Chief’s pigeon shoot attendance sparks controversy
OKLAHOMA CITY¬ – Cherokee Nation citizens expressed outrage during a Sept. 30 press conference at the Oklahoma State Capitol regarding Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s involvement with Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe’s Sept. 5 “dove hunt” fundraiser in Lone Wolf.
A fundraiser flier stated the event was the 10th anniversary Inhofe dove hunt. Video recorded by the Illinois-based group Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, or SHARK, shows event workers throwing pigeons into the air toward hay bales. People with shotguns, located behind the hay bales, then fired upon the pigeons as they attempted to fly away.
The video shows some pigeons falling to the ground dead, while others fell injured. Some made their way off the shooting field only to be recaptured by workers and thrown back into the air to be fired upon again.
According to the flier, the event was scheduled for three hours, and SHARK reports that 1,000 pigeons, some tame, were used.
The group alleges video of the event also shows Baker’s tribal vehicle at the event, as well as Baker wielding a shotgun. They say he is shown wearing a beaded necklace around his neck and a shirt with the CN seal.
“This was not just some employee of the Cherokee Nation going out and participating in something disgusting. This was the top elected official of the Cherokee Nation, our chief, participating in an event where living creatures were killed just for the sake of killing them,” Cherokee Nation citizen Twila Barnes said during the press conference. “It was done on our dime while driving our vehicle and listing us as a sponsor of the event. We, the Cherokee people, are the Cherokee Nation. Bill John Baker did not just damage his own reputation by participating in this pigeon shoot he damaged ours as well. To us, and many other Cherokee, that is absolutely unacceptable.”
I regret my attendance and apologize that my presence could imply to some that I condone the events of that day. I do not.
– Principal Chief Bill John Baker
Standing with fellow CN citizens Cheryl Brown and Sharilyn Van House, Barnes voiced the trio’s shared concern that CN officials would allow the Cherokee people’s money to go toward the event.
“The fact that Cherokee Nation money, from any entity of the Cherokee Nation, went to Inhofe for this event infuriates us. Our chief attending and participating leaves us in shock,” Barnes said.
On Oct. 1, the Cherokee Phoenix received a statement from Baker regarding his presence at the shoot. In it he acknowledges he went to Inhofe’s fundraiser with hopes of talking to federal delegates and informing them of the “current challenges and accomplishments of the Cherokee Nation.”
He stated he was surprised to find it was not what he expected.
“After a brief but uncomfortable period of time, I left the main event area and spent most of my time shooting clay pigeons in a different area,” stated Baker.
He added that he would not have accepted the invitation to attend if he knew what would truly be taking place.
“I am a hunter, and I have taught my children to hunt and to hunt responsibly. I have participated in dove hunts before and have taken that meat home to feed my family. Had I known the event on Sept. 5 was not a sporting hunt that would provide food for my family or others, I would not have accepted the invitation. I regret my attendance and apologize that my presence could imply to some that I condone the events of that day. I do not.”
CN citizen and attorney Michael E. Moore has called for CN Attorney General Todd Hembree to investigate whether Baker broke a tribal law prohibiting animal cruelty.
“It is with trepidation that I send this letter demanding a criminal investigation of our Principal Chief Bill John Baker. However, I will not stand idle or remain silent after watching the brutal and horrific killing of a thousand pigeons for pure pleasure and entertainment,” Moore stated in his letter to Hembree.
Moore stated he believes Baker violated the Nation’s “injury to animals” law – CN Code, Title 21, Section 1685:
“Any person who shall willfully or maliciously overdrive, overload, torture, destroy or kill, or cruelly beat or injure, maim or mutilate, any animal in subjugation or captivity, whether wild or tame, and whether belonging to himself or another, deprive any such animal of necessary food, drink or shelter; or who shall cause procure or permit any such animal to be so overdriven, overloaded, tortured, destroyed or killed, or cruelly beaten or injured, maimed or mutilated, or deprived of necessary food, drink or shelter; or who shall willfully set on foot, instigate, engage in, or in any way further any act of cruelty to any animal, or any act tending to produce such cruelty, shall be guilty of a crime.”
The Cherokee Phoenix requested comment from Hembree but did not receive a response.
Moore stated he learned of the Inhofe donation during the Tribal Council’s Executive & Finance Sub Committee Meeting on Sept. 25. In the meeting, CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. confirmed that Cherokee Nation Businesses provided the $2,500 donation.
The donation got the CN listed as a “Gold Level Host” of the event.
“I felt it was a good opportunity for relationship building and recommended Chief Baker attend and that we donate,” Courtney Ruark-Thompson, director of government relations for Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses, said. “I did not notice a pigeon shoot was listed on the detailed agenda showing about 10 activities planned over the course of the weekend. Had I noticed that item on the itinerary, I would not have made the same recommendation.”
SHARK President Steve Hindi said he believes the shoot was morally and lawfully wrong.
“Primarily we’ve been looking at Senator Inhofe, Representative Markwayne Mullin and Principal Chief Bill John Baker. These are all leaders in Oklahoma, and in the case of Inhofe and Mullin, in the United States,” Hindi said. “We’ve gotten to a point in this country where we’ve forgotten, perhaps, who’s running what. We are their bosses. They’re not ours. We’re seeing a lot of people who are afraid of the senator, the chief and the representative, but we’re supposed to be a nation of laws and they’re supposed to be the ones that are championing the laws.”
Inhofe is running for re-election. The Republican will face Democrat Matt Silverstein in Oklahoma’s Nov. 4 election.
According to a Sept. 24 social media post from Silverstein, he stated the video was "nauseating” for him to watch.
“The video I saw yesterday of Sen. Inhofe's fundraiser where they kill hundreds of pigeons for fun was nauseating. It has nothing to do with the 2nd Amendment, which I support, and it certainly has nothing to do with hunting, which I also support. In fact, every hunter I know expressed outrage and disgust at this event.”
The Cherokee Phoenix requested comment from the Inhofe campaign but did not receive a response.
Mullin of Westville is also a CN citizen. He represents Oklahoma’s Second District.
The Cherokee Phoenix requested comment from Mullin but did not receive a response.
Hindi said holding a political fundraiser on federal land is unlawful, as is local and state law enforcement acting as event security. He also said it was illegal to transport the birds across the state line. The birds are reportedly from Texas.
To view event video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwSWo2obSvw
For more information and video footage, visit http://sharkonline.org/index.php/oklahoma