Council reconfirms Hembree as attorney general
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During its Nov. 14 meeting, the Tribal Council unanimously reconfirmed Todd Hembree as the Cherokee Nation’s attorney general.
Hembree was reappointed for a period of five years from January 2017 to January 2021 after being re-nominated by Principal Chief Bill John Baker.
Hembree was first appointed to serve as attorney general in January 2012. Previous to that he served as the attorney for the Tribal Council for 12 years.
“I am very honored to be afforded the opportunity to serve the Cherokee Nation for another term as attorney general. However, the many successes that this office has had over the last several years has only been made possible due to the dedication and hard work of the staff,” Hembree said. “The Cherokee people are very fortunate to have such a group working for them.”
Legislators also unanimously approved Sheryl Rountree, of Tahlequah, to serve a five-year term on the Sequoyah High School board of education. Tribal Council approval is needed because the tribe operates the school. Rountree will serve from December 2016 to December 2021.
Her resume states she has 31 years of experience as a professional educator that includes five years as school counselor. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1980, a master’s degree in school counseling in 1995, graduate certification as a secondary and elementary principal in 2000 and a graduate certification as a superintendent in 2002. All of her degrees and certificates were earned at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
She has taught or counseled students at Westville, Woodall, Tahlequah, Briggs, Grandview and Tenkiller schools.
“I appreciate the nomination, and I hope to do a good job. I’m eager,” Rountree said.
The Tribal Council also unanimously approved Dr. James Stallcup to serve on the Cherokee Nation Health Partners board.
In 2004, the CN partnered with Tahlequah City Hospital, now called Northeastern Health System, to form Cherokee Health Partners “to assure there is alternative health services in certain specialty areas and for the Cherokee Nation to work together with TCH for the best health services for its citizens.”
Stallcup, a non-Native American, is serving as the tribe’s interim executive medical director until the position is permanently filled. Stallcup has worked for the CN for about six years, with two years as medical director for the Bartlesville Health Center and Will Rogers Health Center in Nowata.
He did not attend the Nov. 14 meeting but said previously that the CN health system is “incredible” in the care that it provides and the system has “an exceptional group of providers and nursing staff.”
He also previously said he is looking forward to the opportunities the tribe will have with the new Indian Health Service Joint Venture building that will be built adjacent to W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah.
In other business, legislators unanimously approved a resolution to honor CN Security Officer Joe Polecat who “saw a large amount of smoke in the vicinity of (CN) cultural grounds” on Sept. 29 and took action. After arriving at the fire, Polecat radioed for assistance and then “took immediate action,” using fire extinguishers to try to contain the fire.
In his report, Security Manager John Paden writes Polecat used his experience as a volunteer firefighter to take control of the situation. Polecat asked Paden to locate a water hose at a nearby residence and to start watering down the property near the residence. Later, Security Officer Richard Acorn arrived on the scene when the fire was within 15 feet of the residence. Acorn and Paden watered around the property while Polecat was at the front of the fire using extinguishers.
“With Polecat’s experience as a volunteer fire fighter and quick thinking along with his concern for others, Polecat saved both homes that were in the path of the grass fire,” states the resolution. “The Council of the Cherokee Nation hereby recognizes Cherokee Citizen Joe Polecat for his service to citizens of the Cherokee Nation as a security officer and volunteer firefighter, which protects and saves people of fire danger.”
The council also modified the tribe’s operating budget for fiscal year 2017 by adding $5.4 million for a total budget authority of $661.8 million.
TAHLEQUAH – During its Feb. 12 meeting, the Tribal Council unanimously authorized a lease with Oklahoma State University’s Center for Health Sciences to put a medical school in the current W.W. Hastings Hospital after the new Outpatient Health Center opens.
“Cherokee Nation is joining with Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, an entity within the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, to bring health care education to W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah,” the resolution states.
The lease will encompass part of Hastings’ floor space and parking space.
Earlier in the day during the Resources Committee meeting, Dr. Charles Grim, Health Services interim executive director, said the leased portion would be located where the current physical therapy, diabetes, orthopedics and optometry locations are. Those departments will move to the new primary health care facility, which is expected to be finished in 2019.
