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
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
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
02/20/2014 07:52 AM
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.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
09/23/2016 02:00 PM
WASHINGTON – On Sept. 26, President Obama will host the 2016 White House Tribal Nations Conference at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. This will be the President’s eighth and final Tribal Nations Conference, providing tribal leaders from the 567 federally recognized tribes with the opportunity to interact directly with high-level federal government officials and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs. Each tribe is invited to send one representative to the conference. This year’s conference will continue to build upon the President’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian Country and to improve the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives. The conference will be streamed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/21/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Applications for the 2017 “Remember the Removal” bike ride are available for Cherokee Nation citizens. The application deadline is midnight Oct. 28. The three-week, 1,000-mile ride in June teaches CN citizens ages 16-24 about their culture and history as they cycle the same route their ancestors were forced to walk in 1838-39 to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. The route travels through seven states testing the cyclists’ physical and mental endurance. If selected to participate, participants would be required to take part in a physical training schedule and attend history classes. The classes will be taught during the four months of training to prepare for the ride. Participants will learn about the struggles their ancestors. The selection committee, whose members will not be related to any applicant, will review the required essays and applications submitted. It will be looking for CN citizens willing to learn more about Cherokee history and their ancestry related to the Trail of Tears. Successful applicants will be expected to interact with the public and speak to the public about their experiences on the ride. “Remember the Removal” cyclists also will be photographed, videoed, interviewed during the trip. So the committee will be looking for riders who are personable, well-spoken and would make ambassadors for the CN. Applicants must not have participated in the program before, be 16 to 24 as of Jan. 1 prior to the event and be able to pass a sport physical provided by the CN during the post-selection orientation. It is recommended participants reside inside the tribe’s jurisdiction, including the contiguous counties. Participants may have a different temporary address while away at school. If a participant lives outside the jurisdiction he or she will still be required to make all mandatory trainings and history classes in Tahlequah. Applications are online at <a href="http://remembertheremoval.cherokee.org/ParticipationApplication.aspx" target="_blank">http://remembertheremoval.cherokee.org/ParticipationApplication.aspx</a> and must be submitted by Oct. 28. The application requires an essay about why the applicant wants to participate, three letters of recommendation mailed or emailed to <a href="mailto: rtr@cherokee.org">rtr@cherokee.org</a> directly from the recommending party by the application deadline. Letters of recommendation should not be from CN employees, administration officials or Tribal Councilors. Letters should be from someone the applicant has worked with academically or professionally or a person they have known for a minimum of three years. For more information, call Gloria Sly at 918-453-5154 or email <a href="mailto: gloria-sly@cherokee.org">gloria-sly@cherokee.org</a>.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham &
JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
09/21/2016 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Election Commission called a special meeting for Sept. 16 to discuss fiscal year 2017 merit increases for staff as well as the renewal of commissioner and EC attorney contracts. Also, on the agenda were items regarding the renewal of Maxim, Center for Spatial Analysis and Hart Intercivic’s contracts. All contracts were approved except for Hart Intercivic. It was tabled due to the contract not being completed through CN contracts at the time of the meeting.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
09/20/2016 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Sept. 12, Cherokee Nation citizens Twila Pennington and Melanie Fourkiller filed an initiative petition to “outlaw absentee voter fraud” by seeking a vote to institute the Election Fraud Prevention Act of 2016. Originally filed Aug. 31, it was circulated during the Cherokee National Holiday, but a question regarding the tribal Election Commission’s official stamp led to its re-filing, Fourkiller said. EC officials said documents coming to their office are stamped with a stamp that contains the date and time it was filed, as well as “Cherokee Nation Election Commission Filed.” Fourkiller said despite its re-filing, the petition remained unchanged. She said it calls to “limit the number of ballots that one notary can notarize in any election,” require “all absentee ballots…be mailed to be returned to the Election Commission,” and “prohibit anyone from harassing a voter either at their home or by telephone over their absentee ballot.” “So these are measures that we particularly feel strongly about to protect voters and the integrity of absentee ballots,” Fourkiller said. Attorney General Todd Hembree said under CN law notaries can notarize an unlimited amount of ballots. He said notaries are “completing the form on the exterior envelope, not the actual ballot itself, and confirming, through their ‘notarization,’ that the person signing the envelope is the person appearing before them.” CN election laws state when filing absentee ballots voters must take their ballots, which are sealed in secrecy envelopes, and sign the affidavits on the affidavit envelopes in the presence of a notary public. As for returning ballots, election laws state 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.” Fourkiller said the Election Fraud Prevention Act would require voters to mail their votes or turn them into the EC. She said currently anyone could collect absentee ballots from voters and return them to the EC. “We’re concerned about there’s really no limit as to the number of hands a ballot can go through before it eventually reaches the Election Commission,” she said. “So that’s one issue. Just about every jurisdiction that