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.


04/24/2015 02:00 PM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – The “Mid-Afternoon Frolic,” second edition, in May at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum is planned for younger talents. Designed for students in the seventh grade and lower, the family friendly talent show will be 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on May 3 in the museum’s Will Rogers Theater. Will Rogers entertained audiences at the “Midnight Frolic,” held on the rooftop of the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City. Patrons were entertained with music, humor and dance numbers. Named for that venue, the “Mid-Afternoon Frolic” will include talent numbers of music, humor and dance. Space is limited to 20 participants. Acts are limited to four minutes. BancFirst will sponsor cash prizes including $150 for first place, $100 for second place and $50 for third place. Applications are available on line at <a href="http://www.willrogers.com" target="_blank">www.willrogers.com</a>, link on Upcoming Events, by email at wrinfo@willrogers.com or by calling 918-343-8118.
04/24/2015 12:00 PM
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — In an unusually public fight, a Cherokee advocacy group is challenging a half-million dollars in extra pay the Tribal Council recently approved for itself, saying the North Carolina tribe can't afford raises for top officials while other services suffer. The dispute has exposed details of tribal operations not often seen by outsiders and comes months before elections for top tribal posts. The group argues that Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians lawmakers violated tribal law when they voted in October to give current and former council members raises retroactive to 2010, according to a letter to the council. The raises and back pay through 2015 exceed $500,000, and hundreds of thousands more in tribal funds will go to adjusted retirement benefits, the group says. "At a time when vital Tribal programs in the areas of health, elder services, families and children continue to be underfunded, such exploitation of public office for personal gain is simply unconscionable," the letter dated April 16 states. The group's Asheville-based attorney, Meghann Burke, said the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for Justice and Accountability plans to file a lawsuit in Cherokee Tribal Court if the council doesn't return the money by its May 7 meeting. The group quotes tribal law as saying pay raises can't go into effect until the council's next term and that increases "shall not exceed the amount appropriated in that fiscal year for tribal employees." All 12 Tribal Council members, who serve two-year terms, as well as the principal chief, who serves a four-year term, are up for election in the fall. Tribal lawmakers passed the pay raises 9-1, with two sitting out, in their budget in October. Budget documents obtained by the advocacy group show each member received a raise of about $10,000 for the fiscal year starting in October. The new salaries range from about $80,000 for most members to about $86,000 for chairwoman Terri Henry. The group says several former council members also received retroactive payments of as much as nearly $24,000. The members who sat out of the vote, Teresa McCoy and Albert Rose, filed protests and unsuccessfully sought to undo the raises. A memo from Rose to Henry says the "Tribal Council cannot institute a pay increase until the next Council is seated" and the raises are "a direct violation" of tribal law. If filed, the advocacy group's lawsuit would ask the court to declare the raises invalid and make the council members return the money. The tribe's acting attorney general, Hannah Smith, and Tribal Council Vice Chairman Bill Taylor declined to comment, and Henry didn't respond to a phone message. Principal Chief Michell Hicks didn't return a message left Wednesday with his assistant. In the past, dismay over raises for the council led to changes in the law. The 2004 resolution that became the law on council pay raises said tribe members felt the panel had previously given itself unfair raises of $10,000 or more. "Tribal Council should set the example for curbing spending," says the unanimously passed resolution. Documents obtained by the advocacy group show average annual pay increases for tribal employees were between 2 and 4 percent annually for the decade ending in 2013. A 2014 memo from Smith to top tribal officials says tribal employees are in a separate category from members of the government. The tribe has approximately 15,000 enrolled members and employs about 4,000 in government and tribal businesses, spokeswoman Lynne Harlan said. Most of the tribal government's revenue comes from gambling operations anchored by the sprawling Harrah's Cherokee Hotel and Casino, and the tribe is building a second casino. A report by an outside accounting firm showed that gambling provided nine-tenths of tribal government revenues for the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years. The dispute provides a wider look at tribal operations than outsiders typically get. The tribe's laws guarantee enrolled members — but not necessarily others — access to public records and meetings. A reporter for the Smoky Mountain News, a weekly newspaper that has frequently covered the tribe, wrote in December that she and other journalists were denied entry to a meeting that month. Becky Walker, one of the leaders of Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for Justice and Accountability, said a core group of 6 to 10 members has participated for years but support has swelled since the decision on pay raises. "We have been attending meetings for years ... and have been really upset with some of the decisions," she said, adding that this is the first time they've hired a lawyer to take action. There were public protests of the decision, and Walker says she's heard from many tribe employees who are upset but afraid to speak out. Concerns include that the tribe has overextended itself with the new casino and other businesses. "A lot of the enrolled members have concerns about how much debt we're in," she said.
