Couple files suit challenging Indian Child Welfare Act

By Randy Ellis, The Oklahoman

An Oklahoma couple has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of portions of the Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Act.

The couple specifically objects to provisions of the Oklahoma act that permit tribes to intervene in private, voluntary adoption cases involving Indian children.

Under the Oklahoma law, tribes are allowed to intervene — even when both birth parents oppose tribal intervention and have agreed on who they want as adoptive parents for their child.

“It’s nobody’s business who is involved in the adoption and they shouldn’t have to give anybody any notice and run the risk of having all their personal information exposed to other people,” said Tulsa attorney Paul Swain, who represents the couple in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Tulsa federal court.

The couple contends that people of Indian descent, just like non-Indians, should have a right to privacy in voluntary adoption cases and that the state law giving tribes the authority to intervene violates their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree are listed as defendants in the lawsuit because of their official positions.

Chrissi Nimmo, assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, said the tribe believes it is important for tribes to have a voice in adoptions of Indian children and it plans to vigorously defend the law.

The Cherokee Nation is a government and has an interest in what happens to its citizens, just like the State of Oklahoma has an interest in what happens to its residents, she said.

“In addition, we have a history that led to the Indian Child Welfare Act of children being removed from their tribes and their families,” Nimmo said. “Even in voluntary placements, there’s a long history where young mothers were coerced by adoption agencies to place their children for adoption because there was an attitude that a child would be much better off with a middle class or upper middle class home than to be raised by a young Indian mother.”

Nimmo said the Cherokee Nation likes to be notified early when a tribal member wants to put a child up for adoption so that the tribe can work with the birth parents to identify prospective Indian adoptive parents agreeable to all, before other arrangements have been made.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has previously upheld the constitutionality of the Oklahoma act, she said.

A spokesman for Pruitt said he had not yet seen the lawsuit.

The lawsuit uses fictitious names to identify both the birth parents and prospective adoptive parents to protect their identities. The birth couple, who are both 18 and unmarried, are referred to as Jane and John Doe, while the prospective adoptive parents are referred to as Richard and Mary Roe.

“After discussing the matter with their counsel, Jane and John Doe became incensed that the Cherokee Nation would have any right to interfere with the adoption plan … which they had agonized over for many months,” the lawsuit states.

Although the birth mother is enrolled in the Cherokee Nation, the birth father is not and neither birth parent grew up following tribal traditions or participating in tribal events, the lawsuits says.

“They do not know anything about the Cherokee culture and heritage and, at this point, they have no interest in learning about those subjects,” the lawsuit states.

The prospective adoptive father is enrolled in the Cherokee Nation, but the prospective adoptive mother is not enrolled in an Indian tribe, according to the lawsuit.

“Jane and John Doe are also adamant that they do not want the Cherokee Nation put on notice regarding Baby Doe’s adoption,” the lawsuit says. “This notice will result in word spreading in the tribal offices of their adoption plan in violation of their privacy rights and if the tribe seeks out alternate placements, then others in the tribal community will learn of their adoption plan and John and Jane Doe feel that the decisions that they have made for their child are confidential and are not the proper subject for discussions among tribal members.

“This will result in embarrassment and immense pressure to deviate from what Jane and John Doe have determined to be the best decision for Baby Doe.”

The lawsuit states that the initial couple that the birth parents selected to serve as adoptive parents “made the tearful decision to withdraw from the adoption because they did not want to experience the emotional turmoil of litigating an adoption case.”

That couple was not of Indian descent, but had an adoption profile that impressed the birth parents, who spent months building a relationship with them, the lawsuit says.

The birth parents subsequently selected another couple as prospective adoptive parents, and that couple joined them in filing the federal lawsuit.

The Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Act goes beyond the federal Indian Child Welfare Act by granting tribes the right to intervene in voluntary adoption cases, the lawsuit says.

The federal act gives tribes the right to intervene in cases where there has been an involuntary termination of parental rights, which can happen for a number of reasons including abandonment, neglect, abuse or failure to provide financial support for a child.

Under state law, when an Indian child is put up for adoption — absent good cause to take other action — preference is to be given to a member of the child’s extended family, other members of the Indian child’s tribe or other Indian families.

Both the state and federal Indian Child Welfare Acts were written to halt a trend of huge numbers of American Indian children being taken from their parents and placed with white foster or adoptive parents because of cultural differences rather than actual abuse or neglect.

