Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard discusses a friendly amendment regarding changes to the Cherokee Nation’s Governmental Records Act during the Tribal Council’s June 16 meeting in Tahlequah, Okla. Buzzard requested the number of days for a GRA request response be lessened to 10 days rather than 20 days as stated in the legislation. JAMI MUPRHY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Tribal Council amends FOIA, GRA

06/18/2014 10:23 AM

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After several turbulent months of protest from citizens and some Cherokee Nation legislators, Tribal Councilors amended the Freedom of Information and Governmental Records acts during their June 16 meeting.

Amendments included increased time limits for responses under both laws. For the FOIA, the time limit goes from 15 days to 20 days. The FOIA amendment also included an additional 10-day extension, but only after the requesting party is notified in writing. The GRA time limit was increased from six days to 10 days, following a friendly amendment from Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard.

“And the amendment that I’d like to offer is to take away some of the days for the GRA act. We’re presently at 20. What I would propose to do is add four days to the existing act. Make it, I believe, 10 days,” he said. “It would be consistent with what we’re going to be doing with the FOIA, we added four (days). I would ask that we add four days to the present act which would make it 10 day turn around on documentation.”

The FOIA bill also creates an information officer position within the Attorney General’s Office to serve as a liaison for CN citizens seeking public records. The officer is to be independent of political influence and could only be terminated for cause and will be responsible for facilitating, gathering, tracking and responding to FOI requests, as well as providing monthly reports to the Tribal Council.

Both laws increase protection for CN citizens regarding personal information. Amendments included protecting a citizen’s Social Security number, date of birth, tribal citizenship number, email and other electronic identifiers specifically exempted under the FOIA.

“With technological advances, cases of identity theft have increased exponentially, and there are no indications of the trend changing course,” Tribal Councilor Tina Glory-Jordan said. “Along with other enhancements to this essential piece of legislation, this body wanted to ensure our citizens’ sensitive information on requested documents will remain private. Cherokee citizens can rest assured this body has taken every step needed to protect their identity and assets through this law.”

Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts expressed concern regarding “privileged or confidential” items that would be exempt.

The act states that privileged and confidential information is “exempt from disclosure under the Cherokee Nation Freedom of Information and Rights of Privacy Act, as amended, or is confidential under Cherokee Nation law, that record shall, nevertheless, be produced or otherwise made available to the requesting Council member…”

“So that still denies a council person the ability to have that electronically. So for instance, myself, that lives an hour to hour and a half away, I would still have to drive to the AG’s office to review the information it would not be given to me,” Cowan Watts said.

Glory Jordan said they had made no changes in that area and asked Attorney General Todd Hembree to respond.

“This law makes no changes to the current language that is in our Governmental Records Act. The question that you asked is precisely subject matter to a Supreme Court appeal to which Ms. (Julia) Coates is a plaintiff. We have our interpretation. Ms. Coates has her interpretation. There are going to be five members of the justice that’s going to decide that issue,” Hembree said.

Cowan Watts asked Hembree if the language would affect current lawsuits, to which he replied no.

The FOIA also clarifies that proprietary bid documents will be exempt from public disclosure. The law states that a contract is not exempt from disclosure once executed, but bid or other financial documents of the vendors who bid on a project will be exempt.

The FOIA bill passed 10-6, with Tribal Councilors Cowan Watts, Lee Keener, Coates, Don Garvin, Dick Lay and Jack Baker voting no. Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk did not attend the meeting.

The GRA bill passed 14-2, with Cowan Watts and Keener opposing.

Coates requested six friendly amendments to the FOIA bill, but they were voted down. They included:

• Any person denied a document request pursuant to the act for either copies or inspection, and any person denied attendance of a “work group or subcommittee meeting of the Tribal Council may appeal that decision to the Administrative Appeals Board or the District Court within 10 days of the denial of the request or deadline for providing the request if no response occurs,” and

• Any person alleging a violation of Section 107 (Meetings of public bodies shall be open) may seek relieve from the Administrative Appeals Board within 10 days of the alleged violation.

Glory Jordan said her biggest problem with the motions regarding the appeals board is that it is not set up to hear those types of cases.

“That means that we got to go change that law,” she said. “And I don’t see how we vote on doing this tonight without changing that law to broaden their ability to hear this type of case because they were set up to hear basically wrongful termination-type cases.”

