Cherokee Nation Responds to Offensive ‘Trail of Tears’ Banner

 Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Cherokee Nation; Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The Cherokee Nation has responded to an offensive banner displayed at an Alabama high school football game that has drawn national attention.
The banner, made by McAdory High School students for a football playoff game, referenced the opposing team’s mascot, the “Indians,” by displaying the message: “Hey Indians, get ready to leave in a Trail of Tears, Round 2.”

RELATED: High School Slammed for Its Mocking and Shocking ‘Trail of Tears’ Banner

In the 1830s, the Cherokee Nation and many other tribes were forcibly removed from their homelands in Alabama and other states in the Southeast, and marched hundreds of miles to Indian Territory, now present-day Oklahoma.
 Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker issued the following statement.

“Ironically, the Cherokee Nation is commemorating the 175th anniversary of the start of our Trail of Tears this year. About 16,000 Cherokees began the trek to Oklahoma from our homelands in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky, but only 12,000 lived through the harsh conditions that winter.

The Trail of Tears was arguably the most horrific period in the Cherokee Nation’s history and among the worst atrocities ever sanctioned by the United States government.
 The legacy of that terrible era has had a profound effect on generations of tribal citizens, and still lingers today.
 This unfortunate display shows how much improvement is still needed in the understanding of Native peoples, our triumphs and our challenges, both historical and modern.

“We hope this becomes an opportunity for administrators at McAdory High School, and at schools all across the United States, to teach our young people not only the terrible history behind the Indian removal era, but also the resilience of tribes across the nation.”

November is also Native American Heritage Month. To learn more about observances this month, please visit

RELATED: Principal Apologizes for ‘Trail of Tears’ Banner—Makes it a Teaching Moment



Cherokee Nation selling new cultural Pendleton blanket

Principal Chief Bill John Baker and blanket designer Dan Mink stand with the Cherokee Nation’s newest Pendleton Blanket, now on sale at Cherokee gift shops.
Principal Chief Bill John Baker and blanket designer Dan Mink stand with the Cherokee Nation’s newest Pendleton Blanket, now on sale at Cherokee gift shops.

Source: Cherokee Nation

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – It’s the time of year when the weather turns cold, and the Cherokee Nation is selling a new Pendleton blanket that can be used to stay warm this winter.

The blanket was made by iconic Pendleton Woolen Mills and retails for $250. It can be purchased at the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop in Tahlequah and the Cherokee Art Gallery inside Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa.

Designed by award-winning Cherokee Nation Lead Graphic Designer Dan Mink, of Stilwell, the blanket is rich in earth tone colors and features culturally significant detail.

“The time was right for a new customized blanket for the Cherokee Nation. We wanted to create a piece that was visually appealing and culturally significant,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “While this blanket appears vibrant and modern, in actuality it is composed of historic and cultural motifs and colors that are important to the Cherokee people. It is a beautiful design that symbolizes the strength and unity of our people, our rich history, our cultural identity and our sovereign government.”

Central to the Pendleton design is a seven-pointed star, reflecting the seven clans of the Cherokee people. Mink also chose a starburst pattern to represent the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes originating from one fire. The color tan represents buck skin; red, black and yellow are artistic colors found in Cherokee artifacts; and gold comes from the Cherokee Nation seal. The border of the blanket is a Southeastern motif, and basket weaving was the inspiration for the inner corners.

“To stay authentic, traditional Cherokee colors are incorporated into the blanket design, as well as circles, which are never ending and always a theme in Native American art,” Mink said. “It was a great honor to be asked by Chief Baker to design the new Pendleton. It’s a joy to express my interpretation of what our Cherokee Nation stands for, both culturally and contemporarily.”

The Pendleton is available online at and at the following locations:

Cherokee Nation Gift Shop
17725 S. Muskogee Ave. Tahlequah
Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cherokee Art Gallery
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino
777 W. Cherokee St.
Daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Cherokee Nation Mourns as Veronica Is Returned to Adoptive Family

Suzette Brewer, Indian Country Today Media Network

In the end, it came down to one simple strategy: Waiting. As Dusten Brown faced the Damocles Sword of jail time and a felony warrant, Matt and Melanie Capobianco only had to wait.