Grim said because OSU is a state university the medical school would not have a Native American preference. However, he said the architecture within the remodeled facility for the school would highlight Cherokee culture. He also said officials would ask Indian Health Service to set aside scholarships and/or loan repayment for Native students wishing to attend the school.
“Its not really an Indian medical school per se, but it will be the first college of medicine campus on Indian land in the country,” Grim said.
Grim said the lease would be for seven years with the option to renew.
In other business, Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton told Tribal Councilors that CNB is preparing to break ground on April 1 on additional “projects” in the Cherokee Springs Plaza in Tahlequah.
In 2014, CN and CNB officials announced plans to build the plaza with venues for dining, shopping and gaming. In a previous Cherokee Phoenix article, officials said the plaza is anticipated to be 1.3 million square feet of mixed-use space, developed at an estimated cost of $170 million. Officials also said it was to be completed in three phases.
The tribe completed Phase 1 of the project in 2016,which included road construction and pad sites where businesses would be developed. Since then Taco Bueno, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sonic and Stuteville Ford have opened businesses at the site.
The next phase is the construction and relocation of Cherokee Casino Tahlequah, officials said. The new casino is expected to feature a resort hotel, convention center and golf clubhouse. The final phase includes the creation of a retail strip.
CNB has not confirmed a completion date as of publication.
• amended the Concurrent Enrollment Scholarship Act of 2011 to revise the eligibility requirements,
• reappointed T. Luke Barteaux as a District Court judge,
• confirmed Dr. Charles Grim as a Cherokee Nation Health Partners board member,
• authorized the Vocational Rehabilitation Program to donate surplus equipment to the United Wrestling Entertainment Foundation in Cherokee County.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on Dec. 11 passed an act that establishes the Cherokee Nation Sovereign Wealth Fund, a fund that is expected to “ensure the continuation of tribal operations and the general welfare of tribal citizens for future generations.”
Tribal Councilor Dick Lay spoke about the act’s importance during the Nov. 14 Rules Committee.
“So the idea was to take a small amount of funding from the businesses, set it aside for just extreme financial emergencies, and I think (Treasurer) Lacey (Horn) and her group have been working along the same lines, so we’re going to try and get those together,” Lay said.
Horn said creating a “permanent fund” was something she had wanted to do, and after working on Lay’s model with Controller Jamie Cole and Assistant Attorney General Chad Harsha they created an act to bring before Council.
“This act establishes a wealth fund, which shall be held by the treasurer in accordance with the act, and assets shall be maintained in an interest-bearing account or otherwise invested to promote growth of the fund's assets,” she said.
Within the fund, Horn said, there would be an Emergency Reserve Fund that would “receive a direct and continuing appropriation.”
“The Emergency Reserve Fund that receives the direct and continuing appropriation of 2 percent of the net income of our dividend-paying corporations as well as not less than 50 percent of funds received by the Cherokee Nation through judgment or settlement of legal claims,” she said. “That’s not to say that we couldn’t put 90 percent. That’s not to say that we couldn’t put some percent higher, but it’s just sort of setting that floor as to what’s going to go into this fund.”
The Motor Fuel Education Trust would also be moved to the new fund, which Horn confirmed would be an added “safety” measure.
“It had previously been collateralized in an interest-bearing CD that was used to borrow funds to build the Vinita (Health) Clinic, and that collateralization was removed whenever we entered into the loan with Bank of Oklahoma for the Tahlequah Joint Venture Project, and so these funds are…free and clear,” she said. “So this will take that fund, put that within the construct of the Cherokee Nation Sovereign Wealth Fund and allow us to invest that fund and continue to grow it.”
Horn said the fund could also have endowments, trusts or other funds incorporated within it periodically. “There’s often endowments, trusts that we receive from individuals that need to be invested for income-generating purposes, and this would be the perfect place to put (those) up underneath as well.”
Horn said all assets for the fund would be “reported and accounted” for separately and would support itself by not relying on any General Fund dollars.
