Freedom Of Information Act was first in Indian Country

BY TESINA JACKSON
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.
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 ASSOCIATED PRESS
10/01/2014 03:47 PM
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Native tribes from the U.S. and Canada signed a treaty on Sept. 23 establishing an inter-tribal alliance to restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains where millions of the animals once roamed. Leaders of 11 tribes from Montana and Alberta signed the pact during a daylong ceremony on Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation, organizers said. It marks the first treaty among the tribes and First Nations since a series of agreements governing hunting rights in the 1800s. That was when their ancestors still roamed the border region hunting bison, also called buffalo. The long-term aim of the “Buffalo Treaty” is to allow the free flow of the animals across the international order and restore the bison’s central role in the food, spirituality and economies of many American Indian tribes and First Nations – a Canadian synonym for native tribes. Such a sweeping vision could take many years to realize, particularly in the face of potential opposition from the livestock industry. But supporters said they hope to begin immediately restoring a cultural tie with bison largely severed when the species was driven to near-extinction in the late 19th century. “The idea is, hey, if you see buffalo in your everyday life, a whole bunch of things will come back to you,” Leroy Little Bear, a citizen of southern Alberta Blood Tribe who helped lead the signing ceremony, said. “Hunting practices, ceremonies, songs – those things revolved around the buffalo. Sacred societies used the buffalo as a totem. All of these things are going to be revised, revitalized, renewed with the presence of buffalo.” Bison numbered in the tens of millions across North America before non-Natives populated the West. By the 1880s, unchecked commercial hunting to feed the bison hide market reduced the population to about 325 animals in the U.S. and fewer than 1,000 in Canada, according to wildlife officials and bison trade groups in Canada. Around the same time, tribes were relocated to reservations and forced to end their nomadic traditions. There are about 20,000 wild bison in North America today. Ranchers and landowners near two Montana reservations over the past several years fought unsuccessfully against the relocation of dozens of Yellowstone National Park bison because of concerns about disease and bison competing with cattle for grass. The tribes involved – the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation and the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of the Fort Belknap Reservations – were among those signing the treaty. Keith Aune, a bison expert with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the agreement has parallels with the 1855 Lame Bull Treaty, a peace deal brokered by the U.S. government that established hunting rights tribes. “They shared a common hunting ground, and that enabled them to live in the buffalo way,” Aune said. “We’re recreating history, but this time on (the tribes’) terms.” The treaty signatories collectively control more than 6 million acres of prairie habitat in the United States and Canada, an area roughly the size of Vermont, according to Aune’s group. Among the first sites eyed for bison reintroduction is along the Rocky Mountain Front, which includes Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation bordering Glacier National Park and several smaller First Nation reserves. “I can’t say how many years. It’s going to be a while and of course there’s such big resistance in Montana against buffalo,” Ervin Carlson a Blackfeet citizen and president of the 56-tribe InterTribal buffalo council, said. “But within our territory, hopefully, someday.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/30/2014 03:30 PM
TULSA, Okla. – Seven Cherokee World War II veterans left Tulsa International Airport on Sept. 23 on a flight to Washington, D.C., to tour memorial sites at the nation’s capital, including the World War II Memorial. The Cherokee Nation is sponsoring “Cherokee Warrior Flights,” which are similar to the national Honor Flight organization’s goal of helping all veterans, willing and able, to see the memorials dedicated to honor their service. With more than 4,000 military veterans who are CN citizens, the tribe is hoping to replicate that experience for its people. Native Americans serve at a higher rate in the military than any other ethnic group. “I have a friend or two that’s made the trip, but I never thought I’d be able to,” 89-year-old Steve Downing Jr. of Locust Grove, said. “I’m very grateful to the Cherokee Nation for this opportunity. It’s something that just touches me in a way that is kind of hard for me to describe.” Downing spent nearly three years in the Navy aboard the USS Santa Fe as a radar technician helping with supply runs, escorting damaged ships to shore and aiding in Pacific Island invasions. The “Cherokee Warrior Flight,” which is funded solely by the CN, allowed Downing to see war memorials in the capital for the first time. “This is a way to tell our Cherokee veterans thank you and that we will never forget their service and sacrifices,” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, a Navy veteran who traveled on the flight, said. “For most of these men who served in World War II, this will be a trip of a lifetime as they get to see the memorials and monuments honoring their role in defending our great country. They are truly the greatest generation, and we can’t say thank you enough.” The six other World War II veterans participating on the flight were: • Navy veteran Dewey Alberty, 88, of Tahlequah, • Navy veteran Charles Carey, 88, of Hulbert, • Army veteran Guy Wilson, 97, of Hulbert, • Army Air Corp veteran William Wood, 94, of Vinita, • Army veteran Eugene Fox, 91, of Bartlesville, and • Navy veteran Joseph Leathers, 92, of Big Cabin. A dinner and reception was held Sept. 22 in the Deer Room at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Principal Chief Bill John Baker and U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a CN citizen, thanked the seven veterans for their service and wished them safe travels. After an overnight stay at the Hard Rock, the veterans departed from the hotel for their flight. On Sept. 24, the group was expected to visit the National World War II Memorial and tour other monuments. On Sept. 25, the veterans were expected to tour the U.S. Capitol and arrive back in Tulsa that evening.