The federal and state Indian Child Welfare Acts both have come under attack recently in a number of court cases.

In May, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals ruled that contrary to new Bureau of Indian Affairs guidelines, a judge can deviate from child placement preference contained in the federal Indian Child Welfare Act when such action is in the best interest of a child.

In July, the Goldwater Institute filed a class-action lawsuit in Phoenix contending the federal Indian Child Welfare Act is unconstitutional because it doesn’t give Indian children the same right that other children have to be placed in homes based on their best interests, without regard to their race. That case is pending.

The Oklahoma and federal Indian Child Welfare Acts frequently come into play in Oklahoma foster child placement and adoption cases. About 30 percent of the children in state care have American Indian ancestry, according to a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

Obama unveils program to connect low-income areas with high-speed internet

President Obama remarked on Wednesday: ‘A child’s ability to succeed should not be based on where she lives.’ Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP
President Obama remarked on Wednesday: ‘A child’s ability to succeed should not be based on where she lives.’ Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

ConnectHome will launch in 27 cities and the Choctaw Nation, from where the president announced the initiative: ‘The internet is not a luxury – it’s a necessity

By Sabrina Siddiqui, The Guardian 

Barack Obama on Wednesday paid a visit to one of the largest Native American tribes in the United States to emphasize the importance of expanding economic opportunity.

The president chose the Choctaw Nation area, an Indian reservation that spans roughly 11,000 miles across south-eastern Oklahoma, to launch an initiative that would increase access to high-speed internet in low-income households.

“The internet is not a luxury – it’s a necessity,” Obama said. “You cannot connect to today’s economy without having access to the internet.”

The pilot program, called ConnectHome, will serve as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to bridge the gap that leaves many communities – especially in low-income and rural areas – without broadband access.

The plan will launch in 27 cities, in addition to the Choctaw Nation, and will initially provide internet access to 275,000 low-income households and nearly 200,000 children, the White House said.

Citing an achievement gap, Obama said there were many consequences to not having internet access. It might begin with something as basic as young people not being able to complete their homework, the president said, and translate to a math and science gap and later an economic gap.

“In an increasingly competitive global economy, our whole country will fall behind,” Obama said.

The trip marks the second time Obama has directed attention at the Choctaw Nation, the third-largest Native American tribe in the United States. Last year, he included the Choctaw Nation among five so-called Promise Zones – an initiative directed at impoverished areas under which the federal government would partner with businesses and local governments to offer tax incentives and grants as part of a broader effort to reduce poverty.

Following its Promise Zone designation, the Choctaw Nation has received $58m in federal aid that has been used to expand educational opportunities and access to healthcare facilities.

Approximately 23% of individuals residing in the Choctaw Nation live below the poverty line – in some of its communities, the poverty rate is nearly 50%. The national poverty rate was 14.5% in 2013, according to the US census bureau.

“We’ve got a special obligation to make sure that tribal youth have every opportunity to reach their full potential,” Obama said in his remarks on Wednesday. “A child’s ability to succeed should not be based on where she lives, how much money her parents make. That’s not who we are as a country.”

Before his speech, Obama met with youth from the Choctaw Nation, Cherokee Nation, Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Chickasaw Nation.

Obama has stressed the need to improve the conditions of Native Americansbefore, particularly with respect to jobs and education.

“Native Americans face poverty rates far higher than the national average – nearly 60% in some places. And the dropout rate of Native American students is nearly twice the national rate,” he wrote in an op-ed last year. “These numbers are a moral call to action.”

Obama penned that op-ed ahead of a visit last June to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, located in both North and South Dakota. The president characterized the visit as an emotional one that he said left him and first lady Michelle Obama “shaken, because some of these kids were carrying burdens no young person should ever have to carry”.

“It was heartbreaking,” Obama added at the time.

According to a fact sheet released by the administration, the Obama administration is on track to meet its promise that 99% of K-12 students can use the internet in their classrooms and libraries by 2017.

“There are places where internet access can be a game-changer, but where service has not kept up,” Jeff Zients, director at the White House National Economic Council, told reporters ahead of Obama’s trip. “That’s especially true in schools … Students in every community need fast and reliable internet to get ahead and learn.”

According to an analysis by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, released on Wednesday, nearly two-thirds of households among the lowest-income quintile of Americans owns a computer, but less than half have a subscription with an internet service provider.

