Cherokee Nation citizen Dusten Brown plays with his daughter Veronica, center, with two unidentified children in this undated photo. After a lengthy legal battle, Brown handed over Veronica in September to a non-Native South Carolina couple after their adoption of the girl was declared legal. Four national Native American organizations on Feb. 3 called for the federal government to take a stronger role in enforcing compliance of the Indian Child Welfare Act. COURTESY PHOTO
Native American groups seek child welfare probe
Supporters of Dusten Brown gather on Aug. 12 at the Cherokee Nation Courthouse in Tahlequah, Okla., to protest the adoption of CN citizen Veronica Brown, Dusten’s daughter, by a non-Indian couple in South Carolina. Four national Native American organizations on Feb. 3 asked the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children in the private adoption and public child welfare systems, saying civil rights violations there are rampant. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Four national Native American organizations on Feb. 3 asked the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children in the private adoption and public child welfare systems, saying civil rights violations there are rampant.
The groups also called for the federal government to take a stronger role in enforcing compliance of the Indian Child Welfare Act. They stated in a letter to Jocelyn Samuels, the Justice Department’s acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, that there is “minimal federal oversight” over implementation of the law.
The letter follows a recent high-profile custody battle over a Cherokee girl known as Baby Veronica who eventually was adopted by a white South Carolina couple. It also comes amid lawsuits alleging violations of federal law governing foster care and adoptions in some states.
The organizations, which include the Portland-based National Indian Child Welfare Association, alleged in their letter that some guardians appointed by the court mock Native American culture; some state workers put down traditional Native ways of parenting; and some children are placed in white homes when Indian relatives and Native foster care homes are available.
“These stories highlight patterns of behavior that are, at best, unethical and, at worst, unlawful,” the letter states. “Although these civil rights violations are well-known and commonplace, they continue to go unchecked and unexamined.”
The federal government had no an immediate response regarding the allegations.
“We have received the letter and are reviewing the request,” Justice Department spokeswoman Dena W. Iverson said in an email.
Native children are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system nationwide, especially in foster care.
Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 after finding high numbers of Indian children being removed from their homes by public and private agencies and placed in non-Indian foster and adoptive homes and institutions.
Federal law now requires that additional services be provided to Native families to prevent unwarranted removal. And it requires that Indian children who are removed be placed whenever possible with relatives or with other Native Americans, in a way that preserves their connection with their tribe, community and relatives.
While Native groups agree that the ICWA has been effective in slowing the removal of Indian children from their families, major challenges remain. And Baby Veronica’s plight has highlighted the matter.
Veronica was born to a non-Cherokee mother, who put her up for adoption. Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a white couple, gained custody of the child in 2009. The baby’s father, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, pressed claims under the ICWA and won custody when the girl was 27 months old.
But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the act didn’t apply because the father, Dusten Brown, had been absent from Veronica’s life before her birth and never had custody of her. In September, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court dissolved an order keeping the girl in the state, and Brown handed her over to the Capobiancos.
In addition to that case, the letter cites problems such as adoption agencies disregarding children’s tribal affiliation and failing to provide notice to a tribe when a child is taken into custody. The groups also contend Indian children are transported across state lines to sidestep the law; adoption attorneys encourage circumvention of the law; and judges deny tribes a presence during child custody proceedings.
Another problem, according to Craig Dorsay, an Oregon lawyer who works on many Native child welfare cases, is inconsistencies in identifying who is an Indian child and who is not – and whether the law applies to families who are deemed not Indian enough in the eyes of a court.
In Oregon, Dorsay said, the overall relationship between tribes and counties is good when it comes to applying the law. But statistics continue to show the disproportionate removal of Native children from their families.
Native American children in Oregon are more likely to be placed in foster care than white children, according to research from Portland State University. And they’re more likely to exit care by adoption. That, despite the fact that the abuse rate among Natives is the same as for white families.
Researchers found that suspected abuse or neglect involving Native American families was reported to child protective services at a higher rate than the group’s representation in the general population.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The next meeting of the Tahlequah Writers group is 2 p.m., Sept. 20 at the Cherokee Arts Center at 212 S. Water St.
During the meeting, Cherokee author Faith Phillips will discuss her first published novel, “Ezekiel’s Wheels.” The novel is set in this area and explores two story lines: one on the Trail of Tears and the other a contemporary journey that leads into a supernatural happening connecting the two tales.
