Tag Archives: Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma

Sculpture ‘Halfbreed’ Wins Grand Prize at Cherokee Homecoming Art Show

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'Halfbreed: Am I Red and White or Am I White and Red' by Troy Jackson

Sculptor Troy Jackson took home the grand prize of $1,100 at the Cherokee Homecoming Art Show, which opened August 13 in Park Hill, Oklahoma. In all, $15,000 in prize money was awarded to the winners in ten categories.

The event is open to artists from all three federally recognized Cherokee Tribes: The Cherokee Nation, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. “This year, I’m very proud to say, is the largest Homecoming Art Show ever. We had 81 artists submit 162 pieces … and they are all Cherokee,” Cherokee Heritage Center Executive Director Carey Tilley said, as reported in the Cherokee Phoenix.

Jackson’s sculpture, “Halfbreed: Am I Red and White or Am I White and Red,” is about the question of identity many Indians face due to racial intermixture. “I am both white and Native American,” Jackson said, “and so I struggle with it in different areas. Sometimes I feel like I’m white and sometimes I feel like I’m Native American.”

For Jackson, it was the second big prize in what is shaping up to be a remarkable year. In April, he won the grand prize in the Trail of Tears Art Show, also held at the Cherokee Heritage Center, for his sculpture “Putting the Pieces Together.” Jackson is president of the Cherokee Artists’ Association.

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'Putting the Pieces Together' by Troy Jackson

Renowned painter and digital artist Joseph Erb won the visual arts category with “After the Vote,” a painting that commented on the recent and controversial (and as yet unresolved) Cherokee Nation election. Among the allegorical images are two factions pointing at one another and holding signs that read “No Good” in Cherokee.

“It was made because a lot of stuff occurred after the election to where the community started fighting each other. I thought I’d make an art piece about it,” Erb told the Cherokee Phoenix. “It’s a perspective. I’m not picking the side of one group or another. I just wanted to show the reality of what politics can do to a community. It’s about the idea that we were letting an election divide our community.”

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'After the Vote' by Joseph Erb

The Cherokee Homecoming Art Show runs through October 2 at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma.

HUD Denies Cherokee Funding Over Freedmen Issue

WASHINGTON – The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has released a letter indicating that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is withholding funds from the tribe in an apparent federal power play over tribal sovereignty.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Diane Hammons has publicly released a letter sent last week from the tribe to HUD that says the tribe learned of the agency’s action when tribal officials tried to draw approximately $33 million from their HUD housing fund on August 31 and were blocked from doing so.

Hammons writes in the letter that HUD based its rationale on what she labels a “misinterpretation” of Section 801 of the 2008 reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA). That section deals with the Cherokee Freedmen and sought to limit HUD monies to the Cherokee Nation while litigation was pending centering on whether the Freedmen were tribal citizens.

The Freedmen, descendants of slaves once held by tribal citizens, have long argued that they should be granted full citizenship. But some tribal citizens, including some tribal leaders, have staunchly argued that it is appropriate for the tribe to deny them citizenship based on rules enforced by the tribal government. Federal beliefs on the matter should have no bearing, tribal officials have argued.

The latest court action involving the controversial issue came August 22 when the Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court upheld a previous voter-approved constitutional amendment requiring all of the tribe’s citizens to have at least one Indian ancestor on the federal Dawes Rolls. That decision resulted in nearly 3,000 Freedmen being kicked out of the tribe.

In response, Freedmen members filed suit in federal court last week seeking to establish their voting rights in the tribe in time for a tribal election for principal chief coming up later in September. In court documents, the Freedmen argue that the tribe violated a 145-year-old treaty when the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court restored the voter-approved amendment denying citizenship to non-Indian descendants of tribal citizens’ former black slaves. A hearing on the request has been scheduled for September 20.

Time is of the essence in the matter because the tribal court decision, if allowed to stand, would prevent the Freedmen from voting in a September 24 election between tribal councilman Bill John Baker, who is supported by the Freedmen, and former Principal Chief Chad Smith, who is largely not supported by the Freedmen. The tribal court in July threw out the results of a disputed June 25 election between Baker and Smith in which the Freedmen voted.

Regardless of whether the Freedmen are citizens or not, Hammons argues in the letter that the tribe followed the necessary legal pathway to secure HUD funding. She says, too, that Congress would have specifically limited funds to the Cherokee Nation if it intended to do so under the law.

