Tribal Council accepts U.S. Forest Service apology
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
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
Cherokee Nation citizen John Thomas Cripps III, who served in the U.S. Army, is given a pin during the Feb. 21 Tribal Council meeting after being given the Cherokee Medal of Freedom. 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.