Court orders Arizona tribe to recognize same-sex marriages

11/05/2017 12:00 PM
PHOENIX (AP) — A tribal court has cleared the way for gay couples to marry on an American Indian reservation in the Phoenix area after a two-year legal battle that could have repercussions for Native Americans elsewhere.

The court ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the constitution of the Ak-Chin community and the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.

"This decision made it clear that the tribal law was unconstitutional under tribal law" and not just U.S. federal law, said attorney Sonia Martinez, who represented the same-sex couple in the lawsuit. "I have no idea if other tribes are going to do the same thing, but I think it at least opens the door."

Ak-Chin Indian Community Chairman Robert Miguel said he would not appeal the ruling.

"Today marks the conclusion of a lengthy but necessary legal exercise — one that respects the rights of tribal members and honors the sacred sovereignty and self-governance of the Ak-Chin Indian Community," Miguel said.

The court ruling said four other Arizona tribes recognize same-sex marriages, including the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the White Mountain Apache tribe. The Arizona Republic reported.

Cleo Pablo, who grew up on the Ak-Chin Reservation south of the Valley, filed the lawsuit.

She and her longtime partner, Tara Roy-Pablo, married shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court extended the right to marry to same-sex couples nationwide. While their marriage was recognized in Arizona, the certificate was meaningless on the reservation.

Pablo said she never set out to be an activist, but just to get the same rights as any other married couple.

"You're taught growing up that you have to stand up for what's right," she said. "I actually did it."

The tribe is now in the process of reworking its laws and policies on marriage to comply with the ruling, Miguel said.