HUD officials confirmed the denial of funds, issuing the following statement September 7: “HUD has suspended disbursements to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma while we seek additional guidance on an unclear statute involving the Freedmen. The funding can be restored once this issue is resolved.”

HUD’s decision to suspend millions of dollars in payment to a tribe based on an issue involving tribal sovereignty is widely controversial in Indian country. The concern is that federal agencies could create rules that would suspend payments to tribes based on other “unclear” interpretations of federal-tribal agreements.

“[T]he important thing to notice is the direct attack by the non-Indian freedmen descendants on the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation, asking for the termination of the tribe’s existence,” Hammons said in a statement, which supports the idea of tribal sovereignty being under attack.

Some federal lawmakers, meanwhile, agree with the decision to limit funding.

“I do not believe the federal government should continue to fund the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma if it is blatantly violating the rights of some members,” U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., wrote in a recent letter to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. The congressman asked Donovan to “act appropriately to prevent any funding from the federal government for tribal housing.”

Frank sent another letter to Larry Echo Hawk, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, asking that he “take appropriate action to protect the rights of the Cherokee Freedmen.” Echo Hawk has not publicly responded.

Citizenship Denied: The Latest in the Cherokee Freedmen Saga

This story was researched and developed last week and will be in the September 21 issue of This Week From Indian Country Today.

The late Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller wrote in her autobiography the following words: “The truth is that the practice of slavery will forever cast a shadow on the great Cherokee Nation.”

The repercussions of slavery are still being felt within the Cherokee Nation, as a five-year legal battle between the Cherokee Nation and the descendants of freed Cherokee slaves ended on August 22, with the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruling against freedmen who had sought to have their status as citizens of the Cherokee Nation validated.

The ruling upheld a 2007 Cherokee Nation Constitutional amendment that requires the nation’s citizens to have at least one Indian ancestor on the Dawes Rolls, the primary document used to determine Cherokee Nation eligibility. That amendment was passed after the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the freedmen could qualify for tribal citizenship.

This latest ruling immediately revoked the citizenship of approximately 2,800 non-Indians, whose enrollment had been reinstated by a Cherokee Nation District Court four years ago. This ends the membership of Cherokee Nation members who are descendants of freedmen or of intermarried whites who had been granted Cherokee Nation citizenship.

The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court’s vote was 4-1. In the majority decision written by Chief Justice Darrell Matlock, the court said it does not have authority over the will of the people.

LO RES FEA Photo Cherokee Freedmen chad smith AP110711039740 270x181 Citizenship Denied: The Latest in the Cherokee Freedmen Saga

Principal Chief Smith has alienated the freedmen.

One of the main legal arguments of the freedmen was based on a treaty between the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. government in 1866, after the end of the Civil War. Article 9 of that treaty states that the Cherokee Nation abolished slavery by 1863 and that “all freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law, as well as all free colored persons who were in the country at the commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months, and their descendants, shall have all the rights of Native Cherokees.”

According to the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruling, “The Cherokee Freedmen were never afforded citizenship in the Cherokee Nation by the Treaty of 1866. A fair reading of the Treaty of 1866 indicates that it was an expression by the parties that the freedmen would be treated as equals to the citizens of the Cherokee…. The freedmen at that time gained citizenship status in the Cherokee Nation by the Cherokee people’s sovereign expression in the 1866 Constitutional Amendment to the 1839 Cherokee Nation Constitution.

“It stands to reason that if the Cherokee people had the right to define the Cherokee Nation citizenship in the above mentioned 1866 Constitutional Amendment they would have the sovereign right to change the definition of Cherokee Nation citizenship in their sovereign expression in the March 3, 2007 Constitutional Amendment.”

The Court’s ruling sparked outrage from some and brought relief for others. “I think it’s a huge injustice,” said Marilyn Vann, Cherokee Freedmen and president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association. “Number one, the freedmen people have citizenship based on the 1866 treaty. Our ancestors helped build up the tribe. [Citizenship] was something promised by the U.S. government and the tribal government, just as every nation that has enslaved or [colonized] people has brought those minorities into their society. Ancient Rome; the U.S. with the blacks in the Deep South; Romania, which enslaved Gypsies—they’ve all done it. That’s only the right and proper thing to do.”