Councilors also confirmed CN citizens Robin McClain Smith to the Cherokee Nation Community Association Cooperation and Jennifer Goins to the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission.

The Concurrent Enrollment Scholarship Act was also amended to allow students to enroll in more college hours and receive more funding.

“The amended legislation now allows eligible high school students to receive scholarship money for up to nine hours of college course work, rather than just six,” Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick said. “The more hours our students enroll in shows their dedication to academics and their futures, and saves families money.”
About the Author

Jami Murphy graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2000. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2006 from Northeastern State University and began working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2007.

She said the Cherokee Phoenix has allowed her the opportunity to share valuable information with the Cherokee people on a daily basis. 

Jami married Michael Murphy in 2014. They have two sons, Caden and Austin. Together they have four children, including Johnny and Chase. They also have two grandchildren, Bentley and Baylea. 

She is a Cherokee Nation citizen and said working for the Cherokee Phoenix has meant a great deal to her. 

“My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Leaf Springston, worked for the paper long ago. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve learned so much about myself, the Cherokee people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Jami is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilynnmurphy or on Facebook at • 918-453-5560
Reporter Jami Murphy graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2000. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2006 from Northeastern State University and began working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2007. She said the Cherokee Phoenix has allowed her the opportunity to share valuable information with the Cherokee people on a daily basis. Jami married Michael Murphy in 2014. They have two sons, Caden and Austin. Together they have four children, including Johnny and Chase. They also have two grandchildren, Bentley and Baylea. She is a Cherokee Nation citizen and said working for the Cherokee Phoenix has meant a great deal to her. “My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Leaf Springston, worked for the paper long ago. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve learned so much about myself, the Cherokee people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” Jami is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilynnmurphy or on Facebook at


