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.
WASHINGTON – Despite headlines generated by a recent poll, opponents of the Washington, D.C., NFL team’s mascot are not giving up just yet.
On May 27, representatives with the National Congress of American Indians and a trademark lawsuit against Pro Football Inc. reiterated their stance against indigenous-themed mascots in response to a poll conducted and funded by the Washington Post.
According to the poll’s results, published in mid-May, nine out of 10 American Indians nationwide do not find the Washington, D.C., NFL team’s mascot offensive. About 500 self-identified Native American adults nationwide were surveyed via telephone, with less than half claiming tribal enrollment.
“Our fight is not over,” lawsuit lead plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse said. “The fight to end racism or cultural appropriation is not over. This poll was an attack…an attempt to silence those who oppose the name and diminish those who have been hurt by it.”
American Indian groups nationwide have criticized both the poll and the methodology used to conduct it, which was similar to one conducted in 2004 by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The Native American Journalists Association has called the poll an “egregious example of creating the news rather than simply reporting it” and publicly took the Post to task for not having any Native American staffers in its newsroom.
Noting the multiple resolutions passed by NCAI member organizations against the mascot, NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata dismissed claims that the mascot issue should take a back seat to other issues facing tribes. Instead, she said that the mascot issue is directly related to health care, education and equitable access concerns by a common thread: respect.
“One of the worst, demeaning elements of that is the mascot who constantly in sports reminds us over and over again…how many people treat us as if we’re just mascots,” Pata said. “We want to overcome that so we can overcome all of the other challenges in Indian Country.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Veterans, their families and Cherokee Nation leaders gathered on May 27 in front of the Cherokee Warrior Memorial on the W.W. Keeler Complex to commemorate Memorial Day ahead of the official holiday on May 30.
The Cherokee Nation Color Guard and veterans from various eras presented the CN and American flags and flags from this country’s military branches to kick off the annual ceremony.
Cherokee veteran Larry T. Smith, 48, of Muskogee, served 17 years in the Air Force and the Oklahoma Air National Guard from 1989 to 2005. He said he attended to honor service people who paid “the ultimate price” in defending this country and its freedoms.
He said he has not lost a family member who served during time of war, but two uncles were wounded – one in the Korean War and one in Vietnam. His said his brother also served with the 82nd Airborne. The fact that he served his country as a CN citizen means a lot to him, Smith said, because he is part of a tradition of Native Americans serving their country in large numbers.
“Native Americans have a long history of serving the United States, even in the military. I think per capita of any group in the country Native Americans have the highest percentage of participation in the military, and that means a lot to me,” he said.
The Cherokee National Youth Choir performed during the ceremony and Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden placed wreaths at the foot of the memorial.
James Powell, 88, of Tahlequah, served in the South Pacific with the Navy from 1945-47 aboard the USS Whiteside, an Andromeda-class attack cargo ship. The Cherokee veteran said he wanted to be at the ceremony to honor the country’s war dead.
“I wouldn’t miss it for nothing,” he said. “It’s a great thing to honor all veterans that give their all, especially the ones who are still in. It’s a great thing.”
Cherokee veteran Thomas Blair, 60 of Woodall, served in the Army for seven years with the 1st Cavalry Division, the 25th Infantry Division and the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea. He said Memorial Day reminds him of his family members who are buried in the Fort Gibson National Cemetery about 20 miles southwest of Tahlequah.
“My father served 23 years, and I got uncles and I got a son that served that’s buried over there,” he said. “I remember all the guys that I served with in my time of service. It means a lot to me.”
From 2003-11 4,488 service people died in missions in Iraq, and from 2001 to present 2,229 service people have died in Afghanistan. Those numbers are added to the 58,209 who died in Vietnam; 36,516 during the Korean Conflict; 405,399 during World War II; and 116,516 during World War I. And approximately 750,000 Union and Confederate soldiers and other participants died during the Civil War.
According to the website usmemorialday.org, Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States and was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor this country’s military dead.
The first state to recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890, it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war, including Indian wars.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – From May 24-26, Sequoyah basketball coach Jay Herrin hosted a boys basketball camp to introduce and maintain basketball fundamentals for children in grades first through ninth.
“We work on the fundamental skills – dribbling and basket shooting. Got a lot of different-aged groups and got a lot of different-ability groups. But we try to tailor it to the kids’ needs whether a beginning player or a more advanced player,” he said.
Herrin, a Cherokee Nation citizen, said the three-day camp saw approximately 90 children attend.
