During the Feb. 21 Tribal Council meeting, Tribal Councilor Jack Baker, center, reads legislation that asks for acceptance of an apology from the U.S. Forest Service Southern Region for damages to a Trail of Tears site in the Cherokee National Forest near Coker Creek, Tennessee. JAMI MURPHY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Tribal Council accepts U.S. Forest Service apology
John Paul Atkinson receives a medal from Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden after being honored with the Cherokee Medal of Freedom for his service in the U.S. Army. His friend and fellow soldier, Jesse James Collins, was also honored but was in the hospital due to service-connected injuries. JAMI MURPHY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on Feb. 21 unanimously voted to accept an apology from the U.S. Forest Service Southern Region for damages to a Trail of Tears site in the Cherokee National Forest near Coker Creek, Tennessee.
In July 2015, U.S. Forest Service cultural resource managers notified higher-ranked Forest Service officials that they had discovered damage made in 2014 to a site on a Trail of Tears section. The damage consisted of holes dug by a bulldozer and other heavy equipment.
“At that site, 35 large holes were dug into the historic Trail of Tears to create large, earthen berms,” Sheila Bird, Cherokee Nation special projects officer, told the Cherokee Phoenix in 2016. “They used bulldozer and other heavy equipment, and this earthmoving resulted clear and extensive damage to the historic national trail.”
She added that Forest Service employees did the work and claimed that it was done for erosion control and to prevent areas of the Trail of Tears from washing out.
“This is a well-known and mapped Trail of Tears path, but it was not marked because it was privately owned. This land was purchased by Conservation Fund and held for the U.S. Forest Service,” she said. “The District Ranger failed to follow federal laws requiring consultation with Indian tribes. The Forest Service has acknowledged fault and committed to restoring the site.”
According to a Feb 21 resolution, the U.S. Forest Service-Southern Region “recognizes the cultural and historic significance held by the Cherokee Nation regarding the Trail of Tears historic site and extends an apology for the unfortunate and adverse effects that have occurred.”
It also states the “Cherokee Nation agrees to consult on a government to government basis with the U.S. Forest Service-Southern Region regarding the restoration and mitigation of these adverse effects to this Trail of Tears sacred site.”
It adds that as a “Good Faith Effort” and to commit to jointly pursue meaningful mitigation the Tribal Council accepts the apology.
Also during the meeting, Tribal Council voted 17-0 to support the nominations of Michael Doublehead and Steven Wilson as commissioners to the Tax Commission. They also voted Ceciley Thomason-Murphy onto the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.
Tribal Councilors voted to donate three surplus vehicles from the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service to the Nowata Police Department and Muskogee and Delaware counties sheriff’s offices.
Three CN citizens were also honored with the Cherokee Medal of Freedom – John Thomas Cripps III, who served in the U.S. Army, and John Paul Atkinson and Jesse James Collins, who served in the Oklahoma Army National Guard and were activated in 2011 to the RECON 1-279th 45th Infantry to Afghanistan.
Two budget modifications were also passed. The comprehensive capital budget was increased by $1.8 million for a total capital budget authority of $279.6 million. The tribe’s operating budget was also increased by $2.1 million for a total budget authority of $666.6 million. The changes consisted of a decrease in the general fund by $92,000 and increases in the indirect cost pool, motor vehicle tax, Department of Interior Self Governance and IHS Self Governance and budgets.
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.
VINITA, Okla. – In the fall of 2013, Victoria Vazquez was elected to the Tribal Council after then Dist. 11 Tribal Councilor Chuck Hoskin Jr. was appointed to serve as the Cherokee Nation’s secretary of state.
“I had a special election with two opponents that took about six weeks, and on Oct. 22, I was sworn in,” Vazquez said.
In 2017, before the CN’s general election in June, Vazquez faced no opponents to again represent Dist. 11, which includes all of Craig County, part of northern Mayes County and northern Nowata County. Her district includes more than 2,000 constituents.
