Hembree concerned with potential tribal sovereignty threats

Senior Reporter
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.



About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years.


Special Correspondent
05/28/2015 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – The numbers are in and the Cherokee Nation still has a large hand in the economy of northeastern Oklahoma. Speaking before a full Sequoyah Ballroom on May 15 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa, officials with the CN and Cherokee Nation Businesses unveiled the tribe’s economic impact report for fiscal year 2014. Authored by Russell Evans with Oklahoma City University’s Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute, the study states the tribe had a $1.55 billion impact on northeastern Oklahoma in FY 2014, an increase of almost 50 percent compared to FY 2010. The institute also conducted the tribe’s last two economic impact studies, issued in 2012 and 2014. The impact was calculated using the number of jobs directly supported by the tribe and CNB, the salary and benefits paid out with those jobs, the number of direct vendor purchases made by the tribe and CNB’s entities, as well as the production of goods and services by the tribe and CNB entities. The latter was measured by total revenue or budget allocations as needed with CNB entities generating a combined $829 million in revenue for 2014. “Cherokee Nation’s economic engine is a critical component of the broader regional economy,” Evans said. “Its economic influence continues to grow in northeast Oklahoma, and that economic strength not only provides valuable opportunities to workers and their families throughout the region, but it also facilitates expanding Cherokee Nation’s government services.” Between the government side and CNB’s entities, the tribe directly accounted for 9,125 jobs and 1,365 contract employees. When vendor activity within the 14 counties is taken into account, the CN at least had a hand in supporting 15,610 jobs, which paid an estimated $645 million in wages during FY 2014. Of the more than 9,125 jobs directly supported by the CN and CNB, 90 percent of those positions are based in Cherokee, Rogers, Delaware, Sequoyah and Adair counties. Cherokee County alone accounts for 3,575 jobs, or 39 percent of the total workforce between government operations and the business arm. “We don’t want to give our kids an education and then ship them off to Texas,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “We need more jobs and better jobs to keep our children in Oklahoma. Otherwise, we’ll all be flying to California to see our grandkids.” The study does not account for vendor purchases made from national businesses that are not headquartered in Oklahoma but have branches within the tribe’s jurisdictional area, such as Wal-Mart. Among the activities credited for the uptick in economic activity were the expansion of field sites for career services and tag offices, plus construction efforts on casinos in South Coffeyville and Roland. Also factored in was a $100 million investment into the tribe’s health care system. During the timeframe examined for the study, construction efforts on new or expanded health care facilities were underway in several communities, including Ochelata, Sallisaw and Stilwell. “There is no disputing the role Cherokee Nation plays in this region’s economy, especially in places where economic activity might otherwise be hard to find,” Evans said.
05/28/2015 02:38 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board has withdrawn the nomination of its fifth member following an Attorney General’s Office review of the “emergency meeting” in which the nomination was approved. “Upon the review of the underlying facts it has been determined that the Editorial Board has decided to withdraw their nomination and set up a meeting at a later date,” Attorney General Todd Hembree said. At its May 19 meeting, the board announced it approved Lauren Jones as its fifth member during an “emergency meeting” after the previous nominee, Andrea Finney, withdrew citing personal reasons. The board approved Finney – who works at The Paper in Pryor as an advertising, human resources, office and circulation manager – as its fifth member on April 14. Pending Tribal Council approval, Finney was to replace longtime board member John Shurr, who died on March 1. Board Chairman Luke Barteaux said Finney withdrew her nomination after the April 14 meeting. “At that point I asked (Vice Chairwoman) Kendra (McGeady) to look for more resumes’ and I did also,” he said during the May 19 meeting. “We had come up with one more, a Miss Lauren Jones. In the interest of time and getting the nominee before the Rules Committee this month, so that we could have a full board as soon as possible, the board held a private meeting to vote on either Lauren Jones or the other resumes’...” Barteaux said the private meeting, in which no public notice or agenda were posted, consisted of himself, McGeady and board member Rob Thompson. He said the three voted on Jones’ nomination via email and that board member Maxie Thompson voted later via telephone. “It was all voted on and then we also spoke with Maxie and he also voted,” Barteaux said. He said the vote was unanimous and sent to the Tribal Council to be placed on the May 28 Rules Committee agenda. “In the law that sets up the board it