Freedmen legislation tabled indefinitely, suit filed
Several Cherokee Freedmen gather for the Dec. 11 Rules Committee meeting in the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. In the meeting the Tribal Council indefinitely tabled legislation to appeal a federal ruling that gives Freedmen tribal citizenship rights. BRANDON SCOTT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Tribal Councilors Mike Shambaugh, left, and Bryan Warner talk to fellow legislator David Walkingstick on Dec. 11 about his legislation that called for a vote on whether to appeal a court ruling that gives Cherokee Freedmen tribal citizenship rights. BRANDON SCOTT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During the Dec. 11 Rules Committee meeting, Tribal Councilors voted to indefinitely table David Walkingstick’s legislation calling for a vote on whether to appeal a federal court ruling that gives Freedmen tribal citizenship.
“The Tribal Council hasn’t made a decision to appeal or not appeal,” Walkingstick said. “We’ve tabled it, but the only way we’re going to be able to get this appealed is our legislators are going to have to not waver and make an informed decision on behalf of the Cherokee Nation constituents and the Cherokee Nation government.”
Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez motioned to table, saying the decision to do so was correct.
“Councilman Walkingstick has had many options during the past three months to express his views on this issue. His belated and hasty attempt to push unconstitutional legislation was a poor choice on his part,” she said. “I felt obliged to propose an option to councilors which would let us return our focus on issues like education, health care, housing and cultural preservation, rather than some futile effort to pass unconstitutional legislation.”
Walkingstick said as a legislator he demands “difficult” issues be dealt with.
“I’m having a hard time understanding why we’re not trying to protect our sovereignty and defend our Constitution. Just because you’re opposed of certain subjects you don’t want to discuss or debate the opposition, it’s cowardly,” he said.
Walkingstick also said Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s administration has pressured legislators on how to vote on the issue. “The administration is putting pressure on our Council and trying to intimidate them and more or less bully them to make certain decisions, and that’s why it was tabled indefinitely on Monday (Dec. 11) is due to the pressure from the administration.”
However, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said that wasn’t the case.
“We as a rule do not, and in this instance absolutely did not, engage in bullying and intimidation as Councilor Walkingstick alleges,” he said. “Councilman Walkingstick is frustrated over his failed attempt at legislation, and his frustration appears to have gotten the better of him for him to make such a claim.”
Marilynn Vann, Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association president, said she’s pleased with the decision yet concerned because the bill only targets Freedmen and not Delaware and Shawnee citizens.
“The very people that shout they want a tribe that’s all Cherokee by blood, they haven’t gone out here and started a movement to remove adopted Delaware, adopted Shawnee…other people who’ve been adopted. Their ancestors were adopted in different times and put on the Dawes Rolls. They’ve never done that,” she said. “So why single out the Freedmen people to be thrown out of the tribe against our will? We just want to take our place as tribal members.”
Walkingstick said he plans to follow procedural rules and re-introduce the bill pending a ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan. He said a “final order” was not given during a December conference in Washington, D.C., and that the next meeting was planned for January.
As of publication, the Cherokee Phoenix had not received a response from the attorney general’s office regarding the December conference.
Walkingstick, Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard and several CN citizens also filed a motion in the CN Supreme Court asking it to order the attorney general’s office to appeal the CN v. Nash, Vann and Interior Department ruling.
He said the bill and motion are needed so the tribe can “determine its citizenship.”
“The Nation is not much of a sovereign nation if it cannot determine its own citizenship. The federal Nash opinion turns the Cherokee Nation into a heritage club by allowing a third party to decide Cherokee Nation’s citizenship,” he said.
The motion also asks the court to withdraw its order instructing the CN to accept Freedmen citizenship applications. It also seeks to find that the Nash decision is not a final judgment and the tribe should litigate it to the fullest degree, including an appeal.
The Phoenix could not reach Attorney General Todd Hembree or his office for comment.
However, Hembree has previously stated the federal ruling was an order. “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 (Walkingstick) alluded to in his act. It is a decision to abide by a court’s order.”
Walkingstick said he also hopes the court finds that Hembree violated the Attorney General Act by not appealing the ruling. “How he violated it was he didn’t consult the clients, which is the Tribal Council. That AG act clearly states that the Tribal Council and the principal chief, we authorize any litigation that has to deal with programming or sovereignty issues.”
However, Hembree has previously stated he believes he 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.”
Walkingstick said he also hopes the motion leads to the court rescinding its “preliminary order.”
“If they rescind that, it will give the Tribal Council an opportunity to have a authorization in the finalization of the appeal process,” he said.
The Phoenix attempted to contact Buzzard but was unsuccessful as of publication.Click here to read
the Motion to Intervene, For Writ of Mandamus.Click here to read
the letter from the Office of the Attorney General.