop of grapes in 2000.
“It takes several years to get a good crop,” she said. “You have to pinch them off and throw them away the first few years to get them stronger.”
Despite the challenges, they never turned away from their dream to build a winery.
“It was always move ahead, move ahead,” Don said. “I always tell people, ‘We’re pioneers. Where we are today, no one’s been before. We never thought we made a mistake by doing this.’“
Being in the agriculture business comes with aggravation, he said.
“We get some very good crops,” Don said. “Some years, we don’t. Overall, it’s worth it. Some people did plant their vineyards in the wrong location.”
While Don was learning how to grow the grapes, Annette was perfecting her craft.
In 2004, she retired from the classroom and the next day, the vineyard and winery officially opened. In 2007, after he realized he was spending more time at the vineyard than at his job in the banking industry, Don started working there full time. When he’s not planting grapes, Don can be found in his art studio using different textiles and materials to create three-dimensional hearts and other mixed-media works.
The couple grows some grapes on the property in Stroud. The rest of the grapes are grown around the state, allowing the couple to endure the ranges of Oklahoma weather and have diversity in their product. Grapes are grown in Stillwater, Norman, Newcastle, Jay, Duncan and other more rural areas.
“(The industry) is so diverse,” she said. “You’re in agriculture. You’re in science. There’s sales. Marketing. There’s never a dull moment.”
The winery is a Certified Indian Business since Annetta is a Cherokee Nation citizen. The wine is available in the CN’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa in Catoosa, WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Artesian Hotel in Sulphur and River Spirit Casino in Tulsa.
The wine is sold through a distributor, which helps put the product out across the state.
Because they have a winery in Oklahoma, Don said, they must disprove a perception about their products.
“Not everyone is created equal,” he said. “We are the grown-up winery. We didn’t dumb it down either.”
They could have used grapes from out of state, he said, but they wanted to stick to making an Oklahoma product with Oklahoma produce. Oklahoma-grown grapes are now harder to come by since fewer wineries in the state are using them, he said.
Using Oklahoma grapes has also helped set their product apart and made StableRidge an attraction on Route 66. Oklahoma grapes have helped make their product a recognized name in competitions. The couple took home a gold medal in the 2006 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. They competed against 4,000 different wines from 20 different countries.
Now StableRidge is even an agritourism destination, meaning it’s a place that the state would want to show people from outside the country. There is a state-produced sign pointing visitors in the direction of the vineyards in Stroud.
“They have a huge amount of people that stop and go through to tour the winery,” Tim Schook, city manager for Stroud, said. “They also attract a lot of people from the city both ways. They are bringing people into the community. They have a good volume on their wine sales. Every bit of sales tax revenue is good for any city. They’re good for us in many ways.”
Stroud Chamber of Commerce President Rick Craig said Don points people back to Stroud through his product.
“We need everything we can get to point people to our town,” he said. “They bring a constant line of people into our community to taste their wine and see what Stroud has to offer.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation has selected its 10 cyclists for the 2017 “Remember the Removal” Bike Ride set for June.
The ride allows Cherokees to retrace the northern route of the Trail of Tears by bicycle.
The cyclists, ages 16 to 24, started training in February for the 950-mile journey that spans Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The riders are Trey Pritchett, 19, of Stilwell; KenLea Henson, 23, of Proctor; Susie Worley-Means, 24, of Stilwell; Brian Barlow, 22, of Tahlequah; Hunter Scott, 16, of Bunch; Skylar Vann, 23, of Locust Grove; Gaya Pickup, 21, of Salina; Shelby Deal, 19, of Porum; Raven Girty, 20, of Gore; and Breanna Anderson, 21, of Sand Springs.
“I’m honored for the opportunity to be able to experience what would just be a fraction of what I can imagine my ancestors went through,” Worley-Means said. “The ride will be an invaluable experience, and a huge opportunity to learn more about my heritage and ancestors that I cannot get in the classroom.”
Ellic Miller, 23, of Tahlequah, and Macie Sullasteskee, 19, of Tahlequah, were named as alternates. They will ride if some of the 10 riders can’t make the trip, officials said. Officials said Miller and Sullasteskee were also guaranteed spots for next year’s ride if they still wanted to go.
Riders were selected based on essays, interviews and a physical to ensure they are up for the grueling challenge.
They will bike an average of 60 miles a day, mirroring in part the hardships of their Cherokee ancestors who made the same trek on foot. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory, 4,000 died due to exposure, starvation and disease, giving credence to the name Trail of Tears.
A genealogist will map out each rider’s family tree prior to the trip, providing cyclists with an insight into their ancestral past. The ride takes them to several Cherokee gravesites and historic landmarks, including Blythe’s Ferry in Tennessee, the westernmost edge of the old Cherokee Nation and Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where Cherokees huddled together for warmth under a hanging rock, the only shelter they could find during a frigid winter.