“Expenses incurred and maintenance invested in the fund shall be paid for by the fund. So we won’t be utilizing any General Fund dollars to operate this fund it will be self-sustaining,” she said.
When it comes to distributing the fund’s money, there must be approval from two-thirds of the Tribal Council as well as the principal chief. According to the act, “a distribution from the Reserve Fund may only be made in the event that a financial emergency exists, the severity of which threatens the life, property or financial stability of the Nation.”
Also, according to the act, “a distribution from the Education Trust may only be made to satisfy a substantial need in higher education scholarships resulting from an unexpected funding loss or shortfall and distributions from all endowments, trusts or other funds held in the fund shall be made in accordance with any originating document or restriction applicable thereto, and subject to the appropriation laws of the Cherokee Nation.”
The act also notes that the fund “may not be used to finance or influence political activities.”
“I hope that you can see that we feel very strongly, very happy about this legislation that we put forward, and we hope the Tribal Council feels the same,” Horn said.
Councilors also passed an act relating to the adjustment of dividends known as the Corporation Emergency Dividend Reserve Fund Act, which is included within the Sovereign Wealth Fund.
Lay presented the act during the Oct. 26 Rules Committee meeting where he said it’s not an “original” idea but one that should be implemented as an “emergency fund.”
“It would cause the chief and the super majority of council to bring funding out of it to be used only for abject financial emergencies,” he said.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker was pleased to sign the Sovereign Wealth Fund into law.
“The idea of permanent fund was something we discussed within the administration several years ago. Having reached a number of major policy and legislative goals during the past six years, the time was right to focus our attention on this important safety net. I was pleased to sign this important act into law before year’s end, and appreciate the collaborative effort of my team and members of the Council in achieving this goal.”
According to the act, for-profit corporations that the tribe is the “sole or majority shareholder” and are under CN law “shall issue a monthly cash dividend in the amount of 30 percent” from a “special quarterly dividend” they “deem” appropriate. An additional 5 percent is set aside for Contract Health services for citizens. According to the act, another 2 percent would “be set aside exclusively for an unanticipated and extraordinary revenue or funding loss that creates a budget shortfall where appropriation from any other source would be unavailable.”
To view the Sovereign Wealth Fund Act, <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2017/12/11828__WealthFund.pdf" target="_blank">click here</a>.
To view the Corporation Emergency Dividend Reserve Fund Act, <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2017/12/11828__Dividends.pdf" target="_blank">click here</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – With 18 years of experience serving the Cherokee people, Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd looks forward to serving another four years as the representative for Dist. 2, which consists of most of northern Cherokee County.
“I love serving the Cherokee people. They’ve got somebody that’s going to work for them again for the next four years, and I’m really looking forward to that,” said Byrd.
Originally from Belfonte/Nicut, Byrd was the youngest Cherokee Nation legislator to be elected. He served on the Tribal Council from 1987-95, followed by term as principal chief from 1995-99. In January 2012, he won a special election to replace Bill John Baker on the Tribal Council. Baker had taken office as the principal chief on Oct. 19, 2011, after a contentious and lengthy principal chief’s race against incumbent Chad Smith.
In 2013, Byrd was re-elected to serve his first full term under the tribe’s 1999 Constitution, which limits elected officials to two consecutive four-year terms before having to sit out a term. He was also named speaker of the Tribal Council in 2015 after then-Speaker Tina Glory Jordan termed out.
When he first ran for office in 1987, Byrd said he felt the need to help the Cherokee people with the issues they were facing.
“Our government didn’t begin serving our people until the 1970s. When I first moved to Northeastern (State University) in 1972 to get an education, it really opened my eyes to a lot of the issues our people were facing,” he said. “In the rural areas there were a lot of people who weren’t self-efficient, and I saw right then we still had many people out in the rural areas that needed help and needed an awareness that there is a tribe out there that should have a responsibility to take care of our people.”
As for his current term, deciding to run again for the Dist. 2 seat was an easy decision, he said, because of his love for serving the Cherokee people and because of his constituents who asked him to continue.