I know of requires absentee ballots to be mailed, so we feel like everyone should have access to their own mailbox or post office to be able to drop that in the mail.” Hembree said candidates or campaign workers turning in ballots has “been the practice for decades.” “Voters have always been able to give their completed ballot, sealed in a secrecy envelope, to whomever they wish for delivery of the ballot to the Election Commission,” he said. Regarding alleged voter harassment, Fourkiller claims she’s received calls from campaigns asking about absentee ballots. “Don’t I want an absentee ballot? Can I request an absentee ballot for you? And I kept saying, ‘no, no, no. Please take me off you list,’ and yet still continued to receive those calls,” she said. “Especially for elders and folks being harassed that way, and we were aware that people would show up on their doorstep and say, ‘we’re here to get your absentee ballot” when they were not asked to come. So people feel intimidated over that kind of heavy attention.” Fourkiller also said the Election Fraud Prevention Act would curb multiple ballots going to a home or business address. She said ballots currently could be mailed to a citizen’s choice of address, but that she’s noticed in elections “tens of ballots going to one address or going to a business address.” “So what has happened in the past is that there is a public listing that the Election Commission produces of the absentee ballots that are requested and where they’ve been mailed. I’ve personally noticed on those lists in past elections where several ballots, like tens of ballots going to one address or going to a business address or so forth,” she said. “What this law would do is the ballot has to be mailed to the voter. It would still allow for a different address to be put in but it has to be mailed to the voter not to someone else.” However Hembree said the tribe only allows for a voter to “request and receive one ballot” and that people cannot request ballots on behalf of other voters. He added that ballots could be mailed to wherever the voter requests, including a home address, post office or business address. He said before a ballot could be mailed a voter must fill out a ballot request form. “The Cherokee voter can decide where they want their ballot sent,” he said. “For example, if a person is serving in the military or a student is away from home for college they may designate where they want their ballots sent to ensure timely delivery and maximize their opportunity to vote.” Hembree said despite accusations there’s not been a proven case of absentee voter fraud in CN elections. “In previous elections, candidates have made accusations of potential voter fraud, yet when given the opportunity to produce evidence in court, none of the accusations were substantiated,” he said. As for the petition moving forward, Fourkiller said once the attorney general has reviewed it, the EC would inform her about how many valid signatures it must receive. “So we’ve not been notified, but it is based on a percentage of the votes cast in the last general election, I believe,” she said. If the petition gets the needed amount of signatures then those signatures must be validated, Fourkiller said, and once validated it gets placed on the next regular election’s ballot. Hembree said if the petition is certified his office “expects to review the provisions of the law.” He said he’s concerned with wording stating “that the Oklahoma notary ‘law... is applicable to Cherokee elections.’” “That provision will require careful review to determine the impact on our sovereignty. We’ve not previously had state laws ‘applicable’ to our elections, so it is unprecedented,” he said. Fourkiller said the 90-day time period to gather signatures was reset and began Sept. 12 and that signatures collected under the original petition are void. She also said CN citizens wanting to sign the petition or circulate it can visit www.cherokees4change.com. <strong>Election Fraud Prevention</strong> Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said the “entire existing election code is designed to prevent election fraud.” He said the following laws are some of the laws and regulations that “help prevent absentee voter fraud.” • The Election Commission must confirm that the person requesting an absentee ballot is a registered Cherokee voter prior to sending them an absentee ballot, • The Election Commission has a process that ensures that a voter is only able to have one absentee ballot counted even if they requested more than one, • If a voter appears at a precinct to vote and has previously requested an absentee ballot, that person must cast a Challenged Ballot. Only if it is determined that the voter did not submit their absentee ballot is the Challenged Ballot opened and counted, • The notarization process ensures that every voter’s identification is confirmed by the notary who signs and affixes their notary seal or stamp to the exterior envelope and, • The Election Commission also confirms that every notary who signs the exterior envelopes is in fact a notary and that his or her commission has not expired.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham
09/19/2016 12:00 PM
TULSA Okla. – On Sept. 8, hundreds of supporters of different ages and walks of life gathered at the Guthrie Green for the Stand up for Standing Rock rally. Currently, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota is trying to stop Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners from constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline near sacred tribal lands and the Missouri River, from which the tribe receives its water supply. The event was the idea of Dakota Morse, who is of Cherokee, Muskogee-Creek and Choctaw descent. “I’m here to raise awareness for the people up in Standing Rock.” Morse said. “And maybe get some donations to take up there to them also. Maybe to help them pick up a few things.” Volunteer organizers reported on social media after the event that more than $1,300 in donations had been raised. Former Osage Principal Chief Jim Gray, who also attended, said he was there to support the effort to send a loud message to the rest of the world. “Water and Indigenous land must be respected,” he said. “There are so many people across the world who have joined this effort, and it’s so nice to see something local that stands in solidarity with what’s going on in North Dakota.” While the exact number of people in attendance was not counted, organizers said they were surprised by the turnout. “I wasn’t expecting this many people to show up,” Morse said. “You know you get a lot of people on Facebook who say they’re going to be there and then they don’t. So for this many people to actually show up, it’s pretty amazing.”
BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
09/19/2016 08:15 AM
COWETA, Okla. – During the past several months, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe supporters, including many from Oklahoma, have journeyed to North Dakota to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is slated to cross the tribe’s water source. CN citizen Johnita Hill, of Coweta, visited the Sacred Stone Camp, which sits east of the river, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on the SRST reservation. “About four weeks ago is when I first came across what was happening. I watched a video during a tribal dance, and I became so emotional for them. At that moment, I knew I wanted to go. I researched DAPL, Standing Rock and any information I could get my hands on for two weeks. I watched their videos, read all the Facebook posts from the camp. It literally consumed me,” Hill said. “After two weeks of following the camp, I knew I needed to go. This movement is bigger than just the ‘Indians.’ This is about the millions of people that receive water from the Missouri River.” Hill said if she couldn’t stand up for what is right, then how could she as a mother expect her children to stand up for what they feel is right. “It’s truly peaceful. Being in the middle of nowhere with strangers would normally make me uneasy. Not there. We were welcomed when we entered the camp, told were to register, drop off our donations, and the gentleman said ‘if you need anything go to the brown tent. If we have it, we will give it to you,’” she said. “There is nothing commercial there. Everything is free to who needs it. Everyone is very optimistic, even with a serious matter at hand, everyone was happy.” Amy Starr, a Muscogee Creek also from Coweta, also took part in Hill’s trip to show support, take donations and be of assistance. “We got to listen to many speakers on behalf of tribes showing their solidarity, ceremonial dances and powerful prayers. When it was time for us to leave, it was hard because I wanted to stay longer. I wanted to get know as many people as I could and become more involved and watch this small encampment progress into a thriving and loving community,” Starr said. “After being home for only a couple days, I decided to make the long trip one more time with some of my family. We also went and camped for couple nights. It was crazy to see how much the camp had grown within the week. There were roughly 6,000 people and over 221 tribes that had come to stand with the Sioux people.” She said when it came time to return home a second time she still didn’t want to leave. “We called ourselves the ‘weekend warriors’ and we would return.” CN citizen Faith Phillips, of Proctor, also recently returned from a trip to Cannon Ball. She said after reading articles about the pipeline, she chose to go. “I had to research British magazines to find articles. I’m a novelist and an essayist, so I decided to see for myself and write the truth about what’s going on up there.” She said the people demonstrating against the pipeline don’t consider themselves protestors but ‘water protectors,” as the pipeline’s proposed route would cross the Missouri River. “I visited with many water protectors from as far north as Yellow Knife, which is near the Arctic Circle, and as far south as Puerto Rico. I also spent much of my time with a little Sioux family from the Standing Rock reservation. They essentially took me in and looked out for my well being while I was there,” Phillips said. “They had two young daughters, ages 2 and 4, and a new baby boy on the way. They had been camped out there for so long, and when I asked why, the father said, ‘I just want my girls to have a chance. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.’” Like Hill, Phillips said the mood was peaceful as leaders, elders and tribal officials called for peace. “I never heard a single word contrary to that consistent call for peaceful demonstrations. I don’t know if optimistic is the correct word, but there is a strong sense of faith and determination,” she said. “They don’t intend to leave. They believe they’re protecting their children and grandchildren.” Phillips said she connected with the people while there and that their reaction is a “reasonable reaction any human being would have regardless of race.” “The original proposed route for this pipeline was due to pass near a large city. But there was such a public uproar that the oil company changed the pipeline’s route to the current one,” Phillips said. “Because of the history in this country with regard to Indigenous people and Native tribes, a lengthy, shameful record of illegality and marginalization, I wanted to contribute to the voices that tell this story. I felt a strong inner drive to respond to their call for support. I encourage everyone who has an opportunity to go up and show support at Standing Rock because the struggle is far from over.”