09/01/2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Leaders from the Cherokee Nation, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians gathered on Aug. 28 at Red Clay State Park for a historic Tri-Council meeting. The event marked the first time all three federally recognized Cherokee tribes assembled for a council meeting at Red Clay. After Georgia passed laws displacing Cherokees and preventing Cherokee leaders from meeting, the Cherokee capital was moved from New Echota (now in Georgia) to just over the Tennessee state line in Red Clay. Nearly a dozen separate council meetings were held there between 1832 and 1837. “The gathering of our Cherokee governments at this sacred site is not only historic, but a strong reflection of our inherent sovereignty,” Cherokee Nation Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd said. “It is because of our Cherokee ancestors’ spirit of perseverance that we are able to gather and conduct the business of our people. We must always keep that in mind and protect that right for our future generations.” The Tribal Councilors voted on several resolutions: • Requiring all cultural or historical presenters or artisans claiming to be Cherokee to be verified by one of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes, • Recognizing, commending and supporting the efforts of the Cherokee Language Consortium and requiring that all Cherokee language materials distributed to the public, such as billboards, signs, brochures, newsletters and pamphlets, be approved by at least three members of the Cherokee Language Consortium to assure accuracy and authenticity, • Recognizing the ongoing contribution of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in enhancing visitors’ understanding of Sequoyah and the Cherokee people’s history, and • Affirming no change can be made to the Cherokee syllabary without the consensus of the Tri-Council. During Tri-Council, attendees also visited Cherokee, North Carolina, and toured the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ recently completed $28 million justice center and the tribe’s $80 million hospital under construction. Attendees also watched a performance of the play Sliver of a Full Moon, written by CN citizen Mary Kathryn Nagle and directed by CN citizen Betsy Richards. Tri-Council unites the legislative branches of government of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes and is designed to create a unified and federally recognized Cherokee voice dedicated to promoting and advancing tribal sovereignty. The CN will host the next Tri-Council meeting in 2016.
08/19/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Aug. 10, six outgoing Tribal Councilors, who either termed out or gave up their seat, were honored with plaques during their last day of meetings. Former Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory Jordan thanked her constituents for entrusting her as their representative. “I believe we’ve made the situation a little better for them. I’m very proud of what we did for the Head Start Program,” she said. “I love the fact that we’ve given out more scholarships this year than we’ve ever given out before. And if you can educate a young person that’s really all they ever want from the tribe because they’re go on, they’ll be productive and they’ll take care of their families.” She said she loves that the tribe is building houses again and receiving one is a life-changing event. “We’ll never be able to build enough houses, but we’re getting there. As you have people that you satisfy on the program, you have five more that are coming on to the program. But I love the fact that we’re building houses again,” Jordan said. Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts said she hopes she left the tribe a little better with her service during the past 12 years. “I know I am a better person for having served and am thankful for the experience,” she said. “I will continue to pray for the Cherokee Nation and our government and business staff who work diligently throughout the year to serve our Nation. My thoughts and prayers are with them as they make decisions for the Nation.” She added that she would continue her community service by working with Native students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and scholarships. Tribal Councilor Janelle Fulbright said one of the best things she’s seen happen within the CN during her eight years on council was the construction of the new Redbird Smith Clinic and dialysis center in Sallisaw. “And I just consider it a privilege to serve, a privilege and an honor, and I’ve greatly enjoyed my eight years. “The newly elected council members, I have great confidence in them that they will carry on and be very responsive to the needs of our people,” she said. Tribal Councilor Lee Keener said he was humbled and honored to represent the Cherokee people. “It’s been an awesome experience. One of the best experiences of my life. I’ve learned a lot. I wish every Cherokee citizen could experience being on council so they could understand their government and what goes on,” he said. “I hope that I’ve done it to the best of my ability as far as voting, and it’s been a very good education for me and I’ll have it with me for the rest of my life.” Tribal Councilors Jodie Fishinghawk and Julia Coates said a few words regarding their service to the tribe during the Aug. 10 Tribal Council meeting. Fishinghawk said she wanted to thank Adair, Delaware and Ottawa counties for the privilege to serve. “Thank you to the great employees we have over hear at the Nation,” she added. Coates said it has been an honor to serve on the behalf of the At-Large people. “I’ve said it at so many community meetings. It takes a lot of effort for the At-Large folks to remain involved and to remain connected, and it’s very gratifying to see how very many of them do continue to make that effort. I’ve tried to advocate as strongly as I possible could on your behalf,” she said. “And I appreciate the trust and honor that you have given me in these eight years and I hope I have fulfilled your trust in me.”
Senior Reporter
