TAHLEQUAH – Eligibility complaints have been lodged against four Cherokee Nation election candidates, including three running for Dist. 11.
During the eligibility contest period that ended Feb. 11, complaints to the Election Commission were filed against Dist. 11 incumbent Victoria Vazquez, of Vinita, and two of her three challengers in the June 5 general election – Mason Hudson, of Adair, and Randy Junior White, of Vinita. Also challenged was Marilyn Vann, a Freedmen descendant running for the open At-Large seat.
The EC met in special session Feb. 12 to set a Feb. 18 hearing date for all of the complaints.
Hudson submitted the Vazquez challenge, alleging that she is not eligible to run based on term limits. Vazquez was first elected in an Oct. 12, 2013, special election to fill a seat vacated by then-Tribal Councilor Chuck Hoskin Jr., who resigned to become the tribe’s secretary of state. Vazquez was re-elected in June 2017 to her first full term.
CN law restricts councilors to two consecutive four-year terms. The Constitution states that, “All Council members having served two consecutive terms must sit out one term before seeking any seat on the Council.”
“Vazquez may contend she is eligible for another term because she did not take office until approximately two months after her office’s general election,” Hudson wrote in his complaint. “However, this partial-term reasoning has been rejected by the Supreme Court of the Cherokee Nation.”
In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled on a similar case, stating, “Once a person has been ‘elected’ for 2 consecutive terms of office, that person becomes ineligible for the next election.”
Vazquez said she did not yet wish to comment on Hudson’s challenge.
The complaints against White and Hudson were filed by CN citizen David Cornsilk, who claimed they are not “citizens by blood as required by the Constitution,” and are therefore ineligible to run for office.
In his complaints, Cornsilk seeks the disqualification of Hudson and White, citizens “by adoption of Shawnee blood ancestry,” he wrote. White was disqualified from running for office in 2017 against Vazquez over the same “by blood” argument.
General qualifications listed in CN election law state, “The candidate shall be a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, in accordance with Article IV of the Constitution of the Cherokee Nation and shall be a citizen by blood of the Cherokee Nation.”
On March 24, 2017, the CN Supreme Court affirmed an EC decision barring White from running for the Dist. 11 Tribal Council seat. The court stated that a 2007 amendment to the 1999 Constitution recognizes three separate groups as citizens of the tribe in Article IV, Section 1. “… citizenship of the Cherokee Nation shall be limited to those originally enrolled on, or descendants of those enrolled on, the Final Rolls of the Cherokee Nation … as Cherokees by blood, Delaware Cherokees pursuant to Article II of the Delaware Agreements…and the Shawnee Cherokees pursuant to Article II of the Shawnee Agreement.”
The opinion added that it is “evident that Cherokee Shawnees and Cherokee Delawares are citizens by virtue of historical agreements – not by Cherokee blood.”
The opinion also stated that “the only time a legal right, under Cherokee law, depends on Cherokee blood is when a person decides to run for elected office.” However, a Sept. 1, 2017, Supreme Court order states that Freedmen descendants upon registration as CN citizens shall have the right to run for office, but makes no mention of Shawnee or Delaware CN citizens.
Hudson had no comment on Cornsilk’s challenge, but White, after hearing about it for the first time, said resolution of the Freedmen issue “should have taken care of the Shawnee and Delaware treaty.” He also noted that Cornsilk was not eligible to file a complaint.
“I don’t see how he can,” White said. “He’s not opposing me.”
Cornsilk said he lodged his complaints knowing that an election reform package approved by the Tribal Council in 2020 included updated verbiage that states “only opposing candidates” have the right to file a challenge.
“I believe that’s unconstitutional,” Cornsilk said. “In this case, we have a situation now where I, as an interested citizen of the Cherokee Nation, am barred from going to the court to challenge a candidate, which means that my access to the court has been diminished. The Constitution says that the court is open to all citizens. It also leaves open the potential that an unconstitutional candidate could potentially win and serve on our Council.”
The EC will hear Cornsilk’s challenges, said EC Administrator Marcus Fears.
“They’re going to go ahead and give him the right to say what he wants to say,” Fears said. “They don’t necessarily have to rule on it.”
At-Large candidate Robin Mayes submitted the challenge against Vann. His complaint states that Vann “is not Cherokee by blood as required by the Constitution.” Vann is a descendant of Cherokee Freedmen.
“The Constitution of the Cherokee Nation requires that citizens seeking an elected office in the Cherokee Nation must be citizens by blood,” Mayes’ complaint states. “It does not exclude freedmen, Delawares and Shawnees as long as they also meet the requirement of having Cherokee Indian blood.”
An Aug. 30, 2017, decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia stated Freedmen descendants were eligible for CN citizenship based upon the Treaty of 1866 between the U.S. and CN governments. Article 9 of the treaty states that qualifying Freedmen have “all the rights of native Cherokees.”
“The federal court and Cherokee Nation Supreme court concluded in 2017 that Cherokee Nation is bound by the Treaty of 1866 to recognize descendants of Cherokee freedmen as full citizens,” CN Attorney General Sara Hill said in a statement. “Cherokee Nation has abided by those court orders and will continue to do so. Provisions in Cherokee Nation’s constitution and laws that deny descendants of Freedmen all the rights and obligations of Cherokee citizenship violate our 155 year old Treaty obligations and are void. Cherokee citizens of Freedmen descent are simply this: Cherokee citizens.”
In a statement, Vann said she had “no doubt that I have a legal right to run as a candidate for Cherokee Nation Tribal Council.”
Following the EC’s hearing date, an appeal period with the CN Supreme Court is set for Feb. 23-26.