allows us to hold an emergency meeting without public knowledge and it be private and that’s what we did,” Barteaux said. “Myself, Kendra and Rob Thompson used that power to hold the meeting because time was of the essence in getting a new nominee before the Rules Committee.” The Phoenix asked for the emails in which board members voted on Jones’ nomination, but Barteaux said he would discuss the matter with the other members to determine if they considered the meeting closed. “Just like before we voted originally on Andrea Finney, we had a closed board meeting that no one is privy to what we discussed then,” he said. “So I will need to find out from the rest of the board whether they consider that an open or closed meeting.” Barteaux also said he could not recall to whom he sent Jones’ nomination to after the board approved it. “I’m not exactly sure. I emailed it. It’s been a few weeks,” he said. “I’d have to look through my email but I asked either someone with the council or administration who would write that because I haven’t done one before and they said just send it over. I think I told them (board members) to have the votes in by, maybe, the sixth of this month. So the meeting was held before then and then sometime after that I emailed whoever.” According to the Cherokee Nation’s Freedom of Information Act, a public body may hold a meeting closed to the public when discussing appointments. However, all public bodies must give written public notice of their regular meetings and special meetings. Agendas must be posted 10 days prior to any regular meeting and 24 hours prior to special meetings. The act also states no action may be taken in executive session except to adjourn or return to public session. Also, no electronic communication may be used in circumvention of the spirit of requirements of the FOIA to act upon a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power. Hembree said he would not comment on whether the board was in violation of the FOIA. According to the tribe’s Independent Press Act, the Editorial Board shall hold periodic public meetings in order to conduct official department business and policy review. Nothing is mentioned regarding private or emergency meetings. According to Jones’ resume she is the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma public relations senior supervisor. Her duties include writing, editing, proofing and coordinating design and production for targeted communication pieces in the health care industry. According to the IPA, board members must consist of five members. At least three members must be at least 25 years of age, have quality experience in the management and operations of publications, be of good character and have a reputation of integrity, be physically able to carry out the duties of office and certify he or she will adhere to the standards of accepted ethics of journalism as defined by the Society of Professional Journalists and endorsed by the Native American Journalists Association. The other board members must be at least 25 years of age, have quality experience in business management, be of good character and have a reputation of integrity and be physically able to carry out the duties of office. The next Editorial Board meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. on June 2.
05/28/2015 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUHA, Okla. – Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and Tribal Councilor Lee Keener discussed issues for tribal voters during the Cherokee Phoenix’s deputy chief debate on May 16 at the Northeastern State University. The candidates were given two minutes each for opening remarks before being asked five questions. They then finished with two-minute closing remarks. Among the five questions, one dealt with the candidate’s belief of the most important tribal service that could be offered to At-Large Cherokee Nation citizens. Crittenden said federal dollars given to the tribe are earmarked for citizens living in the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction in northeastern Oklahoma. “So that leaves discretionary funding. Now the folks At-Large, we’re talking outside the 14 counties, the At-Large people in the state of Oklahoma have recently been able to buy car tags and four counties can actually buy car tags at the same price as we can here in the 14 counties,” Crittenden said. “They don’t get housing, of course. Health care they can go to an IHS (Indian Health Service) facility nearby where they live, and the federal dollars that provide for those services they can access. But they would have to come back home for, you know, health care here at our facilities.” He added that some scholarships are available too, but health care is probably the most important service offered to the Cherokee people. “If there was some way in the future I think that would be probably what I would try to target the most is health care,” he said. Keener said after visiting several at-large areas, the most troublesome issues he’s heard from At-Large citizens concerned health care and education. But he said he thought many At-Large citizens expressed feeling unwanted by the CN for living outside the tribe’s jurisdiction. “And I think as deputy chief, I can go to where they are at those community meetings and tell them that they are welcome, we do want you back home,” he said. To get those At-Large