He spoke of elderly women who continues to set an example of how his constituents have not forgotten their Cherokee culture or who they are as a people.
“When people like that come up to me and ask me to run, it’s a real honor to have people with that kind of stature to say, ‘you need to run another time,’” he said. “The people will let you know when it’s time to run. You don’t have to consult them, they’ll let you know.”
During his time as Dist. 2 representative, Byrd has helped with projects to improve services for CN citizens, including the passing of a $900 million budget, a $100 million investment in Cherokee health care as well as a $200 million dollar expansion of the W.W. Hastings Hospital.
For this term, Byrd said he would continue working with the tribe to ensure rural area schools have shelter for inclement weather and that elders and veterans are taken care of.
“Our veterans seem to not be taken care of like they should,” he said. “When we give speeches and talks we all say, ‘we respect our elder’s and we respect our veterans,’ but we have many that are still homeless and not being served. I want to do anything I can to assist in making sure our elders and veterans are taken care of.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Harley Buzzard is beginning his third Tribal Council term. It’s his second for Dist. 10, which consists of northern Delaware County and parts of Ottawa and Mayes counties. Prior to that he served from 2007-11 for the former Dist. 2, which consisted of Delaware County and part of Ottawa County.
Buzzard worked for the Cherokee Nation for 24 years before running for Tribal Council in 2007. After a term serving Dist. 2, he was elected for Dist. 10 in 2013. He ran again this year because he said there was more he could help improve such as agriculture, sanitation and education. “There was just some things I felt I wanted to be involved with, see if I could help get it done.”
He said he’s stressed agriculture’s importance with the hope that Cherokee children would learn how to grow their food. “Now we’re just eating fast foods and pre-cooked meals and things like that, and our children don’t know about gardening. I’d like to get it to the point where we could raise enough to supply all our families that want those fresh vegetables, but also on a commercial basis too (by) putting it into our casinos and stuff like that.”
Buzzard said he would also like to see improvements with roads and water lines in his district.
He said he has much experience with water and sanitation engineering and that he sees a lot of Cherokee families that do not have inside plumbing and water. A water line extension for rural water is something he would like to work on, he said.
He said road conditions in his district’s rural areas are also a problem, as school buses contend with rough gravel roads or washed out roads during floods.
“Kids have to ride the school bus to school, and a lot of them have to travel over these gravel roads and roads that don’t have bridges (and) washed out roads when they have floods. Those things are important to me also,” Buzzard said.
As for education, he said school funding in Oklahoma is decreasing and he, along with the rest of the CN legislators, would like to help fund school programs for students in the CN jurisdiction.
Buzzard said his district covers a larger area, and he does what he can in terms of allocating monies he receives via the Tribal Council to help fund needs and programs such as law enforcement and roads.
“Money is spread pretty thin in my district as far as trying to help (law) enforcement and road issues,” he said. “I don’t know what I could do other than put the money where it’s most needed. That’s how I base where the funding goes, is where the need is…you can’t go wrong by doing that, using that philosophy.”
Buzzard said he’s “happy” about the support he received this past election and surmises he “must be doing something right.”
“A lot of people come up and tell that they’re happy that I got re-elected. It’s always good to have people tell you that. Sometimes you wonder, ‘am I doing a good job for my citizens that live here?’ When they tell me that and vote for me by that majority, it means that I’m doing something right,” he said.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Frankie Hargis looks to serve the Cherokee people of Dist. 7 for another term after being re-elected in June. Hargis was initially elected on Dec. 2, 2011, to replace S. Joe Crittenden, who resigned after being elected deputy chief. She served her first full term after being elected in 2013.
“I chose to run for re-election because I have enjoyed serving the Cherokee people. There are projects that I want to see completed, and there is still work to be done.” She said.
Raised in Stillwell, Hargis graduated from Stilwell High School and then from Northeastern Sate University with a bachelor’s degree in education. She has worked for the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Enterprises in several capacities.
“I was raised in Adair County, raised my children here and want only the best for Cherokees in this district. We have made great strides in several areas, including health care, education and housing,” she said.