Last week, as the clock was running down on the stay that the Oklahoma Supreme Court had granted him, Dusten Brown had tried to negotiate even a bare minimum of visitation with his daughter. At the beginning of the week, there was a hopeful offer that included three weeks in the summer, one weekend every other month in South Carolina, and with alternating Christmases, which seemed like a solid deal. But as the parties returned to court on Wednesday morning, the Capobiancos again reneged and the negotiations started all over again.

By Friday afternoon, they made one last half-hearted offer in which Brown would get to see his daughter roughly 10 hours a month in South Carolina, with supervision. But even that, according to insiders, was not written to include any kind of enforcement.

Even before they were virtually forced into mediation in a courthouse in Tulsa last week, Dusten Brown had tried to negotiate a settlement with the Capobiancos for months, which they outright rejected.

In spite of their public proclamations that they had “always” insisted that they would allow Veronica to stay in contact with her paternal biological family, behind the scenes insiders say it was apparent to the Brown family and their lawyers that the Capobiancos weren’t interested in negotiating any kind of deal at all. This fact alone is one of the reasons Dusten Brown had fought so vociferously and publicly to force them to the negotiating table.

But even then, the negotiations were merely photo opportunities in which they were photographed arriving and leaving the courthouse in downtown Tulsa. Once inside, they had no pretense about their intentions. All they had to do was wait; no matter what Dusten Brown did or did not agree to, he was going to jail, say insiders.

After the “negotiations” failed again on Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court lifted their stay, which allowed Veronica to remain with Brown while he continued to seek legal redress in Oklahoma.

Exhausted and left with few options other than jail time and the loss of his military career and pension, he discussed her peaceful transfer with his family, legal team and tribal officials. He and his wife, Robin, packed a few bags for Veronica, who had just turned four-years-old last week. Before the family gathered to say their last goodbyes, Tommy Brown, Veronica’s grandfather, began suffering chest pains and was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

At 7:30, a caravan of federal marshals made their way to the Jack Brown House in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a guest residence near the Cherokee Nation tribal complex where the Browns had been staying for several months to maintain their privacy.

Chrissi Nimmo, the assistant attorney general for the tribe, took Veronica’s hand and led her to the waiting SUV that was to take her to the Capobiancos.

After a four-year struggle to keep his daughter, one that led the shy, unassuming soldier all the way to the Supreme Court and beyond, it was over.

As the Brown family went to the hospital to visit their patriarch, the Capobiancos went on another media blitz, starting with a live interview on CNN.

As word of the transfer began to go viral, condolences for Dusten Brown and his daughter began pouring in from all over the country.

“We are deeply, deeply saddened by the events of today, but we will not lose hope,” said Todd Hembree, attorney general for the Cherokee Nation. “Veronica Brown will always be a Cherokee citizen, and although she may have left the Cherokee Nation, she will never leave our hearts.”

“Our hearts are heavy at this course of events,” said Terry Cross, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. “Any other child would have had her or his best interest considered in a court of law. The legal system has failed this child and American Indians as well. Our prayers are with everyone concerned, but most of all with Veronica.”

Experts say that because of Veronica’s current age, she will experience trauma and homesickness. But adult adoptees who have been watching from the sidelines are all-too-familiar with the challenges that lay ahead for a little girl who is cognizant enough to know what has transpired.

In Oklahoma, she was surrounded by her large extended family, which included her grandparents, her father and stepmother, her sister, Kelsey, from Brown’s first marriage and a chatty phalanx of half a dozen cousins, with whom she had grown close. She had made friends at pre-school and loved her pets. She was a spark of lightning with a sharp mind and quick to giggle, a girl who loved pink and shoes.

In South Carolina, Veronica will be the only child on both sides of her adoptive parents’ families. The Capobiancos, both of whom are in their mid-40s, have no other extended family nearby, save for a stepmother who was divorced from Melanie’s father before he passed away.

