Freedom Of Information Act was first in Indian Country

BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
06/12/2014 10:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation enacted its Freedom of Information and Rights of Privacy Act in 2001, becoming the first Federally recognized tribe to allow citizens access to public records of a public body. Governmental bodies in the United States, including some tribes, have similar laws governing the availability of information contained in public records.

“Native Americans have as much right as anybody else to get information from their government,” Kevin R. Kemper, former journalist and University of Arizona assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences, said. “When a tribe doesn’t have a freedom of information law, it’s extremely tough for journalists and the public.”

Kemper, who also serves as a Native American Journalists Association Legal Hotline intake liaison, said he believes strongly in freedom of information and tribal sovereignty.

“Each tribe needs to have the opportunity to have a freedom of information act, incorporate freedom of information as a way of helping the people,” he said.

According to the CN FOIA, a public record includes all books, papers, maps, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings or other documentary materials regardless of physical form or characteristics prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body.

“The requirements under FOIA are that (a request) be in writing to the department with a specific request for the document you are requesting,” CN Attorney General Todd Hembree said. “The department will take it, the process is to have it reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office to see if it meets the requirements of FOIA, and we handle it according to process.”

However, Hembree said there are documents, such as meeting minutes of a public body, that don’t need a formal request.

Each department of the tribe’s executive and legislative branches, after receiving a records request, has 15 business days to fulfill the request. According to the act, if written notification of the response is neither mailed nor personally delivered to the person requesting the documents within the 15 days, the request must be considered denied and the requestor may appeal the denial.

After reviewing the CN FOIA, Joey Senat, Oklahoma State University School of Media & Strategic Communications associate professor, said if a record is obviously public information then the person handling it should know that.

“Anyone should be able to walk up and make a request right there,” Senat, who served on the Society of Professional Journalists Freedom of Information Committee, said. “If the law was written so it was effective, it would allow anyone in the tribe to walk up to a public agency and make a request for a record that’s with that agency or with that official.

“If the record is right there and it can be made a copy, it should be provided on the spot, under the ways our law is written,” he added. “Having a 15-day delay wouldn’t be acceptable under (Oklahoma) state law.”

Hembree said he hasn’t received any complaints about the current process so he assumes it’s working fine. However, he said his staff has been overwhelmed by an increase of requests that come from a select group of people.

“The purpose of the act ¬– and it’s a great purpose – is to make sure that citizens know how their government is run, know how their money is made, know how their money is spent and the system has worked greatly up until October 2011, at which time there had been a dramatic increase in the amount of FIOA (requests),” he said. “That’s always been my number one goal, people will have that right and I, for one, will never stand in the way of that right.”

But Senat said because the CN FOIA gives tribal citizens the right to know what their government does the costs and number of requests shouldn’t matter.

“God forbid that the citizens know what their government is doing and that they want to find out,” he said. “It costs too much and there’s an increase? Well God forbid that the public actually put into effect the statute that says they have a right to know. That’s the purpose of these statutes and people should put them into effect and make requests. That’s why they’re there.”

Senat added that a list of all record requests should also be a public record and anyone should be able to ask for it.

“It’s a way to provide a paper trail so that the public can judge how well their government is responding to records requests,” he said. “Every time they have gotten a request, that’s a record.”

What records are public?

Public records are documents or pieces of information that are not considered exempt or confidential. Under the CN FOIA, certain categories are specifically made public information, however the use of the information for commercial solicitation is prohibited.

Public information includes the names; sex; race; title and dates of employment of all employees of public bodies; administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect a member of the public; final opinions; documents identifying persons confined in any jail, detention center or prison; statements and interpretations of policy; statute and the Constitution; written planning policies and goals and final planning decisions; final CN audits and of its subsidiaries; information in or taken from any account; voucher or contract dealing with the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds by public bodies; the minutes and votes of all proceedings of all public bodies; and reports that disclose the nature, substance and location of any crime or alleged crime reported as having been committed.