11/22/2017 04:00 PM
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone pipeline leaked an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil onto agricultural land in northeastern South Dakota, but state officials don't believe the leak polluted any surface water bodies or drinking water systems. State officials and pipeline operator TransCanada Corp. disclosed the leak Thursday, and the company shut down the pipeline. TransCanada said it activated emergency response procedures after detecting a drop in pressure resulting from the leak south of a pump station in Marshall County. The cause was being investigated. Discovery of the leak comes just days before Nebraska regulators are scheduled to announce their decision Monday whether to approve the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, an expansion that would boost the amount of oil TransCanada is now shipping through the existing line, which is known simply as Keystone. The expansion has faced fierce opposition from environmental groups, American Indian tribes and some landowners. Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist manager at the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the state has sent a staff member to the site of the leak in a rural area near the border with North Dakota about 250 miles (402 kilometers) west of Minneapolis. "Ultimately, the cleanup responsibility lies with TransCanada, and they'll have to clean it up in compliance with our state regulations," Walsh said. TransCanada said in its statement that it expected the pipeline to remain shut down as the company responds to the leak. It did not offer a time estimate, and a spokesman didn't immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press. The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration didn't immediately return an email requesting additional information from The AP. Since 2010, companies have reported 17 spills bigger than the leak announced Thursday, topping 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of crude oil or refined petroleum products, according to U.S. Department of Transportation records. The existing Keystone pipeline transports crude from Canada to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma, passing through the eastern Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. It can handle nearly 600,000 barrels daily, or about 23 million gallons. TransCanada says on its website that the company has safely transported more than 1.5 billion barrels of oil, or about 63 billion gallons, through the system since operations began in 2010. President Donald Trump issued a federal permit for the expansion project in March even though it had been rejected by the Obama administration. The Keystone XL project would move crude oil from Alberta, Canada, across Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines feeding refineries along the Gulf Coast. Kent Moeckly, a member of conservation and family agriculture group Dakota Rural Action, who opposed the Keystone pipeline, said he drove to land he owns near the site of the spill Thursday. "There's a heck of a south wind up here today, and man it just stunk of crude oil," said Moeckly, whose property is crossed by the pipeline. "A mile away, but I'll tell you it was like it was next door." A leak and spill in southeastern South Dakota in April 2016 prompted a weeklong shutdown of the pipeline. TransCanada estimated that just under 17,000 gallons (405 barrels) of oil spilled onto private land during that leak. Federal regulators said an "anomaly" on a weld on the pipeline was to blame. No waterways or aquifers were affected. TransCanada said at the time that the leak was the first detected on the pipeline since it began operating, though there had been leaks at pumping stations. One of those leaks happened in southeastern North Dakota in May 2011, when 14,000 gallons (333 barrels) spilled after a valve failed at a pumping station near the South Dakota border. Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director Kelly Martin said in a statement that the only way to protect against leaks in the future is for Nebraska to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. "We've always said it's not a question of whether a pipeline will spill, but when, and today TransCanada is making our case for us," Martin said.
11/22/2017 12:07 PM
WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior is taking the final steps in its efforts to identify the whereabouts of approximately 17,000 Native Americans to provide compensation as part of the Cobell settlement. The settlement of the Cobell lawsuit has reached an important deadline and the DOI needs class members, or the heirs of class members, to provide documentation of their status to the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians and/or the Garden City Group, the Cobell claims administrator, by Nov. 27, which is a court-imposed deadline for claiming settlement compensation so that payment may be made. In 1996, Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, and four other Native American representatives filed a class-action lawsuit against two departments of the U.S. government: the Interior and Treasury. The plaintiffs claimed that the government had incorrectly accounted for income derived from Indian trust assets, which are legally owned by the U.S. government but held in trust for individual Native Americans (the beneficial owners). In 2009, the parties negotiated a settlement in the case, and in 2010 Congress passed implementing legislation designating $3.4 billion for the settlement: $1.4 billion was allocated to be paid to the plaintiffs and $1.9 billion was allocated for a Land Buy-Back Program and a newly created educational scholarship fund for American Indian and Alaska Native students. The settlement payment process is being handled by the GCG with the cooperation of the Interior. Class members have received detailed information about their legal rights and options via the U.S. Postal Service. Information was also provided through an