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 • 918-453-3961
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.


10/31/2014 11:41 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – The Five Civilized Tribes Museum will be hosting a “Rock Your Mocs” exhibit and auction during November, which is Native American Month. The exhibit will display more than 25 pair of canvas shoes that have been painted, beaded or otherwise embellished. The work has been donated by artists, including some of the Five Tribe’s Master Artists, to raise money for the museum. “The museum staff is excited to be a part of this fantastic event. There will be a wide variety of art genres being represented, from pop art to traditional beadwork, to leather and cloth adornments,” said exhibit coordinator MaryBeth Nelson. The exhibit will run throughout November in the museum gallery. During this time, the shoes will be up for auction on Ebay. Interested buyers can follow along with the show on the museum website at www.5tribes.org or their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FiveCivilizedTribesMuseum. Those interested in bidding must have an Ebay account. The museum’s office staff will help bidders if needed. A “meet and greet” reception will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 22, at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum. The museum is located at 1101 Honor Heights Drive on Agency Hill. For more information, call 918-683-1701 or email <a href="mailto: 5civilizedtribes@gmail.com">5civilizedtribes@gmail.com</a>.
10/31/2014 08:17 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The National Indian Gaming Commission recently sent a letter to Principal Chief Bill John Baker approving the amendment to the tribe’s Gaming Commission Act, but noted it likely will come with greater federal scrutiny. According to the letter from Acting Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri, the NIGC approved amendments to the act that differentiate between gaming and non-gaming activities, provide Tribal Council representation on the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission and limits the CNGC by mandating that its regulations not exceed minimum federal standards. “The gaming act is approved to the extent it is consistent with the requirements of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and NIGC regulation. “However, I am compelled to note my misgivings over some aspects of the gaming act. In particular, the provision of the gaming act that requires tribal regulations and controls not exceed the federal controls undermines the spirit of the NIGC regulations … which are designed to be the ground floor of regulations upon which a tribe could build up from to address its specific requirements. “Further, implementing this provision of the gaming act may be difficult because Tribal regulators may struggle with determining what would ‘exceed’ the NIGC (minimum controls). Because of the potential implementation difficulties that may result from the gaming act’s lack of specificity, the NIGC will likely need to review the Tribe’s gaming operations with greater scrutiny,” the letter states. Christina Thomas, NIGC acting chief of staff, said the NIGC didn’t foresee the implementation of the ordinance being an efficient process. “We anticipate having to be more involved on the ground with the tribe to ensure that the gaming integrity is still protected. There’s going to be a significant amount of confusion at the tribal level implementing that particular provision of gaming ordinance.” In April, Tribal Councilors limited the CNGC’s regulatory powers over Cherokee Nation Entertainment operations with LA 07-14. It passed with Tribal Councilors Don Garvin, Harley Buzzard, Dick Lay, Cara Cowan Watts, Lee Keener, Julia Coates and Jack Baker voting against it. Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor abstained. In June, the Tribal Council made technical changes to the Gaming Commission Act with LA 17-14. That act passed 16-1 with Lay voting against it. Baker signed both acts into law but the amendments didn’t take effect until they received the NIGC approval on Oct. 27. CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the NIGC approval affirmed the tribe’s ability to self-govern. “We are pleased that body recognizes our inherent right to self-regulate. We are confident these amendments passed by our Cherokee Nation Tribal Council will allow our businesses to remain the industry leader in a gaming market that is becoming more and more competitive, all while adhering to strict common sense regulations,” he said. “We are confident that as we move forward the council will continue work with the administration, CNGC and CNB (Cherokee Nation Businesses) on any further modifications to the gaming code that might be warranted. That type of collaborative process is at the heart of tribal self-governance.” Tribal Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk, who co-sponsored the amendment with Tribal Councilor David Thornton, said the council revised the act to better suit the tribe’s needs. “I’m pleased to be a sponsor along with David Thornton of the amendments and I’m proud that the NIGC approved them,” she said. “These amendments require our business to meet the strict requirements of federal law while also placing us on a level playing field with our competitors. This is the most competitive market right now in Oklahoma.” However, Keener said the tribe limited its sovereignty in favor of federal control and state agreements. “This is the first time in Cherokee Nation history the chief and majority of the council have ever voted to limit its own authority regarding tribal gaming in favor of federal regulations and state compact agreements,” Keener said. “If we decline to govern ourselves, we are taking a huge step backwards. Voting against ourselves makes no sense which is the reason I voted no.” Before the amendment, the CNGC regulated all gaming operations, including auditing, to ensure compliance with the act and any regulations adopted by the CNGC. The CNGC also enforces any gaming-related compacts with the state. “Our gaming facilities take CNGC’s regulations very seriously, and have always followed those regulations to the letter,” Shawn