“Tribal people expect transparency and accountability from their leaders, and there are a lot of great leaders throughout Indian Country,” Kemper said. “The best leaders tend to recognize transparency.”

The Nation’s FOIA states that any person has a right to inspect and/or copy public records.

“That’s one of the problems with how it is written now,” Senat said of the tribal law. “It should say ‘have the right to inspect and copy.’ It shouldn’t say ‘or.’ You should have the right to inspect a record and make your own copy if it means with a pencil and paper, to write down what you’re reading. Even with technology today, with a cell phone, the simplest thing is to take a photograph of a document.”

Some record copying may require a fee

According to the act, a public body – which is any CN board, commission, agency, authority, any public or governmental body or political subdivision of the Nation, including any organization or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds – may establish and collect fees that do not exceed the actual cost of searching for or making copies of records.

However, records must be furnished at the lowest possible cost and be provided in a form that is both convenient and practical for use by the person requesting copies of the records concerned. Fees may not be charged for examination and review to determine if the documents are subject to disclosure.

Open meetings and their rules

According to Robert’s Rules of Order, an executive session is a meeting or portion of a meeting that is convened in private. Only members of the governing body are entitled to attend but they may invite others to stay at the pleasure of that board, council, committee or commission. A motion is required to go into executive session and a majority must approve it. Those present must maintain the confidentiality of the discussion.

The regular meeting minutes should indicate when the board went into an executive session, what the primary reason was, any formal decisions that were made in executive session and when the board, council, committee or commission came out of executive session.

Investments or other financial matters may be in executive session if disclosure of the deliberations or decisions would jeopardize the ability to implement a decision or to achieve investment objectives.

A record of the board or of its fiduciary agents that discloses deliberations about or a tentative or final decision on, investments or other financial matters is exempt from disclosure as long as its disclosure would jeopardize the ability to implement an investment decision or program or to achieve investment objectives.

The panel may discuss, deliberate on and make decisions on a portion of the annual investment plan or other related financial or investment matters in executive session if disclosure would jeopardize the ability to implement that portion of the plan or achieve investment objectives.

A record of the panel that discloses discussions, deliberations or decisions on portions of the annual investment plan or other related financial or investment matters is not a public record to the extent and so long as its disclosure would jeopardize the ability to implement that portion of the plan or achieve investment objectives.

Matters exempt from disclosure

A public body may, but is not required to, exempt from disclosure information of a personal nature that would constitute unreasonable invasion of personal privacy, trade secrets, records of law enforcement under investigation and documents to proposed contractual arrangements and proposed sales or purchase of property.

Specific, individual salaries are also exempt from disclosure but annual budgets contain position listings without names.

Senat said omitting salaries from the public eye is “fodder for corruption.”

“You can go down to OSU and you can ask to see what I get paid as a state employee,” he said. “There’s no way to figure out who’s getting paid what? The public is the employer. The tribal citizens are the employer. They’re the ones paying the bill. They should be entitled to know who’s being paid what specifically. It should be open because that’s one way to fight corruption. That opens it up to favoritism, political patronage, basic corruption.”

Information that would violate attorney-client relationships, the identity of the maker of a gift to a public body if the maker requests to be anonymous and the identity of an individual who makes a complaint, which alleges a violation or potential violation of law or regulation also may be exempt from disclosure.

Memoranda, correspondence and working papers in the possession of individual members of the executive and legislative branches or their immediate staff are exempt. However, nothing may be construed as limiting or restricting public access to source documents or records, factual data or summaries of factual data, papers, minutes or reports.

Other memoranda, correspondence, documents and working papers relative to efforts to attract business or industry to invest within the CN may be exempt from disclosure. However, any record that is requested and is exempt and not disclosed or is disclosed and marked confidential should have a statement explaining the reasons for that determination.

