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.”
CLAREMORE, Okla. – Trainers are legging-up their horses for a 30-day thoroughbred meet returning March 13 to Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs.
The spring meet holds to the return of a more traditional calendar from this past year, running through Preakness on May 20. Races begin at 1:05 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday beginning March 13, and every Monday, Tuesday and Saturday for April and May.
The 2017 thoroughbred meet kicks off with a new series of starter allowance races. The races are designed specifically for horses that have started on turf in their most recent starts.
“While Will Rogers Downs doesn’t offer turf racing, we do have horses in our population that have been racing on turf at other tracks,” said John Lies, racing secretary and track announcer for Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs. “Thanks to this new offering, they now have a division of their own to face each other on our main track, which had a perfect safety record last spring.”
The series will run a six-week period within the meet, offering nine races, including a sprint division and three races for fillies and mares.
“Our stakes schedule has been given a nice makeover but still offers eight races with the same 10 percent increase in winnings we offered in 2016,” said Lies. “Four of the races have been rebranded to bear the names of memorable thoroughbreds either here in Claremore or in the state of Oklahoma. It’s an exciting change.”
The Miranda Diane, formerly the Wilma Mankiller Memorial, guarantees $50,000 on April 3, along with The Highland Ice the following day, named after an accomplished sprinter inducted into the Oklahoma Racing Hall of Fame.
“The recently renamed Cinema Handicap and Will Rogers Downs Handicap have been moved to create a stakes double header situation on both April 24 and 25,” said Lies. “This gives those same horses the opportunity to come back three weeks later to face each other in a finale of sorts, the final two stakes races in May.”
Those races – the More Than Even on May 15, named after a multiple Will Rogers Downs winner of the preceding race and 2015 horse of the meet, and the Cherokee Nation Classic Cup on May 16 – both offer purses of $55,000.
For the spring 2016 Will Rogers Downs meet, more than $19 million was wagered on live racing, with four days surpassing $1 million.
Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs is located 3 miles east of Claremore on Highway 20. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeestarrewards.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeestarrewards.com</a> or call 918-283-8800.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to Election Commission documents, five people received challenges to their respective Tribal Council candidacies during the EC’s period to contest a candidate’s eligibility, which ran Feb. 10-16.
Of the five challenges, two were based on residency, two on possible conflict of interest with other tribes and one on whether a candidate has to be Cherokee by blood to run.
Cherokee Nation citizen Angela Collins, of Gore, contested Dist. 4 candidate Bo Highers claiming he did not fulfill the residency requirement. In her challenge, Collins claims Highers has an at-large residence at 116 N. L St. in Muskogee County.
According to CN Registration records, Highers’ address is 3805 Chandler Road in Muskogee.
The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to contact Highers for comment, but as of publication he had not responded.
Collins also requested the EC investigate “the interest” Dist. 4 candidate Sarah Cowett “has with the Creek Nation.” According to Cowett’s Facebook profile, she works at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Division of Health.
According to the tribe’s Constitution, any person “who holds any office of honor, profit or trust in any other tribe or Nation of American Indians, either elective or appointive shall be ineligible to hold simultaneously any office of honor, profit or trust of the Cherokee Nation” unless approved by the Tribal Council.
The tribe’s election law states the “candidate shall not hold any office of honor, profit or trust in any other tribe of Indians, either elective or appointive, if elected to the Cherokee Nation office which he or she is seeking.”
Cowett said she does work for the MCN, but doesn’t hold office.
“Yes, I do work for Creek Nation Department of Health as a patient benefits coordinator. This position allows me to help our tribal members as well as members from other tribes to obtain benefits for health care that they may not know about. I take it a step further and find about their lives so that I may be of further assistance to them,” she said. “I do not hold an office nor would I be eligible to vote in any election that they may have because I am Cherokee not Creek. I am honored to be able to run for the D4 position.”
CN citizen Dalene Kirk, of Jay, challenged the candidacy of Dist. 9 candidate Anthony Cochran claiming Cochran did not live in the district the required number of days before filing for office.
According to CN law, the “candidate shall have established a bona fide permanent residence in the district for which he or she is a candidate for no less than two hundred seventy (270) days immediately preceding the day of the general election in which he or she is seeking election.”