extensive media campaign that included Native America print media, social media, television and radio ads and online advertising. The bulk of the settlement monies have already been paid to individual Indians. Despite extensive efforts to contact all potential claimants, there still remain several thousand Individual Indian Money account holders who are classified as “whereabouts unknown.” These WAU accounts total millions of dollars in potential settlement payments. The DOI has been making extensive efforts to reach these WAU account holders so that they or their heirs can submit their documentation before the Nov. 27 deadline expires. Class members or the heirs of class members should provide documentation immediately to the GCG by calling 1-800-961-6109, by emailing to, or by U.S. mail to Indian Trust Settlement, P.O. Box 9577, Dublin, OH 43017-4877. Class members can also search OST’s Whereabouts Unknown database. If you have questions about the OST Whereabouts Unknown Cobell list, call the Indian Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 1-888-678-6836.
11/21/2017 04:00 PM
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Federal regulators approved major changes on Nov. 16 to a program that discounts phone service for low-income residents on tribal land. About 12.5 million people nationwide use Lifeline, a program created more than 30 years ago to improve access to phone service. It gives subscribers a $9.25 monthly discount. About 500,000 of those subscribers on tribal lands get an extra $25 off per month. Three of the five Federal Communications Commission members said three changes that apply to tribal lands will help reduce waste, fraud and abuse, and expand communications networks that lag behind the rest of the country. The two commissioners who voted no say the changes won’t improve the lives of the most impoverished and vulnerable residents. <strong>WHAT IS LIFELINE?</strong> The program started in 1985 when landline phones were in most households. Mobile service was added in 2005, and broadband in 2016. Subscribers can get either landline or mobile service, not both. Lifeline doesn’t give out free phones, but the program’s roughly 2,000 service providers often do. Telecommunications companies pay into a fund to cover Lifeline, and that cost often gets passed on to customers. A single person making about $16,000 a year alone or about $33,000 for a family of four, or who participates in certain government assistance programs, qualifies. Government reports show Lifeline provided subsidies of $1.5 billion in 2016. <strong>WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?</strong> The FCC says the Lifeline program is in serious need of reform to cut down on waste, fraud and abuse. Federal investigators earlier this year reported they couldn’t verify whether 1.2 million people who were signed up were eligible. The U.S. Government Accountability Office also found nearly 6,400 dead people had re-enrolled. In 2016, the FCC issued a $2 million fine to a wireless company in Hawaii that improperly registered thousands of people for the enhanced tribal subsidy. Consumer advocates say the GAO’s sample size was too small to apply to the whole program. They also say the report doesn’t accurately characterize the program because it doesn’t reflect some new reforms. They want the FCC to focus on expanding the program to people who are eligible and haven’t signed up. <strong>WHAT IS CHANGING?</strong> The changes will drop the deeper tribal discount for phone providers that don’t maintain their own networks and piggyback off existing infrastructure. The FCC also is considering limiting the program to those facilities-based providers nationwide. The FCC says resellers have no incentive to expand communications networks on tribal land because they don't own them. Many people still live without electricity, running water and phone service on reservations. People like Joe Redcloud of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota say eliminating resellers will give Native Americans fewer or no options for mobile service. “This will be a travesty to Indian Country because it will turn back the clock to times when consumers had but one choice,” he said. The FCC also will redefine tribal lands. Right now, cities like Reno, Nevada and Oklahoma City are included in tribal areas. The third change will require independent verification of tribal residency. The changes won’t go into effect for at least 90 days.
11/20/2017 04:00 PM
OOLOGAH, Okla. – Families are invited to begin celebrating the holidays, as they might have been observed in Will’s childhood, on Dec. 1-2 at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch. The ranch where Will Rogers was born and the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore will come alive with Christmas decorations and visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus during pre-holiday festivities in a family-friendly atmosphere. Admission to the ranch is free. The hayride is free for children 14 and under and $5 each for youth 15 and older. Kids’ crafts will be free, and Santa will be available to take pictures with the public at no charge. “Will’s Country Christmas” will be from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on both days with pictures with Santa, storytelling, hayrides, Wild West shootouts, kids crafts, carolers, music, vendor, food and more. Santa will also be listening to wish lists and sitting for photos from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Dec. 2, 9 and 16 in the Christmas-decorated Heritage Gallery of the Memorial Museum.
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