“It does has a lot of common exemptions,” Senat said. “This is a strength under the law where it says that if they’re going to deny it they have to explain why something is exempt. These statutes can be very strong, but if they’re not enforced they’re worthless.”

Photographs, signatures, addresses, race, weight, height, Social Security number and digitized images from a driver’s license or personal identification cards are also not considered public records.

“Some leaders keep things secret and that could violate the right of the people,” Kemper said. “You see a lot of that throughout Indian Country and the tribe will have to sort that out.”

Kemper added that he believes there are some understandable exceptions such as sacred knowledge.

“Every tribe’s culture is different, that’s why it’s important to create freedom of information that’s a cultural match,” he said.

Penalties for not providing records

Any CN citizen may look to the District Court for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief in FOIA cases as long as the application is made not later than one year following the date on which the alleged violation occurs or one year after a public vote in public session.

The court may order equitable relief as it considers appropriate and a violation must be considered to be an irreparable injury for which no adequate remedy at law exists.

If a person or entity seeking such relief prevails, they may be awarded reasonable attorney fees and other costs of litigation. If they prevail in part, the court may award them reasonable attorney fees or an appropriate portion.

According to the act, any person or group of persons who willfully and maliciously violates the provisions of the FOIA may be found guilty of a crime and upon conviction shall be fine not more than $100 or imprisoned for not more than 30 days for the first offense. For the second offense, the fine shall not be more than $200 or imprisoned for not more than 60 days and shall not be fine more than $300 or imprisoned for not more than 90 days.
About the Author
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter.    