citizens back “home,” Keener suggested looking at what jobs are available in the tribe’s area and what jobs are needed and relay that information back to At-Large citizens. As far as education, he said the need is to have someone specifically available for At-Large citizens to contact with questions. “I guess we want to have some place where they can call the Nation and feel welcome and feel like they’re wanted and somebody there knowledgeable can talk to them and walk them through the process to get whatever it is that they’re requiring,” Keener said. Another question regarded the gaming industry and how dependent on it the CN should be as well as how to diversify and expand its economic interests. Crittenden said “we don’t need to put all our eggs in one basket that’s for sure,” and that the tribe has been working on diversification. “I think we’ve probably got somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,500 employees that don’t work directly in gaming. And we’ve got some 8(a) companies that are not directly related to gaming. So we are diversifying,” he said. “And we should be looking, we’ve got a board of folks that look at every opportunity.” The U.S. Small Business Administration developed the 8(a) Business Development Program to assist small disadvantaged businesses by offering assistance to firms that are owned and controlled at least 51 percent by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals or entities such as tribes. Crittenden also mentioned the tribe’s entertainment plaza slated to be built along Highway 62 in Tahlequah for a casino, shops and restaurants. He also mentioned the Macy’s distribution center in Tulsa County and the tribe’s housing program that is building houses again. “So efforts are being made to improve the jobs here,” Crittenden said. However, Keener said the tribe isn’t putting jobs in lower-income communities and that it leads to “quite a contrast in the Cherokee Nation.” “Yesterday, Friday, I attended the economic summit, and it was announced that the Cherokee Nation has a $1.5 billion dollar impact on the Oklahoma economy in northeastern Oklahoma,” he said. “Friday night I went to Rocky Mountain and visited the community there, and I didn’t see any evidence of that $1.5 billion dollar impact down there. There may be some. I just didn’t see it. I don’t see a strategic plan for the years ahead for us.” Keener mentioned that more than $13 million was spent on the Woodmark property and Cherokee Springs Golf Course in Tahlequah. “We’re missing some opportunities with some dollars I think to employ some people. It’s great Macy’s is coming in. It’s great that we can help with that, but we really need something in different areas,” he said. “And I haven’t seen the diversification that I would’ve like to have seen outside of the casinos.”
05/27/2015 02:30 PM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – On May 27, Acting Regional Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Eddie Streater withdrew his letter dated May 11 declining to approve LA-04-14, an act that amends the tribe’s election code. “On May 21, 2015, during a phone call with the Cherokee Nation’s Office of the Attorney General and other Cherokee Nation representatives, the Department of the Interior requested clarification as to the Nation’s intent to comply with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia’s Order dated September 21, 2011,” his letter states. That order was set to ensure all Freedmen voters would have the opportunity to participate in the election of the Principal Chief as well as give access to and have rights and benefits the same as all Cherokee Nation citizens. Streater further states in his letter that the DOI is bound by that Order. “While there has been subsequent tribal legislation, including that establishing the election procedures for the upcoming election of the Principal Chief, as well as intervening tribal judicial decisions, your Attorney General has by letter dated May 22, 2015, affirmed the Nation’s commitment to follow the 2011 court order,” the letter states. In Attorney General Todd Hembree’s letter to the DOI, it states that Freemen voters participated in the 2011 election, the tribal council election in 2013 and three special elections. “Because of the Cherokee Nation’s commitment to comply with the 2011 Order and the continued effectiveness of the 2011 order, I hereby withdraw my May 11, 2015 letter and now approve the 2015 Election Procedures for the sole and limited purpose of the upcoming election for the Principal Chief,” Streater’s letter states. “ As you are aware, we are currently awaiting judicial resolution of the status of the Freedmen under the 1866 Treaty between the United States and the Nation. The United States position continues to be that the 1866 Treaty guarantees the Freemen and their descendants full citizenship rights in the Cherokee Nation.” Hembree said in an earlier Cherokee Phoenix story that although initially the BIA chose to decline LA-04-14, there would be an election on June 27 and this clarification solidifies that statement. “The Cherokee Nation is pleased that the Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs has decided to withdraw its May 11, 2015 letter. We have been notified by the BIA today (May 27) that the election procedures to select the Principal Chief have been approved in accordance with federal law,” Hembree