Cherokee Phoenix Assistant Editor Will Chavez, 50, was named as the inaugural mentor rider. He was a participant of the original 1984 “Remember the Removal” Bike Ride.
“I am honored to be taking part in the ride again and serving as a mentor rider for our youth. The youth I am riding with are an enthusiastic group who are also learning Cherokee history and language as they prepare physically for the ride,” Chavez said. “The ride is meant to honor our ancestors’ sacrifice and perseverance, but also serves to remind others that the Cherokee people are still here.”
The CN cyclists will join cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina and start the ride on June 4 in New Echota, Georgia.
“It is an opportunity of a lifetime to participate in the ‘Remember the Removal’ Bike Ride. It’s a living classroom and leadership skills workshop all rolled into one three-week event,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Year in and year out we see our young people blossom upon their return. They have a fuller understanding of our Cherokee history and heritage, and they have made lifelong bonds with one another.”
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.remembertheremoval.cherokee.org" target="_blank">www.remembertheremoval.cherokee.org</a> and <a href="http://www.facebook.com/removal.ride" target="_blank">www.facebook.com/removal.ride</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on March 20 amended Legislative Act 30-04 to limit “holdover” clauses to six months for people appointed to certain Cherokee Nation boards and commissions after their terms expire.
According to the amendment, after six months, if no one is confirmed or appointed for the expired seat, it becomes vacant.
The act passed 15-1 with Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan voting against it. Tribal Councilor David Thornton was absent.
During the Feb. 22 Rules Committee meeting, Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis said having some positions “holdover continuously for years” creates an “unstable environment” and a “time limit” is needed.
“We have some positions that holdover continuously for years, a year or two. Maybe some having been longer, I don’t know. In my opinion it’s an unstable environment and we need to set a time limit,” she said. “It shouldn’t take more than a month or two to reappoint or replace a board member or commissioner, but set a time limit of six months to do that.”
Chrissi Nimmo, CN assistant attorney general, said on Feb. 22 that boards and commissions such as Cherokee Nation Businesses, the Cherokee Nation Tax Commission and Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission would be affected by the amendment, while the Election Commission and Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board would not.
“I do believe that the way it’s written is the Election Commission and the Editorial Board would not be subject to…this at all because they both have their own statute on holdover previsions,” Nimmo said. “So this excludes Election Commission, Editorial Board, non-Cherokee entities for which we appoint and approve board members. The way the previous law was written any commission, board, agency that has it’s own enacting legislation that talks about how they’re appointed, how they holdover, this doesn’t change that. This is kind of the catch all for the ones that aren’t specifically mentioned elsewhere.”
Thornton on Feb. 22 said he didn’t “see the point” of the amendment.
“The very first thing I see is on E. of this legislation, the last sentence, ‘If no reappointment or new appointments have been confirmed, that seat becomes vacant.’ Well that seat’s vacant period if someone’s not sitting in it. Why should we have to make someone fill that seat within six months? This is counteracting exactly what I think you’re trying to do,” he said.
Tribal Councilor Keith Austin on Feb. 22 said he was not “opposed” to the legislation but wished it included the EC and Editorial Board.
“My only problem with it is that it doesn’t affect the problem with the Election Commission and it doesn’t fix the problem with the Editorial Board because the Editorial Board member that we appointed…is replacing one that was in holdover status for almost a year. Those two agencies both have a history of long holdover status. It’s important, especially with the Election Commission, that they have a full working staff. This is exactly what we need except for those two agencies and they’re excluded,” he said.
Tribal Councilor Dick Lay on Feb. 22 said that passing the amendment was a “good start.”
“This is the council, this is what we can affect today. We can affect and take on the other issues tomorrow. We can’t cure the world’s ills on one sweeping motion. This sets the progress for the boards and commissions that we have control over at this point and time,” he said. “This is a good start and I think it’s a bold move for this council to set the tone that you can’t just holdover these boards forever.”
Nimmo added that the amendment would not apply retroactively.
“We all agree that this can’t apply retroactively because our Constitution says,” she said. “There might be a disagreement on what retroactive means. Does it mean that someone who is currently in holdover status after six months they’re gone? I think probably not. I think to avoid retroactive application that this would only apply to newly appointed and confirmed people.”
In other business, legislators:
• Re-approved Leroy Qualls as a Cherokee Nation Foundation board member,
• Increased the fiscal year 2017 capital budget by $102,733 to $279.5 million,
• Increased the FY 2017 operating budget by $1.2 million to $667.9 million,
• Approved a contract for the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Healthy Living program, and
• Authorized an application for a National Park Service grant to survey the Rose Cottage site.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During the March 21 Rules Committee meeting, Tribal Councilors indefinitely tabled legislation aiming to have Cherokee Nation citizens vote this year on whether the tribe should allow same-sex marriage.