Phillips will share with attendees how she became a writer, giving up a law career and how her first book came to publication, as well as how she is promoting the work. She has published short stories and music reviews and has a passion for this area of Oklahoma.
Additionally, facilitator Karen Cooper said she hopes to hear what Tahlequah Writers participants are writing, what promotional events have been attended, as well as about any learning sessions attended. Upcoming activities also will be discussed.
Cooper is encouraging aspiring writers and writers to check the Tahlequah Writers Facebook page to see postings about contests, workshops and other writing opportunities.
The purpose of the Tahlequah Writers group is to inspire and cultivate writers in northeastern Oklahoma, to serve as a support group for aspiring authors and explore opportunities of attaining professional writing careers.
The public is invited to participate. For more information, call Cooper at 918-207-0093 or email <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
CATOOSA, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission employees informed the CNGC’s board of commissioners on Aug. 22 that Cherokee Nation Entertainment, the tribe’s gaming arm, is not properly reporting some complimentary items given away at CNE facilities.
Internal auditor Traci Asher told commissioners that CNGC employees have found issues regarding manual complimentary items, which are given free usually as part of a promotion.
“We did touch on all the manual comps, but we did find that they’re (CNE employees) using those manual comp books. And it’s just a book that has copies in it, so they write out a comp instead of running it through the system,” Asher said. “They’re actually using a lot of these comps in internal administrative expenses, so they weren’t redeeming them correctly. So we brought that to their attention. We had some employees that had been granted incorrect system permissions for comping privileges.”
Internal administrative expense comps are complimentary items that include the cost of an administrative function where certain items such as food or beverage items are provided.
Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton said forms for the manual comps and internal administrative expenses are similar in appearance and “on rare occasion the wrong form may have been used.”
He said the forms are being redesigned to make them more distinguishable and less likely to be confused.
The CNGC regulates and oversees conduct of all gaming operations, including auditing, to ensure compliance with the tribe’s Gaming Commission Act and any regulations adopted by the CNGC. The commission also enforces any gaming-related compacts with the state, as well as federal gaming laws.
Under the Gaming Commission Act, the CNGC reviews financial records to ensure proper accountability.
When working with CNE, Asher said normally the commission issues CNE an audit draft so responses can be given.
“With that, we work with them for about seven to 10 days, and if they can provide us any evidence that would negate those findings then we will take them out,” she said.
Under the Gaming Commission Act, the CNGC can “inspect, examine and monitor all gaming facility activities on a continuing basis and to have immediate, unfettered access to all areas of a gaming facility to review, inspect, examine, photocopy and/or audit all records of the facility.”
Asher said the CNGC only focused on manual comps and not internal administrative expenses.
CNGC Director Jamie Hummingbird said the commission would need to have another discussion with CNE regarding its terminology, particularly where CNE employees are using manual comps in the place of internal expenses.
“We advised them at that time that the terminology that they were using could be problematic, and I think that is evident with some of the ones that we’ve seen here,” he said. “Plus, we are seeing indications that their staff is not being fully trained or really knows how to discern whether it’s an administrative expense or is an administrative comp. And is it a service recovery comp or is it something different? So we need to sit down with them again and see if we can refine the terminology and treatment of these things so that we are reflecting true comps versus true expenses.”
Slaton said complimentary items are issued from and redeemed through CNE’s player tracking system and include, but are not limited to, food and beverage items, lodging, merchandise and entertainment expenses.
Audits of complimentary activities take place daily by CNE’s revenue audit department,” he said. “CNE complimentary activity is also audited annually by both a CNGC audit and CNB internal audit services.”
He added that CNE’s daily complimentary audit examines redeemed complimentaries to ensure they were properly authorized and redeemed based on CNGC regulations and CNE policy and procedures.
Slaton said CNE makes every effort to meet and comply with CNGC regulations and reporting timelines.
“According to CNE’s records, during the 13-month audit period, 10 reports were filed on a timely basis. November and December reports were delayed due to technical issues in compiling the report. Once completed, the reports were submitted. The April report was submitted 5 days outside the agreed-upon filing period,” he said. “Different reports have different filing deadlines, and CNE makes every effort to meet those timelines. CNGC regulations and CNE policy and procedures are silent as to a deliverable timeline for the monthly complimentary audit reports noted. There are differences over whether a verbal agreement exists for a 30- or 45-day deadline for these report.”