said. “It is a testament to the Cherokee Nation doing its utmost to resolve the Freedmen issue and any remaining questions concerning our Constitution. We look forward to a election on June 27 in accordance with the laws that have been passed by the Cherokee Nation.” The Bureau of Indian Affairs Eastern Oklahoma Regional Office released a letter on May 11 to Principal Chief Bill John Baker that stated it declined to approve LA-04-14. The Regional Office offered comments in regards to how it came to its decision. “Because LA-04-14 is so extensively intertwined with the appropriate provisions within the 1976 Constitution, it is impossible to propose revisions to LA-04-14 to reference appropriate provisions within the 1976 Constitution,” the letter states. “Because LA-04-14 purports to be based on the authority in a Constitution which the Regional Office does not recognize, we decline to approve LA-04-14.” The Regional office also referred to the term “citizen of the Cherokee Nation” stating that provisions in LA-04-14 indicate that only persons of Cherokee blood are tribal members. “Given the extensive litigations regarding the Freedmen, the Regional Office cannot approve LA-04-14 because to do so may imply recognition of removal of the Freedmen as citizens,” the letter states. And finally, in regards to absentee voter rules in LA-26-14, the letter states that it is an amendment to Title 26 of the Cherokee Nation Code Annotated. “Approving LA-26-14 may be interpreted as approving LA-04-14; therefore, we decline to approve LA-26-14,” it states. Hembree said tribal officials met with the BIA and Department of Justice to seek clarification of the letter and to also present additional information and as well as inform the bureau on action the CN has taken to resolve certain issues which is what led to the withdrawal of the May 11 BIA letter. He added that the many within the tribe fully expected a decision to have come down from the courts regarding the May 4, 2014 hearing on the Freedmen issue, but it has not. “But whatever that ruling is we will assess it and take the action that is most beneficial to the Cherokee Nation,” Hembree said. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/5/9290_nws_150526_BIA_document.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/5/9294_nws_150526_BIAUpdate_Document.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the updated letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs.
05/27/2015 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The four candidates running for Cherokee Nation principal chief addressed their concerns and ideas for the tribe during the Cherokee Phoenix’s principal chief debate on May 16 at Northeastern State University. The principal chief race is between incumbent Bill John Baker, state Rep. Will Fourkiller, former CN Community Services Group Leader Charlie Soap and former Principal Chief Chad Smith. The candidates were asked eight questions between their opening and closing remarks. The Phoenix staff composed the questions and the Editorial Board vetted them. The questions’ topics were provided to all candidates 24 hours in advance to ensure fairness and allow them to prepare. One question focused on the tribe investing more than $100 million into building new or expanding current health facilities while dealing with patient wait times and quality of care. Soap said the tribe needed to hire and train more health care providers. “What I would do in order to improve the health care would be to do a comprehensive survey at the facility and ask staff what the problem is because they work in those situations every day and they know what the problem is and how to solve that problem,” he said. Fourkiller said as a former CN health care employee, he knows what the employees go through. “We need to hire more staff,” he said. “We have a great health facility but it can be better. Our wait times will not decrease until we get more staff in. We also need to work on quality over quantity, continuity of care.” Baker said at some facilities, before new ones were built, there was a lack of space and some doctors only had one exam room for patients. He also said the CN is working with Oklahoma State University for the tribe to start a medical school so doctors can work at the tribe’s clinics. “We’re taking care of people and elders come up and tell me stories about how we saved their life and how we’ve got better health care then we did the private sector,” he said. “Our employees are doing a great job.” Smith said tribal funds don’t have to be taken away to build facilities and that some physicians take pay cuts to work at the tribe before leaving because of repressive working conditions. “It’s poor management caused by nepotism and cronyism,” he said. “We have to correct those things for the Cherokee Nation to develop the health care system that we each want and deserve.” Candidates were asked which housing program has been most effective at providing sustainable housing. Baker said all the programs are good, but his administration’s new home-building program hasn’t taken Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act funds away from the Mortgage Assistance or Housing Rehabilitation programs. “We build homes by Cherokees for Cherokees in their rural communities,” he said. “I think there are 400 houses under construction in some part of the Cherokee Nation right