Time will tell what the ultimate outcome will be for Veronica, who will undoubtedly be given the best of what the Capobiancos can afford in terms of education and the trappings of an older, upper middle income childless couple. Nonetheless, so far in her young life, she brought attention to the corrupt and broken system of illegal adoptions that are taking place every day throughout Indian Country. In spite of her removal from Oklahoma, Veronica Brown paved the way for other children to remain with their communities and families, bringing attention to the loopholes and cracks in the Indian Child Welfare Act that allow attorneys, social workers, guardian ad litems and judges to continue profiting from a very profitable industry adoption and foster care industry that traffics Native babies and children.

“We hope the Capobiancos honor their word that Dusten will be allowed to remain an important part of Veronica’s life,” said Hembree. “We also look forward to her visiting the Cherokee Nation for many years to come, for she is always welcome. Veronica is a very special child who touched the hearts of many, and she will be sorely missed.”



Cherokee Nation Provides $1.3 Billion Impact on Oklahoma Economy

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker is joined by Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb for economic impact announcement.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker is joined by Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb for economic impact announcement.

Source: Native News Network

TULSA, OKLAHOMA – Touting the phrase “A strong Cherokee Nation means a strong Oklahoma,” the Cherokee Nation announced on Tuesday the Tribe provides a $1.3 billion economic impact to the state of Oklahoma’s economy.

Tribal officials announced its impact Tuesday during a luncheon with several state, county and local officials at its entertainment flagship property, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.

The research study shows, with the $1.3 billion economic impact, the tribe’s activities directly and indirectly support more than 14,000 jobs and provide more than $559 million in income payments.

“The Cherokee Nation is stronger than ever and, as a result, so is the state of Oklahoma,”

said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.

“What is good for the Cherokee Nation is good for everyone in our state. From the number of jobs we provide to the services we administer to the local vendors we put to work, the Cherokee Nation positively impacts the lives of so many Oklahomans. And we’re not going anywhere. Essentially, the Cherokee Nation is a corporate headquarters that will never leave town.”

Since 2010 study, the Tribe has increased its direct economic output to more than $1 billion, which is a 25 percent growth. Cherokee Nation’s direct pay to employees has increased by more than $120 million, resulting in more than $375 million in income payments to its workers. During the same period, direct employment grew by nearly 250, reaching 9,244 employees, including contract workers.

“Cherokee Nation government and business operations continue to offer expanded economic opportunities in northeast Oklahoma,”

said Dr. Russell Evans, executive director of the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute, who authored the report assessing the Cherokee Nation’s economic impact on northeast Oklahoma.

“The tribe’s operations are a critical source of economic strength for the region.”

With its capital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation provides an array of government services, spurs economic development and provides financial support to the entire region.

Cherokee Nation works alongside county, state and local governments to improve roads and bridges, provide much needed funding to rural schools, ensure communities have good, clean running water and improve access to health care.

Cherokee Nation’s economic development engine, Cherokee Nation Businesses, reported record revenues of more than $715 million during fiscal year 2012. Along with supporting vital government services, the Cherokee Nation reinvests its business profits to create more Oklahoma jobs and further diversify its non-gaming businesses.

Beyond its direct investments, Cherokee Nation supports a number of local, diverse and growing industries that help drive private and public sector partnerships. The tribe assists with child care, career training and development, elder services and contract health. These services, as well as other services, are often met through the private sector and funded by the Cherokee Nation. This impact also comes in the form of goods or services purchased for Cherokee Nation economic activities.

For example, the tribe recently announced a $100 million investment in its tribal health care system, which supports more than a million patient visits each year. This type of activity spurs purchases and subcontracting to many privately owned small businesses throughout the tribe’s jurisdiction.

“It’s very eye opening to people when they begin to understand all the Cherokee Nation does for our state and, specifically, the northeast region,”

Baker said.