Slaton, interim CNB CEO, said. “We will continue to follow, as we have in the past, the laws, rules and regulations of the Cherokee Nation and its commissions. Any changes to the law will not change our adherence to the standards set forth by the CNGC.” According to the tribe’s fiscal year 2013 audit, CNB gave $44.1 million to the tribe in dividends in FY 2013. Thomas said the CN is the first tribe to change from following its own Tribal Internal Control Standards, or TICS, to only following federal Minimum Internal Control Standards, or MICS. Tribes develop TICS to suit its gaming needs and regulations. “As I understand it, we would not be allowed to do anything in excess of what’s required under the MICS,” CNGC Chairwoman Stacy Leeds said. “This is not something that we can just immediately enact tomorrow because there are three or four or five steps that have to get worked out. So certainly the first order of business is to get some advice on the Attorney General’s Office about what their interpretation is of certain things that will change under this.” Leeds said one of the biggest changes would be determining which employees would need gaming licenses. “There are a lot of things that will have to be asked as we’re implementing this like exactly which employees are gaming versus nongaming, and is there a difference at one facility over the other based on access to cash and access to systems and those kinds of things,” she said. Under the previous act, the CNGC could audit or review financial records to ensure proper accountability. Under the amended act, it can only audit or review financial records directly related to gaming activities. Both versions of the act state the CNGC “shall have immediate, unfettered access to all areas of a gaming facility to review, inspect, examine, photocopy and/or audit all records of the gaming facility.” “That’s our law now, it’s been approved by NIGC and we will follow it,” Leeds said. Leeds said the CNGC has reached out to Attorney General Todd Hembree to schedule a meeting and all the gaming commissioners have been forwarded a copy of the letter. Leeds said the CNGC expressed concerns when the legislation was under Tribal Council consideration. “There was never a formal testimony by me or the commission as a whole, but I think that when it was being considered some of the concerns were being expressed in the meetings. But it’s ultimately up to the council to decide,” she said. Coates said the tribe is rolling back the regulatory authority it has assumed over operations, placing the tribe at the same level as other tribes that have issues around their gaming operations. “It goes against the grain of national trends among tribes to assert greater degrees of sovereignty. We thus find ourselves in the very unusual position of having a federal commission actually imploring us to assert greater sovereignty, and warning us that if we do not, they may be forced to assume it on our behalf. This is a dangerous precedent and not one we want to be setting.” Fishinghawk said she would welcome the NIGC because she trusts how CNB is running its operations. “The guys up there have run it for years. They have done wonderful. They’ve made the tribe money. They’ve never gotten into trouble for how they run it,” she said. “Until somebody shows me any different, I do trust them to run it. These amendments are helping us assert tribal sovereignty.” <strong>Past Dividends to Cherokee Nation</strong> Fiscal Year: Total Dividend – Net Profit Percentage 2013: $44.1 million – 35 percent 2012: $56.8 million – 35 percent 2011: $30 million – 30 percent 2010: $26.4 million – 30 percent 2009: $26.4 million – 30 percent 2008: $35 million – 30 percent 2007: $33.6 million – 30 percent 2006: $25.4 million– 30 percent 2005: $17.9 million – 25 percent 2004: $11.7 million – 25 percent <strong>Source:</strong> Cherokee Nation final audits In January 2006, the dividend was increased to 30 percent of net income, which was four months into fiscal year 2006.
10/30/2014 04:17 PM
NEWNAN, Ga. – The next meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 1 at the Old Newnan train depot. The speaker will be former Georgia TOTA President Jeff Bishop, who will be speaking about the Creek Indians who lived in that area of Georgia. Newnan is located near the McIntosh Reserve named after the famous Creek Headman William McIntosh, born of a Scottish father and Creek mother. The park contains land that was once the primary residence of McIntosh. In February 1825 he signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, which ceded all of the lower Creek land in Georgia to the federal government. The vast majority of Creeks were opposed to the land cession and selling Creek land without the approval of the Creek Council was illegal and punishable by death. In May of 1825 McIntosh was killed in retaliation for his actions. The Trail of Tears Association was created to support the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail established by an act of Congress in 1987. The TOTA is dedicated to identifying and preserving sites associated with the removal of Native Americans from the southeast. The association consists of nine state chapters representing the nine states that the Cherokee, Creek and other tribes traveled through on their way to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The Cherokees were the last to be removed although there were Creek Indians living in north Georgia among the Cherokee at the time of removal in 1838. TOTA meetings are free and open to the public. For more information about the TOTA, visit <a href="http://www.nationaltota.org" target="_blank">www.nationaltota.org</a> or <a href="http://www.gatrailoftears.org" target="_blank">www.gatrailoftears.org</a>. For questions about the November meeting, email Tony Harris at <a href="mailto: harris7627@bellsouth.net">harris7627@bellsouth.net</a>. Directions to the Old Newnan train depot: Take I-85 south and get off at Exit 47. Go west (turn right) towards Newnan – this is Bullsboro Drive (Hwy. 34). Go 4 to 5 miles to Newnan. When you get to Oak Hill cemetery, turn right on Clark and an immediate left on Jackson. Go to Court Square and turn left onto East Broad Street. This will take you to the Historic Depot at 60 East Broad Street.