“This has been an extremely sensitive subject within the Cherokee Nation. The Osages (Osage Nation), they had an election yesterday. It was favorable for the same-sex community. It passed 52 percent. The thing is, their people had a vote in the matter. Our people didn’t have a vote in the matter,” Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick, the legislation’s sponsor, said referring to Attorney General Todd Hembree’s Dec 9 opinion.
The opinion, which has the weight of law, states two sections of the CN Family and Marriage Act – one defining marriage as between a man and woman and another prohibiting parties of the same gender to marry– were unconstitutional.
Following the opinion, CN citizens Dawn Reynolds-McKinley and Kathy Reynolds-McKinley filed their marriage license on Jan. 19 at the CN Courthouse. As of publication, only two same-sex marriage licenses have been filed with the District Court.
Walkingstick said as a legislator he did not think the attorney general’s office should be making laws because that was the Tribal Council’s job.
Other legislators questioned whether to move forward with Walkingstick’s act because of a case in District Court challenging Hembree’s opinion. Tribal Councilor Curtis Snell on March 20 filed a declaratory judgment petition asking the court to declare lawful the two Family and Marriage Act sections Hembree opined were unconstitutional.
“I don’t know at this time if it’s gone to the courthouse. I’m at odds to whether we should vote on it or not,” Tribal Councilor Dick Lay said.
Tribal Councilor Keith Austin said he couldn’t vote for the legislation because the CN Constitution states “equal protection shall be afforded under the laws of the Cherokee Nation.”
“Based on that alone, I can’t vote for something that denies a portion of our population a privilege or a benefit that is afforded other portions of our population,” he said. “That Constitution says equal protection. It doesn’t say equal protection for straight people. It says equal protection.”
He added that he sees it as a violation of the Tribal Council oath of office to support legislation conflicting with the CN and U.S. constitutions.
“If the voters came to us with an initiative petition then we would deal with that,” he said. “But for us to promote a law that is in conflict with the United States Constitution, I interpret that to mean that we are violating our oath of office.”
Hembree said he wasn’t on either side of the same-sex marriage issue but on the side of the CN Constitution. He added that Walkingstick’s legislation was a legal nullity.
“If you want to attempt to amend the Constitution to make gay marriage illegal, Mr. Walkingstick, I recommend that you do that. But in the resolution that you brought forward it doesn’t do that at all,” he said. “And whoever helped you draft this, Mr. Walkingstick, didn’t do it correctly.”
Following the discussion, legislators voted 13-3 to table the bill with Tribal Councilors Shawn Crittenden, Lay and Walkingstick voting against. Tribal Councilor Don Garvin was absent.
Kathy Reynolds-McKinley, who attended the committee meeting with her wife, said afterward that “equality shouldn’t be voted on, it should be expected” and that she and Dawn were happy to see the legislation not approved.
“We don’t expect 100 percent support, but at bare minimum hope for mutual respect among tribal members,” she said.
Walkingstick said the meeting “opened the eyes of our Cherokee people on our executive branch and attorney general.”
“The Tribal Council has great faith in the Cherokee people and their ability to self-determine what’s right for them. It’s the Cherokee people’s tribe. I will make every effort that their voice will be heard, instead of one person or a few making the laws,” he said.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Sequoyah High School will celebrate the 2017 3A state champion Sequoyah Lady Indians basketball team at 5:30 p.m. on March 22 at The Place Where They Play gymnasium on the SHS campus.
According to an email from Athletic Director Marcus Crittenden, the public is invited to attend and celebrate “the outstanding achievements of these players and coaches.”
“This is the second gold ball in three years for the Lady Indians, and the fifth in program history,” Crittenden said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – President Donald Trump is paying homage to a predecessor, Andrew Jackson, with the highest form of flattery. Trump says the nation’s seventh president reminds him an awful lot of himself.
The president paid a visit on March 15 to The Hermitage – Jackson’s Nashville home - to commemorate Jackson’s 250th birthday.
Trump hailed Jackson as “one of our great presidents” and described some of their similarities. Trump’s team has long seized on parallels between the current president and the Tennessee war hero, comparing Jackson’s triumph in 1828 over President John Quincy Adams to Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton last year.
Trump described Jackson as a fellow outsider who pledged to represent the forgotten worker and took on the Washington establishment.
“It was during the revolution that Jackson first confronted and defied an arrogant elite,” Trump said.
“Does that sound familiar to you?” he asked his crowd. “Oh, I know the feeling, Andrew.”
Trump said Jackson’s victory “shook the establishment like an earthquake” and talked about how he’d tried to sweep out government corruption, improve veterans’ care and impose tariffs on foreign countries to protect American workers - all things Trump pledged to do during his campaign.