“We are extremely proud to support more than 14,000 employees and countless small businesses. As a lifelong small business owner myself, I know how important a strong local economy is and what it means to the people who live here.”

The report was commissioned by the Cherokee Nation and produced by Evans. He and his research team at the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute in the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma carefully collected and reviewed data to paint an accurate picture of the Cherokee Nation’s impact on the state of Oklahoma.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General on TV Personality Troy Dunn

Levi Rickert, Native News Network

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd HembreeCherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree

TAHLEQUAH, OKLAHOMA – For those of you familiar with the ongoing custody battle over Cherokee Veronica Brown between her biological father, Dusten Brown and a non-Native adoptive couple from South Carolina, you may have seen Troy Dunn, from the show called “The Locator,” on the Dr. Phil Show saying disparaging things about the Indian Child Welfare Act.

On Wednesday, he showed up at a press conference held by the South Carolina couple, who flew to Tulsa, Oklahoma to attempt to sway Dusten Brown to give up his legal battle to keep his daughter.

Troy Dunn was present and said more disparaging things about the Indian Child Welfare Act. At the news conference, he called on Brown to meet one-on-one with him without attorneys or Cherokee Nation officials. Brown never responded to Dunn.

Outside the Tulsa Hyatt where the press conference was held, over a dozen supporters of Veronica and Dusten Brown were outside with signs.

“I was there to support …the bottom line is the sovereignty of every tribal nations. We have to stand up and fight for our rights and children,”

commented Linda Sacks, a tribal citizen of the Cherokee Nation, who was there to support the Browns.

“It’s about sovereignty …that is the ultimate thing.”

Then on Thursday, Dunn with a television camera in tow attempted to show up at a Cherokee school where Veronica was. Cherokee marshals turned him away.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree issued the following statement late Thursday afternoon:

“I was concerned with the Capobianco’s judgment in putting forth Troy Dunn as the central spokesperson in their press conference yesterday. Mr. Dunn’s Internet presence reveals that he is a reality TV producer, a stand-up comedian and a “motivational speaker.” He is neither a counselor nor mental health expert although he perpetuates that illusion on TV.”

“Furthermore, in his more than year long involvement with the Capobiancos, he has proven himself not to be a neutral party in this matter, he has made inflammatory statements to the media and has publicly posted degrading comments about Veronica’s real father, Dusten Brown.”

“Troy Dunn is injecting himself into a complex and emotional legal issue for which he sorely lacks any relevant skill set.”

“My concerns of yesterday were well founded in that today, Troy Dunn and his hired TV cameras were asked to leave Cherokee Nation school premises by Cherokee Nation Marshals. His antics are inappropriate and dangerous. The safety and well-being of our children is our first priority.”

“His shenanigans and grandstanding is purely for the cameras and self-promotion. Our concern has been and always will be what is in the best interest of Veronica, a beautiful and innocent Cherokee child. The Cherokee Nation is not interested in his personal entertainment endeavors and his media circus.”

“We are steadfast in our commitment to creating a safe environment for Cherokee citizens. We all want to see an amicable resolution to the Veronica Brown impasse. Sadly, Troy Dunn’s theatrics are a distraction to this very difficult issue.”

“Dusten Brown, an American war veteran, deserves his due process and Veronica deserves her privacy.”

The Evolution Of U.S. Tribal Healthcare Centers

July 15, 2013 by Kristin D. Zeit

Healthcare Design Magazine



In the early 1990s, James Childers attended the groundbreaking of the Redbird Smith Health Clinic in Sallisaw, Okla., five miles north of the little town where he lived. Redbird Smith was the first clinic built from the ground up by the Cherokee Nation and—Childers was surprised to see—it was a huge improvement over the typical Indian clinics he was used to.

As an architect, Childers had been doing healthcare projects primarily with the Sisters of Mercy system since 1980. He’d never pursued any government- or publically funded healthcare projects—but the Redbird Smith project got him thinking.

“The architect for that clinic was out of New Mexico,” Childers says. “And that’s what caught my attention. I thought, there’s no need for them to be going to Albuquerque to do clinics in Oklahoma.”