Taylor Keen, who was a Cherokee Nation council member at the time of the 2007 vote, openly supported and still supports the efforts of the freedmen. In a 2007 interview with Indian Country Today, he talked about how his father, the late Ralph Keen—who was the first Chief Justice for the Cherokee Nation when its tribal government was reorganized under a new constitution in the 1970s—told him that it was paramount that the freedmen be a recognized part of the Cherokee Nation. Taylor Keen says he is now concerned that what he calls “a Jim Crow law” could jeopardize federal funding and recognition for the Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokee Nation argues that it is one of the most diverse tribes in the nation because of the Dawes Roll Indian ancestor requirement. Diane Hammons, the Cherokee Nation Attorney General, points out that there are multiple racial groups who now have Cherokee ancestry. “The Cherokee Nation is among the most diverse of Indian tribes with thousands of citizens who share African, Latino, Asian, Caucasian and other ancestry,” says Hammons. “African Americans with an Indian ancestor on the Dawes Rolls have been, and will continue to be, citizens of the Cherokee Nation.” At the same time, she cited the importance of the tribe to determine who exactly can be members. “There is nothing more integral to a tribe’s right of self-governance than its ability to define its own membership.

“Now the nation will be going about the business of implementing the court ruling,” Hammons says. “It may take a little while to figure out how to properly, and fairly, implement the ruling. In the next few days we’ll know more and will notify the people affected.”

The removal of the freedmen could have an impact on the election on September 24 for principal chief; the race is between three-term incumbent Chad “Corntassel” Smith and Bill John Baker, who has served on the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council for 12 years.

The two have run against each other several times, and each election was decided by a razor-thin margin, so taking the freedmen out of the voting pool has the potential to cause a major shift in the September 24 election. About 44 percent of the 2,800 freedmen are registered to vote and, according to Vann, support for Smith is a long shot. “I will say this: Mr. Smith has certainly not done anything to endear himself to the freedmen people,” she said. “I don’t see anything where the Chief of the Cherokee Nation has done anything—I mean Mr. Smith—has done anything except exploit the freedmen issue for his own purposes.”

Smith wrote and spoke publicly in support of the 2007 constitutional amendment to remove freedmen from Cherokee Nation citizenship rolls if they had no documentable Indian blood. “Cherokees are Indians,” he wrote in a March 9, 2007 Indian Country Today editorial. “They are the indigenous and aboriginal people of this land and there is a commonality of history, language, heritage and culture. It finally came to a point that non-Indians were claiming to be Cherokee when, in fact, they are not. So the vote was an affirmation of identity as Indian for those voting.”

Smith provided written answers to questions from Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN) about whether or not this latest decision by the Supreme Court would impact this election. “The process has worked its way through the courts and we have to respect what our Supreme Court has decided,” he wrote. “The citizenship issue is important to our people, but I don’t think the decision will have an impact on the upcoming elections.” The rest of the response from Smith focused on his accomplishments in office.

Baker also declined to be interviewed for this story; instead, he sent a statement that was similar to Smith’s in regard to the ruling, adding that he would abide by any future Supreme Court decisions. “I have said from the beginning that this is in the hands of the court,” Baker’s statement said, “and I will abide by that through this ruling and the others that are bound to follow.”

Which leaves the freedmen out in the cold. Taylor Keen’s brother, Ralph Keen II, was the attorney for the freedmen in this case. In a statement to ICTMN he said that he was “disappointed and saddened” by the Supreme Court’s ruling. “Now, because the Cherokee Nation justice system has failed them, Cherokee Freedmen will have no option but to resort to the federal courts or the halls of Congress for the vindication of their rights.”

“It’s a blemish on Cherokee history,” Taylor Keen says about the Nation’s treatment of the freedmen, “and it’s going to be a tough one to unwind.”

To read about HUD denying Cherokee Nation funding in the latest Freedmen issue, see ICTMN’s story here.

A Letter to the Editor Regarding the Cherokee Freedmen

The Cherokee Nation based out of Tahlequah, Oklahoma has decided to strip “Freedmen” of their Cherokee rights and to expel them from their nation. Freedmen are African American descendants of slaves. The decision to expel them is based purely on the fact that they cannot prove their Native American heritage. The United States government openly disagrees with this issue and has already suspended more than $33 million in funding to the Cherokees and declined to recognize their appointment of a new Tribal Chief that is to take place later this month.