Trump spoke after taking a tour of the property, which included a stop at the home’s library. There, the curator told Trump that Jackson subscribed to 16 newspapers and made notes on stories about which ones he liked and disliked.
On one editorial, he drew a big black “X'” to show his disapproval.
“We know that feeling,” said Trump, who has been known to scrawl angry notes on reporters’ stories with a black Sharpie and send the marked-up stories back to them.
Following a tour of the property the president placed a wreath at Jackson’s tomb. He stood, saluting, as taps played.
Jackson has enjoyed a moment of resurgence thanks to Trump, who mused during his first days in Washington that “there hasn't been anything like this since Andrew Jackson” and hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office after moving in.
Historians had been souring on the slave-owning president, whose Indian Removal Act of 1830 commissioned the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands. More than 4,000 died during their journeys west.
Jackson’s standing had fallen so much that that the U.S. Treasury opted to remove Jackson from the $20 bill.
But Howard Kittell, the President and CEO of the Hermitage mansion, said attendance at the museum has surged since the election.
“Jackson is probably getting more media attention now than when he was president,” he said.President Trump visited President Andrew Jackson’s home in March to celebrate his birthday.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court on March 20 heard arguments regarding Cherokee Nation citizen Randy White’s appeal of the Election Commission decision that disqualified him as a Dist. 11 Tribal Council candidate.
Dist. 11 covers Craig County, northern Mayes County and northern Nowata County.
Prior to appeal arguments, the court rejected two motions – one for intervention in the case by the tribe’s attorney general’s office and the other to dismiss made by the EC.
Attorney General Todd Hembree said he should be able to intervene because of his responsibility to uphold the CN Constitution. However, White’s attorney, Deb Reed, said the election law (Title 26) states the EC contracts with its attorney and that no other attorney may work on its behalf.
Regarding the dismissal motion, EC attorney Harvey Chaffin said Title 26 states the EC may present evidence and testimony and that it “intends the EC be made a party.”
“Once they’ve made a decision it’s my job to support that decision,” he said about the EC.
Reed said Title 26 does not say “shall be a party” and that the EC had made its ruling.
After a recess, the court denied both motions and stated the EC was welcome to present its evidence and testimony.
Attorney Curtis Bruehl – representing Chance Hayes, who challenged White’s candidacy – said, “to run (for office) you need to have Cherokee blood running through your veins.” He said the 2006 Lucy Allen v. Cherokee Nation ruling states the “only time a legal right, under Cherokee law, depends on Cherokee blood, is when a person decides to run for elected office…we rely on the blood degree findings of the Dawes Commission to make sure our principal chief and council members are Cherokee citizens by blood. This guarantees Cherokee control of government, but that government is ultimately elected by a larger and more diverse constituency of citizens.”
White is Shawnee by blood but a CN citizen via an 1869 agreement with the U.S. government to adopt Shawnees.
In court documents, Bruehl states White is a CN citizen by adoption but not “by blood.” He said the CN Constitution states the Tribal Council will consist of those “who are citizens by blood of the Cherokee Nation.”
Chaffin said there are three types of CN citizenship – Cherokees by blood, Delaware by adoption and Shawnee by adoption. He said the Allen case sets forth the reasoning why the “by blood” be Cherokee and not just a citizen to be a candidate for office.
“Cherokees want to be governed by the Cherokees,” he said.
Reed said Article 6, Section 3 of the CN Constitution states “any citizen by blood of the Cherokee Nation…” can be a Tribal Council candidate.
Reed has argued that the statutory definition of “citizen by blood” includes Shawnee Cherokees based on a 2007 Constitutional amendment, 1999 Constitutional Convention delegate intent and the attorney general’s representations to the federal courts.
She has also stated the CN Citizenship Act requires a person to “prove back directly to an individual who is listed by blood on a base roll.” She states the act defines the “by blood base roll” to include Shawnee Cherokees for CN citizenship.
“‘Base roll’ means a specific list of individuals used for determining tribal citizenship…Those final rolls by blood used for citizenship purposes are Cherokee by blood, Cherokee minors by blood, Delaware Cherokees and Shawnee Cherokees,” she stated.
She added that she agrees CN citizens elect their representatives and that White is “asking for a chance to run.”
After the hearing, White said he doesn’t understand the confusion because all parties “go by what the Constitution states.”
“They’re all arguing the same thing, but if they meant you had to be Cherokee blood, actual Cherokee blood, then they need to write it that way and they didn’t,” he said. “We’ve had other Cherokee Shawnees and Cherokee Delaware on council before. Why now is it being challenged?”
Reed said Greg Pitcher, a Cherokee Shawnee, and Wathene Young, a Cherokee Delaware served on Tribal Council previously. According to the Tribal Council’s website, Pitcher served Craig and Nowata counties, and Young was an At-Large councilor.
The court said it would rule by March 28.
To view court documents relating to the case, visit cherokeecourts.org.