The building, staffing, and maintenance of healthcare facilities for federally recognized Native American tribes have fallen under the jurisdiction of Indian Health Service (IHS) since that department was established in 1955. Traditionally, these IHS clinics haven’t exactly been design-driven, nor have they been particularly reflective of the cultures they serve. Built to meet strict federal guidelines that could be easily replicated from site to site, most of these clinics “were just boxes,” Childers says. “They’re just very functional government buildings.”

Over the past two decades, however, tribes have begun investing more and more money earned through their businesses in improving healthcare for its members. Fueled by joint ventures between the tribes and IHS, healthcare facilities are getting the attention they deserve, with bigger footprints (to better serve the number of patients and house more varied services); thoughtful innovations based on wellness research; and culturally significant touches to celebrate the rich histories of the tribes and provide a positive community resource.

Since 1992, Childers (a member of the Cherokee Nation himself) has been a prolific contributor to these new facilities. Of the 19 joint venture projects between IHS and tribes across the country, Childers has designed seven of them—all publicly bid and awarded separately by each tribe.

Healthcare Design spoke with Childers about the legacy he’s building, as well as the process behind designing facilities that proudly demonstrate the tribal values and cultural wealth of a historically underserved population.

Healthcare Design: Your first tribal project was the Wilma P. Mankiller Clinic in Stilwell, Okla., in 1992. How did you approach that job?
James Childers:  That was an Indian Health Service facility. And as we went through the IHS program, we figured out that what it produced was the typical Indian clinic you might walk into anywhere: too small, overcrowded, no waiting room, no people amenities. Indian Health Service did a fantastic job of getting the most out of its square footage, but there were really no provisions for waiting areas.

We’re in a very rural area here in Oklahoma; these people might drive 40-50 miles for healthcare. And when they did, they brought Grandpa and Grandma and the kids. Everybody came. As a result, you’d go into these clinics and the corridors would just be lined with people.

The IHS design guidelines dictated that you be within 10 percent of their square footage limitations. So what we ended up doing was reducing the square footage in the mechanical rooms. By selecting the right kind of systems and putting a lot of this equipment on the roof instead of on the floor, I ended up under their program on total square footage.

So what they allowed me to do—after many meetings and discussions—was to take that additional square footage and put it into circulation. We increased the widths of corridors and increased the size of waiting rooms. This was all an effort to get Indian healthcare environments compatible with private care.

Read more here.


The Fight for Veronica, Part 4

Suzette Brewer, Indian Country Today Media Network

Editor’s Note: The Baby Veronica Case, recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, is one of the most important Indian legal battles of the last generation. It is the story of Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation, who has invoked the Indian Child Welfare Act to prevent Christina Maldonado, the non-Indian mother of his baby daughter, Veronica, from putting their child up for adoption by Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina.

That bare outline does not begin to describe the convoluted dimensions of the case formally known as Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. Its drama includes an unplanned pregnancy, a broken engagement, charges of bad faith, an adoption agency that did not comply with federal Indian law, a couple who fought to adopt a child who was never legally eligible, and even the intervention of the Cherokee Nation.

For more background, read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Auld Lang Syne

Chrissi Nimmo had taken a few days off. It was New Year’s Eve 2011, and she and her husband were on a camping trip at Cedar Lake in the Quachita National Forest in southeastern Oklahoma. They had been horseback riding that day and were ringing in the New Year around the campfire with his family when her cell phone started ringing.

Nimmo, assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, thought it was strange that she was able to receive calls in a place that is notoriously void of cell service. She didn’t recognize the phone number, but she answered anyway, thinking it may be important. In fact, it was life-changing.

It was a reporter from South Carolina. The very public transfer of custody involving Baby Veronica to her father was happening that very moment in downtown Charleston—did Ms. Nimmo wish to comment on behalf of the Cherokee Nation?

