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
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.


11/26/2015 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Nov. 21, the 2015-16 Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Councilors were sworn into office to begin serving and potentially help shape future tribal policy. “It’s going to be a good opportunity to get involved and make a difference and build relationships within the tribe,” Laurel Reynolds, a Claremore High School sophomore, said. The 17-member Council learns the CN Constitution and bylaws and identifies issues affecting Cherokee youths to pass on to the Tribal Council and administration. The leadership program started in 1989 and has 184 alumni. Students meet monthly and serve as tribal ambassadors. “The best days of the Cherokee Nation are in front of us and we need leaders in every field imaginable from doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, administrators and business people. Leadership starts with young people like you, who are willing to serve,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “The Tribal Youth Council is an opportunity for young Cherokees from all over the 14-county tribal jurisdiction to gain exposure to our tribal government, get to know the elected officials and have a voice in the discussions that will impact the Cherokee Nation today and in the future.” The 2015-16 Tribal Youth Council members are Taylor Armbrister, of Kansas; Jori Cowley, of Vinita; Bradley Fields, of Locust Grove; Amy Hembree, of Tahlequah; Camerin James, of Fort Gibson; Austin Jones, of Hulbert; Destiny Matthews, of Watts; Emily Messimore, of Claremore; Treyton Morris, of Salina; Sarah Pilcher, of Westville; Sunday Plumb, of Tahlequah; Laurel Reynolds, of Claremore; Abigail Shepherd, of Ochelata; Julie Thornton, of Gore; Chelbie Turtle of Tahlequah; Jackson Wells, of Tahlequah; and Sky Wildcat, of Tahlequah.
11/26/2015 12:00 PM
KETCHUM, Okla. – Pine Lodge Resort at Grand Lake is inviting people to its 12th annual “Winter Wonderland Christmas Light Tour” seven nights a week from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. from Nov. 26 through January 1. The “old fashion” Christmas light display features nearly half a million lights, lighted antique vehicles, a nativity scene and a host of characters. Admission is free and visitors may drive or walk through the light displays. Pine Lodge Resort is located one-hour northeast of Tulsa and 2.5 miles east of Ketchum off of Hwy 85. The resort, owned by Art and June Box, a Cherokee Nation citizen, sits near Grand Lake and has 17 cabins, seven mobile homes and RV sites for rent. The couple opened Pine Lodge Resort 15 years ago. Ten minutes away from the resort is golfing, a swim beach, spas, hiking, wave runner rentals and the South Grand Lake Regional Airport with free shuttles to and from the airport provided by the Pine Lodge Resort staff. The lodge is also close to casual and fine dining. Groups may reserve the resort’s clubhouse for dinners or special occasions. The resort has won the “Crystal Pelican Award” given by the Grand Lake Association for “The Most Outstanding Visitor’s Accommodations.” For more information, call 918-782-1400 or visit the Pine Lodge website at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. You can also find the resort on Facebook.
Senior Reporter
11/26/2015 08:00 AM
VINITA, Okla. – It’s easier for tribal leaders today to keep in contact with constituents via phone calls, social media and emails, but for Dist. 11 Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez nothing is better than seeing them in person. Dist. 11 encompasses Craig County and parts of Mayes and Nowata counties, and Vazquez said she tries to hold meetings to allow constituents to meet with her, other tribal leaders and representatives from Cherokee Nation programs and departments that are based in Tahlequah about 70 miles south. “It puts a more personal spin of what my job really is because I talk to individuals at those meetings, and they hear me talk things they don’t see on Facebook,” she said. The meetings help her hear concerns from constituents. She then takes those concerns to the Tribal Council and other tribal representatives who may be able to address them. “So many times after a community meeting I will go home with five or six issues that a citizen has told me about at the meeting and then the next day I call or email people in those (CN) departments,” Vazquez said. During a Nov. 17 meeting at the tribe’s Vinita Health Center, staff from Cherokee Nation Businesses; Election Commission staff, who helped people register to vote; Education Services; Marshal Service; Tax Commission, who provided information about the new hunting and fishing license program; Health Services, who gave free flu shots; Human Services; Child Support Services; Dental Services; and Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation assisted CN citizens. She said citizens also appreciated seeing their leaders. Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin Sr. all attended. The Hoskins are from Vinita and both served as Tribal Councilors and worked to bring more attention to the needs of people in the Vinita area. Hoskin Sr., who served three four-year terms on the council from 1995 to 2007, said he has “witnessed tremendous growth” in the area since his childhood. He said “to be quite honest” during all the years of him growing up in Vinita until he got on the council in 1995, if you asked anyone in the Vinita area if there were CN services available “the answer would be no.” “The only type of services we had was our housing addition out there, Buffington Heights, but as far as service, there wasn’t any,” he said. “Obviously, as you can tell this evening, there’s a lot of Cherokee up here, and I knew that, and the people that live up here, we knew that. So, that was the message, when I was first elected, that people told me to take to Tahlequah, and that’s exactly what I did.” Hoskin