Hembree concerned with potential tribal sovereignty threats

BY WILL CHAVEZ
03/27/2014 08:17 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree told Tribal Councilors at the Feb. 27 Rules Committee meeting that two issues within the state could pose threats to tribal sovereignty.

Hembree said he and members of his staff on Feb. 26 joined Chickasaw Nation and Choctaw Nation representatives to meet with Steve Mullins, general counsel for Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, to discuss “two major topics.”

One topic is a proposed rule change by the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission to require a limited waiver of sovereign immunity to any tribal casino that applies for a liquor license with the state, which the tribes oppose.

“There are many legal reasons that this cannot take place. This is an issue that Gov. Fallin is promoting. It was a very impressive sight to see the Cherokees, Choctaws and Chickasaws all at one table with a united voice on this matter,” Hembree said. “I do believe we got the governor’s attention in this matter, and whether it is through policy negotiation or through legal challenge, I don’t not believe the ABLE Commission will be able to go forward with this rule. We will engage them.”

The item was not listed on the ABLE Commission’s March 10 meeting agenda, according to the commission’s website. Commissioners tabled the item at its February meeting.

The other issue deals with Shawnee city officials giving notice to the Citizen Pottawatomie Tribe in central Oklahoma that they intend to begin collecting sales tax from Citizen Pottawatomie Tribe-owned businesses located within the city limits.

Hembree said he believes issues similar to this issue have already been litigated in the state court and the U.S. Supreme Court. The Governor’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office “are contemplating weighing in” one the side of the city, he added.

“Obviously this is an issue that is of great importance for all Indian tribes in Oklahoma. The Choctaws, Chickasaws and Cherokees expressed our thoughts on this matter, and we stand ready to engage the city of Shawnee or the state of Oklahoma,” Hembree said.

The two issues, however, could be decided by current litigation in the U. S. Supreme Court involving a Michigan tribe, he said.

This past fall, the CN joined 11 tribes in support of the Bay Mills Indian Community and its lawsuit against Michigan. The state is at odds with the BMIC because it believes it can close the tribe’s casino because it is not on the tribe’s lands.

A federal judge agreed with the state and issued an injunction in 2011 ordering the casino closed. However, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the judge’s injunction in late 2013.

“That (Supreme Court) decision could come in early April. My office is working on contingency plans depending on the severity (of the ruling). I think there will be some restriction of some sort,” Hembree said. “Depending on the tenor and wording of the United States Supreme Court decision, this tribe needs to be ready to act and act quickly to protect our sovereign immunity and our business rights.”

Hembree said after the Feb. 26 meeting between the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations and Oklahoma, he had a second meeting with state officials to discuss a hunting and fishing agreement.

“We have set up a series of meetings to exchange information and data to get that ball rolling,” he said.

Hembree also gave updates on litigation with the Department of Interior regarding the United Keetoowah Band’s 2.03 acres on which its casino sits, as well as 76 acres, also in Tahlequah, the UKB wants in trust status. He said the land lawsuits are separate and will not be joined together.

The court case for the 2.03-acre tract will be heard on May 9 in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Oklahoma in Tulsa.

Hembee said there has not been a briefing set for the 76-acre tract.

On Feb. 28, the CN filed an objection into the UKB’s intervention in the case for the 76-acre tract. Also, Hembree said the CN has managed to get a restraining order against putting that land in trust until the lawsuit is decided.

On Jan. 6, the Interior Board of Indian Appeals dismissed the CN’s appeal of a 2011 decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to allow the UKB to place the 76-acre parcel of land in trust. CN officials have said the UKB has no legal ground for trust land within the Nation’s 14-county jurisdiction.

On Jan. 13 the CN filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Oklahoma against Interior officials.

In the complaint, the CN states the DOI’s dismissal of its appeal makes the 2011 decision by the DOI “final” and permits Secretary Sally Jewell to take the 76 acres into trust for the UKB.