10/30/2014 10:31 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Northeastern State University’s Center for Tribal Studies will have a Halloween event for children of all ages on Oct. 31. The “Halloween Party” will have trick or treating from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. there will be games, refreshments and costume contests. The costume contests will award the scariest, funniest and most original costume. The event is sponsored by NSU Native Student Organizations. The Halloween Party will take place at the Bacone House at 320 Academy St. For more information, call 918-444-4350.
10/28/2014 01:34 PM
STILWELL, Okla. – To help with the construction a splash pad, the Cherokee Nation donated nearly $40,000 to the City of Stilwell. “We are all one big community, and it means a lot to us for the Cherokee Nation to work with us on this project,” Stilwell Mayor Ronnie Trentham said. “The things we want to do as a city we couldn’t do alone, so the partnerships between us and the tribe and other groups are needed. We are a better community because we work together.” The splash pad will be located at the Edna M. Carson Stilwell Community Park. City officials expect the project, totaling $464,000, to be completed by May 2015. “Stilwell has always been a hub of Cherokee activity because we have so many citizens living there and working there at our Cherokee Nation Industries facility,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “This represents a good investment for the Cherokee Nation, as it enables the community and its leaders to expand the infrastructure and deliver more offerings for people.”
Senior Reporter
10/27/2014 08:28 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Two Cherokee Nation citizens have produced a 2015 calendar titled “Birds of the Cherokee Nation” that has photographs of area birds and their Cherokee names in the Cherokee syllabary. Jeff Davis, of Warner, and David Cornsilk, of Tahlequah, collaborated on the calendar. Cornsilk researched the Cherokee names for the birds and Davis provided the photographs. Each bird in the calendar can be found in the Cherokee Nation, Davis said. “I take a lot of photographs, and birds are some of my favorite subjects because I descend from the Bird Clan. I thought about doing one initially, and then David approached me about doing one, and we wanted to do it in Cherokee,” Davis, who is also an artist and direct descendant of Principal Chief John Ross, said. “The reason we wanted to do Cherokee is to not only be different, but to also help promote the language and help people learn the language.” Cornsilk said he used to live in Kenwood in Delaware County, which is known for being a traditional Cherokee community, and would listen to the Cherokee speakers there talk about birds and the meaning of the birds’ names. “Something I noticed was a lot of the older speakers they knew a lot of birds’ (names), and the younger speakers didn’t know very many. So it was something, I guess, that was fading out of the language, and so I started collecting the names of birds in Cherokee,” he said. “I always thought I’d publish a book, but then I thought a calendar would be a lot of fun.” He said because Cherokee speakers and others learning the language don’t regularly use the names of birds, plants and animals, the words are in danger of being forgotten. Davis said many Cherokee speakers just use the word jee-squa, which means bird, for every bird. Cornsilk said after he met Davis he learned about Davis’ love of birds and his photographs of local birds. So they decided to work together to produce the calendar. Each bird in the calendar has a Cherokee syllabary and English phonetic name. Each bird photo also has a brief explanation of what the bird means to the Cherokee and other stories about each bird. On the calendar’s back cover is a copy of the Cherokee syllabary to help people translate the bird names and the names of the months in Cherokee listed with the photos. Also included in the calendar is a list of moons associated with each month and what Cherokee beliefs are associated with each moon. Cornsilk credits the list of what the moons meant to Cherokees to William Eubanks, a Cherokee translator in the 1890s. Also, Cherokee linguist Lawrence Panther translated the calendar name. Davis said if the calendar is successful, he and Cornsilk might publish a second calendar next year because he has many more bird photos and Cornsilk, who has been collecting Cherokee names for plants and animals for about 30 years, has more Cherokee names for birds. He added the men have also had requests to do a calendar with plants used by Cherokee people for medicine and may do one with Cherokee names for trees using Davis’ photos. Davis and Cornsilk said they might also produce flash cards with birds, plants and trees. The calendars are available for $10 at the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop and the Spider Gallery in Tahlequah. By mail order, the price is $12.95 each, which includes shipping. PayPal or postal money orders are accepted. For PayPal send payment to: oklaguy67@gmail.com, and to mail payment, send to: J. Davis, P.O. Box 492, Warner OK 74469. “I think our main purpose was to preserve a portion of the Cherokee language that seemed to be fading...to make a contribution to the efforts the tribe is making and individual Cherokees are making as well (to preserve the language),” Cornsilk said. Davis said the response to the calendar has been positive. “People not only love the pictures but also learn how to pronounce the words. I’ve had several mothers tell me that they are teaching their children words from this, which is really what we wanted...something educational and beautiful,” he said.