Another issue addressed was the CNGC finding a $10,000 comp for Toby Keith’s I Love this Bar and Grill that was not redeemed.
“So I don’t know if that was an error on somebody’s part that never got voided or how that happened, but it was a system anomaly that no one could explain to us,” Asher said.
Asher said because it was never redeemed, it was decided that it wasn’t going to be an issue.
CNGC Commissioner Ruth Ann Weaver asked if employees found where the $10,000 came from or went.
“How that happened and how the system allowed it to happen or if it was just a system anomaly, we can’t make that determination on the evidence that we were given,” Asher said.
Hummingbird said CNE initially said the comp was never issued. Once the commission showed CNE its own report with the comp, CNE still couldn’t find it.
Weaver asked if that is the $10,000 that was spent at Toby Keith’s I Love this Bar and Grill, Hummingbird said yes.
“They’re not going to tell me that wasn’t spent,” Weaver said.
Hummingbird said this is one of the unresolved issues the commission has with Cherokee Nation Businesses, the tribe’s business arm, which CNE falls under.
“At this point, since the comp has not been redeemed, that we can tell, we can’t say one way or another whether is appropriated or not appropriated,” he said.
Slaton said there was never a $10,000 comp issued or redeemed at Toby Keith’s.
Asher also told commissioners that CNGC staff has had issues getting inaccurate reports from CNE.
“We also had some issues where we were getting the reports, but I guess during the export process, when they’re (CNE) exporting those reports from the casino management system into an excel spreadsheet that they send to us, that some of those columns are getting mixed up and some of the data is getting transferred,” Asher said. “So when we’re trying to do our analysis of those, we’re running into some big problems of inaccurate data. So that kind of hindered some of our review.”
Slaton said to his knowledge all reports were submitted accurately.
Hummingbird said he would bring to the commission on Sept. 12 a proposed revision to clarify what types of variances the commission will look in the future to prevent such issues. That meeting was slated for 9 a.m. at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. –The Encore! Performing Society in Tahlequah will hold auditions on Sept. 13 for its performance of The Nutcracker.
The auditions will be separated into five age groups ranging from children age 5 to adults.
The 5- to 7-year-olds must arrive at 9:30 a.m. with auditions being from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
The 8- to 11-year-olds must arrive at 10 a.m. with auditions being from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
The 12 to 15-year-olds must arrive at 10:30 a.m. with auditions being from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.
The 15-year-olds and older with dancing parts must arrive at 11:30 a.m. with auditions being from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
The adults without dancing parts but with some acting will have auditions at 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
The audition fee is $10. Auditions will take place at the Academy of Preforming Arts located at 17328 S. Muskogee Ave.
For more information, call 918-803-1408 or email <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Tax Commission heard about an issue regarding the tribe’s veterans sales tax exemption cards during its Sept. 10 meeting.
CNTC Administrator Sharon Swepston said her department has received calls from businesses that are not licensed by the tribe asking questions about the sales tax exemption card because Cherokee veterans who have received the tribally issued cards are trying to use them at those businesses.
The sales tax exemption cards are for CN veterans and are to be used at CN-licensed retailers. With the card, veterans are exempt from paying a 6-percent sales tax at CN-licensed businesses on most items. The card cannot be used to receive exemptions on gasoline, tobacco or alcohol.
Swepston said when the CNTC mails the cards, a list of CN-approved locations such as the Cherokee Arts Center, Cherokee Trails Golf Course and CN smoke shops is included. She said the list does not include locations such as Lowe’s, Wal-Mart or Chili’s Restaurant.
The card also allows for tax exemptions at CN casinos for rooms, retail items, concert tickets and food.
For a qualifying CN veteran to a receive sales tax exemption card, he or she must complete and mail in an application form, along with copies of his or her tribal citizenship card, Oklahoma driver’s license and DD-214 form, a Defense Department form that identifies a veteran’s condition of discharge.
Once a veteran is approved, he or she will receive a card along with the list of approved retailers. If the retailers list is changed, a new one will be sent out to those who have the cards.
The sales tax exemption cards have been available since July 2013. The card lists a veteran’s name, address, expiration date and exemption number.
The card is available to all CN veterans, regardless if they are 100 percent disabled.