In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization.
TESINA-JACKSON@cherokee.org • 918-453-5000 ext. 6139
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter. In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
03/06/2015 02:34 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Voters wanting an absentee ballot mailed to them need to apply as soon as possible to receive one for the June 27 general election. Voters have until May 8 to apply for absentee ballots. “Although the Cherokee Nation Election Commission has been accepting applications for absentee ballots, and will continue accepting them until 5 p.m. on May 8, we urge voters who want to vote by absentee ballot to apply early,” Connie Parnell, election services director, said. The commission only suggests applying early because two mail transactions must be made in the absentee ballot process and that takes time. “The Election Commission must mail the ballots to the voter and the voter must return the voted ballots by mail. Ballots must be in the hands of the Cherokee Nation Election Commission office by 7 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted.” Parnell said. EC officials said any registered voter may vote by absentee ballot in any election in which he or she is eligible to vote. “However, a voter must be registered and reside at an address within the jurisdictional boundaries of a council district or at-large to be eligible to vote in Cherokee Nation elections,” officials said. “It is not necessary to give a reason or excuse for voting absentee. Anyone can vote absentee without giving a reason.” The EC will begin mailing absentee ballots on May 26. The procedure a voter should follow if his or her absentee ballot does not arrive is to contact the Election Services Office and report that he or she has not received an absentee ballot, EC officials said. Absentee ballot application forms are available at the Election Services Office located at 22116 S. Bald Hill Road. Forms are also available online at <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/elections" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/elections</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
03/06/2015 12:00 PM
CHEROKEE, N.C. – The producers of the outdoor drama “Unto These Hills” that is held each summer in Cherokee is searching for male and female actors, ages 18-60, for the 2015 season. Several roles need to be cast for the drama that is performed in a 2,000-seat outdoor amphitheater. Actors are paid $200 to $400 per week, and the production offers on-site housing for $20 per week. The drama’s season runs from May 30 through Aug. 15, with rehearsals starting May 10. The Cherokee Historical Association will accept video auditions. Video submissions should include a monologue (2 minutes maximum); 16 bars up-tempo; 16 bars ballad, if you sing; movement reel (fight or dance) and a picture and resume. For more information, email <a href="mailto: Marina@cherokeeadventure.com">Marina@cherokeeadventure.com</a> or call 828-497-3652. This will be the 63nd season for the drama that tells the story of the Cherokee people “through the eons, through the zenith of their power, through the heartbreak of the Trail of Tears, finally ending, appropriately, in the present day, where the Cherokee people...continue to rewrite their place in the world.” There are also job opportunities at the Oconaluftee Indian Village, which is a re-created Cherokee village of the 1700-1800’s. Here the CHA depicts life as it was through historical interpretation and people are in character roles. This venue is open from May 1 through Oct. 24.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
03/06/2015 11:24 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – From March 2-5, 36 candidates filed for the 10 seats that will be on the Cherokee Nation’s June 27 general election ballot, according to the Election Commission. Those filing for principal chief are incumbent Bill John Baker, state Rep. Will Fourkiller, former Principal Chief Chad Smith and former CN Community Services Director Charlie Soap. Deputy chief candidates are incumbent S. Joe Crittenden, current At-Large Tribal Councilor Julia Coates and current Dist. 14 Tribal Councilor Lee Keener. The Dist. 1 seat will have two candidates, Rex Jordan and Ryan Sierra. Current Tribal Councilor Tina Glory Jordan is terming out of office in August. The Dist. 3 seat candidates are incumbent David Walkingstick, Brian Berry, Brandon Girty, Kathy Kilpatrick and Larry Pritchett. Dist. 6 voters will have four candidates to choose from: Ron Goff, Natalie Fullbright, Bryan Warner and B. Keith McCoy. Current Tribal Councilor Janelle Fullbright is terming out of office. Shawn Crittenden and Corey Bunch will vie for the Dist. 8 seat, which is currently held by Tribal Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk, who terms out in August. The Dist. 12 seat also has two candidates, incumbent Dick Lay and Dora Smith Patzkowski. Former Tribal Councilor Buel Anglen will vie for the Dist. 13 seat against Kenneth Holloway. Current Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts terms out of that seat in August. Former Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board member Keith Austin will go up against William “Bill” Pearson for the Dist. 14 seat, which is currently held by Keener. The At-Large seat brought out 10 candidates. They are Linda Leaf-Bolin, Trey Brown, Pamela