Sr. said he was glad to serve with a council that believed tribal services were for everyone no matter where they lived in the CN. “I’m proud to say we started the first Cherokee health care in Vinita in 1996 when we got the mobile clinic up here. It came to Vinita one day a week, and the people showed up. I used those (clinic) numbers to prove Cherokees were here. We just needed to provide services.” He said Principal Chief Bill John Baker, who served on the Tribal Council with him, also advocated for services for people in Vinita. “As more services began to come up here, more and more people began to come out and take advantage of them and use them,” he said. He said the town eventually received a walk-in clinic and finally a 92,000-square-foot health center in 2012, which was justified by the number of people in the Vinita area who needed and utilized CN services. Leon Dick, 81, of Vinita, who is Shawnee and Delaware and a CN citizen, said he comes to the community meetings to “find out what’s going on,” to fellowship and for “the eats.” He also gets to see family and friends in one place, he said. He said he grew up in nearby White Oak and takes part in the Shawnee stomp dances there, reading the Shawnee prayer before the dances. He said he appreciates the Vinita Health Center because he only has to drive 4 miles to receive medical care and no longer has to drive to the Claremore Indian Hospital nearly 40 miles away or the tribe’s Nowata clinic about 29 miles away. “At Claremore you’ve got to wait all day and sit around there all day. Here you get taken right in,” he said. Vazquez said Vinita has long been a center for Cherokees who built their homes and businesses there. Cherokee attorney Elias C. Boudinot established the Craig County seat in Vinita in 1871. “It was a center for Cherokees. They built the buildings and lived here, and we had chiefs come from here, streets are named after Cherokees,” she said. More attention is being brought to that history, she said, because the tribe now has more money to give to the Eastern Trails Museum in Vinita, which stores and displays the area’s history, and to buy artifacts and art to showcase the history of Vinita and Craig County in the Vinita Health Center. “We have a very caring and giving administration, and I’m just thankful to be a part of that and because of that I’m able to share much more locally than I have been in the past,” Vazquez said.
11/25/2015 04:00 PM
KESHENA, Wis. – The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin is suing federal Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Justice after federal agents destroyed the tribe’s industrial hemp crop on Oct. 23. “The Menominee Tribe, in cooperation with the College of Menominee Nation, should have the right under the Farm Bill to cultivate industrial hemp in the same manner as Kentucky, Colorado and other states,” Gary Besaw, Menominee chairman, said. “These and other states cultivate industrial hemp without threats or interference from the United States government. In contrast, when our tribe attempted to cultivate industrial hemp we were subjected to armed federal agents who came to our reservation and destroyed our crop. The Department of Justice should recognize the equality of tribes under the Farm Bill, and provide us with the same respect they have demonstrated to states growing industrial hemp for research purposes.” Industrial hemp, which can be grown as a fiber and a seed crop, is used to produce a range of textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics and building materials that are available throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Unlike marijuana, it has no psychoactive effect. Farmers in more than 30 countries around the world cultivate industrial hemp. “This is a straightforward legal issue,” Brendan Johnson, Menominee attorney, said. “The lawsuit focuses on the specific legal question of whether the Farm Bill’s industrial hemp provisions apply to Menominee. We are confident that the provisions do apply to Menominee, that Menominee is authorized under federal law to cultivate industrial hemp consistent with those provisions and that a federal court will read the Farm Bill provisions as we do and require the federal government to recognize Menominee’s rights under federal law to cultivate industrial hemp.”
11/25/2015 01:30 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board will meet at 9 a.m. CDT, Dec. 8, 2015, via conference call. It is an open meeting and the public is welcome to attend by using the conference call information to join the meeting. <a href="" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the agenda. Dial-in: 866-210-1669 Entry code: 4331082
11/25/2015 12:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson will bring his show to The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Jan. 21. Tickets start at $60 and went on sale Nov. 19. According to a Cherokee Nation Entertainment release, Robinson features songs such as “Just to See Her,” “Quiet Storm,” “Cruisin’” and “Being with You.” “The Detroit native has an accomplished 50-year career in music. Robinson founded the critically acclaimed group The Miracles, was instrumental in developing the Motown Records dynasty where he served as vice president for a time, and has more than 4,000 songs to his credit,” the release states. “The hits he has written include ‘The Way You Do the Things You Do,’ ‘My Girl’ and ‘The Tracks of My Tears.’” Robinson has received awards including the Grammy Living Legend and Kennedy Center Honors. “He has also been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame,” the release states. For more information on his tour, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is located off Interstate 44 at exit 240. Ticket prices and information on upcoming shows are available online in The Joint section of <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or by calling (918) 384-ROCK. The Joint box office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.