“Of course I wasn’t going to comment,” says Nimmo. “We don’t comment on confidential juvenile matters, which is what this should have been. But the other side was already out there on television with names, facts and identifying information that was clearly under seal by Judge Garfinkel. But there they were, the Capobiancos, their attorney and the guardian ad litem, all parading this child around the streets of Charleston in front of the cameras. It was, to say the very least, unethical and appalling.”

Nimmo hung up and immediately called the tribe’s then-attorney general, Diane Hammons, to give her boss the heads up in the event that any reporters tried to contact the tribe. Based on the Capobianco’s denied attempt at a stay of transfer until they could file another appeal, Nimmo knew that it was just a matter of time before the case would be back in appellate court.

“We knew when the hand-off happened that they were going to appeal [to the South Carolina Supreme Court],” says Nimmo. “So from that point on, we were focused on two things: Upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act and preparing for the South Carolina Supreme Court.”

Two days later, Nimmo went back to work with no time to waste. For the next four months, Nimmo put in 18-hour days gathering records, going through case files, reading case law, reviewing potential arguments, and collaborating with the appellate attorneys for Brown in South Carolina. She also worked around the clock coordinating the legal and media strategy with national Indian organizations, states’ attorneys general and a growing number of Indian tribes, all of whom had been cautiously watching the case, but were now on red alert for the upcoming legal showdown.

One of those observers was Terry Cross, executive director of the Portland, Oregon-based National Indian Child Welfare Association, who monitored the ongoing dispute with growing unease.

“We try to watch cases where we know it may become contentious and we try to help, but this case just spun out of control,” says Cross. “Look, every adoptive family knows that anything could go wrong at any time in the adoptive process and that it could fall through. But after losing in the lower courts, the first thing this family did was hire a PR firm and start talking to the media about things they know they were not supposed to talk about. That does not portend a happy ending.”

Back in South Carolina, John Nichols, a Columbia-based appellate attorney, had been already been working with Shannon Jones on legal strategy for Adoptive Couple for several months. As of January 2012, however, he was now taking the lead on the subsequent state supreme court hearing.

“This case has taken a track like no other case I’ve ever seen in all my years as an attorney,” says Nichols. “This was expedited before the Supreme Court of South Carolina in just four months, which is record time under any circumstance, but especially for one of this nature.”

Operating under new administrative rules established by the South Carolina Supreme Court in cases where parental rights are being terminated, both sides were required to submit all briefs and responses within a mandatory 30-day filing period, with no extensions granted. The court set April 17, 2012 for the hearing.

In the meantime, growing increasingly frustrated by the Capobianco’s continued media presence, Nichols filed a motion to put a stop to their activities. On their behalf, Trio Solutions, had launched an ugly media campaign designed, said Nichols, to eviscerate his client and undermine the rights of all Indian parents under ICWA. In addition to violating the law and codes of ethics, he says, they displayed a stunning lack of regard for the child at the center of the case by denigrating her father in front of the world. Though the court stopped short of issuing a gag order, the justices did issue a warning: Juvenile cases are sealed under South Carolina state statute and are not open to public discourse.

“The Capobiancos, their lawyers and their PR team broke the law,” says Nichols matter-of-factly. “There is no question that the statute is very clear on these matters. But I at least wanted to send a message that we were not going to tolerate them violating the law on a sealed juvenile case that should have been kept confidential.”

Nichols said that the court’s admonition did seem to slow the firehose of media stories—for a short time. But what did not stop was the marketing and selling of the Capobianco’s side of the story, using Veronica’s name and likeness on a variety of social media to seek attention, support and financial donations to pay their legal fees in their fight to terminate Dusten Brown’s parental rights and retain custody of Veronica.

“Save Veronica” became the clarion call of the Capobiancos’ media strategy. Starting with a website and a Facebook page, they posted regular, emotionally-charged status updates and pleas for money via a “donation” link. Additionally, bracelets, perfume, magnets, artwork and various other trinkets were sold to finance their PR firm and legal defense fund—all the while ginning up public outrage bordering on frenzy toward not only Dusten Brown, but the entire foundation of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Meanwhile, Dusten Brown kept quiet and stayed focused on building his life after returning from Iraq. But he did not like the way the Capobianco’s portrayed him in the media, especially after he allowed them to maintain contact with Veronica after the transfer. In particular, as a parent, it was the unauthorized use of his daughter’s name and likeness to build their case against her own father that hurt the most.