Fox, Shane Jett, Tommy Jones, Wanda Hatfield, Darell Matlock, Benjamin McKee, Deborah Reed and Betsy Swimmer. Coates currently holds that council seat, but she also terms out in August. All candidate filings can be contested through March 12 during the candidacy eligibility period. The Cherokee Phoenix will host a principal chief and deputy chief debate on May 16 at the W. Roger Webb Educational Technologies Center (Net Lab) at Northeastern State University located at 610 North Grand Ave. in Tahlequah. The debate will be live streamed. Time has yet to be determined. The Phoenix will also publish a Tribal Council candidate questionnaire in its May issue. Election Timeline March 5-12: Contest of candidacy eligibility. March 5-19: Candidate withdrawal period. March 5-23: EC investigates candidates. March 24: Meeting to draw for order of candidates and watchers at 4 p.m. March 24: Appeal of EC eligibility decision with Cherokee Nation Supreme Court. March 31: Voter registration closes. March 31-April 3: Supreme Court establishes hearing schedule. April 15: Candidate financial reports due. May 8: Absentee request closes at 5 p.m. May 13: Deadline to set and publish precinct locations on the website and newspaper. May 15: Candidate financials due. May 20: Mail voter cards. May 26-27: Mail absentee ballots. June 15: Candidate financial reports due. June 20: Early walk-in voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 22-27: Verify absentee ballots and take down to the secrecy envelope. June 23: Early walk-in voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 23-27: Drop box for absentee from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 24: Early walk-in voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 25: Early walk-in voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 26: Supplies go out and deliver tubs to precincts. June 27: Election Day. June 29: Request for recount ends 5 p.m. on July 1. July 2-3: Recount held by EC and Supreme Court Justices attend. July 6: Election appeals deadline. July 7-9: Supreme Court hearing and provide results. July 13-14: Run-off absentee ballots mail out. July 15: Candidate financial reports due. July 18 & 21-23: Early walk in 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 21-25: Personal delivery box. July 24: Supplies got out and deliver tubs to precincts. July 25: Run-off election. July 27-July 29: Request for run-off election recount. July 30: Recount held by EC and Supreme Court justices attend. Aug. 3: Run-off election appeal deadline. Aug. 4-6: Supreme Court hearing and provide results. Aug. 7: Final candidate financial report due. Aug. 11: Regular meeting and certification of election and candidates. Aug. 14: Swearing in of elected officials. Aug. 17: Registration opens. Sept. 15: Candidate financial report due. Oct. 15: Candidate financial report due, Nov. 16: Candidate financial report due. Dec. 15: Candidate financial report due.
BY STAFF REPORTS
03/03/2015 03:11 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Regardless of inclement weather expected to hit Tahlequah Tuesday night, the Election Commission’s Election Services Office will open on Wednesday to allow candidates to file for the June 27 election. Election Director Connie Parnell said Cherokee Nation election law states that March 2-5 are the four days that are designated for filing. The filing period for candidates closes at 5 p.m. March 5. “This office will be open tomorrow even if Cherokee Nation is not,” she said. According to News On 6 Tulsa’s weather forecast, Tahlequah is expected to get rain Tuesday evening, which will turn into freezing rain and sleet during overnight with anywhere from 2-6 inches of snow expected by Wednesday morning. Thursday is expected to be sunny with a high of 35 degrees. Registered voters residing outside the CN jurisdiction who wish to vote by absentee ballot may fill out an absentee ballot request to be processed from Feb. 2 to May 8. Absentee ballot requests will be available at the Election Services Office and online at www.cherokee.org/elections. The EC will mail absentee ballots May 26-27. Voter registration will close March 31. To print a voter registration form online visit www.cherokee.org/elections or pick up one in person at the Election Services Office. Citizens can request to have one sent by email or fax. Also, voters with address changes, name changes or any changed information will need to submit a new voter registration application, according to the release. The Election Services Office is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It’s located at 22116 S. Bald Hill Road. For more information call 918-458-5899.
BY STAFF REPORTS
03/03/2015 02:00 PM
SOUTH COFFEYVILLE, Okla. – On March 5, Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Entertainment officials will celebrate the opening of the Cherokee Casino South Coffeyville, which is expected to bring more than 100 new jobs to the area. CNE, the tribe’s gaming arm, broke ground on the 17,000-square-foot facility in August. The $10 million development offers 300 electronic games and a dining venue featuring lunch, dinner and cocktail options. CNE currently operates Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, eight Cherokee Casinos, a horse racing track, three hotels, three golf courses and other retail operations. The public ribbon cutting and opening celebration will be held at 2 p.m. at the facility located off Highway 169 south of South Coffeyville.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