“This is for any veteran that is a Cherokee citizen,” Swepston said. “It’s just that you can only use it at our licensed facilities.”
According to a 2013 Cherokee Phoenix story, on receipts the tax is listed as a tribal transaction fee and applies to all items of value or services or goods rented, leased, bought, sold or exchanged from businesses operating on tribal lands.
Applications for the veteran sales tax exemption cards can be found at www.cherokee.org under the “Our Government” tab then by clicking on the “Commissions” tab and by selecting “Tax Commission.”
Also at the meeting, the CNTC unanimously amended language in the tribe’s Motor Vehicle Rules and Regulations regarding vehicle inspections.
The language previously stated that vehicle inspections were for all “previously registered vehicles entering the reservation boundaries of the Cherokee Nation…” It was changed to “All previously registered vehicles entering the Cherokee Nation compact jurisdiction…” The amendment is effective immediately.
The commission also added language to the tribe’s Application for Certificate of Title, VIN and HIN/Serial documents.
The new language states, “I, the undersigned, under the penalties of perjury do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I am the owner or legal agent of the owner of the above described vehicle and that the statements contained herein are true,” as well as, “Also I, the undersigned do hereby submit to the jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation and its courts for purposes of enforcement as amended of LA 01-01, including without limitations the assessment and collection of any penalties, fines, and interests provided by Cherokee Nation Vehicle and Licensing Code.”
Swepston said the same language would be applied to the form for boats.
The change is effective immediately.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Election Commission removed an item regarding absentee ballot notarizations during its Sept. 9 meeting saying Tribal Councilors had made the issue moot by amending the tribe’s election law.
EC attorney Harvey Chaffin said the notarization issue was addressed at the Tribal Council’s Rules Committee meeting on Aug 28.
“And I think it was approved at the council meeting, also,” he said. “So that issue is moot now. It has been amended by the council to provide for notarization of the absentee ballots in a form that is acceptable in all jurisdictions, including California.”
The EC voted to remove the item from its agenda. However, the issue was slated to go before the full Tribal Council during its Sept. 15 meeting. The issue is No. 9 under New Business on the meeting’s agenda. It’s described as an act amending Legislative Act-04-14, the Cherokee Nation Election Code, to address notary public issues and the return of absentee ballots.
The council item addresses notary public requirements in at-large states to assure legal notarization of at-large absentee ballots. The new language states, “A voter shall mark his ballot in permanent black or blue ball point ink; seal the ballot in the secrecy envelope; fill out completely and sign the affidavit on the front of the affidavit envelope in the presence of a notary public; the affidavit envelope must be notarized and the notary seal affixed for the ballot to be counted; and return the documents inside the postage paid return envelope via the United States mail to the Election Commission.”
In other business, the commission tabled an item regarding whether it would mail At-Large voter identification cards before the next election.
“I’m working with the attorney from the council to address that issue with the council at the next Rules Committee meeting. They’re going to change the law is what they’re going to do,” Chaffin said.
The next Rules Committee meeting is set for Sept. 25.
EC Chairman Bill Horton said that it would be a “terrific cost” to mail cards to every At-Large voter.
The election law states that the EC office “shall” issue voter identification cards to all registered voters. However, at this time At-Large voters only receive notification cards, such as postcards, in the mail informing them that they are registered voters.
An EC official said mailing cards could be considered unnecessary because most At-Large voters vote by absentee, and the need for a card is only when presenting it at a precinct to vote. At-Large voters would only do that if voting early and in person at the EC building.
The estimated cost to mail out voter cards to more than 24,000 registered At-Large voters would be approximately $15,000, officials said.
Chaffin said the EC has not budgeted for this, so the council would need to take that into consideration.
The EC voted to table the issue until the Tribal Council votes on it.
Commissioners also voted to no longer attend community meetings after Dec. 31, citing that the meetings would be too political with the upcoming 2015 election.
“We decided as of Dec. 31 is when we would pull out of going to community meetings because then it would become political events,” Commissioner Shawna Calico said. “The committee is making that suggestion. It’ll be up to everybody (on the commission).”
This will also include the tribe’s photo ID events as well, said Commissioner Teresa Hart.
CATOOSA, Okla. – On Sept. 10, Principal Chief Bill John Baker announced a partnership between Cherokee Nation Businesses and commercial real estate developer Woodmont Outlets to locate an upscale retail development west of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.