“They plastered her name and face all over the Internet asking for handouts,” says Brown evenly. “I never once asked for a penny from anyone, I never said a bad word about them or the birth mother. But I’ve told my lawyers that I want all those websites and Facebook pages shut down. I do not want them using her that way. If they really love her like they say they do, they wouldn’t do that to her.”

From the beginning, the insidious undertones of class and race in their messaging was clear: The Capobiancos are a well-to-do couple who can afford expensive vacations and private schools for Veronica; Dusten Brown is in the Army. The Capobiancos are both highly educated—Melanie Capobianco, in fact, holds a Ph.D in child developmental psychology (more on that later); Dusten Brown went to Vo-tech. The Capobiancos are white; but Dusten Brown, they argued fiercely—is not “Indian enough” for federal law to apply to them in disrupting their adoption plans.

Therein lies the central question hovering over this case. The legal concept of who is an “Indian” and what constitutes tribal membership has plagued and confounded many in Indian Affairs for centuries. But, regardless of countless attempts to reinterpret, circumvent and override tribal sovereignty regarding their membership, the law is unmistakably clear on the matter, according to Richard Guest, staff attorney and director of the Tribal Supreme Court Project for the Native American Rights Fund.

“As a matter of law, tribes determine their own membership,” says Guest. “Membership is based on a number of factors. Some tribes go by the Census, some go by blood quantum, but some, like the Cherokee Nation, base theirs on the Dawes Rolls—and they are within their rights to do so. Many tribes are now confronted with these issues and are changing their requirements to reflect these complexities, because some people may belong to one tribe, but may be full-blood from several different tribes through their grandparents. One person may appear white or black, but have been raised in the community, speaking the language. Others may be from urban areas and have never seen their homeland, but they’re still tribal members. There are also many marriages between people from different tribes, but their children can only be enrolled in one tribe. It’s a very complex process, especially for the courts.”

One thing is clear, says Guest. Though at first glance Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is a failed adoption, it carries with it a powerful subterranean threat to the very existence of tribal life in America.

“The Cherokee Nation is a federally-recognized tribe and Dusten Brown is an enrolled member of that tribe. And in the case of Baby Veronica, the terms of the Indian Child Welfare Act are absolutely clear: She is eligible, therefore ICWA applies. To determine otherwise could have far-reaching implications for all Indian matters. The real issue is: Who gets to say who’s an Indian?”

On April 17, 2012, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl was argued before the South Carolina Supreme Court. By this time, the case has long since blown any semblance of confidentiality and had become high conflict because of the steady diet of media assaults on Dusten Brown, ICWA and Indian tribes in general.

Because of potential security issues, the Court took the unusual step of closing the courthouse to the general public. Only the parties, their attorneys and essential personnel were allowed into the hearing. Both sides were taken into and out of separate entrances and elevators by police escort and were not allowed even to pass each other in the hallways. Relations between the two families had soured to the point where they had to be sequestered in separate chambers before the arguments.

Outside the courthouse, protesters for the Capobiancos had gathered and were going full force with signs and banners beseeching the South Carolina Supreme Court to “Save Veronica.” Several media outlets also covered the hearing, which had by then become national news.

Inside the courthouse, the atmosphere was tense and unyielding as the attorney for the Capobiancos, Robert Hill, argued that Brown was a deadbeat dad who did nothing to contribute to the birth mother or his child during her pregnancy. Under state law, he said, Brown therefore had not established or obtained parental rights. Because he had not established paternity or obtained parental rights, ICWA did not apply under the definitions of the act. Additionally, Hill argued that because Veronica had already been with her adoptive family, removing her from the Capobiancos would psychologically harm her. The court should find “good cause,” he said, to deviate from the Indian adoptive placement preferences outlined in ICWA and return her to the Capobiancos.

