Sunday, May 31, 2015

Historic agreement between Cherokee Nation and state of Oklahoma expands hunting and fishing rights for Cherokees

For millennia, we Cherokees have provided for our families by hunting and fishing the lands. Even before European encroachment, it’s how we fed our communities, clothed our children and crafted tools. Hunting and fishing are not simply honored traditions in our Cherokee culture, it’s what kept us alive and sustained us. It is and was our basic way of life. We had full reign of the land when our ancestors lived in the southeast United States, and we retained those rights by an 1828 treaty with the United States that carried over to our removal to present-day Oklahoma.

In the modern Cherokee Nation, those traditions continue. Hunting and fishing are skills that are passed from one generation to the next. I remember learning from my father and granddad how to cast a line on the lake or bring down a buck in the woods. These are skills I’ve shared with my own children and now delight in sharing with my grandchildren.

That’s why I am so proud to announce an historic agreement between the state of Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation. This week I signed a hunting and fishing compact with Governor Mary Fallin that both upholds our inherent treaty rights to freely hunt and fish our own lands, and extends those rights across all 77 counties in Oklahoma. Now Cherokees can go fishing at Beaver’s Bend, or pheasant hunting in western Oklahoma. This right to hunt across the state will be at no charge to Cherokee Nation citizens.

Our treaty rights say Cherokees can freely hunt on tribal land. But as state and tribal jurisdictions have overlapped or connected, there has been confusion on exactly where Cherokees can exercise their inherent right to hunt and fish the land. The Cherokee Nation and state of Oklahoma had separate laws which required different documents to be carried, depending on who was hunting and fishing, and where they were engaged in the sport. State law required people to purchase a license to hunt or fish within the state, while Cherokee Nation required only that our citizens carry a copy of his or her blue card.

Unfortunately, with these different laws in place, Cherokees have been wrongly ticketed or fined by the state of Oklahoma, or made to answer unnecessary questions about their fundamental rights as Cherokee hunters or fishermen. Under this compact the the Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma will unify regulation. Cherokees need to carry only one hunting and fishing license issued by our tribe that will be honored by state game wardens.

When I assumed the office of Principal Chief, I took stock of the lingering issues that could be resolved for the good of our people. Hunting and fishing rights was one of them, and it became a major priority for my office. We spent more than two years negotiating with the state on how to protect the inherent rights of our citizens, and most importantly, our tribal sovereignty. I’m proud to say this compact accomplishes that.

There are no more “gray areas” in Oklahoma when our tribal citizens hunt or fish. They can now hunt and fish on tribal and state land or, with landowner permission, on private property without fear they may accidentally step into an area where they may be ticketed.  

Beginning January 1, every Cherokee over the age of 16 residing in Oklahoma will be allowed to hunt with a Cherokee Nation issued license, and receive one deer tag and one turkey tag. About half of our Oklahoma Cherokees live outside our 14-county jurisdiction, so this is also a way to help Cherokees living in central, southern and western Oklahoma. Too often these Cherokees feel disconnected from our tribe and our services. Now they can show their Cherokee Nation hunting and fishing license with pride and know their tribe is reinforcing their inherent, sovereign rights as Cherokees.

Not only is this a great example of the Cherokee Nation reinforcing our sovereign rights, we are once again leaders in all of Indian Country. The Cherokee Nation is the first tribe to enter into a compact with the state to properly recognize our long-held treaty rights to hunt and fish the lands within our jurisdictional boundaries and now beyond. 

Under our new agreement, the Cherokee Nation will pay two dollars for every license issued to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for environmental conservation. The state of Oklahoma can match these funds with federal dollars, and reinvest it into conservation and wildlife management.  By law, the money from Cherokee Nation to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation can never be diverted to any other purpose. As good stewards of the land ourselves, it’s very important to protect our natural resources and wild game and fish.

More details will be forthcoming in the following weeks, but we encourage tribal citizens to make sure their registration and contact information has been updated and is current by contacting the Cherokee Nation Tribal Registration Department at (918) 453-5000 or at

I am honored to deliver this agreement to the Cherokee people and deeply appreciate the outstanding work of Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree, Senior Assistant Attorney General Sara Hill and other members of the Attorney General’s office and executive branch for their work in negotiating this compact.

Through this compact, hunting and fishing will remain a vital part of our survival. As our ancestors lived, and their ancestors before them lived, hunting and fishing will continue to be a way of life for Cherokees for generations to come.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Remembering Heroic Claremore Firefighter

We are shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic death of Capt. Jason Farley, a 20 year veteran of the Claremore Fire Department. This is a very sad reminder of how our first responders and emergency personnel put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve each and every one of us. Our sincere thoughts and prayers are with Capt. Farley's family and loved ones, and we wish them peace and comfort during this very difficult time. On behalf of the entire Cherokee Nation, I'd also like to say thank you to the first responders who continue to risk their lives to protect all of us during the ongoing rains and flooding we are currently experiencing. We pray that God will protect all of you during these difficult conditions.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Honoring code talkers and Cherokee veterans

Like most tribal governments in America, the Cherokee Nation has a longstanding history of serving the military at a higher rate than the general U.S. population. More than 12,000 American Indians served in World War I. That was about 25 percent of the male Indian population at that time. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, an estimated 44,000 Indian men and women served in World War II, when the total tribal population nationwide was less than 350,000.