03/03/2015 10:26 AM
COLUMBIA, S.C. – John Shurr, a Cherokee Nation citizen and longtime free press advocate and Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board member, died at his South Carolina home on March 1 at age 67. Shurr had served on the Editorial Board since 2000, with much time as board chairman. Cherokee Phoenix Executive Editor Bryan Pollard said he had a “handful of mentors” in his career and Shurr was one of them and the most influential. “He was unwavering in his dedication to ensuring press freedoms and access to information in both mainstream and tribal media,” Pollard said. “He was a dedicated journalist and passionate advocate for the truth, but most importantly, he was a good man. He was a proud Cherokee and understood the importance of a free press in Cherokee society. His contributions to the Cherokee Phoenix are indelible. He will be sorely missed.” [BLOCKQUOTE]Former Principal Chief Chad Smith said Shurr was influential in developing the CN Independent Press Act. In 1999 following the tribe’s Constitutional Crisis, it became apparent the value of a newspaper that was independent, Smith said. In determining how the free press act should read, he said Shurr was heavily involved in ensuring language that would allow the press to remain independent. “So I think he was key. While many of us had the general sentiment, he had the experience as a practitioner to give us guidance,” he said. The act’s language, Smith said, was picked up from various free press acts and Shurr was supportive with the legislation written because he knew there was a need for the press act. To the Editorial Board, Smith said Shurr brought experience and professionalism. “We looked for the best qualified Cherokee newspaperman we could find, and having been a bureau chief of AP (Associated Press) and with his experiences, it was very simple decision to make as to how he could benefit the Nation and be sure that the paper could remain independent,” he said. Former board member Jason Terrell said he worked with Shurr at the Native American Journalists Association in the late 1990s and served five years with him on the Phoenix board. “His passion for freedom of the press was unbridled and that passion extended to his immense contributions to the creation and protection of Cherokee Nation’s free press act,” Terrell said. “A Vietnam veteran, he didn’t shy away from confronting the opponents of freedom head on. The mainstream press and the tribal press have both lost a fierce advocate for the First Amendment, and those who knew him best have lost a good friend. Rest in Peace, John. You’ve definitely earned it.” Aside from his work in tribal media, Shurr was dedicated to openness in all media. In the more than 20 years that Shurr led South Carolina’s AP bureau, he continually supported the need for openness and transparency in public records and agencies and in courts. According to the AP, in 1988, the state Supreme Court unanimously voted to refuse to allow cameras or tape recorders in courtrooms. But Shurr did not waver in his commitment to transparency in the courtroom. He continued to speak to judges, lawyers and journalists about the importance of an open government. “At the time, South Carolina was one of a handful of states that didn’t allow journalists to have electronic equipment in courtrooms,” the AP states. “In 1992, largely due to Shurr’s efforts, South Carolina courts began a six-month experiment allowing cameras in the courts. Today, having cameras in the courtrooms is commonplace.” Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, said if it were not for Shurr, courtrooms in South Carolina may have still been without cameras and recording devices today. Jay Bender, press association lawyer and University of South Carolina media law professor, said many people may have not know his name, but information was out there for the public because of his efforts in South Carolina. “…But every day our people get information about officials and records they wouldn’t have otherwise had if it hadn’t been for the right-to-know fights he led,” Bender said. Shurr also created a scholarship in his name with the Cherokee Nation Foundation. It’s available to a graduate or undergraduate CN citizen who has been accepted in an accredited journalism or mass communications degree program. The student chosen for this scholarship also must apply for an eight-week, paid, summer internship with the Cherokee Phoenix. Cherokee Phoenix Reporter Tesina Jackson O’Field was the first recipient of this scholarship. “In 2009, John selected me as the first recipient of the John Shurr Journalism Award, which essentially started my career with the Cherokee Phoenix. I was about to graduate from college and unsure of the journalism world that lie ahead of me, but he saw something in me that I did not,” Jackson O’Field said. “He took a chance on me, something that I have been truly thankful for. I only hope that I have made him proud.” Shurr talked to the Cherokee Phoenix in 2009 about his scholarship and why he started it. “It’s very rewarding for me to be able to help get a young Cherokee journalist educated and also make available to them an opportunity at our newspaper,” he said. Shurr retired from the AP in 2007. He was married to Debbie Ashe Shurr. Visitation at the family residence is set for 