BY TESINA JACKSON
09/30/2014 08:07 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman recently visited the Cherokee Nation during the tribe’s Cherokee National Holiday over Labor Day weekend. Since 2003, Dorman has served as a state representative and is currently a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives representing the 65th District. In 2013, he announced his candidacy for governor. During his trip to the CN, the Cherokee Phoenix had the opportunity to ask him some questions. <strong>Cherokee Phoenix:</strong> Why did you decide to run for governor? <strong>Dorman:</strong> I have been a state representative for 12 years and worked on policies and have had an amazing experience in public service. The end of last year, I began working on the storm shelter issue, trying to improve safety and security and the opposition we met along the way through our petition process, because we were forced to do a petition, and visiting with Oklahomans and seeing the growing dissatisfaction with the way the business as usual was handled at the capital, it became apparent that people were not happy and they wanted a different direction. A lot of people talked to me. A lot of people did a lot of convincing. It took a while to convince me it was the right decision, but we announced the exploratory committee on Dec. 17 and haven’t looked back. It’s been wonderful. <strong>CP:</strong> What do you plan on doing to work with or help the Native population in Oklahoma? <strong>Dorman:</strong> There’s so much more that we need to do, and we must do a better job at the state developing those partnerships. There are 39 sovereign nations in the State of Oklahoma, and Oklahoma would be the 40th partner in that. We all have to work together. As the governor, I fully intend to appoint a Cabinet-level secretary to work with Native American issues and help foster those relationships. We all have to work together. A rising tide lifts all boats, so we have to work to develop the positives and overcome the obstacles we face, and we must have that health dialogue to make sure we are meeting the needs of all our citizens. <strong>CP:</strong> What do you think of the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission being disbanded and would you bring it back or create something new? <strong>Dorman:</strong> I think it was a travesty to downsize the degree of importance, what Mary Fallin did with the action she took. I think we need to reinstate that, and I intend to have a full council that will work and then have a liaison who will be the chair and the director, the secretary for our Cabinet level position, to make sure that we work together and find all of the areas that we must address. I want to have somebody integrated in the system that will have direct access to me, and I intend to be fully involved as well. I view the 39 leaders as colleagues, and I will treat them at the same level of respect that I want them to treat me. <strong>CP:</strong> What do you think of tribal sovereignty? <strong>Dorman:</strong> I am very much in favor of sovereignty. It’s the law. There’s no other way around it. The tribes deserve to have their sovereignty. They deserve to be treated with that respect. We have to work together. We must honor the compacts. We must honor all of the agreements that have been done by the United States and the State of Oklahoma, and it will be my job as governor to make sure that the compacts in the future are done fairly. <strong>CP:</strong> What do you think of the tax increase on smoke shops? <strong>Dorman:</strong> As far as specifics, I don’t really want to go into the specifics of the compacts until I have the chance to study them more and look at them myself, but I want to make sure that the people are treated fairly, and I’m certainly not in favor of seeing any increase in any burden on citizens through their prices. <strong>CP:</strong> How do you think the Baby Veronica situation was handled? <strong>Dorman:</strong> I feel it was handled poorly. I think Mary Fallin should have worked harder to take care of Oklahoma citizens, and I feel that it was not done properly. Certainly you have to let the courts and the judicial system play out, but when it comes to a situation where it deals with a person from a sovereign nation, that should take the highest importance. <strong>CP:</strong> What other issues are you focusing on during your campaign? <strong>Dorman:</strong> One that will be very important to all our citizens, I’m firmly in support of Medicaid expansion. I will bring those dollars back immediately upon election because that is money that will go to not only benefit hospital across the states and the citizens, but when you look at specifically our clinics, there are so many people that go to the clinics that use emergency rooms as their primary care physician and it’s increased the burden on health care so all our citizens. It’s important they have that access. It’s roughly a $10 billion impact to the state over the period of the program, and we cannot afford to let those dollars that Oklahomans have sent to Washington, D.C., remain there. We must bring them back to benefit our citizens. And I would say, by far, education is my most important issue that I’m championing. There are critical areas of education we must address. First and foremost – adequate funding for the classrooms and increased pay for the teachers and personnel. We must also reduce the amount of high stakes