The issue with their decision is that they are basing this purely on race which is promoting segregation from a people who have fought with and supported them in their struggle to remain in existence throughout history. The issue of racism and segregation are pivotal points that the American people have worked so hard to overcome throughout the years. It is also known that some of the Freedman do actually have Native blood, but cannot prove this simply because they were listed as Black on the Dawes Roll. The Dawes Roll was created with the intent of separation and succeeded in that goal to the extent that it is still now affecting the fair and balanced treatment of Cherokee Nation citizens. At the time of the Dawes Roll creation, many governments operated under the idea that if you possessed one drop of Black blood in your veins you were considered Black and nothing else, which was an example of racism in its purest and most malicious form. Because of this incompetent type of thinking, children born in unions between former slaves and Native American Tribal members were recognized and listed as Black on the Dawes Roll.

If the Cherokee Nation chooses to go this route, the perception of Native American culture will drastically change. In recent online news articles I have already begun to observe comments from readers referring to Natives as “racist” and “egocentric.” As a Native American descendant who is also African American and a descendant of slaves I resent this passionately and am almost ashamed to say that I am of Native blood. I have been taught throughout my life by my Grandfather Joe Homer, who is Choctaw, that being Native American is something to be very proud of. My Grandfather fought his whole life to prove that he is a Native American and died fighting to a court system that dishes out the same racism that the Cherokee Nation is forcing upon its loyal people (“Loyal” being the keyword here not BLACK). As someone who has always been proud of my Choctaw heritage, I am hoping that the Cherokee Nation will rescind this hateful act against the people who have long fought with them and not turn into a replica of the very people who they fought from expelling them, simply because they were different.

Sincerely,

Kimberly Horton

Kimberly Horton was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and is of African American and Native American descent, with ties to the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes. She is a college student working towards her Bachelor’s of Science in the Journalism field and aspires to have a career in communications. Kimberly is motivated by her passion to make a change and adheres to the quote by the philosopher and writer John Lilly that, “our only security is the ability to change.”

Disenrollment Clubs

A few weeks ago, I read the following paragraph in an NPR article about the Cherokee Freedmen:

“This is not a club; you can’t just claim to be Cherokee and show up and be included,” says Cara Cowan Watts, a vocal member of the Cherokees’ tribal council.

The Cherokee Nation is the largest of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. It boasts more than 300,000 members, and like many Indian nations, it fiercely defends its right to self-governance.

“This is absolutely something that we have to defend. And the Cherokee people overwhelmingly voted in the Constitution that we want to remain an Indian tribe made up of Indians,” Watts says.

An Indian tribe made up of Indians? Given Cowan-Watts’ heritage, I found her recent remarks to be alternately funny, absurd and revisionist. Less amusing is the following statement:

“It appears that Marilyn Vann [one of the leaders of the Cherokee Freedmen] is a non-Indian insurgent terrorizing Cherokee nation families, children, elders and leadership. She and her allied terrorists attack the Cherokee people with weapons of mass disinformation and falsehoods. Marilyn is aligned with anti-Indian sovereignty groups and inside self-serving malcontents who seek to destroy the Cherokee Nation if the Cherokee Nation doesn’t give them what they want…her fellow Indian Freedmen allies want $50,000,000.00, allotment land, and apparently the right to operate gaming facilities…”

It would be easy to dismiss such an email as racist propaganda and nonsense, but the reality is it was forwarded widely on March 27, 2007 by Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) Council member Cowan-Watts as she was spearheading the Cherokee Freedmen removal petition. Five years later, her close friend and ally, CNO Supreme Court Judge Troy Wayne Poteete would have a hand in the removal of 2,800 CNO citizens from the tribal rolls. Cowan-Watts at a whopping 1/256 and Poteet at 1/32 Cherokee by blood via their CDIBs, had insured the largest disenrollment of any tribe in history.

But they were only following in the footsteps of a “few” others who have joined this elite sovereignty club. The Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians, Boise Fort Band of Ojibwe, California Valley Miwok Tribe, Chippewa Cree (Rocky Boy Reservation), Cold Springs Rancheria, Comanche Nation, Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, Creek Nation of Oklahoma, Dry Creek Rancheria, Elem Indian Colony, Enterprise Rancheria, Grand Portage Band, Guidiville Rancheria, Isleta Pueblo, Jamul Indian Village, Las Vegas Paiutes, Laytonville Rancheria, Lummi, Maidu Berry Creek Rancheria, Mashpee Wampanoag, Mille Lacs Band, Mooretown Rancheria, Narragansett Tribe, Pala Band of Mission Indians, Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, Pinoleville Rancheria, Prairie Band Potawatomi, Puyallup Tribe, Redding Rancheria, Robinson Rancheria, Sac & Fox of Iowa, Saginaw Chippewa, San Pasqual Indian Band, Santa Rosa Rancheria, Sauk-Suiattle, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Shinnecock, Snoqualmie Tribe, Table Mountain Rancheria, Te-Moak Western Shoshone, Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians, Viejas Band of Mission Indians, and a few others have all joined in the merriment under the guise of “sovereignty”; a word that many of these tribe’s officials couldn’t spell ten years ago, much less manipulate into its current genocidal form. Sovereignty demands ethical practice for it to hold any merit. We continue to stand on the sidelines when we define disenrollment as an internal issue. “Internal Issue” has become the coined phrase for the removal of many people who have been generationally involved in their tribal communities. These removals are not paper resolutions batted around in the council chambers of various tribes regarding which new firm to hire for the new “addition to the casino”. These decisions directly impact the social, cultural, and at times economic well-being of actual people. If the decision of Indian country is to place sovereignty over humanity, then we all stand condemned.