This was despite unfriendly government policies toward Native Americans at that time. In fact, Indian people did not even become U.S. citizens until 1924, but yet so many of our people stood to fight for freedom.

That’s why this Memorial Day, we’re proud to unveil a new exhibit that pays homage to our Cherokee veterans who played such a crucial role in securing our freedoms during World Wars I and II. A new exhibit on display at the Cherokee Veterans Center will honor all Native American veterans from those wars, placing emphasis on how Native languages were critical to the Allies’ success.

“Code Talkers: How Natives Saved the United States” is a new exhibit showcasing the heroism of Native Americans during World War I and World War II. The exhibit was organized by Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism and is now open, fittingly honoring veterans from Memorial Day till Veterans Day in November.

The Congressional Gold Medal our Cherokee delegation, led by Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, accepted in 2013 is on permanent display at the Cherokee Veterans Center. The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded by the United States Congress to 33 tribes for the “highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions” made by an individual or institution.

That honor rightfully recognized our military men and women for their dedication, valor and service over multiple generations.  

Code talkers were courageous individuals who chose to take on a unique and dangerous role. During World War I, Cherokee code talkers were the first to use traditional language to transmit a military-coded message for the U.S. Army. It was in the fall of 1918 when the American 30th Infantry Division served alongside the British at the Second Battle of the Somme in France.

The U.S. military continued to deploy Cherokees and other tribes, like the Navajo, Comanche and Choctaw, as code talkers again in World War II. These brave men again used their traditional words to relay complex military messages. Those transmissions in indigenous languages confused America’s enemies.

During World War II, Germany’s enigma code was eventually broken and helped lead to its defeat. On the other hand, codes of Native soldiers were never broken, serving as very real weapons on the battlefield. Across multiple wars and theaters of battle, American servicemen relied on code talkers, which ultimately lead to victory for our nation and the end of World War II.

Today, Cherokee Nation still has an exceptionally high percentage of men and women who volunteer and engage in life threatening situations around the world to defend our values of freedom and justice.

The Cherokee Nation Veterans Center is a revered place to honor that heritage and heroism and all those warriors we so deeply respect.

I encourage you to take the time to visit and explore the story of Cherokees serving and protecting our country.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Call to Action...for Cherokee Children & All Native Youth

All Cherokee children have their own special place in the Cherokee Nation – our Cherokee children hold the future of our people in their hands. When a child is removed from her family, her community and her tribe it doesn’t just change her life – it changes the future of her entire Nation. Do you want to help the Cherokee Nation keep our children safe and our families and communities strong? Here’s how you can help!

Do you have five minutes?
The Bureau of Indian Affairs has taken a bold step: it has proposed the first-ever set of substantive Indian Child Welfare Act regulations that will create more protection for Native children and families. With just a few keystrokes, you can email and share your own thoughts about the ICWA regulations and the overall importance of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Not sure what to say? View our sample comments below. 

Do you have ten minutes?
So you’ve submitted a written comment, and you’d like to do more? Why not take a few minutes and share this information with your family and friends? Re-post, tweet, and let people know that preserving our Nation’s culture and protecting our children is important to you. If you have a minute or two left, learn more about the new regulations at

You still want to do more?
We appreciate you! On May 14, 2015 at 1:00 p.m. the Bureau of Indian Affairs will be holding a public meeting at the Tulsa Marriott Southern Hills, 1902 East 71st Street, Tulsa, OK 74136. We would love to see you there. It’s your chance to share a personal story, make a short general comment in favor of the regulations, or just support other commenters with your presence. Standing up for our children is a great way to spend an afternoon!


1.            Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. The new definition for ”active efforts” makes it clear to state courts that efforts above and beyond “reasonable efforts” must be made to maintain and reunite an Indian child with his or her family and tribal community. Engaging extended family, keeping siblings together, helping a parent overcome obstacles – these are the things that our Indian children and families need and deserve.

2.            Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. The new definition of “active efforts” specifically lists some things that the parties involved in a case can do to keep families together, including offering culturally appropriate family preservation strategies and taking into account the Indian child’s tribe’s cultural conditions and way of life when selecting reunification services. Since many state courts have little contact with Indian tribes and people, it’s good that the regulations highlight the importance of honoring tribal cultural practices.

3.            Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. The new definition of “custody” emphasizes that a parent’s custody may be physical and/or legal and may exist under tribal law, tribal custom or state law. This regulation acknowledges that child custody may be viewed differently under tribal law, tribal custom or state law, and I think that requiring state courts to look at custody with these different laws and customs in mind will lead to better, more informed decisions by state courts.