CNB has agreed to lease property behind the casino to Woodmont Outlets, which plans to invest $80 million into premium outlet shops to be called “Cherokee Outlets.” The proposed development is projected to create 1,000 permanent jobs and hundreds of jobs during the construction phase. Once complete, it is expected to generate $120 million in sales and 2 million additional visitors annually.
“I could not be more excited as we look to transform this entire region. When the Cherokee Nation does well, the entire region does well,” Baker said during a press conference at the Hard Rock. “It’s a development that will be developed by Woodmont. They are coming to us as a good partner, one that’s bringing $80 million dollars of their money to the table to this part of the Cherokee Nation.”
To complement the proposal, CNB has plans to create an entertainment and dining zone called “The District.” This zone would connect the upscale shops directly to the Hard Rock and will be 40,000 to 70,000 square feet of restaurants, local retail and high-end entertainment offerings that “will be fun for the family and friends,” said CNB CEO Shawn Slaton.
Slaton said the “Cherokee Outlets” would have approximately 350,000 square feet and 100 “high-end retail shops.” With more than 30 years of experience in commercial real estate, Woodmont Outlets officials have stated they would “aggressively” seek high-end retailers for “Cherokee Outlets” with negotiations starting as early as next week.
The plan is to complete both projects in 2016, Slaton said.
“I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of projects, and I’m as excited or maybe more excited about this one than any that we’ve had so far,” Slaton said. “We’re once again raising the bar for the entire region. Chief Baker has challenged us to create jobs and invest in the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation. In the past two weeks, we’ve announced the creation of 2,000 jobs and economic development projects that will benefit the Cherokee people and everyone in northeast Oklahoma. None of this would be possible without the support of our Tribal Council and the CNB board of directors.”
Woodmont Outlets Chairman Stephen Coslik said Woodmont approached CNB because of the “world-class amenities” of the casino, proximity to key markets and the 2 million people that already visit the Hard Rock every year.
“In addition to the Tulsa metro and surrounding areas, it’s an easy drive from key markets like northwest Arkansas and Joplin, Mo. There’s going to be an experience that’s second to none, not just in Oklahoma, but the United States,” Coslik said. “I’m confident we can attract the premium retailers to make this development the best in the region.”
Woodmont Outlets’ most recent outlet development is a joint venture that developed the St. Louis Premium Outlets in Chesterfield, Mo. Retailers there include Armani, BCBG Max Azria, Coach, Crabtree & Evelyn, Kate Spade New York, Michael Kors, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nike, Vera Bradley and Tommy Hilfiger.
While the proposed “Cherokee Outlets” will be located on Cherokee Nation-owned land, all retail sales would be subject to state and local sales tax.
“We’d like to thank Chief Baker, the Tribal Council, Cherokee Nation Businesses and Woodmont Outlets for bringing this project and taking a chance here in this city. We’re ready to support this type of project,” Catoosa City Manager David Tillotson said. “We’re excited this project provides for potentially a thousand new jobs for residents in this area and for the millions in sales tax it would generate. These tax dollars will help increase services to the citizens of Catoosa, and we’re grateful for that.”
CNB statistics show approximately 70,000 cars daily pass by the Hard Rock on I-44 and State Hwy. 167. The hotel has an occupancy rate of 90 percent, and the built-in foot traffic and constant stream of visitors make it an attractive place for Woodmont Outlets to locate its next development, officials said.
The Cherokee Hills Golf Course, which sits west of the Hard Rock, would be affected by the two developments. Baker said there is enough land available at the golf course to replace the five to six holes that would be lost to create “Cherokee Outlets” and “The District.”
The course’s clubhouse also would have to be razed and replaced because, according to an artist’s rendering, a parking lot would sit where the clubhouse is located. Baker said that “if that’s the case,” a new clubhouse would be built.
Baker said he is excited about how the business developments would not only enhance the hotel and casino’s operations, it would also “tremendously help” Rogers County and Catoosa.
“Our economic impact was most recently measured at $1.3 billion, and I expect that to grow as we continue to forge these types of partnerships,” he said.
For more information, visit cherokeeoutlets.com. For more information on Woodmont Outlets, visit <a href="http://www.woodmont.com" target="_blank">www.woodmont.com</a>.