The report further found a “strong positive association” between median income and use of the web. Minorities were disproportionately affected, according to data compiled in 2013: black and Hispanic households lagged 16 and 11 points behind white households in having internet access, while Native American households were 19 points behind white households.

Gay marriage is still illegal for the Navajo. This man is trying to change that.

Alray Nelson lives in one of the last places in America where gay marriage isn’t legal.

By Jorge Rivas, Fusion 

He’s a member of the Navajo nation, the largest Native American reservation, whose territory spans three states in which same-sex marriage is now the law of the land.

But the Supreme Court’s ruling last month that declared the Fourteenth Amendment requires all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has no immediate legal impact on Nelson, the Navajo, or any of the 566 federally-recognized tribes in the United States.

Just like the 50 states had different positions on gay marriage before the Court stepped in, the 566 tribes have a variety of different stances on same-sex unions.

At least 11 tribes have created laws that either prohibit same-sex marriages or define marriage as between a man and a woman, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. About 12 have developed laws that approve and recognize same sex marriage, according to the New York-based gay-rights group Freedom to Marry. Many others stay silent on the issue or follow the lead of their surrounding states.

And then there’s the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, which has a law that states a “person of the same gender will not be allowed to marry or divorce.”

Except from the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma Code of Law.
Except from the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma Code of Law.


The second most populous tribe, the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation, passed its law banning gay marriage in 2004.

The Navajo, who count 300,000 members and to whom smaller tribes often look for direction, passed a law in 2005 explicitly banning gay marriage. It followed in the footsteps of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law recognizing marriage as between a man and a woman that was signed by Bill Clinton in 1996, according to Native American LGBT advocates and historians.

But Nelson, 29, says times are changing on reservations, too.

“Now there’s Navajo couples that are becoming more vocal, and we’re seeing transgender youth also talking about their rights,” he told Fusion in a telephone interview.

He said he plans to appeal to his tribe’s traditional notions of respect and fairness to help change hearts and minds.

“There were same-sex couples from our creation story all the way to today. Those relationships were there, they were recognized, and they had every right to be productive members of our community,” Nelson said.

“If they repeal the [Diné Marriage Act] it brings it back to what our traditional values used to be. They’re using the whites man’s language, a foreign way of speaking, to redefine something that was already sacred and defined, we didn’t need to redefine it at all,” he said.

Historians say many Native Americans have embraced more fluid notions of gender and sexuality than the current gay-marriage bans might suggest.

“There is overwhelming evidence for the historic and cultural presence of multiple gender roles and same-sex relations among most if not all Native North Americans, including the Cherokee, and that they historically shared in the institution of marriage,” said Doctor Brian Gilley, an anthropology professor at the University of Vermont, in a 2005 brief submitted in a Cherokee court case after tribal leaders tried to invalidate a marriage license to a lesbian couple.

The highest Cherokee Court ultimately ruled that the two women couldkeep their marriage license.

Photo by Jerry Archuleta courtesy of Alray NelsonAlray Nelson, left, and his partner, Brennen Yonnie, are leading the fight to get the Navajo Nation to recognize gay marriage.
Photo by Jerry Archuleta courtesy of Alray Nelson
Alray Nelson, left, and his partner, Brennen Yonnie, are leading the fight to get the Navajo Nation to recognize gay marriage.

For the last 16 months Nelson was the deputy manager for former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr.’s re-election campaign. The candidate lost after a long contested election.

Now Nelson is using his political connections to set up meetings with tribal leaders to talk about eliminating the Diné Marriage Act. (Diné is a term some Navajo use to describe themselves.) He’s scheduled meetings with lawmakers to discuss eliminating the act now so they address it in the upcoming tribal session in October.

Nelson is also reaching out to the broader community to change people’s views culturally.

“When we talk about discrimination in regards to taking away someone’s rights, Navajo people get that,” he said. “They get it because they’ve dealt with decades of assimilation policy and continue to deal with those issues. So when a certain segment of the community feels left out and aren’t treated with respect and fairness, Navajos understand that and they get that fight.”

The office of Navajo Nation president Ben Shelly did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.

There are other significant issues affecting the LGBT Navajo community. LGBT bullying and teen suicides are high, and the Navajo Nation has seen an unprecedented spike in new HIV diagnoses.

But Nelson said starting with gay marriage can help bring attention to the other issues.

“The Diné Marriage Act is the only law in the books that directly discriminates against the Navajo LGBT community,” Nelson said.