4.            Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. The new definition of “imminent physical damage or harm” is in line with other state laws and regulations which keep a child in his or her home unless the child is in need of immediate protection due to an imminent safety threat. No child should be removed from home without a good reason. We know that Indian children are overrepresented in foster care all over the Unites States, and I feel that this regulation will ensure that state courts are always asking for that “good reason” if they have an Indian child in custody.

5.            Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. The new regulations make it clear that there is no exception to the application of the ICWA based on the so-called “existing Indian family doctrine.” State courts should not be in the business of deciding what an Indian family is, or whether that family is worth protecting. A person’s blood quantum, record of voting in tribal elections and his or her subscriptions to tribal newsletters say little about that person’s essential family and tribal relationships. I think it’s good that the regulations keep state courts from considering such extraneous details.

6.            Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. To protect an Indian child, the state courts must be able to identify an Indian child. The new regulations require state courts to ask EVERY party, on the record, whether there is reason to believe the child is an Indian child – even guardians ad litem and agency representatives. In the Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl case, several parties knew that Veronica was an Indian child, but did not put that information down on required forms. I don’t want to see that happen again, so I think it’s great that the new regulations will require every party to let the court know if the child is, or even could be, an Indian child.

7.            Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. I know that state court proceedings can be time-consuming, but why should a child wait to be protected? Under the new regulations, if there is any reason to believe a child is an Indian child then everyone involved treats that child as if he or she is an Indian child until the state court can make a final determination. This is a much better practice than making an Indian child sit in a non-relative, non-Indian foster home for weeks or months. I’m glad the regulations will require state courts to protect Indian children from the first day of a child custody proceeding.

8.            Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. The new regulations require the parties to send notice of child custody proceedings to Indian tribes whether the proceeding is voluntary or involuntary. Parents may voluntarily decide to place kids into guardianships or for adoption, but kids don’t “volunteer” to be the subject of these types of proceedings and deserve and need the oversight and protection that their tribal governments can provide. If tribes don’t have notice then they can’t intervene in child custody proceedings, so I think this regulation is necessary and very helpful.

9.            Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. I never want to see another child have to face the difficulties that Veronica faced in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children was supposed to prevent Indian children from being removed from the state until the tribe was notified, but that didn’t happen in her case. That’s why I’m glad that the new regulations require both the sending and receiving states to provide notice to the child’s tribe and seek to verify whether the child is an Indian child. With this new regulation, I know Indian tribes will receive notice if someone wants to send an Indian child between states.

10.          Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. I think it’s great that the new regulations encourage tribes and the families of Indian children to participate via phone, videoconferencing, or by other methods. Many tribes, including the Cherokee Nation, have citizens living in nearly every state in the country. If tribal attorneys, social workers and family members are permitted to appear in the courts of other states via phone or video, it means that better protection for our Indian children.

11.          Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. I think there are a lot of myths surrounding tribal courts, especially in states where there are few Indian tribes. State courts may feel that the child isn’t ”Indian enough” to qualify for tribal jurisdiction. State courts may not feel that tribal courts are trustworthy, or fear that the tribal court judge will make a different decision than the one the state court judge would make. This type of fear and ignorance shouldn’t keep children out of the tribal courts. I’m glad that the new regulations prevent state courts from refusing to transfer a child to tribal courts on these grounds.
12.          Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. I believe that Indian children need to be placed with their families, whenever possible. When no family is available, then the child should be in a home within his or her tribe. The regulations acknowledge that placing a child in accordance with the placement preferences in the ICWA is in every Indian child’s best interest, and I’m glad that state courts will be required to place children with family and within the child’s tribe. A short stay in a foster home should not turn into a permanent placement away from the child’s family and tribal community.

13.          Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. Many people in the country were shocked and saddened by the difficulties that Veronica, the child from the Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl case, lived through in the past two years. I’m sure that no one would like to see another child have to face the same difficulties. I feel that the new ICWA regulations are a great step toward making the foster care and adoptive systems safer and more humane places for our Indian children, and I’m glad the BIA took this step.

14.          Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. There’s no doubt about it: there are people who make a lot of money in the adoption industry. Adoption can be beautiful and life-affirming when everyone involved is working together to give a child a new home. But when participants are untruthful with the court, or hide information from the biological and adoptive parents, or put money before family relationships, it can be a disaster. We want responsible adoption in Indian country, and these regulations do a lot of help keep the adoption process all about children and not about money.

15.          Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed ICWA regulations. As a tribal citizen, I know first-hand how foster care and adoption can affect a tribal community. Our language, our culture, and our future all depend upon the children in our tribe today. These new regulations will help protect against unlawful removal from of children from their homes, which often turns into placement away from tribal communities. Even today, the history of boarding schools and the Indian Adoption Project affect our communities. I believe the BIA is taking a positive step forward, and I urge you to adopt the proposed regulations.