04/24/2015 10:00 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A group of American Indian actors walked off the set of an Adam Sandler movie this week over complaints about stereotypes, offensive names and scenes they say disrespected Native American religious practices. Actor Loren Anthony told The Associated Press on Thursday that he and eight others quit the production of the satirical Western "The Ridiculous Six" after producers ignored their concerns about its portrayal of Apache culture and the inappropriate use of props. Anthony said the script included offensive names for Native American female characters and a scene where a Native American woman urinated while smoking a peace pipe. Another scene used chicken feathers on teepees, he said. "Right from the get-go, it didn't feel right. But we it let it go," said Anthony, a Navajo actor who started work as an extra on the movie Monday. "Once we found out more about the script, we felt it was totally disrespectful to elders and Native women." "The Ridiculous Six" is produced by Sandler and Allen Covert and is slated for a Netflix-only release. Production began this month in Santa Fe and elsewhere in northern New Mexico. The film is a comedy designed to lampoon stereotypes, Netflix said. "The movie has 'ridiculous' in the title for a reason: because it is ridiculous," a company statement released by Netflix said. "It is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only part of — but in on — the joke." A spokesman for Sandler's Manchester, New Hampshire-based production company, Happy Madison Productions, didn't immediately return a phone message. Goldie Tom, another extra who departed the set Wednesday, said producers told the group to leave if they felt offended and that script changes were not up for debate. "This just shows that Hollywood has not changed at all," Tom said. She added the production had a number of non-Native American actors portraying American Indians, a long-standing complaint about the movie industry. The actors said a Native American consultant hired by the production also walked off the set. The New Mexico Film Office said Thursday the dispute was a First Amendment issue and the office had no say over the movie's content. "As long as the production meets the requirements in the film credit statute, there is nothing prohibiting them from filming in New Mexico and receiving the rebate," the office said in a statement. Outgoing Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly lauded the extras' decision. "Our Native American culture and tradition is no joking matter," Shelly said. "I applaud these Navajo actors for their courage and conviction to walk off the set in protest." David Hill, 74, a Choctaw actor from Oklahoma who left the set, said he thought the film industry was heading toward better portrayal of American Indians before this experience. "Over the years, we have seen change. Then this," Hill said. "We told them, 'Our dignity is not for sale.’"
04/23/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Phoenix is asking Cherokee Nation citizens to submit questions they would like to ask either the principal chief or deputy chief candidates during the Cherokee Phoenix Debate 2015. The debates are slated for 6 p.m. on May 16 at the Northeastern State University’s Robert P. Webb Auditorium in Tahlequah. Those interested in submitting a question can do so by using #askthechief2015 on social media websites Facebook or Twitter. The Cherokee Phoenix may select or modify a submitted question and ask it during the debates. Click <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/index/9046" target="_blank">http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/index/9046</a> for additional information.
Senior Reporter
04/23/2015 08:45 AM
EUCHA, Okla. – Three Cherokee families gathered April 18 at the Round Springs Cemetery to honor their respective ancestors who survived the Trail of Tears and later died in the Cherokee Nation. The descendants of Chief Charles “Oochalata” Thompson, Anderson Springston and Charlotte Chopper, some traveling from other states, came to the cemetery west of Jay for a ceremony hosted by the Oklahoma Trail of Tears Association. On the headstone of all three survivors, a metal plaque was placed that read: “In honor of one who endured the forced removal of the Cherokees in 1838-39. The Trail of Tears Association Oklahoma Chapter” and included the TOTA and CN seals. Oklahoma TOTA President Curtis Rohr said 130 survivors’ graves have been marked since 1997. Daniel Tanner, 66, came from White Bear Lake, Minnesota, to honor “Oochalata” Thompson. “It was hard to hold back tears,” he said. “I’m really glad I came down here when I did. I’ve been here for two weeks now, and this is going to be the highlight of my trip. I think it’s a real honor to be recognized in this way, and all the family that’s here should be really proud of our ancestors and those who survived the Trail of Tears.” Thompson was born in the CN East circa 1821. Prior to the removal, the family lived on the Toccoa River in what is now Gilmer County, Georgia. In 1838-39, Oochalata’s family endured the removal, traveling with the Choowa-looky/Wofford Detachment, and settled on Brush Creek, south of what is now Jay. In 1875, running on the Downing Party ticket, Thompson defeated Chief William