Feds accuse Missouri man of posing as Indian to sell art

Whetstone 3

By Tony Rizzo, The Kansas City Star

The tradition of Native American art is as rich and varied as the many tribes of North America.

And many collectors and aficionados willingly pay premium prices for it.

But that also makes buyers susceptible to counterfeiters — people willing to risk violating the federal law that prohibits non-Indian artists from marketing their creations as the handiwork of an Indian.

According to federal prosecutors, an Odessa, Mo., man did just that by falsely portraying himself as a Cherokee artist while selling his artwork online.

Federal prosecutors in Kansas City recently charged Terry Lee Whetstone, 62, with misrepresentation of Indian-produced goods and products, a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to a year imprisonment.

Neither Whetstone nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment, and he is not a member of the federally recognized Cherokee Nation, according to records of the Oklahoma-based tribe.

But he is an enrolled member of the Northern Cherokee Nation, according to Chief Kenn Grey Elk.

And while that nation is not federally recognized, it is officially recognized by the state of Missouri, according to Grey Elk.

That, according to Grey Elk, would qualify Whetstone as an Indian under federal law.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment about the charges beyond the information contained in court documents.

Whetstone’s website no longer functions. But for more than a decade, it cited his Cherokee heritage in advertising his music, painting, sculptures and jewelry.

He was raised in suburban Kansas City, according to his online biography, and performed flute music at numerous events around Kansas City. For years, his website claimed that his artwork could be found in many galleries and private collections — and even at The Smithsonian museum gift shop in Washington, D.C.

Whetstone 2

Federal prosecutors in Kansas City said they could not recall a similar case being filed in recent memory under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.

But the phenomenon is enough of a problem nationwide that a special board under the auspices of the U.S. Department of the Interior has monitored the art world since 1935 to ensure that art marketed as Indian is authentic.

“While the beauty, quality, and collectability of authentic Indian art and craftwork make each piece a unique reflection of our American heritage, it is important that buyers be aware that fraudulent Indian art and craftwork competes daily with authentic Indian art and craftwork in the nationwide marketplace,” the Indian Arts and Crafts Board states on its website.

Federal law does not prevent non-Indians from producing Indian-style artwork. But only a member of an officially recognized Indian tribe, or a person certified as an Indian artist by a tribe, is allowed to market products as Indian-produced.

The law covers a variety of traditional and contemporary arts and crafts.

According to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, items frequently copied by non-Indians include jewelry, pottery, baskets, carvings, rugs, Kachina dolls and clothing.

“These counterfeits undermine the market for authentic Indian art and craftwork and severely undercut Indian economies, self-determination, cultural heritage and the future of an original American treasure,” according to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

For legitimate Native American artists, the law is an important way to protect their cultural identity and livelihoods.

Counterfeiters “are appropriating a culture that’s not theirs,” said George Levi, an Oklahoma artist of Cheyenne-Arapaho descent.

Levi likened the crime to people who profit from counterfeiting the work of big-name fashion designers. Every piece of artwork sold as authentic by a non-Indian takes money away from a legitimate Indian artist, he said.

“They’re just trying to make a buck off of us,” Levi said.

The court documents filed in Whetstone’s case do not specify what type of artwork he sold.

But cached versions of the website listed in court documents featured his Indian-themed paintings and music. The site also showed pictures of Whetstone playing a flute and described him as a “self-taught, talented American Indian flute performer and multi-faceted artist.”

It said that he “reflects the history of his Cherokee heritage in his music and art.”

Last year, he received an award from the Indie Music Channel. In an award ceremony YouTube video, he identifies himself as “mixed-blood Cherokee.”

Whetstone listed his race as white on a 1997 Jackson County marriage license application that gave the option of marking white, black, American Indian or other.

For purposes of complying with the Indian art law, the artist must be an enrolled member of a tribe officially recognized by the federal government or a state. It is unclear whether Grey Elk’s assertion that Whetstone is a member with the Northern Cherokee Nation will have any impact on the federal case.

A person can be certified as a nonmember artist if they are “of Indian lineage of one or more members of a particular tribe,” and they have written authorization from the tribe’s governing body.

The Cherokee Nation carefully authenticates the tribal status of all artists whose work is displayed in galleries and gift shops, said Donna Tinnin, community tourism manager for the tribe.

Ensuring artwork’s authenticity is important for educating people about the specific traditions and history of each tribe, Tinnin said.

“Each tribe has their own story and their own styles of artwork,” she said.

