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
03/24/2017 12:00 PM
SAN FRANCISCO – The deadline to apply for the Journalists in Aging Fellows Program, which is a project between New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, is April 14. For the program, which is in its eighth year, 18 journalists will be selected with half being from the ethnic media and half from general audience press in any medium. The new batch of fellows will bring the eight-year total to 136 reporters from the mainstream and ethnic media. To date, fellows have posted approximately 450 stories on all aspects of aging. Projects can be on topics in aging, ranging from health to social justice work. Fellows will receive a $1,500 stipend and all-expense paid trip to the 21st International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics on July 23-27 in San Francisco. For details, visit <a href="http://www.geron.org/press-room/journalists-in-aging-fellows-program" target="_blank">www.geron.org/press-room/journalists-in-aging-fellows-program</a>. For more information, call Paul Kleyman at 415-503-4170, ext. 133 or email <a href="mailto: pkleyman@newamericamedia.org">pkleyman@newamericamedia.org</a> or call Todd Kluss at 202-587-2839 or email <a href="mailto: tkluss@geron.org">tkluss@geron.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
03/23/2017 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation has selected its 10 cyclists for the 2017 “Remember the Removal” Bike Ride set for June. The ride allows Cherokees to retrace the northern route of the Trail of Tears by bicycle. The cyclists, ages 16 to 24, started training in February for the 950-mile journey that spans Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The riders are Trey Pritchett, 19, of Stilwell; KenLea Henson, 23, of Proctor; Susie Worley-Means, 24, of Stilwell; Brian Barlow, 22, of Tahlequah; Hunter Scott, 16, of Bunch; Skylar Vann, 23, of Locust Grove; Gaya Pickup, 21, of Salina; Shelby Deal, 19, of Porum; Raven Girty, 20, of Gore; and Breanna Anderson, 21, of Sand Springs. “I’m honored for the opportunity to be able to experience what would just be a fraction of what I can imagine my ancestors went through,” Worley-Means said. “The ride will be an invaluable experience, and a huge opportunity to learn more about my heritage and ancestors that I cannot get in the classroom.” Ellic Miller, 23, of Tahlequah, and Macie Sullasteskee, 19, of Tahlequah, were named as alternates. They will ride if some of the 10 riders can’t make the trip, officials said. Officials said Miller and Sullasteskee were also guaranteed spots for next year’s ride if they still wanted to go. Riders were selected based on essays, interviews and a physical to ensure they are up for the grueling challenge. They will bike an average of 60 miles a day, mirroring in part the hardships of their Cherokee ancestors who made the same trek on foot. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory, 4,000 died due to exposure, starvation and disease, giving credence to the name Trail of Tears. A genealogist will map out each rider’s family tree prior to the trip, providing cyclists with an insight into their ancestral past. The ride takes them to several Cherokee gravesites and historic landmarks, including Blythe’s Ferry in Tennessee, the westernmost edge of the old Cherokee Nation and Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where Cherokees huddled together for warmth under a hanging rock, the only shelter they could find during a frigid winter. Cherokee Phoenix Assistant Editor Will Chavez, 50, was named as the inaugural mentor rider. He was a participant of the original 1984 “Remember the Removal” Bike Ride. “I am honored to be taking part in the ride again and serving as a mentor rider for our youth. The youth I am riding with are an enthusiastic group who are also learning Cherokee history and language as they prepare physically for the ride,” Chavez said. “The ride is meant to honor our ancestors’ sacrifice and perseverance, but also serves to remind others that the Cherokee people are still here.” The CN cyclists will join cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina and start the ride on June 4 in New Echota, Georgia. “It is an opportunity of a lifetime to participate in the ‘Remember the Removal’ Bike Ride. It’s a living classroom and leadership skills workshop all rolled into one three-week event,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Year in and year out we see our young people blossom upon their return. They have a fuller understanding of our Cherokee history and heritage, and they have made lifelong bonds with one another.” For more information, visit <a href="http://www.remembertheremoval.cherokee.org" target="_blank">www.remembertheremoval.cherokee.org</a> and <a href="http://www.facebook.com/removal.ride" target="_blank">www.facebook.com/removal.ride</a>.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