Potter Ross and was elected chief of the CN. He was the last monolingual Cherokee speaker to be chief. His term was marked through its entirety by disagreements with the U.S. government over its refusal to allow the CN to set its citizenship requirements and remove people the Cherokees felt were intruders in the Nation. He died in 1891. Patti Jo King of Muskogee is a descendant of Springston. The director of Bacone College’s Center for American Indians in Muskogee, she has researched her ancestors and knew about Springston before the ceremony. “I’ve been coming out here (cemetery) since I was child,” she said. “I thought the ceremony was absolutely beautiful, and I wouldn’t have missed this for the world…My mother was quite close to Anderson Springston’s son John Leak Springston. I’m so happy that this has happened. I thank the Trail of Tears Association for bringing our family’s history to light.” Springston was born Oct. 13, 1814, in the CN East, probably on the Tennessee River and possibly in present-day Marshall County, Alabama. He was adamantly opposed to removal. In 1834, he and his half-brother, James Foreman, were implicated in the murder of John Walker, a removal advocate. However, they were not convicted. On June 22, 1839, he and five others took part in the assassination of Major Ridge, a signer of the Treaty of New Echota that sold remaining Cherokee lands in the east and leader of the Treaty Party. Disagreements over this removal treaty caused tension in the CN during the next decade. Springston eventually settled near Spavinaw Creek in what is now Eucha in Delaware County. About 1844 he married Sarah “Sallie” Elliott. They had seven children. Trained as an attorney, Springston served as solicitor in the Delaware District from 1841-44. In 1845, he was elected to the Cherokee Committee (later called the Senate) from the same district and served one term. Springston died on March 15, 1866. He was originally buried in a cemetery at Galcatcher Hollow. In 1952, his body was reinterred in Round Springs Cemetery. Carol Hamby came to honor her great-great grandmother Charlotte Chopper. She said she is “proud” of her grandmother for surviving the Trail of Tears and submitted the paperwork to have her grandmother honored two years ago. “I looked at her headstone, saw her birthdate, saw when she died, and said, ‘she had to have come across it’ (Trail of Tears),” she said. “It’s been exciting. I have relatives here from Denver, Joplin, Missouri; Kansas City, Missouri; Dallas, Texas; Tahlequah; Jay; Tulsa. We have a bunch of family here” Sah-lah-dah, known in English as Charlotte, was a full-blood Cherokee born circa 1817 in the CN East. Her father’s name has not been preserved, but her mother was named Ne-di. About 1833, she married Gah-loo-yah, known in English as Chopper. They lived on the Ellijay River in what is now Gilmer County, Georgia, and had four children. In 1838-39, she had her husband and daughter endured the forced removal in the Choowalooky/Wofford detachment. The family settled in the Delaware District near what is now Eucha. She died on Feb. 28, 1858, at Eucha and was buried in the Chopper family cemetery near the Lake Eucha Bridge on Hwy. 59. At the formation of the Lake Eucha in 1952, her body was reinterred at Round Springs Cemetery. National President of the Trail of Tears Association and Tribal Councilor Jack Baker said the markings honor Trail of Tears survivors and enable their families to understand the removal wasn’t an “isolated event” in the tribe’s history and it happened to their family. “This wasn’t just an event in history, but it actually happened to our family,” he said. “We have the markers on the grave, so when you visit the gravesites with your children later on...and they ask what that marker is you can tell them that’s your family and your family was a part of the Trail of Tears.”
04/22/2015 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On April 17, Principal Chief Bill John Baker signed a proclamation in remembrance of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. This year marked the 20th anniversary of the domestic terrorism act that took place in Oklahoma. Baker also released a statement regarding the day and the 20th anniversary: “The April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was an incredibly dark day for our state. It was a tragedy of epic proportions that sent an entire nation into mourning. The loss of 168 innocent civilians, including 19 precious children, was the result of an evil act we never imagined could happen in Oklahoma. As tragic as that day was, what emerged was a united Oklahoma that showed strength, humanity, courage and resilience. No act of terror could extinguish the indomitable Oklahoma spirit. “On Sunday, the 20th anniversary of that tragedy, we will collectively mourn again, but we will also reflect on our strength as a society to pick ourselves up and pull through anything, despite our broken hearts. I hold the deepest admiration for the courage shown by everyone affected by that day: the survivors, their families, first responders and so many others. So while we grieve with you for those we lost, we also honor you for your strength and resilience. “On behalf of the entire Cherokee Nation, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with each and every one of you. God bless.”