Before becoming a Tribal Councilor, Vazquez was a self-employed potter. She became well-known for her pottery classes, which she taught for about 20 years. She is a consultant, educator, historian and potter who showcases pottery that southeastern United States tribes once. She also helps preserve that culture, she said.
In 1990, Vazquez took a year off from working to study as an apprentice in pottery with her mother, Anna Sixkiller Mitchell. A full-blood Cherokee, Mitchell revived Southeastern and woodlands-style pottery in Oklahoma more than 40 years ago, Vazquez said.
Vazquez’s pottery is on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Department of Interior, University of Arkansas, Bartlesville History Museum, Cherokee Heritage Center, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, First National Banks and in the Ruth Bader Ginsburg collection.
Vazquez did not have political experience before being elected to the Tribal Council. Instead, she worked with the CN by teaching classes at the CHC, schools and various places for 10 years, she said.
“I had established a relationship with a lot of people with the CN, and I had become well-known in the area. As a Tribal Councilor, you’re a representative and you develop a relationship with your constituents,” she said.
During the 2017-21 term, Vazquez said she would like to see certain areas of the tribe improve.
“The main issues I am working on are health care, housing, scholarships and just about anything CN offers to our citizens. I ensure our citizens have access to that,” Vazquez said.
During this term, she said she plans on building a nutrition center in Vinita that is modeled after those in Jay and Nowata for low-income citizens.
“Currently those in need have to drive to Jay or Nowata. This center could serve them lunch several days a week. We have a few of these in other (CN) districts, and it is my main goal for my district,” she said.
In 2015, Vazquez was elected to serve as deputy speaker of the Tribal Council and is serving as the chairwoman of Culture Committee. She said she does most of her representative outreach through email. To contact her, email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Dr. Mike Dobbins, of Fort Gibson, said he’s ready to serve his first term as the Dist. 4 Tribal Councilor and looks to improve the Cherokee Nation’s health care system.
Dobbins will take his councilor seat with 37 years of experience in health care, practicing dentistry for 20 of those years.
“I chose to run because from a distance I’ve become quite familiar with the Cherokee health system, and there are some great things about it. The framework’s in place…and a lot of good has transpired. With my experience I feel like I can lend some expertise to help improve the system. That was my primary motive in running for council...to see what I could do to improve the health care system,” Dobbins said.
He said he has more to learn about the CN Health Services and how it functions on a daily basis.
Dobbins is also involved in higher education, teaching at dental schools for the past 17 years and assisting Cherokee students interested in health care.
“I’ve assisted multiple Cherokee students with scholarship opportunities, not only with Cherokee scholarships, but with other Native American scholarships and try to help them go through college with little-to-no debt as possible,” he said.
He said in Dist. 4, he’s also heard concerns from CN citizens about housing issues.
“I’m also knowledgeable of the fact that there’s a lot of other Cherokee needs (including) infrastructure, housing, elder care. I’m also sensitive to those areas as well. I plan to be a multi-purpose councilman,” Dobbins said. “I’m on the outside right now, but I intend to see (and) get familiarized with the housing program and make sure that citizens of District 4 are considered for any housing possibilities.”
The 2017 Tribal Council election was Dobbins’ second attempt at becoming a CN legislator. He said he learned from his “mistakes” four years ago and that it was a “less stressful” campaign this time around.
“I ran four years ago and lost by two (votes) to an 18-year incumbent,” he said. “You learn by experience, and I enlisted more help, actually, this time. I tried to do a lot of myself four years ago. I’d say…most importantly I learned what not to do rather than what to do.”
Dobbins said he has an obligation to serve not only the CN citizens who helped or voted for him, but also those who did not.
“I’m their councilman now, and I feel a deep debt of obligation to fulfill that duty,” he said. “I just look forward to serving the Cherokee people on the council. I do have a busy schedule but I feel like I will be accessible. I have a busy schedule outside my councilman responsibilities, but my councilman responsibility will be my priority.”