now. I believe it’s going to be something that we’ve gone above and beyond and we’re still doing the other (housing programs.)” Smith said the current housing program is not working as it should and that many people signed up for the program will wait several years before getting a home. “It’s not serving its purpose by creating an expectation that cannot be delivered,” he said. “We’ve learned in the past that Cherokees don’t thrive well in tract houses crunched together. We have to get a housing program where there’s easy entry and places where there’s communities where people want to stay, raise their families and live.” Soap also said that the current program has failed because few houses have been built and that the CN should concentrate on people in substandard housing. “There’s really nothing complicated about it,” he said. “We just need to provide affordable housing to our citizens who are living in substandard homes. There has to be a fairness in the selection process of the people who are getting these homes also.” Fourkiller said Cherokees deserve to have safe, affordable and quality housing and the CN needs to make sure the funds are spent properly. “If we were to enlist and hire more in-house crews to go in for the rehabs or new builds that would allow many more TERO (Tribal Employment Rights Office) vendors to be available to come in and open up the playing field there and that would put more Cherokees to work in the Cherokee Nation,” he said. Candidates also answered a question regarding hiring more Cherokees for executive level positions at Cherokee Nation Businesses. Soap said the tribe should encourage those who have the ability be executives to take on those positions. “I really believe we have strong leaders, young Cherokees that can be executive level if given (their) fair share, and to me, we have people at that level. We have Cherokees (who) can hold those positions if given that opportunity, and we don’t need outside consultants to come in and tell us how to run our business because we’ve got 300,000 Cherokees. Somebody’s bound to be smart enough to hold those positions,” he said. Fourkiller said the tribe should employee Cherokees at all management levels, develop a program to motivate youth to become those leaders and expand internship programs. “It’s time that we empower our youth and grow our young Cherokees into leaders,” he said. Baker said some of those non-Cherokees working at CNB have been with the tribe for years, and if the tribe were to let them go they would receive a “golden parachute.” “As chief of the Cherokee Nation I don’t hire anybody at CNB,” he said. “There’s a board of directors that are all Cherokee. I can’t see where they’ve hired maybe one non-Cherokee in leadership and it was because of his expertise. But we do have internship programs and we do have mentorship programs and they’re working hard every day to bring young Cherokees up to take over behind them.” Smith said the former CNB CEO did an outstanding job bringing in money for the tribe and that Baker’s administration terminated his contract, paying him $2.8 million. Smith also said Baker was one of the Tribal Councilors who approved that CEO’s contract years before. Smith added that CNB’s chief finical officer and current CEO are not Cherokee and that Cherokees can be found for those positions. The candidates were also asked about their Cherokee fluency and what their plan was to ensure the Cherokee language thrives. Smith said he wasn’t fluent and that’s why it’s so important. “I would reinstate the cut that Mr. Baker made to Northeastern State University’s language program,” he said. “I would build more immersion schools in those areas where the community embraces it. We have a constitutional duty, we have a moral duty not only to our children but to our ancestors.” Soap, who is fluent, said it’s sad to see that so much of the tribe’s language and culture are going away and the tribe hasn’t been able to motivate Cherokee speakers to help save them. “It’s really time to get serious about saving our language,” he said. “We need to help our people to continue to have own language and our culture.” Fourkiller said while he is not fluent he can understand some phrases. He added that statistics show the tribe doesn’t have many fluent speakers left and he would reach out to local schools within the tribe’s jurisdiction to promote the language. “Our language and our culture is what defines us as Cherokee people,” he said. “I would definitely promote our schools that we have at the Cherokee Nation and continue to expand and grow. The technology is there. The tools are there. We have to maintain and grow programs that promote our language and our culture so we don’t lose it. Baker said he wasn’t fluent but wished he was. He said even for children being immersed in the language all day at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School, “it doesn’t catch” unless there is a Cherokee speaking at home where the language is spoken between the child and parent. “We need to take Cherokee speakers and give them a directed studies degree and ask them to go study math or science or early childhood so that they can come and really help our kids,” he said. “We’ve got a master-apprentice program where those Cherokees that have taught themselves to speak Cherokee are now getting mentored so they can become conversational Cherokee speakers.”