11/17/2017 06:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick plans to propose an act at the Rules Committee meeting on December 12 at 9:00 am, giving the Tribal Council the option to appeal an Aug. 30 federal court ruling that states Freedmen can become Cherokee Nation citizens. Walkingstick said his bill would give authorization to “appeal or not appeal” the “District Court of Columbia’s memorandum of opinion.” “What I’d like to get out of this is the council to get a say in the matter,” he said. “It’s not a matter of race. Cherokee Nation is a political entity as well as every other tribe is across the United States.” A day after Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan issued the ruling in the Cherokee Nation v. Nash case, Attorney General Todd Hembree said the tribe would not to appeal. On Sept. 1, the tribe’s Supreme Court chief justice ordered the CN, including Registration, to begin processing citizenship applications of eligible Freedmen descendants. Walkingstick, however, said it’s a “no brainer” to appeal Hogan’s ruling. “When a 10th Circuit (Court of Appeals) judge rules on it you pretty much got to say, ‘OK, that’s it. That’s what it is.’ But when you have a lower court ruling like that, and it’s just an opinion, there’s not a lot of merit to that,” he said. But Hembree said not appealing was the tribe’s “best course of action.” “Mr. Walkingstick doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he tries to delineate the differences between an opinion and a ruling,” he said. “I would recommend reading the Hogan decision in the Freedmen case. If they read it thoroughly with a good understanding of Cherokee Nation history and jurisprudence, they would know that this was by and far the best course of action for the Cherokee Nation.” Walkingstick said his bill comes after councilors were left out of a process they should have been a part of. “The Cherokee Nation AG violated tribal law by not getting authorization through Tribal Council to determine a decision on this litigation,” he said. “The action that (Principal) Chief (Bill John) Baker and AG Hembree made to not appeal contradicted our Constitution, which violated every elected officials’ oath that we took to protect and uphold our Constitution.” However, Hembree said Walkingstick is incorrect with his allegation. “I think David Walkingstick is absolutely incorrect when he says that the attorney general’s office has violated any law in failing to appeal this decision,” he said. “This is a decision that was based on the law and the facts of the case that required an legal interpretation. It’s not a settlement of the case as he alluded to in his act. It is a decision to abide by a court’s order.” Walkingstick said by not appealing Hembree also “violated” the tribe’s Attorney General Act. “He was just acting by himself and as well as with the principal chief. Nothing was ever brought to the Tribal Council,” he said. However, Hembree said he’s “absolutely” upheld his oath as attorney general. “I believe that I’ve upheld the oath that I took as attorney general, and I believe that I have protected the interest of the Cherokee Nation and have, in fact, promoted its sovereignty by agreeing to uphold previsions of a treaty that was signed between the Cherokee Nation and the United States,” Hembree said. Walkingstick also alleges that because Hembree didn’t appeal he put himself and other elected officials in a state of impeachment. “We all took an oath to defend and protect our Constitution, and when he didn’t appeal, it contradicted our Constitution. And it put us all in a state of (where) we can all be impeached because we didn’t uphold our own Constitution.” Hembree said if Walkingstick believes oaths were violated then he recommends bringing charges against those believed to be in violation. Walkingstick also said he wants to uphold the 2007 special election in which voters prevented Freedmen descendants from becoming citizens. “We exercised democracy in our government by having this election and they voted. So, as a elected official, we have to uphold our Constitution.” According to the Sept. 1 Supreme Court order, the 2007 amendment that limited citizenship to “Cherokees by blood, Delaware Cherokees and Shawnee Cherokees is held to be void and without effect.” Hembree said throughout the case’s entirety he wasn’t sure how much it had cost the tribe in legal fees but estimated it in the “millions of dollars.” Walkingstick said regardless whether the tribe adds Freedmen citizens or appeals the case it would cost the tribe money. “When you get an increase of citizens…those are program dollars and that’s going to cost a lot of money, and if you go try to fight for you sovereignty and your constitution that’s going to cost a lot of money,” he said. “So I think it’s a wash in the end.” Freedmen advocate Rodslen King Brown said money spent appealing could be better spent helping citizens. “It is really sad that David Walkingstick is wanting to spend all these dollars and to get this all back in the system just to put it in limbo because it’s already done,” she said. “And it’s really sad they want to spend all this money in to trying to keep us out instead of putting it toward the people.” <strong>Attorney General Act, 51 CNCA 105 A. 16</strong> Limits the Attorney General’s authority, “To settle any case or controversy on behalf of the Nation, except that a settlement involving injunctive relief which substantially impacts the operation or programs of a Nation agency or would impose obligations requiring the expenditure of funds in excess of unallocated unencumbered monies in the agency’s appropriations or beyond the current fiscal year shall be reviewed prior to its finalization by the Principal Chief and the Tribal Council. The purpose of the review is to determine the budgetary, programmatic and operational impact of the proposed settlement.”
11/16/2017 04:00 PM
WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas – The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department cold case unit is working on a 1988 homicide case involving an unidentified male victim believed to be of Cherokee descent. The department hopes to identify the man known as “Rebel Ray.” He is described as having been 25 to 40 years of age, 5 feet, 2 inches to 5 feet, 5 inches tall and of medium build. Any information regarding this case or identifying the subject, call Janet Franson at 512-943-5204 or 325-423-2458.