03/22/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on March 20 amended Legislative Act 30-04 to limit “holdover” clauses to six months for people appointed to certain Cherokee Nation boards and commissions after their terms expire. According to the amendment, after six months, if no one is confirmed or appointed for the expired seat, it becomes vacant. The act passed 15-1 with Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan voting against it. Tribal Councilor David Thornton was absent. During the Feb. 22 Rules Committee meeting, Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis said having some positions “holdover continuously for years” creates an “unstable environment” and a “time limit” is needed. “We have some positions that holdover continuously for years, a year or two. Maybe some having been longer, I don’t know. In my opinion it’s an unstable environment and we need to set a time limit,” she said. “It shouldn’t take more than a month or two to reappoint or replace a board member or commissioner, but set a time limit of six months to do that.” Chrissi Nimmo, CN assistant attorney general, said on Feb. 22 that boards and commissions such as Cherokee Nation Businesses, the Cherokee Nation Tax Commission and Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission would be affected by the amendment, while the Election Commission and Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board would not. “I do believe that the way it’s written is the Election Commission and the Editorial Board would not be subject to…this at all because they both have their own statute on holdover previsions,” Nimmo said. “So this excludes Election Commission, Editorial Board, non-Cherokee entities for which we appoint and approve board members. The way the previous law was written any commission, board, agency that has it’s own enacting legislation that talks about how they’re appointed, how they holdover, this doesn’t change that. This is kind of the catch all for the ones that aren’t specifically mentioned elsewhere.” Thornton on Feb. 22 said he didn’t “see the point” of the amendment. “The very first thing I see is on E. of this legislation, the last sentence, ‘If no reappointment or new appointments have been confirmed, that seat becomes vacant.’ Well that seat’s vacant period if someone’s not sitting in it. Why should we have to make someone fill that seat within six months? This is counteracting exactly what I think you’re trying to do,” he said. Tribal Councilor Keith Austin on Feb. 22 said he was not “opposed” to the legislation but wished it included the EC and Editorial Board. “My only problem with it is that it doesn’t affect the problem with the Election Commission and it doesn’t fix the problem with the Editorial Board because the Editorial Board member that we appointed…is replacing one that was in holdover status for almost a year. Those two agencies both have a history of long holdover status. It’s important, especially with the Election Commission, that they have a full working staff. This is exactly what we need except for those two agencies and they’re excluded,” he said. Tribal Councilor Dick Lay on Feb. 22 said that passing the amendment was a “good start.” “This is the council, this is what we can affect today. We can affect and take on the other issues tomorrow. We can’t cure the world’s ills on one sweeping motion. This sets the progress for the boards and commissions that we have control over at this point and time,” he said. “This is a good start and I think it’s a bold move for this council to set the tone that you can’t just holdover these boards forever.” Nimmo added that the amendment would not apply retroactively. “We all agree that this can’t apply retroactively because our Constitution says,” she said. “There might be a disagreement on what retroactive means. Does it mean that someone who is currently in holdover status after six months they’re gone? I think probably not. I think to avoid retroactive application that this would only apply to newly appointed and confirmed people.” In other business, legislators: • Re-approved Leroy Qualls as a Cherokee Nation Foundation board member, • Increased the fiscal year 2017 capital budget by $102,733 to $279.5 million, • Increased the FY 2017 operating budget by $1.2 million to $667.9 million, • Approved a contract for the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Healthy Living program, and • Authorized an application for a National Park Service grant to survey the Rose Cottage site.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
03/22/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During the March 21 Rules Committee meeting, Tribal Councilors indefinitely tabled legislation aiming to have Cherokee Nation citizens vote this year on whether the tribe should allow same-sex marriage. “This has been an extremely sensitive subject within the Cherokee Nation. The Osages (Osage Nation), they had an election yesterday. It was favorable for the same-sex community. It passed 52 percent. The thing is, their people had a vote in the matter. Our people didn’t have a vote in the matter,” Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick, the legislation’s sponsor, said referring to Attorney General Todd Hembree’s Dec 9 opinion. The opinion, which has the weight of law, states two sections of the CN Family and Marriage Act – one defining marriage as between a man and woman and another prohibiting parties of the same gender to marry– were unconstitutional. Following the opinion, CN citizens Dawn Reynolds-McKinley and Kathy Reynolds-McKinley filed their marriage license on Jan. 19 at the CN Courthouse. As of publication, only two same-sex marriage licenses have been filed with the District Court. Walkingstick said as a legislator he did not think the attorney general’s office should be making laws because that was the Tribal Council’s job. Other legislators questioned whether to move forward with Walkingstick’s act because of a case in District Court challenging Hembree’s opinion. Tribal Councilor Curtis Snell on March 20 filed a declaratory judgment petition asking the court to declare lawful the two Family and Marriage Act sections Hembree opined were unconstitutional. “I don’t know at this time if it’s gone to the courthouse. I’m at odds to whether we should vote on it or not,” Tribal Councilor