Editorial Board releases statement on proposed FOIA changes

BY Phoenix Archives
05/20/2014 09:06 AM
The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board released the following statement on May 15, 2014, concerning the changes to the Freedom Of Information Act under review by the Tribal Council.

“The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board, which is entrusted with monitoring the performance of the Cherokee Phoenix, the Phoenix’s delivery platforms that serve tribal members, and the provision of timely and correct information to the nation’s citizens, believes the current language in the Freedom of Information Act should be left intact. The FOIA not only embodies and forms the foundation for the nation’s commitment to unbridled communication with its citizens, but also symbolizes the openness of tribal government that tribal members have come to expect and to which they are entitled.

“The FOIA has worked well since 2001 and has helped ensure transparency of tribal operations for our individual citizens and the Phoenix, thereby enhancing government accountability. It represents the progressive nature of the nation and certainly is an enactment of which the nation’s government and tribal members should be proud.

“The Cherokee Nation was the first tribe in Indian Country to have a FOIA law on the books. The statute, along with the Independent Press Act of 2000, was responsible for the tribe receiving the prestigious Elias Boudinot award from the Native American Journalists Association for its contributions to a free press in Indian Country.

“In all states with FOIA laws there are some costs associated with providing access to governmental records, but this is usually considered an insignificant price to pay for ensuring that the public and the press have access to governmental activities. Sometimes requests can be overly broad, and it would be logical for tribal entities to work with those requesting information to narrow the scope so costs would be lessened.

“We consider the changes under consideration by the Tribal Council to the FOIA to be the first regrettable step toward limiting governmental transparency in the Cherokee Nation. Specifically, we would recommend removal of the single-point control over what gets released when the nation receives a FOIA request, to whom and when, so as to remove the potential for political influences infecting the processes, and thus further enhance transparency. Each agency of the nation that is the subject of a FOIA request should be the entity determining compliance with the request and the appropriateness of such a request. To do otherwise, irrespective of who may be the single-point of decision making, does not bode well for independent, non-political decisions.

“Given that the tribe’s primary profit centers are the Cherokee Nation Businesses, it would make sense that those entities, in particular, are not exempt from scrutiny, as has been proposed. There may be, indeed, some reason for keeping proprietary matters under wraps, but that is usually the only limitation for such entities under most FOIA laws. Concerns with the non-release of truly proprietary information should not and cannot form the basis for exempting arms of the nation from the FOIA and, thereby, restricting access to records and information of importance to the nation as a whole.

“Further, extending the time period for responding to requests to 60 days from the current 15 appears to be a mechanism to further dilute the law and make it more difficult for tribal members and the press to obtain relevant information to ensure tribal government is acting in the interest of its citizens.

“In short, the FOIA should remain in its present form and undiluted if the nation, as a government, is going to live up to the goals espoused in the FOIA and in order for the nation’s citizenry to acquire the information and maintain the transparency that gave rise to enactment of the FOIA initially. Darkness and closed-door decisions are, thankfully, for our nation a thing of the past, and they should remain so.”