The case of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in California is a prime example of the level of absurdity that this nouveau disenrollment scheme pushes as self-determination. When elder Lawrence Madriaga’s entire family was dropped, it sent out a reality check. How could a man who had lived on the reservation his entire life be removed? When the tribe hired professional genealogist/anthropologist Jim Johnson to assist them in refuting the family’s ties to the tribe, he determined the opposite. The Madriaga family was Luiseno. Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro fired back that they did not have to listen to the findings of a professional as they were a sovereign nation. He and his council also proceeded to remove all of the family’s children from the reservation school. Another tribe targeted a twelve year old and told his family that they had previously made a “miscalculation” in enrolling him shortly after his birth.

Sovereignty has become a smokescreen for illegitimate behavior, racism, nepotism, and narcissism. Even tribes who can look back to histories which included banishment know that nations in today’s world cannot simply send away their own or act as though they were never there.

I recognize that disenrollments are not the work of the community at large, but rather those who control the power structures within them. It seems our complacency as tribal members or citizens has allowed some of our tribes to sink to the level of the Lions, Kiwanis, or—more appropriately—Knights of Columbus, in terms of function and stature in the international community.

ICT contributor Steve Russell writes in his new book Sequoyah Rising:

“The elders who practice the old ceremonies and ignore the tribal government are not just a band of eccentric primitives. They are on the right track, the only track, to continued life as sovereign peoples rather than social clubs. The only way to win and keep the hearts and minds of our people is to create tribal structures that rein in the high-handedness and self-seeking behaviors that infest tribal governments today.”

(p. 84/85 Sequoyah Rising: Problems in Post-Colonial Tribal Governance Steve Russell Carolina Academic Press Durham, N.C. 2010)

James Murray wrote in the Tahlequah Daily Press back in 2008, “White Indians, like Cowan and Poteete, mistake race for culture, blood for community, and exclusion for strength.”

Tell the CNO I hear they have 2,800 new slots open and I am coming down this week to join the club. Now where is my $50,000,000.00?

Cedric Sunray is an enrolled member of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians (at least for now) and of Scottish, Choctaw, and Cherokee ancestry. He can be reached at helphaskell@hotmail.com

Why the Cherokee Election Matters

After multiple recounts and one court-ordered do-over, Bill John Baker has defeated incumbent Chad Smith to become the new Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. No doubt citizens of other Indian nations are weary of the Cherokee follies, but a successful Cherokee government is in everybody’s best interests.

The most obvious reason is the ongoing demand of tribal nations for self-determination based on our aboriginal sovereignty. Most of the tribes that have engaged in disenrollment shenanigans are so small they are literally a few extended families who can’t manage to display any loyalty to each other. When they act the fool, they get a pass because of the transparent fiction of their nationhood in the first place.

The Cherokee Nation has been a constitutional republic since 1827. At the time we were removed from our homelands for the benefit of the state of Georgia, we had a much higher literacy rate than Georgia, as close to universal literacy as a nation gets. With all that time to practice, if Cherokees can’t govern themselves, what Indian nation can?

Bill John Baker inherits legal troubles on a level with the economic troubles Barack Obama inherited from George W. Bush. Chad Smith, while a Republican, is no George W. Bush, and the shortcomings of his stewardship were not entirely avoidable.

Tribes with Indian Reorganization Act constitutions and many tribes without find themselves with a provision giving the Bureau of Indian Affairs veto power over constitutional amendments.