“What’s good is to get these guys out doing something. School is out now, and trying to keep them active is one thing,” he said.
Herrin said he reaches out to former and current players to help coach and assist campers.
“A lot of my former players, some of them are playing basketball in college. A lot of them are current players. Plus we have a young lady (Maci Dale) helping us from Kansas (High School) who just graduated who is doing it as a community service project,” he said. “They help coach and assist in teaching skills and help referee and kind of do everything they have to do to kind of keep it running smoothly.”
Creek Nation citizen William Leach, a Sequoyah High School graduate, said volunteering is a way to give back to the community, which makes him feel good about himself.
“Helping out the kids and I like giving back. It’s a lot of fun. I think they’re just getting the most out of having fun and enjoying the game. And I think they just like being around each other, you know. They like to have fun,” Leach said. “I like coming to the community. There’s not many camps around here. You can go to Tulsa and the kids have camps every weekend. So anytime I get a chance to help out, I like to help out and give back,” he said.
The camp is offered to students in grades first through ninth. They don’t have to be Cherokee or attend Sequoyah Schools. The cost is $40, which provides free breakfast and lunch, if needed, and a T-shirt. Campers in grades first through fifth go from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and campers in grades sixth through ninth attend in the afternoon.
Although the boys camp is done, the girls three-day camp will begin May 31. Those interested in attending can show up at the Place Where They Play gym at 8 a.m. and fill out an application. The gym is located on the SHS campus.
Herrin said he tries to hold the camps each summer after school ends.
“They can learn a lot of teamwork, a lot of social skills besides just the benefit of getting out and being active. Getting off video games and sitting inside and getting out and doing something is really good for these guys,” he said.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In April, the Tribal Council passed a law creating a judgment fund that would be used to pay for any judgment against the Cherokee Nation.
“The judgment fund is modeled after the U.S. government judgment fund. What the premise of the idea is that Congress, which would be the council in our scenario, would appropriate money to a judgment fund. And they would do that based on what the risk may be out there any given year,” Attorney General Todd Hembree said.
Hembree said it falls to the legislators because they appropriate monies for the tribe’s annual budget.
“When there is a judgment against the Cherokee Nation…well that money would have to come from somewhere. So that means it would have to come from a budget that otherwise wasn’t intended for,” he said. “What a judgment fund does is an exercise in good government. The council knows and departments know that if there is a judgment, it comes out of this fund. It doesn’t affect any other budgets. They can plan…knowing that nothing is going to disrupt that.”
Hembree said many governments have judgments funds and that it was time for the tribe to follow suit.
As of publication, no monies were in the judgment fund but creating the fund was the first step, he said.
“The legislation is passed. It’s been signed. So sometime in the next two to three months the council will need to make a determination of how much money to put in there and to appropriate that money,” he said.
Departmental budgets are being submitted to the council, he said, so this is an opportune time to decide what should be placed within that fund.
The Attorney General’s Office would certify any judgment, he said, whether it’s from the CN court system or another court against the CN. Once certified, he added, the tribal treasurer would pay the judgment out of the fund.
“It’s not a first-come, first-served. No one party claimant can take more than half (of what is in the fund) any given fiscal year. You take up to half of it and then next year you take more or the other half of your judgment,” he said. “Or, at any time, just like any budget modification, the council can add more money into the judgment fund as the year goes on.”
Any judgments following the date the fund was signed into law would be tied to receiving their payments through this fund.
Having this fund, Hembree said, brings budgetary stability to the tribe.
“We have departments that make an estimate of their expenditures for the next year. It just helps solidify that nothing’s going to come an disrupt, no judgment will come in and disrupt that next year’s budget…If there’s a judgment, it doesn’t have to come out of education’s budget or health. It comes out of the judgment fund,” he said. “They won’t have to worry…we’re taking that out of the equation.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation donated $195,000 on May 26 to eight area Boys & Girls Clubs in northeastern Oklahoma. The organizations serve Cherokee and Native American students in their summer and afterschool programs.
The CN gave checks to clubs in Adair, Sequoyah, Cherokee, Mayes, Nowata, Rogers, Delaware and Washington counties. Currently, the programs serve more than 10,000 students.
“We remain a proud and consistent financial supporter of the mentoring work done by the Boys & Girls Clubs,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Participating in the activities of a local club means access to community-based mentors and educational opportunities that will help our youth grow into their full potential. Supporting the mission of Boys and Girls Club is another opportunity where Cherokee Nation can have a positive influence in the lives of Cherokee children."