08/18/2015 01:19 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During an Aug. 17 Rules Committee meeting, Tribal Councilors chose new chairs and co-chairs for their six standing committees. The new committee leaders follow the election of eight Tribal Councilors in June and July. Five of those eight legislators are new to the Tribal Council. Dist. 2 Tribal Councilor and former Principal Chief Joe Byrd was elected as speaker of the 17-member body. Byrd also serves as chairman of the Rules Committee. Dist. 5 Tribal Councilor David Thornton was initially chosen as deputy speaker, but he withdrew his name. Dist. 11 Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez was then chosen as deputy speaker. Dist. 7 Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis was chosen as the body’s secretary. She was also chosen as co-chairwoman of the Rules Committee, and is the new chairwoman of the Health Committee. New Dist. 6 Tribal Councilor Bryan Warner was chosen as co-chairman of the Health Committee. Dist. 3 Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick will serve as chairman of the Education Committee, and Dist. 4 Tribal Councilor Don Garvin will serve as co-chairman. Dist. 15 Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor was chosen to chair the Executive & Finance Committee, while Dist. 14 Councilor Keith Austin was chosen as co-chairman. Dist. 12 Tribal Councilor Dick Lay will continue as chairman of the Community Services Committee, and Dist. 10 Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard will serve as co-chairman. Dist. 9 Tribal Councilor Curtis Snell also will continue to chair the Resources Committee, and new Dist. 1 Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan will co-chair that committee. Councilors also serve as advisory members on the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors. Current members include Byrd, Hargis, Snell and Thornton. Vazquez, Jordan, Austin and new At-Large Tribal Councilor Wanda Hatfield were added as advisory board members during the Aug. 17 meeting. Warner then nominated former Dist. 6 Tribal Councilor Janelle Fullbright to serve on the CNB board. Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said Fullbright would make the board “even stronger than it is.” Fullbright said she believed she was well-qualified for the position because she served on the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission for nine years and attended many gaming seminars and workshops regarding tribal gaming. She also served on the Tribal Council for eight years with her second term ending on Aug. 14. Fullbright was unanimously confirmed to the CNB board.
08/12/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At the Aug. 10 meeting, Tribal Councilors unanimously approved the Cherokee Nation’s fiscal year 2016 Indian Housing Plan that asks the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for money for tribal housing programs. According to the IHP, the tribe is requesting $28.6 million to disperse to housing programs such as overcrowded households, college student housing and housing rehabilitation. In an earlier committee meeting, Community Services Executive Director Ron Qualls said the FY 2016 funding is almost identical to FY 2015. Qualls added that it is important to realize “the funding that is being budgeted for the upcoming 2016 fiscal year is the 2015 (FY) funds.” “I can’t recall exactly when the 2015 funds came in. I believe it might have been January or February of last year. That’s the reason that we always prepare the Indian Housing Plan on the previous year’s funds,” he said. “We’re coming up on 2016 fiscal year, and the 2016 funds are, as far as I can say, nowhere in sight. It’s the way the federal government works as far as the budget goes. We just don’t know when the budget will be approved, so we always work on prior year’s funds. That way we have the funds.” Qualls said in prior years funds have been received anywhere from three to five months late. Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard said he would like to see more funding for Project-Based College Housing Assistance. The fund is currently at $601,865. “College is really important to our young kids. The more we can get in college, the better off we’re going to be in the long term,” he said. “If we can increase that up to $800, $900,000 next year, I think I’d help us all. I’d like to see the college fund increased, if at all possible. I realize that something else will have to take a hit if we do increase this. I just think college education is going to be the key for our kids to be successful.” Tribal Councilor David Thornton asked if money was a problem when it came to building homes under the Homeownership Replacement Home Program. “We put $1.4 million in replacement homes and we build about 15 a year, from what I understand,” he said. “Is there any reason we can’t build more than 15 except for money?” David Pruitt, Housing Services/Housing Rehabilitation director, said there isn’t enough money. “I know a couple, three years back we took discretionary funding and added it to that program,” Thornton said. “When we do the budget we need to go through and check on that and see if we can’t help some of these people that need replacement homes because their homes are so deteriorated and in bad shape that they can’t live in it. We have to tear the things down and replace them. There’s several of them out there in my district, Cherokee County and Adair County that need replaced.” Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory Jordan said the program needs more funding because it serves the neediest people. “If we take money and put it there by just moving it around in this NAHASDA (Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act of 1996) budget, it is going to take funding away from another program that also truly believes, and we believe, is serving the neediest of our people,” she said. “It’s a balancing act.” She said if a program needs more money than another, its budget could be amended monthly. “This was something that was hard for me to learn eight years ago. I wanted to make all those changes right then, but then I learned that you could, on a monthly basis, amend your Indian Housing Plan as you saw it fit for your people,” she said. Tribal Councilors also approved a grant submission to the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. According to the resolution, the CN has been an SDPI grant recipient since the program’s inception in 1997. Since then, the CN “has utilized SDPI funding to provide a wide range of services, staffing, equipment and supplies for the prevention and treatment of diabetes for the past 18 years,” the resolution states. It also states that numerous CN citizens and patients at CN health facilities have benefited from the program. “This grant program has been a blessing to the Cherokee Nation and allowed our health care system to provide critical services to thousands of diabetic citizens,” Tribal Councilor Janelle Fullbright said. “With the continuation of funding, our diabetes program will continue to reduce the number of diabetes patients in the Cherokee Nation and educate our citizens on diabetes prevention.” Legislators also approved a resolution accepting trust land status for five acres near the Oaks Mission School (Rocky Ford) in northern Cherokee County. Councilors also unanimously authorized the tribe’s Information Technology Department to donate surplus office equipment to Moffett Police