The BIA has to its credit shown some flexibility in meddling with tribal constitutions, as when the Traditional Kickapoos found themselves saddled with a crooked government and a non-responsive tribal court. In a non-violent uprising, they effectively reconstituted their tribal government in an act of such unanimity and force of purpose that the BIA fell into line behind the vast majority of tribal citizens. Those schooled in Anglo-American law could understand this as an impromptu constitutional convention.

The Cherokee Nation has also had a constitutional convention that re-designed and modernized tribal government and deleted the BIA’s veto power. The document was written by a broad cross-section of Cherokee citizens and ratified by the Cherokee people. The BIA has yet to relinquish its grip on the throat of Cherokee government by approving the Constitution, which has been our governing document since 1999.

Complicating the BIA decision on the Constitution is a subsequent amendment for which Chad Smith must take blame that disenrolled the Cherokee freedmen. The United States believes that this disenrollment abrogates a treaty with the Cherokee Nation ending hostilities after the Civil War. The Cherokee Nation was not the only Indian nation to practice chattel slavery nor was it the only one to take the wrong side in the Civil War, but not all Indian nations agreed to absorb freedmen.

It is worth noting that the Cherokee Nation did not just agree to absorb “their” freemen, but rather all freedmen residing in the Cherokee Nation or who “returned” to the Cherokee Nation within six months of the treaty. There was no requirement that these people be former Cherokee slaves.

The Cherokee Supreme Court has stated, without analysis of the issues, that we have not abrogated the treaty. The Smith Administration took the position in court filings that even if we did abrogate the treaty, the US did so first and so the treaty was a dead letter.

On one hand, Chad Smith caused this contretemps by attempting to disenroll citizens of the republic he was elected to lead on account of his perceptions of how they might vote.

On the other hand, I must suspect the BIA has not brought the hammer down on the Cherokee Nation partially because, under Smith’s leadership, our tribal enterprises have become the largest single employer in Northeastern Oklahoma and an employer that pays a minimum wage greater than the Oklahoma state minimum wage. The other reason is that the matter is in federal court at this time.

Smith also deserves credit for signing the Independent Press Act of 2000, which assured that the Cherokee Phoenix would become much more than a mere mouthpiece for tribal government.

The primary difference between Smith and Baker has been about the role of Cherokee government. Smith is opposed to per capita payments, as any sane leader of an Indian nation of over 300,000 citizens must be. And he’s right to call casino profits our “seed corn.”

However, his use of the seed corn has at times been less than judicious and his characterization of those who wish to ameliorate the worst poverty in the homelands, at least for the elderly, as “ATM Cherokees” was over the top, and it hurt him politically.

The voters have spoken, twice now, and Bill John Baker is my chief. The Cherokee Nation has a history of leading federal Indian policy, starting with John Marshall’s Cherokee Trilogy. It’s not a role we sought out except in the sense that we took up litigation and lobbying more quickly than some other tribes. Here’s hoping that Chief Baker can move us forward with law written in Tahlequah, not Washington.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He is a columnist for Indian Country Today. He lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at swrussel@indiana.edu.

Q&A With Cherokee NASCAR Driver A.J. Russell

A.J. Russell, a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, and a pioneering NASCAR driver, has always had racing pumping in his blood.  At the age of 7, living in Clovis California, he won rookie of the year racing quarter midgets.  At 15, Russell stormed into the California Asphalt Truck series and won “Rookie of the Year.”  At 17, he stepped up into the 360 SuperModifieds and the 410 SuperModified series and took away two more“Rookie of the Year” awards.  And at the prime age of 27, Russell made history at the F.W. Webb 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 24th 2011. Sponsored by Sacred Power Motorsports, the first Native American owned NASCAR team, and using three years of preparation, A.J. drove the No. 73 Dodge Ram in his Camping World Truck Series race debut.  The 175-lap race on the 1.058-mile oval was the longest of Russell’s career. Russell, who started 31st, gained valuable experience at the New Hampshire oval.  Due to brake issues with his truck, he  finished in 26th place.  I spoke with AJ a few days ago, and below is our conversation:

Where were you racing at seven?

I was racing here [in California].  I actually had a home track here about twenty miles away at Medera speedway.  I was racing what they call quarter midgets, which is much like a full sized opened sized go-cart.  Very tiny.  Made for the ages of 5 and I believe you have to get out at 16.

How fast do they go?

It’s a small car, so the tracks are really small, about 8 one mile tracks.  The fastest car goes about 80 miles an hour.

That’s pretty fast for a little kid.

To a kid that’s about 7 or 8 it feels like 200 miles per hour.