News

BY CHRIS CASTEEL
The Oklahoman © 2016
07/27/2016 01:00 PM
PHILADELPHIA – Four years ago, at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker called President Barack Obama “the best president for Indian Country in the history of the United States.” Baker is here this week hoping Hillary Clinton succeeds Obama in office next year. “I truly believe that Hillary gets the issues of sovereign nations,” Baker said on Monday. Baker recalled her talking to tribal officials in the mid-1990s, when her husband, Bill Clinton, was president. That discussion was soon followed by an executive order that cut through red tape and allowed tribes to deal directly with government agencies, rather than working through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he said. “I'm proud to support Hillary Clinton,” Baker said. “I think she will make a wonderful president.” The Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, is hosting delegates and visitors this week in a tent on the grounds of the Wells Fargo Center, where the Democratic National Convention is being held. The tribe has speakers scheduled throughout the week, including U.S. senators. Monday's speaker was former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris, who represented Oklahoma from 1964 to 1973, served as national Democratic Party chairman and ran for president. His former wife, LaDonna, was a prominent American Indian activist. The Chickasaw Nation is sponsoring meals in the Cherokee Nation tent. Kalyn Free, an Oklahoma delegate at the convention and an attorney for the Cherokee Nation, said Baker and his staff have dozens of meetings scheduled here this week with business leaders and members of Congress. “Our mission is to ensure tribal issues like education opportunities, improved health care access and job development that will spur economic growth in Indian County remain at the forefront of policymakers,” she said. Baker's chief of staff, Chuck Hoskin, was on the committee that wrote the platform. Muscogee Creek National Council Speaker Steve Bruner served on the rules committee. Baker's mother, Isabel Baker, a longtime Democratic activist in Oklahoma, is also a delegate here. Free said Obama “prioritized our issues like never before. He populated his staff with talented Native people, hosted tribal summits, reached settlements in the Cobell and Keepseagle cases, passed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and signed the Violence Against Woman Act. … He has set the bar very high for his successor, and I know (Clinton) will raise it even higher.” Baker met with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in Washington earlier this year and said he doesn't understand why Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump would refer to her as Pocahontas. “It makes no sense to me whatsoever,” Baker said. Warren, who was born in Oklahoma, was heavily criticized four years ago for claiming to be a Cherokee while on the faculty at Harvard University. The Cherokee Nation was not able to verify her ancestry, and Trump has chided her for it numerous times. Baker said Monday that Trump “is probably a shrewd businessman and probably a good father. “I just don't think his rhetoric is what America wants or needs.” – Reprinted with permission
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
07/26/2016 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Don’t bank on seeing Cherokee Nation or the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association officials playing fantasy football any time soon. Speaking to attendees on July 14 of the Reservation Economic Summit inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, CN Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Ross Nimmo, OIGA Executive Director Sheila Morago and OIGA Chairman Brian Foster said while they are not necessarily opposed to daily fantasy sports, that type of gaming constitutes a violation of the exclusivity provisions of Oklahoma’s current gaming compacts. Daily fantasy sports involves participants picking professional athletes to be a part of their fantasy teams for anywhere from a day to a year. Depending on those athletes’ real-life performances, a participant can win cash or other prizes. Sites such as DraftKings.com and FanDuel.com contend that fantasy sports is a game of skill rather than gambling because successful participants often research different athletes, playing conditions and other potential factors before forming their teams. However, none of the RES panelists are buying that argument. “We all know people who have no knowledge or skill of specific players who play fantasy football or whatever sport is in season,” Ross Nimmo said. “We’re (tribes) not necessarily against daily fantasy sports. We want to be involved with them. However, we have a legal right to administer and oversee certain types of gaming in this state, and it’s important that the tribes all be on the same page when it comes to this.” The current gaming compact used by the CN and more than 25 other tribes across the state provides for exclusivity for certain forms of gambling in Oklahoma in return for an annual fee. Prior to the 2016 state legislative session, a measure was introduced that would have allowed for daily fantasy sports leagues in Oklahoma. However, with the proposal viewed as a potential violation of the compact, the state’s tribes banded together to stop the proposal. “We killed that bill in seven hours,” Morago said, calling any legislative consideration of the state giving up exclusivity fees in exchange for $500,000 in commercial licensing fees “fuzzy math.” According to