Johnny Learned, president of the American Indian Center of the Great Plains, said he was glad to see the federal government taking action.

Learned said he finds it “interesting” that more people seemed to claim to be Indians as economic opportunities such as casinos expanded for Native Americans.

“I think there should be even more stringent rules that prohibit that,” he said.

To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send email to

Read more here:

Unofficial results show Principal Chief Bill John Baker re-elected to lead Cherokee Nation

By Allen Reed, Associated Press

The Cherokee Nation re-elected Principal Chief Bill John Baker on Sunday, according to preliminary results, calming concerns that a four-candidate field would result in another tumultuous election to lead one of the largest American Indian tribes.

The tribal election commission released the unofficial results early Sunday and later began processing about 700 contested ballots at the tribal capital of Tahlequah, about 75 miles east of Tulsa. If the results hold, Baker will have won a second term at the helm of the tribe, with about 320,000 citizens and 9,000 employees. He will control a budget nearing $1 billion and oversee the tribe’s lucrative casino and hotel businesses as well as managing the country’s largest tribal health care system.

Baker said the uncounted votes aren’t enough to change the outcome and fully expects to avoid the hostilities and recounts that marred the 2011 election.

“We believe it will stand,” Baker told the Associated Press on Sunday. “I don’t see any other plan other than to go forward and continue progress.”

Baker had about 53 percent of the vote against three challengers, placing him above the 50 percent threshold needed to win the election outright. The results show he beat former Cherokee Chief Chad Smith, state Rep. Will Fourkiller, and Charlie Soap, the widower of late Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.

Smith led the tribe for a dozen years before squaring off twice with Baker in 2011, losing the race that dragged into the fall after a series of recounts. The latest contest was an extension of sorts of that election, but Smith said he likely won’t run again if the vote holds.

“I thank the Cherokee people for the opportunity to run and to share with them our vision,” Smith said.

An election administrator said the office was working to count ballots Sunday and commissioners would meet Monday morning to certify the vote count.

Still, Baker said he is ready to get back to work on his populist platform: improving health care, adding more families to the tribal payroll and building homes for their own people.

“We’re looking forward to four more years of growth and prosperity and continuation of the good things God has allowed us to be able to accomplish,” Baker said.

Cherokee Nation honors veterans, brings military history to life

By Sequoyah County Times

Cherokee Nation officials are honoring Cherokee veterans and bringing history to life through new displays at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center.

Newly installed displays feature Lieutenant Jack C. Montgomery and Admiral Joseph J. Clark, who are considered two of the most highly decorated Cherokee citizens to have ever served in the United States military.

“Cherokee citizens have a long history of service,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “Cherokee Nation has always honored and revered our warriors for protecting our freedom. The veterans center makes it possible for us to show our eternal gratitude toward our Cherokee veterans while providing them with needed services, comradery and a welcoming space.”

Cherokee Nation estimates there are more than 4,000 Cherokee veterans. The tribe is honoring those citizens and their service by presenting many of their stories, artifacts and memorabilia to the public.

The $2 million Cherokee Nation Veterans Center, which was tribally funded, features 25 pieces of military-themed artwork from American Indian artists and 16 display cases showcasing multiple Cherokee veterans’ military regalia. There are a dozen other cases displaying vintage wartime newspapers and various memorabilia.

“Native Americans serve and defend our country at higher rates than any other ethnicity,” said Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. “It is important that we honor these brave women and men for their sacrifices and the important roles they serve in securing and defending our liberties.”

One of the newest features honors Cherokee citizen and Medal of Honor recipient Lieutenant Jack C. Montgomery. He is one of only eight Native Americans in the 20th century bestowed with U.S.’s highest military honor. Montgomery was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the Battle of Anzio in World War II.

Montgomery’s artifacts and memorabilia include several photographs, awards, certificates and medals such as his Purple Heart, Silver and Bronze Stars, and Cherokee Medal of Patriotism. The collection also consists of items depicting Montgomery’s Medal of Honor, including detailed narratives, his certificate, a crystal plaque, a memorial dedication shadow box and flag, and photos of him with his medal.

Another new display honors Cherokee citizen and Navy Cross recipient Admiral Joseph James “Jocko” Clark. Clark was the first Native American to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy and went on to serve in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

The J.J. Clark collection includes artifacts such as a plaque, dedication photograph and hat from USS Yorktown, which was the carrier he commanded during WWII. The collection, which is on loan from the Cherokee Heritage Center, also includes a bronze bust of Admiral Clark and several of his medals and ribbons.