What about your family?  Is your family into racing?  Are they fearful for you?

No, it’s actually one of those things where my family was more scared of me riding a skateboard around or playing football.  Because once you are inside a car, you have a helmet on and all the safety gear.  It’s really a safe sport.

What were you doing when the light bulb went off “ I want to be a race car driver.”

When I was real young around the age of 6 or so.  I was sitting with my dad watching a AMA race.  I wanted a dirt bike.  I wanted a dirt bike so bad that I could taste it.  And I wound up getting a dirt bike at 5.  And anything with a motor, four wheels or two wheels, it didn’t matter.  I loved it. would jump on it and would ride for hours.  And I think at that point my parents thought we better get this kid into something.  They put me into quarter midget.  I started racing that, and I did really well at.  The better I did, I moved up the ranks and pretty much where I got today.  When I was racing amateur, I stepped back and said I want to do this for a living.  I want to be a race car driver.  I give up everything and started pursuing my dreams.

In NASCAR you are doing the Camping Truck series, is that correct?

That is correct.

Do you see yourself racing with anything else besides trucks?

Oh yeah, it’s one of those types of deals, where we start here at the Truck series.  We are shooting to raise full time next year.  We’ll grow as a team.  You know when you get to this level of racing, it takes so much experience and time.  To build a team overnight is difficult.  So we are going to spend all next year building our team in the Camping Truck series.  Hopefully after that we will move into the Nationwide series.  We will spend a year or two there.  Then after that, hopefully the Sprint Cup series.

What is your racing schedule for the Camping Truck series?

This year what we are shooting for is Las Vegas.  We are still a few dollars short going to Vegas.  So we are working very diligently to try to get the money for Vegas.  We want to run Vegas, Texas, and finish up the year in Homestead,  Homestead Miami.

You mentioned that you are a couple dollars short from going to Vegas.  Like any sport it comes down to passion and money.  How much does it cost per event?

It’s around $50,000 dollars or so in the Camping world truck series.  As we grow and get more and more involved in the Nationwide series the money goes up as we climb the ladder.  When you get to this level of the sport, sponsorship is not just about having your name on the side of the truck. It’s just one piece, usually the bonus piece.  Usually what happens in NASCAR, there is so much coverage in that town, and when you are at the track with so many people with so many types of businesses and clientele that you usually pick up business at the race track or from the coverage of the race.

You did your first race recently in New Hampshire, how was your first experience?

It was really good.  Because it was on short notice, our truck wasn’t as prepared as I wanted it to be.  Our team had issues with the truck to handle right.  It took us most of the day on Friday to get the truck decent.  Then on Saturday we couldn’t put brakes ducts on front because it wasn’t NASCAR approved.  So we had to take them out 10 minutes before the race.  So I had no way to pull the brakes down.  Nine laps into the show I had to lose my brakes.  We just kinda cruised around and finished the race to insure that our name was on the track for the whole time so I can get my NASCAR license to move on to the next track.

What are some of the key things you learned about this race that you will apply to your next race?

One of the biggest things that I learned is patience.  Patience and really trying to communicate with my team in what’s going on with the truck so we can get those issues handled as quickly as possible.  Another thing that I learned is my competitors.  The guys that I am racing with, they don’t know me and I don’t know them, so e are trying to build a relationship with my competitors so that they are comfortable around me and I am comfortable around them is probably the biggest thing.

What does the future hold for A.J. Russell?

I really hope we can really put Indian Country on the map and raise some awareness, and move up the ranks and get to the Sprint Cup in the next five years.

AJ Russell 1 Q&A With Cherokee NASCAR Driver A.J. Russell

A.J. Russell

Supporting Sooners and Cowboys with Syllabary

Going into the weekend, the Oklahoma State Cowboys were considered the second-best team in college football, and their in-state rivals the Oklahoma Sooners were ranked fifth. Neither team’s Saturday went as planned, with the Cowboys falling in overtime to the unranked Iowa State Cyclones (and dropping to fourth in the BCS rankings) and the Sooners losing a nail-biter to 22nd-ranked Baylor (and dropping to ninth in the BCS rankings). Though its importance may be diminished by these losses, the December 3rd end-of-season matchup between the two teams will be no less intense; the rivalry (dubbed “Bedlam”) is one of the fiercest in college sports.