Cochran said he did not have a response regarding the residency challenge, but said that there will always be challenges in life.
“There will be people opposed to what you do, what you say, how you do it and why you do it,” he said. “How you take on and deal with these challenges and oppositions is what will determine what kind of person, role model and leader you will be. I believe everything has a way of working itself out.”
CN citizen Chance Hayes, of Vinita, challenged the candidacy of Randy White in Dist. 11 claiming he wasn’t “Cherokee by blood.”
White said he did not have a comment as of publication, but would comment after the EC hearings.
According to election law, a candidate “shall be a citizen of Cherokee Nation, in accordance with Article IV of the Constitution of Cherokee Nation and shall be a citizen by blood of Cherokee Nation.”
According to the Constitution, all CN citizens must be original enrollees or descendants of original enrollees listed on the Dawes Commission Rolls, including the Delaware Cherokees…and Shawnee Cherokees and/or their descendants.
CN citizen Kathy White, of Midland, Texas, challenged At-Large candidate Shane Jett claiming his work with the Citizen of Potawatomi Nation poses a conflict of interest.
The Phoenix attempted to contact Jett for comment, but as of publication he had not responded.
According to letters given to each candidate and petitioner, the EC had scheduled hearings for all five challenges for 1 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the EC Office located at 17763 S. Muskogee Ave.
<a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2017/2/11031__2017CandidateContests.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to read</a>the candidate challenge documents.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Phoenix was the first Native American newspaper and the first bilingual publication in North America. And on Feb. 21, it celebrates its 189th birthday.
The newspaper’s first issue was printed on Feb. 21, 1828, in New Echota, Cherokee Nation (now Georgia), and edited by Elias Boudinot. It was printed in English and Cherokee, using the Cherokee syllabary created by Sequoyah.
Rev. Samuel Worcester and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions helped build the printing office, cast type in the Cherokee syllabary and procure the printer and other equipment. Also, Boudinot, his brother Stand Watie, John Ridge and Elijah Hicks, all leaders in the tribe at that time, raised money to start the newspaper.
In 1829, the newspaper name was amended to include the Indian Advocate at the request of Boudinot. The Cherokee National Council approved of the name change and both the masthead and content were changed to reflect the paper’s broader mission.
In the 1830s Boudinot and Principal Chief John Ross used the Cherokee Phoenix to editorialize against the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the growing encroachment and harassment of settlers in Georgia.
The newspaper also contained news items, features, accounts about Cherokees living in Arkansas and other area tribes, and social and religious activities. The two U.S. Supreme Court decisions (Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia), which affected Cherokee rights, were also written about extensively.
As pressure for the Cherokee to leave Georgia increased, Boudinot changed his stance and began to advocate for the removal of Cherokee to the west. At first Chief Ross supported Boudinot’s opposing view but by 1832 the two leaders’ differences caused them to split and Boudinot resigned.
Elijah Hicks, a brother-in-law of Ross, was appointed editor in August 1832, but the Phoenix was silenced in May 1834 when the Cherokee government ran out of money for the paper. Attempts were made to revive the paper. When word leaked that Chief Ross intended to move the printing press from New Echota to nearby Red Clay, Tenn., the Georgia Guard, who were already brutally oppressing the Cherokee people, moved in and destroyed the press and burned the Cherokee Phoenix office with the help of Stand Watie who was a member of the Treaty Party. The party advocated selling what remained of Cherokee land and moving west.
Four years later most of the Cherokees who remained on their lands in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina were rounded up and forcibly marched or sent by boat to Indian Territory.
A Cherokee Nation newspaper was again published in September 1844 in the form of the Cherokee Advocate. The paper was published in Tahlequah and edited by Cherokee citizen William Potter Ross, a graduate of Princeton University.
The Cherokee Advocate returned after the Cherokee government was officially reformed in 1975. The newspaper continued under that name until October 2000 when the paper began using the name Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate again. Also, that same year, the Tribal Council passed the Cherokee Independent Press Act of 2000, which ensures the coverage of tribal government and news of the Cherokee Nation is free from political control and undue influence.