Dick Lay said. Tribal Councilor Keith Austin said he couldn’t vote for the legislation because the CN Constitution states “equal protection shall be afforded under the laws of the Cherokee Nation.” “Based on that alone, I can’t vote for something that denies a portion of our population a privilege or a benefit that is afforded other portions of our population,” he said. “That Constitution says equal protection. It doesn’t say equal protection for straight people. It says equal protection.” He added that he sees it as a violation of the Tribal Council oath of office to support legislation conflicting with the CN and U.S. constitutions. “If the voters came to us with an initiative petition then we would deal with that,” he said. “But for us to promote a law that is in conflict with the United States Constitution, I interpret that to mean that we are violating our oath of office.” Hembree said he wasn’t on either side of the same-sex marriage issue but on the side of the CN Constitution. He added that Walkingstick’s legislation was a legal nullity. “If you want to attempt to amend the Constitution to make gay marriage illegal, Mr. Walkingstick, I recommend that you do that. But in the resolution that you brought forward it doesn’t do that at all,” he said. “And whoever helped you draft this, Mr. Walkingstick, didn’t do it correctly.” Following the discussion, legislators voted 13-3 to table the bill with Tribal Councilors Shawn Crittenden, Lay and Walkingstick voting against. Tribal Councilor Don Garvin was absent. Kathy Reynolds-McKinley, who attended the committee meeting with her wife, said afterward that “equality shouldn’t be voted on, it should be expected” and that she and Dawn were happy to see the legislation not approved. “We don’t expect 100 percent support, but at bare minimum hope for mutual respect among tribal members,” she said. Walkingstick said the meeting “opened the eyes of our Cherokee people on our executive branch and attorney general.” “The Tribal Council has great faith in the Cherokee people and their ability to self-determine what’s right for them. It’s the Cherokee people’s tribe. I will make every effort that their voice will be heard, instead of one person or a few making the laws,” he said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
03/21/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Sequoyah High School will celebrate the 2017 3A state champion Sequoyah Lady Indians basketball team at 5:30 p.m. on March 22 at The Place Where They Play gymnasium on the SHS campus. According to an email from Athletic Director Marcus Crittenden, the public is invited to attend and celebrate “the outstanding achievements of these players and coaches.” “This is the second gold ball in three years for the Lady Indians, and the fifth in program history,” Crittenden said.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
03/21/2017 08:15 AM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – President Donald Trump is paying homage to a predecessor, Andrew Jackson, with the highest form of flattery. Trump says the nation’s seventh president reminds him an awful lot of himself. The president paid a visit on March 15 to The Hermitage – Jackson’s Nashville home - to commemorate Jackson’s 250th birthday. Trump hailed Jackson as “one of our great presidents” and described some of their similarities. Trump’s team has long seized on parallels between the current president and the Tennessee war hero, comparing Jackson’s triumph in 1828 over President John Quincy Adams to Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton last year. Trump described Jackson as a fellow outsider who pledged to represent the forgotten worker and took on the Washington establishment. “It was during the revolution that Jackson first confronted and defied an arrogant elite,” Trump said. “Does that sound familiar to you?” he asked his crowd. “Oh, I know the feeling, Andrew.” Trump said Jackson’s victory “shook the establishment like an earthquake” and talked about how he’d tried to sweep out government corruption, improve veterans’ care and impose tariffs on foreign countries to protect American workers - all things Trump pledged to do during his campaign. Trump spoke after taking a tour of the property, which included a stop at the home’s library. There, the curator told Trump that Jackson subscribed to 16 newspapers and made notes on stories about which ones he liked and disliked. On one editorial, he drew a big black “X'” to show his disapproval. “We know that feeling,” said Trump, who has been known to scrawl angry notes on reporters’ stories with a black Sharpie and send the marked-up stories back to them. Following a tour of the property the president placed a wreath at Jackson’s tomb. He stood, saluting, as taps played. Jackson has enjoyed a moment of resurgence thanks to Trump, who mused during his first days in Washington that “there hasn't been anything like this since Andrew Jackson” and hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office after moving in. Historians had been souring on the slave-owning president, whose Indian Removal Act of 1830 commissioned the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands. More than 4,000 died during their journeys west. Jackson’s standing had fallen so much that that the U.S. Treasury opted to remove Jackson from the $20 bill. But Howard Kittell, the President and CEO of the Hermitage mansion, said attendance at the museum has surged since the election. “Jackson is probably getting more media attention now than when he was president,” he said.President Trump visited President Andrew Jackson’s home in March to celebrate his birthday.