Special Correspondent
05/27/2015 09:15 AM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – Focusing on health care, job creation and government transparency, four principal chief candidates got in their opening salvos May 15 in a televised debate at Rogers State University. Hosted by RSUTV and moderated by KOTV anchor Scott Thompson, Principal Chief Bill John Baker, state Rep. Will Fourkiller, former Principal Chief Chad Smith and former Cherokee Nation Community Services Group Leader Charlie Soap spelled out their positions on a host of issues facing the Nation. Questions on health care took up the first half of the hour-long debate, as candidates were grilled on the Affordable Care Act, Oklahoma’s refusal to expand Medicaid and how to improve health care in the CN. Citing poverty rates across northeastern Oklahoma and the high number of visits to CN health facilities from patients without third-party insurance, the four candidates called Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision to not expand the Medicaid coverage base a mistake. “It’s done a lot of damage to not increase access to Medicaid,” Soap said. “So many of the rural people are in poverty and can’t obtain it. As someone that does use Medicaid and has insurance, it’s still difficult to get medical expenses paid. It’s even tougher for those people who couldn’t get Medicaid.” Fourkiller, a former registered nurse and the only candidate to work in health care, said a key issue to improving medical care within the 14 counties for Cherokees and non-Cherokees is simply bringing in more qualified health care workers to smaller communities. “We have new facilities going in, which is great. However, it’s about recruitment and retainment,” he said. “We’ve got great health care workers and staff, but they’re overworked. We must educate our bright young Cherokees to go to nursing school, medical school or PA (physician assistant) school and then get them to come back to rural Oklahoma.” All four candidates also agreed that while the tribe needs to continue its efforts to diversify its business portfolio beyond gaming, that push would not involve marijuana cultivation or sales. The Department of Justice announced in 2014 that it would not enforce federal marijuana statutes in Indian Country if certain regulations were met, such as not selling to drug cartels. Even with that proviso, none of the four showed much interest in taking the initiative to legalize and commercialize marijuana in northeastern Oklahoma. “I think I would leave that to the council,” Soap said, drawing chuckles from the audience. “However, this is Bible Belt country, and I don’t think it’ll pass though.” Although the candidates also agreed that government transparency and citizen access to information is important, both Smith and Soap took shots at the current administration by claiming it is blocking access to information and censoring the Cherokee Phoenix via budget cuts. “This administration did not cut the Phoenix’s budget,” Baker said. “This administration sent over a fully-funded budget to the council and the council cut the Phoenix’s budget. I’ve done everything I could to reinstate that funding. I put in my own budget $800,000 so every Cherokee could have a free Phoenix and the Phoenix is yet to agree to that.” The Phoenix’s budget was slashed by 25 percent in 2012. The newspaper’s archives confirm the council’s Executive and Finance Committee proposed the funding reduction, citing a desire to make the newspaper financially independent. According to the minutes from the Phoenix’s Editorial Board meeting on March 18, there have been meetings between CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Phoenix representatives about a memorandum of understanding regarding the use of money from a Citizens Access To Transparency Fund to provide free print subscriptions for one year. However, a final agreement has not been reached and would be subject to approval by the Editorial Board before the free subscription program could start. The minutes also note that the earliest that program could start would be in August after the election cycle. Smith and Baker also traded barbs over the Registration Office’s backlog, which as of April, was estimated at about two years for a first-time citizenship application. Baker pinned the blame on an inherited antiquated system and an overall increase in applications, while Smith accused the Registration Office management of adding to the problem. “The reason there’s a backlog is pretty simple: they’ve taken resources, doubled the budget and I don’t know if there’s a nice way to say this, but gone on a dog and pony show rather than stay at home and process the applications already there,” Smith said. The full debate is available online at <a href="http://rsu.tv/rsu-tv/cherokee-principal-chief-debate-2/" target="_blank">http://rsu.tv/rsu-tv/cherokee-principal-chief-debate-2/</a>.