The tribe has contributed more than $2 million total since 2008 to help the afterschool programs continue character and leadership development among both Cherokee youth and non-Native students.
“The Boys & Girls Clubs provide an invaluable service to thousands of students within the Cherokee Nation,” Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said. “These clubs provide a safe place for children to learn and grow, while also offering new experiences and a variety of hands-on activities. The Cherokee Nation is proud to partner with these eight clubs in order to enhance their programs for Cherokee and non-Cherokee students alike.”
With the second-largest enrollment of any club in the CN, the Boys & Girls Club of Sequoyah County depends heavily on CN funding to maintain operations at the club’s six facilities in Sequoyah County.
“Cherokee Nation’s support means a lot to the Boys & Girls Club of Sequoyah County. It enables us to continue to provide funding for our programs and kids that need us the most in the county,” Laura Kuykendall, Boys & Girls Club of Sequoyah County representative, said.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of America serves more than 4 million young people throughout the country and on military bases worldwide.
<strong>The CN donated to the following clubs.</strong>
Adair County- 1,181- $21,797.52
Bartlesville- 1,187- $21,908.66
Chelsea- 327- $6,035.49
Tahlequah- 4,325- $79,827.26
Delaware County- 926- $17,091.34
Green Country-Pryor- 420- $7,7502.01
Nowata- 669- $12,347.85
Sequoyah County- 1,530- $28,239.47
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to a United Keetoowah Band press release, UKB Assistant Chief Joe H. Bunch was sworn in as principal chief during a May 25 ceremony held in the UKB Community Service Court Chambers.
UKB District Judge Dewayne Littlejohn administered the oath of office to Bunch a day after the Tribal Council voted to remove former Principal Chief George Wickliffe from office during an impeachment process.
“This is an unfortunate event, but we are going to move forward. Many of our members depend on our services and in what we do as elected officials. This is a good time to start the healing process. I expect nothing but the best as we move forward,” Bunch said after taking his oath.
Bunch was elected in a 2014 special election to serve the final two years of the late Assistant Chief Charles Locust’s four-year term. With the removal of Wickliffe, Bunch now fills the principal chief’s role for the remainder of that four-year term. Wickliffe was elected to his third four-year term in November 2012.
On May 24, UKB citizens listened to articles of impeachment against Wickliffe by Tahlequah District Rep. Anile Locust and Tribal Secretary Ella Mae Worley. Among the allegations against Wickliffe were:
• Prohibited Worley and her predecessor, Shelbi Wofford, from having full access to the tribe’s financial records, its now-closed casino and nongaming businesses,
• Signed multiple contracts without Tribal Council authorization,
• Authorized almost $400,000 in cash advances to himself and Delaware District Rep. Jerry Hansen, Saline District Rep. Charles Smoke and Goingsnake District Rep. Willie Christie (Christie has since repaid the tribe),
• Used a tribal credit card to pay his personal accounts with DirectTV, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) and Oklahoma Natural Gas, as well as at least two of his son’s bills,
• Used a tribal credit card to reclaim at least three guns from a local pawn shop,
• Used a tribal credit card to buy tires for three Tribal Councilors, plus a range top and air conditioning unit for a family member,
• Provided himself with $5,000 in scholarship funds after the tribe curtailed its higher education program,
• Allowed the UKB Corporate Authority Board to sell a $30,000 tribal vehicle to the late Assistant Chief Locust for $5,000,
• Authorized the disbursement of more than $40,000 from the tribe’s general fund and more than $4,000 from the motor fuel fund to Charles Locust’s widow without Tribal Council approval, and
• Allowed his personal secretary to apply for services that she was not eligible for, as well as drive a government-issued vehicle without a current driver’s license.
Wickliffe initially balked when given the opportunity to respond to the charges. When he did accept a microphone, he said he could not be wholly blamed for the tribe’s financial straits since its casino closed in 2013 and would have returned the money if he had been asked.
“I don’t owe the tribe anything,” he said. “Neither does the council. I didn’t know the United Keetoowah Band could do this.”
The Tribal Council adjourned into executive session for 90 minutes before reconvening and voting 7-4 to remove Wickliffe from office for violating the UKB’s Constitution. The Tribal Council also barred him from holding an elected or appointed position within the tribe.
Following the removal vote, Bunch ordered Wickliffe to turn in his office keys and tribal cell phone and was escorted out by UKB Lighthorse.
Wickliffe has seven days from May 24 to file an appeal in the tribe’s court system.
The next UKB election will be Nov. 7. All district representative, treasurer, secretary, assistant chief and principal chief positions will be open for election.