For the Freedmen case in federal court, Hembree said oral arguments are to be heard on April 28 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

will-chavez@cherokee.org


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BY WILL CHAVEZ
09/19/2014 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Entry-level Cherokee Nation employees will see their wage increase from $9 to $9.50 beginning Oct. 1 when the tribe’s new fiscal year begins. By executive order, Principal Chief Bill John Baker raised the tribe’s minimum wage to $9.50 on Feb. 24, 2014, and ordered it to go into effect Oct. 1. The order raises the minimum wage for employees who have been employed by the CN for at least six months, provides for staggered increases for the minimum hourly wage, and it encourages other CN entities to implement a comparable wage increase. CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said by raising the tribe’s minimum wage, Chief Baker “pushed wages up” overall throughout the tribe’s government and businesses, meaning current workers would see their hourly wage increase and would not be making the same wage as someone just hired by the CN. “We really raised it because Chief Baker thought it was the right thing to do. The buying power of our minimum wage just wasn’t what it used to be. We needed to make sure our entry-level employees had a wage that they could make a living on,” Hoskin said. The tribe’s minimum wage is $2.25 more than the state’s minimum wage of $7.25. “When we can pay our entry-level employees a competitive wage we really do them a favor, but we really do the whole nation a favor because we raise the quality of life among all our people,” Hoskin said. “It’s important because we want the folks that are entry-level employees to be able to make a living. We want them to be able to put money aside for savings, be able to pay their bills.” He added the CN and its businesses also offer an optional benefits package for employees that include health and 401(k) retirement benefits that the CN and its businesses contribute to for an employee. Last March, the Cherokee Nation Businesses Board of Directors answered Baker’s challenge and unanimously voted to also increase its minimum wage to $9.50 an hour for its businesses, which also goes into effect Oct. 1. CNB Vice-President of Human Resources Bob Thomas said current CNB employees would actually receive an increase of more than $9.50 to prevent “compression.” “We would take that rate all the way up to people making $10.35, it would be a sliding scale, and it would give us the opportunity not to have any kind compression going on where we have somebody that’s been here a year or two making $9.50 an hour all of sudden making the same amount as a new person that comes in,” Thomas said. Board member Jerry Holderby said a study commissioned by the board shows what a CNB employee is making in total when other benefits are included like incentives, bonuses, health insurance, and employer contributions to 401(k) retirement plans. The study showed minimum wage CNB employees were actually making $13 an hour if they took advantage of all the benefits offered by the company. “Folks out in the communities, Cherokee and non-Cherokee, have expressed appreciation (for the minimum wage increase). You have to remember with 9,000 employees we are all over northeastern Oklahoma, so if our people are earning a better wage that helps the communities and the buying power of families. It’s really a win-win for the whole region,” Hoskin said.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
09/19/2014 01:28 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) – A U.S. senator threatened the NFL with legislation over Washington's nickname, a letter was dispatched to the other 31 team owners, and the issue was linked to the league's other recent troubles Tuesday as the anti-"Redskins" movement took its cause to Capitol Hill. In a news conference that featured Native American, civil rights and religious leaders, Sen. Maria Cantwell took aim at the NFL's pocketbook by announcing she will introduce a bill to strip the league's tax-exempt status because it has not taken action over the team name. While prospects for such a bill becoming law would be tenuous, the inevitable hearings before lawmakers would enhance the spotlight on a movement that has gained substantial momentum over the past two years. "The NFL needs to join the rest of America in the 21st Century," said Cantwell, D-Wash., the former chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "We can no longer tolerate this attitude toward Native Americans. This is not about team tradition. This is about right and wrong." Overall, the message from the "Change the Mascot" leaders was that they don't plan to go away, despite team owner Dan Snyder's vow not to change the name. They presented a letter that will be sent to every NFL owner except Snyder, asking each to use his "position of authority" to end the league's "promotion of a dictionary-defined racial slur." Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter said he hoped an owner will take a bold position against the name. He cited Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey, who integrated major league baseball by signing Jackie Robinson, and longtime Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin, who changed his NBA's team from Bullets because of the violence associated with the term. "We're looking for the Branch Rickey, looking for Abe Pollin," Halbritter said. "They're out there. We know the owners don't share in this, but they share in the profits." Halbritter had harsh words for the league as a whole, referencing the NFL's handling of health problems suffered by former players, as well as the recent Ray Rice domestic violence saga and the child abuse charge levied against Adrian Peterson. "The NFL is currently facing an integrity crisis. ... While these are different issues, they are joined by a common thread of showing commercial and moral arrogance and a blatant lack of respect for those being negatively impacted," Halbritter said. The NFL did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier Tuesday, the league announced that it has hired a former White House official to help the league with legislative issues. Cynthia Hogan will be the league's senior vice president of public policy and government affairs and will be based in Washington. A team spokesman Tony Wyllie responded to Cantwell's proposed legislation by citing a poll in the team's favor. "Our position remains consistent with more than 80 percent of Americans who do not want to change the Washington Redskins name," Wyllie said. The debate over the name could influence the team’s plan to build a new stadium when their lease at FedEx Field, located in D.C.'s Maryland suburbs, expires in 2027. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district's delegate to Congress, said the team would have a hard time moving back to the city unless the name is changed. "I would make every effort in the Congress to make sure they could not come back with that name," Norton said. Snyder has said that the team name and logo is meant to honor Native Americans, and the team has promoted American Indians who say they aren't offended by the name or by the use of the term "redskin" in general. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., offered a counterargument by displaying an 1863 newspaper front page that included the sentence: "The state reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory." "It can only be money that motivates the NFL with a slur that harkens back to the darkest days, when a white man could get paid for hunting down and murdering an Indian in cold blood for money," McCollum said. "This team name is a reminder of that brutal violence."
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/19/2014 10:52 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The local Help-In-Crisis shelter in Tahlequah will hold an “All you can eat” breakfast on Sept. 20 at the Masonic Cherokee Lodge 10 located at 121 West Choctaw in Tahlequah. Penny Gifford, Help-in-Crisis volunteer coordinator and event planner, said the breakfast will be from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., will cost $7 and will offer items including biscuits and gravy, pancakes, sausage, bacon and juice. The lodge provides the breakfast and all funds made will be used to help purchase basic living needs for the women and children in the shelter. “Most normally they (abused women and children) have left everything behind,” Gifford said. “We basically help them start their lives over.” Currently there are 33 participants residing in the shelter and of those 56 percent are Native American. Gifford added the lodge will also be matching funds raised during the breakfast. “The more tickets sold the better,” she said. Those interested in purchasing tickets in advance can call the shelter at 918-456-0673. They will also accept money at the door. According to Help-In-Crisis, it was established in around 1980 by a “group of concerned volunteers to provide safety and shelter to battered women and their children.” Its mission is to “eliminate family violence, stalking, child abuse and sexual assault through advocacy, education, counseling, support and prevention services.” They are a non-profit organization and offer a hotline if one is in need of help. Those in need can call 1-800-300-5321. The organization serves Cherokee, Adair, Wagoner and Sequoyah Counties.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/16/2014 10:51 AM
BARTLESVILLE, Okla. – The Oklahoma Indian Summer Festival is Sept. 18-21 at the Bartlesville Community Center. The state’s largest intertribal event and cultural exchange features a powwow with both competitive and non-competitive dancing on Friday and Saturday and a juried Native American and Western Art Show and Market, showcasing the talents of more than 30 artists, the <a href="http://www.okindiansummer.org" target="_blank">okindiansummer.org</a> website states. The event will consist of free outdoor concerts, an art market, a carnival, cultural demonstrations, story telling and a Friday and Saturday powwow. According to the website, artist Bunky Echo-Hawk will be a special guest. “A graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts, he is a ?ne artist, graphic designer, photographer, writer and a non-pro?t professional,” the site states. “Bunky is a traditional singer and dancer of the Pawnee Nation and an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation.” Christian Parrish or SupaMan, an Apsaalooke American Indian, will also be present during the event. He is from the Crow Nation reservation near Billings, Mont., and is also a champion powwow fancy dancer. There will also be several food vendors, including Monie Horsechief, a two-time National Indian Taco Champion. Admission is free and the event is open to the public. For a line up of events visit <a href="http://www.okindiansummer.org" target="_blank">okindiansummer.org</a>
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/15/2014 10:25 AM
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: karcoocoo@att.net">karcoocoo@att.net</a>.
BY TESINA JACKSON
09/12/2014 04:00 PM
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.