tests we’re doing and instead put that money into remediation and tutoring to get the kids the help they need rather than face that stress from a test, and I want to develop age-appropriate standards that will benefit our schools through all curriculum. <strong>CP:</strong> Do you feel that all of the testing is a good thing for students? <strong>Dorman:</strong> Absolutely not. Most of this testing is a sham that’s being pushed at the national level. We are spending roughly 30 of the last 45 days of the school year testing our kids. They’re not learning while they’re taking a test. It’s unacceptable. I intend to eliminate the third grade high-stakes test. I want to change using the EOI’s (End of Instruction) to convert over to using the ACT exam. It’s a test with a benefit if the students do well. Then they may go to college. They have the opportunity to apply for scholarships. We must do a better job preparing these students. The money we’re spending on these private testing companies, I instead want to turn it back into the programs for remediation and tutoring to help these kids achieve their highest potential, and also, I want to find the resources to help the kids with special needs. We have too many kids with autism, dyslexia and other disorders that are struggling and they’re not getting the help they need. <strong>To be fair and balanced, the Cherokee Phoenix offered to interview Gov. Mary Fallin, Joe Dorman’s opponent in the Nov. 4 election. However, the Phoenix had not received a response from her campaign as of publication.</strong>
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/29/2014 02:29 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation recently donated $3,000 to each county fair boards in Cherokee, Mayes, McIntosh and Sequoyah and Tulsa counties to help purchase ribbons and trophies for the winners at each county’s fair. “Any help we receive from the Cherokee Nation is always very much appreciated,” Sequoyah County Fair Board member Bill Weedon said. “We have a large number of Cherokees in our county, and the tribe’s donation helps our fair board and kids in a number of ways.” Aside from going toward ribbons and trophies a portion of the money will be used for the local 4-H Club and kid-friendly organizations and activities. “We are committed to ensuring our partnership with Sequoyah County remains strong,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said.” Supporting the county fair board means it can continue to maintain the Sequoyah County fairgrounds so that all citizens will be able to utilize and enjoy them.” Donating money to fair boards in the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction is something that the CN does annually.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
09/29/2014 08:05 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation leaders joined thousands of indigenous leaders from around the world on Sept. 22 at the United Nations in New York City as the United Nations General Assembly convened a high-level plenary meeting known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. During the opening session of the WCIP, the General Assembly adopted an Outcome Document that provides for concrete and action-oriented measures to implement and achieve the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UNDRIP was approved by the General Assembly in 2007. A strong delegation of U.S. tribal leaders attended the WCIP and voiced support for their priorities addressed in the adopted outcome document. The National Congress of American Indians has joined with a large group of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and inter-tribal associations to support four priorities that promote implementation of the declaration, establish status for indigenous governments at the UN, prevent violence against indigenous women and children and protect sacred places and objects. CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. spoke during the conference, expressing appreciation to the UN and leaders of indigenous peoples for working together. CN Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez, who also attended the conference, said she was pleased to see the outcome document adopted and that it includes language “to empower Indigenous women and strengthen their leadership.” “I agree that indigenous women need to have full participation in policy-making, which is why I ran for office and am attending this conference this week. I also appreciate paragraphs 18 and 19 (in the document) take steps to address the epidemic of violence against indigenous women and children around the world,” Vazquez said. “Yet, these words only comprise the first step. I hope that all member states will take the actions necessary to empower and protect indigenous women and children.” Vazquez added that states must strive to meet and exceed human rights standards and commit to ending violence against indigenous women and children. “The rights of indigenous women and children are a cross-cutting issue that requires regular attention in a range of settings and contexts. This should be directly addressed whenever human rights are discussed, not just in specialized meetings and expert sessions,” she said. “Together we have come so far to address these issues, but our journey to protect Indigenous women and children is long. Wado to the UN and member states for the work performed so far, and I look forward to all of the positive changes to