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on March 4. A memorial service will be March 5 at 2 p.m. at Incarnation Lutheran Church in Columbia. A private burial will be held at a later date at the Beaufort National Cemetery. Dunbar Funeral Home-Devine in Columbia is handling the services. <strong>JOHN C. SHURR</strong> Born: March 15, 1947, in Muskogee, Oklahoma <strong>Newspaper History:</strong> • Executive editor of the Oklahoma Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Oklahoma • Muskogee Phoenix, 1966 • Norman Transcript, 1970-1973 • Chicago assistant bureau chief • Oklahoma Associated Press bureau chief, 1981-1984 • South Carolina Associated Press bureau chief, 1984-2007 • South Carolina Press Association FOI chairman, 1986-2009 • Native American Journalists Association member, 20+ years • Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board chairman, 2000 to present <strong>Honors and Awards:</strong> • SCPA Distinguished Service Award • 2 SCPA FOI Awards • Order of the Palmetto • Gavel Award from the American Bar Association • Elias Boudinot Award • Navy Presidential Unit Citations (2) • Navy Unit Commendations (2) • Combat Action Ribbon • Battle Efficiency Awards (3) • Vietnam Gallantry Cross • Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal • Vietnam Service Medal (3 bronze stars) <strong>Education:</strong> B.A. in journalism from the University of Oklahoma <strong>Military Service:</strong> U.S. Navy <strong>Family:</strong> Debbie, his wife – Courtesy of The S.C. Press Association <strong>Remembrances of those who knew him</strong> “You were the first to encourage me to set my sights on becoming an editor. I scoffed then. That was 10 years ago. But look what happened. You were right, sir. We all have it in us to become more that what we aspire to. Walk softly into that good night.” – Lisa Snell, Native Oklahoma and Native Times publisher “I am so saddened at the news that a good friend, John Shurr, has passed. He was one of a handful of mentors I could always count on to steer me in the right direction. Rest in peace dear friend, rest in peace. This is a great loss to our media family.” – Shannon Shaw Duty, Osage News editor “John was also a mentor to many a young journalist. He was dedicated to making sure that the next generation was prepared to take on the challenges of defending a free press and we are all better for his efforts.” – Jason Terrell, former Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board member “He had impeccable comedic timing and always delivered a one-liner when things got stressful in the newsroom. He assigned me an ‘unofficial’ mentor at one point. It was a homeless man with a sign asking for money for beer, pot and hookers. ‘Hey, at least I’m honest,’ the sign read. RIP John Shurr.” – Jacob Jordan, friend and former colleague “John was always there whenever I needed him. When I had computer troubles, he would jokingly say it must be operator error. He came to Columbia the first year I started working for The Greenville News. He followed my work and when I moved to Columbia, he and Lou Krasky gave me a job as a freelancer, which later turned into a staff post in Greenville. My first assignment for the AP was when Pope John Paul II came to Columbia, and I got the front page of The New York Times. Thank you, John and Lou for giving me the greatest time of my life. Peace be with you.” – Mary Ann Chastain, friend “RIP John Shurr. You were a great captain and trusted friend. ‘Fair winds and following seas and long may your big jib draw!’ God speed my friend.” – Ken Elmore, friend “My longtime mentor, friend and primary reason I got my foot in the journalism door 10 years ago has passed away. John Shurr always believed in me and frequently checked in on me and my family. He gave me one of my first opportunities when I worked with him and a newsroom of amazing people in Columbia, South Carolina in 2005. He had a wonderful sense of humor and will be missed by many. Rest in peace, my friend. Thank you for all the wonderful stories and memories.” – Christina Good Voice, Mvskoke Media interim director and Communications manager “John Shurr was a Cherokee citizen who dedicated his life to advancing the profession of journalism. John served his country with distinction in the military and was a servant to the Cherokee people on the Phoenix Editorial Board. His work and patriotism will long be remembered. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.” – Principal Chief Bill John Baker “The people of the Cherokee Nation and beyond owe a great debt to John Shurr. He was a gatekeeper for truthful communication, a career journalist. In the years I knew of him and had the honor of working with him, on the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board, John always spoke and wrote quietly, yet passionately, in defense of the people’s right to know and the people’s right to have a voice in the quest for self-governance, political challenges aside. John’s legacy is now the charge for those fortunate enough to have served under his mentorship. It is a charge that must not be taken lightly as it is endorsed by the Creator of all things who tells us this: Truth goes forth and does not return void; Truth always accomplishes that which it intends; Those who embrace the Truth will prosper. Thank you, John. Do na da’ go hv i (until we meet again). – Clarice Doyle, former Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board member