In January 2007, the newspaper began using the original Cherokee Phoenix name, launched a website and began publishing in a broadsheet format. Today, the newspaper reports on the tribe’s government, current events and Cherokee culture, people and history. The news organization has also broadened its outreach to include locally aired radio shows that are also available online and social media.
BOSTON (AP) — Native Americans hope President Donald Trump doesn't forget America's first inhabitants as he promises to put "America first."
Tribes have been reaching out to the Republican administration since it took office last month, saying they're ready to help it meet its campaign promises of improving the economy and creating more jobs for Americans.
Five large tribes in Oklahoma — the Cherokee, Chickasaw , Choctaw, Muscogee Creek and Seminoles — have requested a meeting with the New York billionaire during his first 100 days in office so they can talk about ways to advance their common interests.
In Massachusetts, leaders of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, descendants of the Native Americans who first encountered the Pilgrims nearly four centuries ago, have been echoing similar sentiments to Trump officials as they seek approval of reservation lands to build a $1 billion resort casino south of Boston.
"Tribes are pouring billions and billions of dollars into the U.S. to help make America great again," said Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the 2,600-member, federally recognized tribe, playing off Trump's campaign slogan. "All of these economies we're creating, from resort casinos to malls to businesses. We're job creators. That's a story that's never really told."
But tribes elsewhere have already steeled for battle just weeks into the new administration.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota has asked the courts to overturn recent federal approvals for the Dakota Access pipeline. The tribe and its supporters are also planning a large demonstration in Washington on March 10.
"The Trump Administration is circumventing the law: wholly disregarding the treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux," Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing the tribe, said in a statement. "It isn't the 1800s anymore — the U.S. government must keep its promises."
The tribes along the nation's border with Mexico have also voiced concerns about the impact Trump's proposed wall will have on their sovereign lands. And other tribal advocates are closely watching what comes of Republicans' promises to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
The law included federal funds for tribal health care programs, and stripping them could have "disastrous consequences," dozens of tribal groups wrote in a December letter to congressional leaders.
Despite the uncertainties, many tribal leaders say they're still hopeful they can build on the strong relationships enjoyed under prior administrations.
They've found reason to cheer in Trump's pick to lead the Department of Interior, Ryan Zinke, a Republican congressman from Montana who's pledged to "restore trust" between the agency, the states and Indian tribes.
"Yes, we are looking for ways to partner. Now, do we have assumptions because he's been in battles with other tribes? Sure, and we're looking to clarify those assumptions," says Gary Batton, chief of the roughly 200,000-member Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. "Is he open to considering that each tribal government is its own separate entity and unique? That's the way we're approaching this."
On the campaign trail, Trump gave little indication how he might approach tribes, but many see promise in the administration's broader goals.
"Infrastructure, energy development, education and job creation," said Jacqueline Pata, a member of the Tlingit-Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska's Central Council and executive director for the National Congress of American Indians. "Those are things that have been critical in Indian Country for a long, long time."
Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, says his members will be looking for greater control over water, land, criminal justice and taxation on their sovereign lands, which straddle parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
"If Trump is about self-sufficiency and self-determination, let's see if he really means that," he said. "Give us full authority over our lands. If this land is ours, why are we asking the federal government for permission?"
Tribes with casino dreams, meanwhile, are optimistic that Trump's experience in the industry, as well as his promises to ease businesses regulations, will work in their favor, said Jason Giles, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma and executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association.
Trump once owned three Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos, though two have since shuttered and one operates under different owners.
Tribes are even willing, for now, to overlook the president's past off-color statements about Native Americans. Testifying before Congress in 1993, the then-casino mogul questioned the legitimacy of some of his tribal rivals.
"Go up to Connecticut," Trump said, referring to the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino. "They don't look like Indians to me."
Giles called Trump's past remarks "troublesome" but says he and other tribal representatives have been assured by Trump's advisers that those statements aren't reflective of the current administration, which didn't respond to requests for comment for this story.
"We're taking them at their word," he said. "We're going into this with open arms."
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During a special meeting on Feb. 16, Election Commission Administrator Brooke Tillison submitted her resignation letter to the EC, citing job stress.