The 8,700-square-foot veterans center includes Cherokee Nation veteran assistance and benefit offices and a U.S. Veterans Affairs readjustment counselor. It houses a community room, kitchen and “Wall of Honor” entryway.

The veterans center is located just east of the W.W. Keeler Complex, 17675 S. Muskogee Ave., in Tahlequah.

For more information, call 918-453-5000 ext. 4166.

Cherokee Language Evolving: Syllabary Now Available in Braille

Cherokee NationImage of Cherokee in Braille, which is now available from the Commonwealth Braille and Talking Book Cooperative.
Cherokee Nation
Image of Cherokee in Braille, which is now available from the Commonwealth Braille and Talking Book Cooperative.
By: Cherokee Nation; Source: Indian Country Today


The Cherokee Nation now has its written language, the Cherokee syllabary, available in Braille.

“All Cherokees, regardless of any physical impairment, should be able to read and understand documents and signage in their native language,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “Our language programs keep evolving to meet every Cherokee’s needs, whether they are an elder, a young person or someone who is visually or otherwise impaired.”

The tribe’s fluent Cherokee speakers in the Cherokee Language Program partnered with the Commonwealth Braille and Talking Book Cooperative earlier this year to develop a Cherokee version of Braille. Dot patterns were derived from the 86-character Cherokee syllabary.

“It’s exciting that our Cherokee citizens who are visually impaired can now read stories in their first language,” said Roy Boney, language program manager. “We provided copies of our Cherokee syllabary, sample text and other items to be able to make Braille in Cherokee a reality. We want to stay in the forefront by offering the Cherokee language on as many written tools as possible to preserve and protect our native tongue.”

The Cherokee writing system has been in use since its invention by Sequoyah in 1821. Every major technology since then, ranging from the printing press, typewriter and word processor to fonts on the latest computers and smart phones, has adopted Cherokee.

The tribe has translated Cherokee for Apple, Microsoft and Google products.

RELATED: Google it in Cherokee

RELATED: Cherokee Language Now Available on Windows 8

Cherokee was initially encoded into Unicode, the international standards body that governs how all written languages are used on computer operating systems, in 2000. With the large volume of languages in the Unicode system, however, it wasn’t until now that Cherokee Braille was made compatible with the Braille system.

Now that Cherokee Braille is available, the raised, physical tactile print can be made using special printers.

The Commonwealth Braille and Talking Book Cooperative also developed a program that will convert typed Cherokee syllabary into print-ready Braille so that existing Cherokee documents can easily be converted into tactile books for the blind and visually impaired.

For more information about Cherokee Braille, visit the CBTBC’s website.



IHS pays $29.5M to end contract dispute with Cherokee Nation

Tribal leaders broke ground on the Cooweescoowee Health Center in December 2013. Photo from Cherokee Nation
Tribal leaders broke ground on the Cooweescoowee Health Center in December 2013. Photo from Cherokee Nation


The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has accepted a $29.5 million settlement with the Indian Health Service.

The tribe entered into self-determination contracts to manage programs that were formerly run by the IHS. But the agency failed to pay contract supports costs as required by law and as confirmed by two U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

“The settlement is a major milestone for the Cherokee Nation and our health centers. Payment of these millions of dollars from the federal government is long overdue, and now these funds will be utilized to provide expanded and improved health care services to our citizens. We will be able to equip our new centers with state-of-the-art medical devices and technology,” Chief Bill John Baker said in a press release.

The tribe was the plaintiff in the first contract support cost case that went to the Supreme Court. Despite a unanimous decision in 2005, however, it took another lawsuit and a change in administration for IHS to start paying what was owed.

“I am extremely pleased the Cherokee Nation is finally going to recoup funds that were owed to us for so long,” Attorney General Todd Hembree, who negotiated the settlement, said in a press release “These funds will be put to great use in helping meet the needs of the Cherokee people. Many thanks should be given to the dedicated employees in our self-governance, finance and health services departments.”

The tribe is in the middle of building four new clinics, a $100 million investment in its health system.