Department in Sequoyah County. In other news, Tribal Councilors Glory Jordan, Fullbright, Jodie Fishinghawk, Cara Cowan Watts, Lee Keener and Julia Coates were each given time to say a few words about their time serving on the legislative branch. Cowan Watts, who served from 2003-11, said she is honored to have been able to represent the tribe and its citizens, especially those in Rogers and Tulsa counties. “At times even when it was a challenge it was truly a blessing, and I’ll always look at this part of my life as something that was successful,” she said. “I want to say particularly that I appreciate the staff of our government and businesses who quietly serve the Cherokee Nation, our people, often without fanfare each day. You are noticed, not just by elected leadership, but by our constituents and those that you serve with such passion. I’ll miss my colleagues who graciously served with me, consistently extended their hand in friendship and respect. You will be missed in my daily work life as I return to my engineering career. I pray for all levels of leadership throughout the Cherokee Nation and wish our tribe and community much success as we move forward.” Watts served as the deputy speaker of the Tribal Council and co-chair of the Executive and Finance Committee from 2007-11. Fishinghawk, who served for two consecutive terms, said she would like to thank all the employees who work for the tribe, among others. “I’d like to thank Adair County, and I guess Delaware and Ottawa county at one time, for allowing me the privilege to serve you all,” she said. Beginning in 2011, Fishinghawk served as the chairwoman of the Executive Finance Committee until the end of her term. On Aug. 14, eight Tribal Councilors, along with Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, were slated to be sworn into office. The Tribal Councilors are Rex Jordan (Dist. 1), David Walkingstick (Dist. 3), Bryan Warner (Dist. 6), Shawn Crittenden (Dist. 8), Dick Lay (Dist. 12), Buel Anglen (Dist. 13), Keith Austin (Dist. 14) and Wanda Claphan Hatfield (At-Large). The inauguration is slated for 10:30 a.m. at The Place Where They Play at Sequoyah High School.
08/04/2015 02:31 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During the July 29 Resources Committee meeting, officials with the tribe’s Management Resources announced that the department had put in a request for the purchase of 50 additional bison from the Badlands Bison Roundup. “There is a surplus of bison in the Badlands and they’re going to do another round up,” Executive Director Bruce Davis said. “They expect another 600 to 700 head. It doesn’t mean that we will get 50 because they are 60 tribes vying for them, but we were lucky enough last year to get them. I think we’ll get some.” He said there have also been placement requests made for the potential influx of bison such as in Sallisaw, near the Cherokee Heritage Center and the Jack Brown Center. Davis indicated that some of the bison calves already located within Cherokee Nation would eventually be cut from the herd and placed in a feeder program for slaughter. Heifers in the herd would be kept as cows until such time they were also appropriate for slaughter. Tribal Councilors expressed concerns over how the bison are tested for diseases, including brucellosis, but Management Resources officials said the herd has been kept in isolation to test before being moved. Officials also said they have also drafted a cattle operation proposal that would be presented at a later date. “We would love to start a cattle herd,” Davis said. “We have the property and the hay. We have the meats to take care of them, and we have the personnel.”
08/03/2015 10:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on July 30 confirmed nominations to the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board and the Cherokee Nation Comprehensive Care Agency board. Cherokee Nation citizen Lauren Jones joined the Editorial Board with a vote of 15-1 with Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts voting against her. Tribal Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk absent. According to Jones’ resume, she is the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma public relations senior supervisor. Her duties include writing, editing, proofing and coordinating design and production for targeted communication pieces in the health care industry. The Tribal Council also unanimously approved Luka E. Madison’s nomination as a governing board member of the CN Comprehensive Care Agency, or PACE. “I’m excited to serve the Cherokee Nation on the board for the all inclusive care of the elderly, and I look forward to contributing to leadership through governance,” Madison said. According to Madison’s resume, she is the nursing supervisor at Northeastern Health System in Tahlequah, and in 2012 she received a master’s degree in nursing. Madison also serves on the Northeastern Oklahoma Health Centers board of directors. According to the CN Comprehensive Care Agency Organic Act, the board was created in 2004 within the tribe’s executive branch to establish a government agency to access resources unavailable to existing health programs and to take advantage of future opportunities to better serve the health needs of both tribal citizens and others in the community. Tribal Councilors also amended the tribe’s comprehensive operating budget for fiscal year 2015 by increasing it by $1.3 million for a total of $646.8 million. According to the act, the tribe received $312,689 in grants and made a modification request of $1,072,399. The modification request includes an increase in the General Fund of $682,566, an increase in the Motor Fuel Tax budget of $300,000 and an increase in the Department of Interior-Self Governance budget of $89,833. After amending the agenda, legislators also amended the tribe’s comprehensive capital budget by increasing it by $3.7 million in the Capital Projects budget for a total of $128.9 million. According to the budget, the increased amount will go towards the Tribal Complex construction. Also, after amending the agenda, Tribal Councilors amended the comprehensive operating budget again by increasing it by $17.1 million for a total of $663.9 million. According to the act, the tribe received $7.6 million in grants and made a modification request of $9.5 million. The modification request includes a decrease in the General Fund of $280,772, an increase in the Indirect Cost Pool budget of $478,277, an increase in the Enterprise budget of $300,000, an increase in the DOI-Self Governance budget of $245,264, an increase in the DOI-General budget of $284,926, an increase in the Indian Health Services-Self Governance Health budget of $8.2 million and an increase in the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act budget of $305,476.