At the meeting, commissioners went into executive session to discuss personnel. Upon returning Commissioner Pam Sellers motioned to accept the resignation. The motion stated that Feb. 24 was to be Tillison’s last day of employment. It also put Tillison on administrative leave until her resignation took effect.
Commissioner Carolyn Allen seconded the motion and it passed unopposed.
In a statement, Tillison wrote that she “enjoyed making a difference” at the EC, beginning her tenure at the commission as a clerk before being promoted to administrator. However, she cited job stress as the reason for resigning.
“Unfortunately the tremendous amount of stress has made it impossible for me to continue being the Administrator,” she stated. “I am very appreciative of the Commissioners and staff who continue to give their best efforts while maintaining strong morals. I wish you all the best of luck in the election and the future.”
Previously, Wanda Beaver, who stated having grievances with Commissioners Bill Horton, Hart, Martha Calico, Shawna Calico and Allen, resigned in 2014. Former Administrators Keeli Duncan and Madison Thomas resigned in 2016 and 2015, respectively.
The Phoenix requested comment from Duncan and Thomas but didn’t receive a response from Duncan, and Thomas declined to comment. The Phoenix was unable to contact Beaver.
The Phoenix requested a statement from the EC regarding Tillison’s resignation, but had not received one as of publication.
The EC also held a meeting on Feb. 14, in which it amended each commissioner’s contract and its attorney’s contract in the amounts of $15,600 and $24,000, respectively.
Also approved were three press releases to be sent to the Phoenix regarding the upcoming Tribal Council elections and a process for someone who becomes incapacitated during an election, but still would like to vote.
Commissioners also went into executive session for personnel reasons. Upon their return, they said no action was taken.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Despite denying he did anything wrong, Cherokee Nation citizen and Dist. 86 Rep. Will Fourkiller said he would accept the recommendations from a House of Representatives committee that investigated him and another state representative for sexual harassment claims.
“I take this matter very seriously and want to take steps to avoid even an appearance of impropriety,” Fourkiller, D-Stilwell, stated in a letter delivered Feb. 13 to House Speaker Charles McCall.
The special House committee recommended on Feb. 2 that Fourkiller undergo sensitivity training and have no interaction with the legislative body’s page program for a year. He was accused of making inappropriate comments to a high school-age House page in 2015.
According to the program, high schools students from the state serve as pages for a week during regular legislative sessions and do interact with legislators.
The committee’s report states when the accusation was made in 2015 Fourkiller did not acknowledge or deny making the comments. Fourkiller has since denied any wrongdoing.
“I have made the decision to voluntarily agree to follow both recommendations of the Committee,” Fourkiller wrote in the letter to McCall.
On Jan. 17, Fourkiller declined to appear before the committee saying he would only speak the to the Special Investigation Committee if the proceeding was open to the public.
According to reports, the committee had heard from witnesses in only closed sessions.
“A confidential, closed-door proceeding does not provide the equitable forum to repair my character and reputation,” he told Rep. Josh Cockroft, who chaired the committee, in a letter.
Fourkiller on Jan. 11 said he was made aware in 2015 that a page had indicated he had said something that made her uncomfortable and he had apologized.
“I do not know what I did or said, but whatever it was I certainly didn’t mean to do it, and I apologized,” he said.
He added that the 2015 incident is the only one that he was made aware of by House staff.
The House has declined to release the complaint, citing personnel reasons.
With his decision, Fourkiller avoids a vote in the Republican-controlled House on the committee’s recommendations.
The committee also recommended expelling Tulsa Republican Rep. Dan Kirby from the House. The committee’s report says Kirby took one of his legislative assistants to a strip club and received topless photos of her.
Kirby submitted his resignation on Feb. 4, which was to take effect March 1. He initially resigned in late December after reports of a publicly funded settlement with another woman surfaced, but later rescinded his resignation.
The committee also determined the House had the authority to spend money to settle the wrongful termination agreement paid to one of the accusers.
Officials said there was no financial settlement in the complaint against Fourkiller.
Fourkiller was first elected to the Dist. 86 seat in 2011. He was re-elected in 2013 and 2015. He also ran for principal chief of the CN in 2015, finishing third at 10.58 percent with 2,040 votes.