come.” Current NCAI President Brian Cladoosby commended the strong delegation of American Indian and Alaska Native women who traveled to the UN to advocate for strong and decisive action to combat violence against Native women and girls. “We stand with our sisters in the effort to ensure that all Indigenous women are able to live lives free from violence,” he said. Cladoosby also applauded the adoption of the outcome document. “The General Assembly has established pathways for implementation of the UNDRIP, a vital agreement to protect the rights of our peoples. Our tribal governments, together with our brothers and sisters around the world, will need to continue a sustained effort to work with the various UN bodies, including the Human Rights Council and the Secretary General, to ensure that the commitments made today by the UN member countries are fulfilled,” he said. More than 1,000 delegates representing indigenous peoples from around the world attended the WCIP.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
09/26/2014 08:25 AM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – A Cherokee-owned and -operated business has made its mark in the business world in a big way. Cherokee Data Solutions has received awards for excellence in what it does and continues to grow annually. CDS was founded in 2001 by CN citizen Pamela Huddleston Bickford, who before starting the business was a stay-at-home mother for 25 years. “That was an intentional decision by my husband and I that I would support his career and then when it was my turn he would support my career,” she said. Her late husband, Paul Bickford, was an engineer, so their family was always moving throughout the United States for his job. “I wanted to create a business that we wouldn’t have to ever move again,” she said. “We wanted to be home near our family, our culture, our tribe, Oklahoma. Cherokee Data was created to accomplish those goals.” CDS started as a technology company. As the business grew customers began requesting different types of products. The company now provides office supplies, medical supplies, promotional office supplies and structural steel. They also work with firearms, but that is a government-only division. Huddleston Bickford said her son Ross Bickford, who is CDS’ vice president, has created more than 700,000 items for businesses within the promotional office supplies division. She said the business also customizes products according to customers needs. “We’ll bring in things that need to be customized, and we’ll do that work here,” she said. “We’re integrators, so we look at what people already have and what their need is and then we’ll suggest what a solution is. Then we’ll take that solution all the way through installation and support.” CDS also offers the disposal of old technology products, such as computers, when bringing in new products that a company has ordered. CDS takes the old products and wipes all data off of them and then takes the products off to be recycled. “What we do is take their end-of-life technology, wipe it clean, send it to the right places (to be recycled and reused),” Roger Huddleston, CDS director of marketing and operational excellence, said. “It’s really turned into a really good program, and I think they like it.” Huddleston Bickford said CDS mainly focuses on government accounts, such as the CN, but also serve commercial accounts such as aircraft manufacturing company Boeing. She added that CDS also works with nearly 30 tribes in the United States and with nearly almost every CN department. “We’ve got product in the White House, product in the space station, product in Afghanistan,” she said. “Cherokee Data’s all over the world.” Huddleston Bickford said she thanks the CN and believes it helped the company grow. “Most of our work is outside of Oklahoma, but the opportunity that we had to ever get big enough to do work outside Oklahoma really goes back to the TERO (Tribal Rights Employment Office) program,” she said. “What it did for us was it allowed us to grow the business to where we can compete for those large contracts.” CDS works by a golden hour rule, which means within the first hour of contact by customers CDS contacts them. “Our golden hour rule, it’s a very serious rule,” she said. “You call here, you talk to a person. You don’t have to worry about it. Cherokee Data’s going to get your answer in 60 minutes. You’re going to know if we can do this or we can’t do this. And here’s the ETA of when you’re going to have your quote or your bid or your solution. Then they’re going to get a little notice, ‘Hey, we’re done. It’s shipping. Here’s your tracking number.’ The customer never has to guess. They never have to worry.” CDS has won numerous awards, including the 2008 Top 30 Women-Owned Business in Oklahoma by the Journal Record, the 2012 US Department of Treasury Preferred Vendor and the Inc. 500|5000 List of Fastest Growing Private Companies in America for its third time in a row. Huddleston Bickford said the award she was most honored to receive was CDS’s first award, the 2005 Cherokee Nation Supplier of the Year award. “You always want to win with your own folks,” she said. “It means an awful lot when you get recognized by your tribe. The most exciting thing was that was also the first award the Cherokee Nation ever gave a vendor and that happened to be us. It was a huge honor for us.” For more information, visit <a href="http://www.okcds.com" target="_blank">www.okcds.com</a>.