the OIGA, tribal gaming had a $4.2 billion economic impact statewide in 2014, the most recent year with available data. Since the implementation of Oklahoma’s Class III gaming compacts more than a decade ago, tribal casinos have contributed $1.3 billion just to the state’s education fund. “By far, gaming is the largest job creator in several counties,” Morago said. “The biggest misconception is that all Indians are rich because of gaming. It’s going to take more than 30 years (of gaming) to make that happen.” State-tribal gaming compacts, including the CN’s, are set to expire on Jan. 1, 2020. With Kansas and other states turning to commercial gaming to fill budget holes, all three panelists urged Oklahoma’s tribes to work together and present a united front in the pending negotiations. “If there are any changes, it is very important that the tribes are united on this,” Ross Nimmo said. “That way it’s a lot harder for the state to make extreme changes. If one tribe goes out on their own and strikes a deal, there’s not much leverage.”
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
07/26/2016 08:30 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – National Museum of American Indian officials, Cherokee Nation leaders and Native veterans gathered July 21 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to discuss and share ideas about the creation of a National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial would be built on NMAI grounds, and a committee is traveling Indian Country to gather ideas and support for the $15 million project. “Many fine, young Native men and women have served. To all of them, through the generations, we owe a debt of gratitude. They are true American heroes and deserved to be included. With all of the monuments that are in Washington, D.C., none of them (specifically) recognize Native veterans. This monument will do that, so it’s especially important that we get this done,” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said at the meeting. He added that the memorial should “be representative of all tribes” in the country. In 2013, Congress authorized the establishment of a National Native American Veterans Memorial on the NMAI’s grounds to give “all Americans the opportunity to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of Native Americans in the United States armed forces.” However, the legislation states no federal funds may be used for the memorial’s creation. Therefore, all funds must be raised. The memorial will be located prominently outside the NMAI in an area not yet chosen. The NMAI is located between the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall and the U.S. Capital. Northern Cheyenne veteran and former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Chickasaw Nation Lt. Gov. Jefferson Keel, a Vietnam veteran, chair the advisory committee for the memorial. Also, 24 committee members represent the geographic diversity of Indian Country and several branches of the U.S. armed forces. “I’ve listened to other people talk about things that they see, their vision for this memorial. We’re talking about a design that educates America about what the warrior spirit really is,” Keel said. “How do we capture that in a single memorial? How do you put in (the ideas) of every tribe in this country? You’re talking about 567 federally recognized tribes.” Keel said such consultation meetings are important for gathering ideas from as many tribes as possible. The meetings began in January. Keel, NMAI Director Kevin Gover and other committee members will visit all 12 regions of the country through June 2017 seeking input and support for the memorial. During the fall of 2017, the committee will call for design proposals, and in the summer of 2018, a jury will select a final design. Construction will begin in the fall of 2018 with a completion date set for fall 2020. The memorial will be unveiled and dedicated on Veterans Day 2020. Some veterans who spoke at the July 21 meeting suggested that technology be used to tell more of the Native American military service story that the memorial won’t be able to fully tell. For instance, an app could be created for smart phones that would allow visitors to learn more about Native veterans and their long history of serving this country. Cherokee Nation citizen Carol Savage, of Grove, spoke about family members who served in the military and said she hopes the memorial will make a “visual impact.” She used the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., that utilizes bronze statues of soldiers walking through a rice paddy as an example that makes a visual impact. Muscogee (Creek) Marine veteran Joe Taylor, of Tulsa, said he wants the memorial to reflect the spirituality of Native people and wants the committee to ensure the memorial gets an original design. “I’d like to see something that’s going to be there to remind people that there is a spirit that moves us,” Taylor said. Gover said there would not be room for all ideas and stories of Native veterans, so that’s why he is glad the Library of Congress has asked the NMAI for help in reaching Indian Country to gather veterans’ stories. He said the NMAI is hoping to assemble “the best roster possible” of every Native person who has served in the U.S. armed forces and plans to place those names in a new area inside the museum. “We want it to be where somebody can walk up and read some general information, but then they could look up a specific veteran and see their relatives or their friends or whomever they would like to see,” Gover said. “In order to do that we’re going to need a lot of help from the tribes because tribes have better lists of their veterans.” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he at some point would discuss with the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors about donating to the memorial fund. “I think you’ll be surprised how this will be received in Indian Country for fundraising,” Baker said. To learn more about the memorial, visit <a href="http://www.AmericanIndian.si.edu" target="_blank">Click here to view</a> or email <a href="mailto: NMAI-NativeVeteransMemorial@si.edu">NMAI-NativeVeteransMemorial@si.edu</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/25/2016 04:00 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Join Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism in honoring the legacy of former Cherokee Nation Principal Chief John Ross on Aug. 2 at the John Ross Museum. The one-hour discussion begins at noon with Amanda Pritchett, historical interpreter of the George M. Murrell Home historic site, leading the session. John Ross, principal chief from 1828–66, served longer in the position than any other person. As principal chief, Ross witnessed devastation by both the Indian removals and the U.S. Civil War. The discussion is open to the public and free to attend. Guests are encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch. The museum will also offer free admission throughout the day. The John Ross Museum highlights the life Ross and houses exhibits and interactive displays on the Trail of Tears, Civil War, Cherokee Golden Age and the Nation’s passion for education. The museum is housed in an old, rural school building known as School No. 51 and sits at the foot of Ross Cemetery where John Ross and other notable Cherokee citizens are buried. The John Ross Museum is located at 22366 S. 530 Road. CN museums are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For information on CNCT, call 1-877-779-6977 or visit <a href="http://www.VisitCherokeeNation.com" target="_blank">www.VisitCherokeeNation.com</a>.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham
07/25/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials, citizens and guests on July 18 celebrated the life and achievements of former CN Secretary of State Charles L. Head at the Cherokee Courthouse as part of the third annual Charles L. Head Day. Head co-founded the tribe’s ONE FIRE Against Violence Victim Services Office before dying in a car accident on Jan. 30, 2013 near Chouteau. The CN citizen and Pryor native was 63. That same year Principal Chief Bill John Baker designated July 18, Head’s Birthday, as a “national day of celebration of the life of Charles L. Head throughout the Cherokee Nation.” According to the tribe’s website, ONE FIRE provides services to increase the safety for victims of crime. ONE FIRE stands for Our Nation Ending Fear, Intimidation, Rape and Endangerment. “We’re real excited because today is our annual butterfly release in remembrance of Charles L. Head” ONE FIRE Victim Services Director Nikki Baker said. “Before he passed away, he was really working hard on ONE FIRE, which helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Today, we release butterflies in his memory and also to the legacy he leaves behind, which are the survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.” Domestic violence survivor and former ONE FIRE client Lena Nells also spoke at the event about how the program helped her be successful after being abused. Nells, who is Cheyenne-Arapaho, Kickapoo and Navajo, said as commissioned intelligence officer for the U.S. Army she never expected her life to be affected by domestic violence but was thankful ONE FIRE was available when it did. “They educated me, helped me understand what I was going through.” Nells said. Other speakers described how the program has helped and what Head meant to them. ONE FIRE Victim Services Manager Amanda Drizzle told the audience that the department saw 216 clients in 2015 and has seen 107 in 2016. “We were also able to help 120 kids get to safe homes,” Drizzle said. She also credited CN marshals for their help in domestic violence issues. “They’ve been referring a lot of people to us, and we’ve been able to help a lot of women get to households…Out of these people, we were able to get several women to safe homes, where they could spend Christmas, where they can spend birthdays, where they can come home safe after work.” Former Little Miss Cherokee and sexual assault survivor Cierra Fields read a poem honoring both the domestic violence victims and their caregivers as butterflies were released. “With this symbolic gesture, we honor those who have left us and encourage those left behind to continue on the fight, on the wings of hope,” she said.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
07/22/2016 12:00 PM
MUSKOGEEE, Okla. (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction and 12-year prison sentence of a former Choctaw Nation construction director. A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion for a mistrial Tuesday sought by Jason Merida, who was convicted in November 2014 on two counts each of theft and tax fraud and one count each of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit bribery. Prosecutors alleged contractors used false billing practices between 2008 and 2011 during construction of the tribe's Durant and Pocola casinos. Money generated from the false billings was used to make campaign donations and purchase gifts. Merida testified he received gifts from vendors but claimed it didn't affect his decisions because he did not have the authority to select contractors.