As reported this summer, Oklahoma State leads the nation in the number of Native Americans receiving bachelor’s degrees, and the University of Oklahoma comes in third—so it is perhaps a simple matter of supply and demand that has given rise to university-branded apparel featuring Cherokee syllabary, now available at CherokeeGiftShop.com. “Cherokee people have had a passion for sports for hundreds of years and these new products allow us to showcase our tribal heritage and culture while supporting the schools we love,’” said Molly Jarvis, vice president of cultural tourism at Cherokee Nation Entertainment, in a statement.

Syllabary caps and T-shirts are also available for Northeastern State University, the school that graduates the second-most American Indians in the country.

Harper Appointed to President’s Commission on White House Fellowships

President Obama has appointed Keith M. Harper to serve on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.

A highly acclaimed attorney who has worked on litigation and Native American issues throughout his career representing tribes and individual Indians, Harper is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and partner and Chair of the Native American Practice Group at the law firm of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP. His appointment to the White House Fellowship Commission was announced in a White House press release November 23.

The White House Fellows program was founded in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, who announced its creation with the declaration that “a genuinely free society cannot be a spectator society,” according to a history of the program on the White House website. The purpose of the White House Fellows program is to provide gifted and highly motivated young women and men with first-hand experience in the process of governing the nation and a sense of personal involvement in the leadership of society, the site says. The fellows are selected through a nonpartisan application process and spend a year working as a full time paid fellow to senior White House staff, Cabinet secretaries and other top-ranking government officials. They also participate in an education program consisting of roundtable discussions with leaders from the private and public sectors, and trips to study U.S. policy in action both domestically and internationally.

Harper will be one of the 26 members of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships who are responsible for recommending the men and women for selection as White House Fellows.

Harper’s appointment is the latest in a line of work he has done for the Obama administration. He served as a Principal Advisor and Chair of the Native American Domestic Policy Committee during President Obama’s campaign and later as a member of Obama’s transition team. Before joining Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, Harper was a litigator at the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) in the Washington, D.C. office. During that time he also taught Federal Indian Law as adjunct professor at Catholic University Columbus School of Law and at American University Washington College of Law. In 2001, Harper was appointed Appellate Justice on the highest court of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, where he served until October 2007. He also served on the Supreme Court of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

With not a single American Indian judge serving in the federal court system, whenever a vacancy opens up on federal court or even the U.S. Supreme Court, Harper has been proposed by Indian country leaders as a potential candidate for the position. In 2010 when Harper’s name came up as a potential candidate for a position on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, NARF founder and director John Echohawk said Harper would be a “stellar pick.”

“During my 40 years in the practice of American Indian law, we Native attorneys have worked toward the day that one of us would break through the glass ceiling and be named as an appellate judge,” Echohawk told Voting Osage. “At 64, I and most other Native lawyers of my generation are not seeking judicial appointments, because those should go to younger people who can serve on the bench for a long time. Harper is 43 and could have an extended future as an appellate judge. I know Harper and his work very well and can attest to his upstanding character and his diligent work ethic. He has a first-rate mind, a compassionate heart and an even temperament. He enjoys the respect of his peers and a well-deserved reputation as a thorough litigator and a fair judge.”  Harper was not selected for the judgeship.

The National Law Journal selected Harper as one of 50 “Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America” in 2008. He is listed in the 2009, 2010, and 2011 editions of Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business. He was recognized in The Best Lawyers in America for Native American Law in 2012 and the four years immediately preceding. He is listed as a 2010 Washington D.C. ”Super Lawyer” in Native American Law by SuperLawyers magazine. Diversity & The Bar magazine selected him as one of 14 minority “Rainmakers.” In 2001, he was selected as a Leadership Conference on Civil Rights delegate to the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.

Salazar Appoints Thompson III to Indian Oil Committee

On January 12, the Ken Salazar, the Secretary of Interior, announced the appointment of Robert S. Thompson III to the Indian Oil Valuation Negotiated Rulemaking Committee.

Thompson, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, a shareholder in the Denver office of international law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, will serve a three-year appointment and will represent the interests of the Western Energy Alliance.

The Committee will be an advisor of sorts to the Office of Natural Resources Revenue when it comes to regulations to address the valuation of Indian oil as they relate to the major portion requirement in Indian oil and gas leases. The ONRR aims to ensure the full and fair return of federal and Indian royalties and other monies to the American people that may be owed. Quarterly meetings are scheduled for the Committee with the first being in February.

Thompson will rely on his 30 years of experience in American Indian law, including energy and natural resources matters with a focus on the oil and gas industry. He received his B.S. from the University of Georgia, magna cum laude and his J.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.