Get the Story:
Press Release: Cherokee Nation awarded $29.5M settlement with Indian Health Service (Cherokee Nation 7/15)
Cherokees Top Out New Clinic in Washington County (Public Radio Tulsa 7/15)

Native American lawyer confirmed to U.N. human rights post

(Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP)
(Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP)

By Al Kamen, Washington Post

The Senate confirmed Washington lawyer Keith Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation, to be the U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday, making him the first member of a federally recognized tribe to be accorded an ambassadorial-rank post.

Harper, confirmed on a 52-42 party-line vote, has been active in human rights and civil rights organizations. He was also a mega-bundler, having raised more than $500,000 for President Obama’s 2012 campaign.

Harper was one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers in a long-running class-action lawsuit by Native Americans, who claimed that the federal government had mismanaged Indian trust accounts. The Obama administration settled the suit in 2009 for $3.4 billion.

Cherokee veterans gain care options

New agreement links tribal service to VA health system

By Anita Reding, Muskogee Phoenix Staff Writer

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., left, and Principal Chief Bill John Baker sign the reimbursement agreement Friday. Next to Baker is James Floyd, the director of the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center. Watching from behind are Gayla Stewart, left, the victim witness coordinator for the regional U.S. Attorney’s Office; Dr. Ricky Robinson, the director of the Cherokee Veterans Center; Vickie Hanvey, the Cherokee Nation self-governance administrator; Jacque Secondine Hensley, the Native American liaison for Gov. Mary Fallin; Connie Davis, the executive director of Cherokee Nation Health Services; Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory-Jordan; Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden; and John Alley and Bunner Gray, Indian health liaisons for the VA center.
Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., left, and Principal Chief Bill John Baker sign the reimbursement agreement Friday. Next to Baker is James Floyd, the director of the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center. Watching from behind are Gayla Stewart, left, the victim witness coordinator for the regional U.S. Attorney’s Office; Dr. Ricky Robinson, the director of the Cherokee Veterans Center; Vickie Hanvey, the Cherokee Nation self-governance administrator; Jacque Secondine Hensley, the Native American liaison for Gov. Mary Fallin; Connie Davis, the executive director of Cherokee Nation Health Services; Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory-Jordan; Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden; and John Alley and Bunner Gray, Indian health liaisons for the VA center.

TAHLEQUAH — Veterans who are members of the Cherokee Nation can now choose from several locations to receive health care.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker signed a reimbursement agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday.

The Cherokee Nation is one of several tribes that have contracts with the VA, said James Floyd, director of the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee.

The contract allows the tribe to be reimbursed by the VA for services rendered to Native American veterans using Cherokee Nation health centers for primary care. The contract also allows the Cherokee Nation and the VA to share patient information and charts. The VA will provide medication for veterans.

Now that the contract has been signed with the Cherokee Nation, veterans’ care can be tied to the VA system, Floyd said.

The contract will make it possible for veterans with the Cherokee Nation to receive vital services and not have to travel as far as they have been, said Baker.

“I think it’s a win, win, win for the veterans, for the Cherokee Nation and for the VA hospital,” Baker said.

The agreement with the Cherokee Nation provides health care at W.W. Hastings Hospital and eight clinics. The Cherokee Nation also is planning to build a hospital in Bartlesville, Baker said.

The initial users who can benefit from the contract total 4,500, and that number could easily increase by 1,000, Floyd said.

There are 37,000 users at the Muskogee medical center, and Native Americans are the second highest population group, he said.

“This helps us to grow as a system and to grow from within the tribe as well,” Floyd said.

Some veterans who are members of the Cherokee Nation have not used services at the VA, and this offers them an opportunity to be a part of the VA, he said.

“We are excited to partner with the Cherokee Nation in providing health care to our American Indian veterans,” Floyd said. “This agreement will allow for better coordination of care, allows tribes and IHS (Indian Health Service) to expand care for their users, shortens wait times for medical care and increases access at VA facilities for all veterans.”

Debra Wilson of Briggs is a member of an advisory committee with the VA. Many Native American veterans will be more comfortable receiving medical care at Cherokee Nation facilities, she said.

“This is something we have looked forward to for a really long time,” said Wilson, one of several veterans who witnessed the signing of the agreement.

Don Stroud of Tahlequah said he uses the Cherokee Nation Health System, and the funding that will be provided by the contract will benefit the veterans initially, “but it’s also going to impact the care that’s available for all the patients in the health system.”

“The less money spent on us, the more money available to treat that next little kid that comes in and needs the care, or the next one of our elders that comes in and needs some medication,” he said.

The funds will be there to help them because another source of funding will be available, which will equal things out, he said.