Before taking a seat on the Tribal Council, Hargis had never planned to run for tribal office. However, when she saw that the people of Adair County needed someone to be a voice she made the decision to “step up” and be that voice.
“I saw a need, and I knew it was not right to sit back and hope someone else would take care of things,” Hargis said. “I was taught the importance of caring for others and that the right thing to do when you see a need is to step up and do what you can.”
During her time as a legislator, she has worked with the Tribal Council to complete projects to improve the well-being of Dist. 7 and its constituents, including getting $80,000 to establish a shelter in Stilwell for survivors of domestic violence, $4.2 million to build a new child development center in Stilwell, $11 million for the expansion of the Wilma P. Mankiller Clinic as well as $1 million for roads and bridges in Adair County.
Hargis said for this term she would continue to support the Cherokee people as she always has, but with one major goal in mind.
“I will continue to support health care, education, job development and housing,” she said. “One goal I do have is for the Housing Authority (of the Cherokee Nation) to build a housing addition in Adair County in the near future for those citizens who are on the New Home Construction Program list but do not have their own land.”
She added that she is honored to serve a second term. “It is my opinion, we should always consider it an honor to serve others. I count it a blessing to continue as District 7 Tribal Council representative.”
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. – New At-Large Tribal Councilor Mary Baker Shaw said she’s “eager and excited” to begin assisting Cherokee Nation citizens in areas including health care and education.
Baker Shaw, who graduated from Tahlequah High School, said living in Tahlequah gave her a “unique perspective” on now being a CN citizen who lives outside the tribe’s jurisdiction in Oklahoma.
“They (at-large citizens) don’t have the same educational opportunities and benefits as in-jurisdiction has had,” she said. “They don’t have the advantage of the culture. When you’re in jurisdiction it’s just a part of your life more so than at-large. I want to engage our at-large communities to converse with each other and expose them and give them opportunities that they don’t have.”
Baker Shaw comes from a bloodline familiar with serving the Cherokee people. Her father, Amon A. Baker, was a Tribal Councilor under Principal Chiefs Ross Swimmer and Wilma Mankiller.
“His advice is to always vote for what is best for the Cherokees,” she said of Amon’s influence.
Baker Shaw’s platform includes improving the tribe’s health care.
“I’ve got a lot of ideas about medical care, and I want to get more familiar than what I’ve been allowed to do so as a visitor in the committee meetings,” she said. “I think our Tribal Council has meant very well towards the medical care, but they don’t have a background in it.”
Baker Shaw has worked in the medical field for years, including earning her associate degree in nursing from Bacone College before going on to study anesthesiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Additionally, she has served as the director of surgery at Doctor’s Hospital in Tulsa and is the business manager for University Heights Medical Clinic in Muskogee.
She said she’s also concerned with educational opportunities for at-large citizens and regularly features scholarship information on her Facebook page.
“I call it ‘Scholarship Saturday,’” she said. “I provide every piece of information I can find on scholarships to try and help our at-large citizens in obtaining scholarships because I think education is the answer to just about any problem that we could possibly have.”
In addition to attending at-large meetings, Baker Shaw said she plans to create a monthly webcast beginning in September or October that will keep at-large citizens informed.
“I’m going to do these little webinar things to tell everyone what’s happening and how I voted and why,” she said. “I wanted to help in the ways of communicating and connecting with the at-large citizens because I saw a need that they feel disconnected from our tribe, and I’m hoping that I can come up with ways to help them feel more connected with our Cherokee Nation. All they’re getting is their ID cards, the tribal card, and I want them to have more than that to feel connected, so that’s what I’m hoping to do.”
Baker Shaw has been married to Dr. B Frank Shaw for 36 years and has one daughter and two granddaughters. According to her website, she also serves on the American Indian Resource Committee for Tulsa City/County Libraries, Bacone College board of trustees, Signature Symphony Advisory Board, Tulsa Community College Foundation and is an emeritus board member of Tulsa Opera.
Baker Shaw, along with eight other Tribal Councilors, was sworn in on Aug. 14 at Sequoyah High School’s “Place Where They Play” gymnasium.