John Nichols, appellate attorney for Dusten Brown, defended his client by asserting that all along, the mother and the Capobiancos had conspired and colluded to hide this adoption and obfuscate his Indian heritage, knowing full well that he would object. Nichols pointed out that they had waited until Brown was in lock down at Ft. Sill to serve him the notice of parental termination. Brown’s immediate reaction upon hearing that his child had been adopted without his consent or approval, he said, was to seek custody. But most importantly, Nichols argued that Dusten Brown, as a tribal member, is considered a “parent” under ICWA and that Veronica is therefore by definition is “an Indian child.” These facts alone, he argued, required that the Court rule in favor of Brown.

Chrissi Nimmo, arguing on behalf of the Cherokee Nation, also told the court that they should only consider the time that Veronica was with the pre-adoptive parents from birth to four months, because it was only then that Brown learned of her situation and sought custody. Further, Nimmo asserted that gaining temporary custody of a child in violation of the law and maintaining custody throughout protracted litigation does not entitle the adoptive couple to permanent custody.

Three months later, on July 26, 2012, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a 78-page ruling affirming the lower court rulings of Judges Garfinkel and Malphrus. In a 3-2 decision affirming Brown’s status as an Indian parent, Veronica’s status as an Indian child, the court upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act. In a stunning rebuke of the birth mother and the Capobiancos, the court wrote the following:

“Mother testified that she knew “from the beginning” that Father was a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, and that she deemed this information “important” throughout the adoption process.Further, she testified she knew that if the Cherokee Nation were alerted to Baby Girl’s status as an Indian child, “some things were going to come into effect, but [she] wasn’t for [sic] sure what.” Mother reported Father’s Indian heritage on the Nightlight Agency’s adoption form and testified she made Father’s Indian heritage known to Appellants and every agency involved in the adoption. However, it appears that there were some efforts to conceal his Indian status. In fact, the pre-placement form reflects Mother’s reluctance to share this information:

the birth mother did not wish to identify the father, said she

wanted  to keep things low-key as possible for the [Appellants],

because he’s registered in the Cherokee tribe. It was determined that

naming him would be detrimental to the adoption.”

For the first time in several years, Dusten Brown and his legal team breathed a sigh of relief. It was felt that the case had finally reached its conclusion and he and his new wife, Robin, and Veronica, could move on with their lives in Oklahoma.

But it was not to be.  On October 1, 2012, the Capobiancos, who now has the estimable Lisa Blatt of the Washington, D.C. firm of Arnold and Porter, as their lead counsel, filed a petition of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. Three months later, on January 4, 2013, certiorari was granted in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. The most important Indian law case in three decades was going before the nation’s highest court.



Technology aids Cherokee language re-emergence

By Ryan Saylor,

A once dying language last modernized nearly 200 years ago has been given new life in the 21st century, with some hoping it pushes beyond 3,000 the number of people who are fluent in the Native American tongue.

The comeback of the Cherokee language, translated into written form in the early 1800s, has been fueled by the work of the Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, Okla.

According to Roy Boney, a language technology specialist with the tribe, the push for a reemergence of the language was introduced by tribal leaders, who introduced the Cherokee Nation Immersion Charter School for students from 3-years-old to 7th grade.

“I was hired several years ago to develop materials for the school,” Boney said. “They started off in (pre-Kindergarten) and they got to the older grades and needed some technology.”

In searching for solution to the school’s technology problem, Boney and his colleagues in the tribe set out on a mission to find technology that could be blended with the Cherokee language.

“We started searching for a solution to that problem and we discovered the Apple included a Cherokee font and keyboard on their desktops since 2003,” he said.

That led the tribe to work with Apple for inclusion of the language on both the iPhone and iPad devices, Boney explained.

In continuing the tribe’s quest for more and better technology for immersion classrooms, a partnership was developed with Microsoft to translate the Windows operating system into Cherokee.

“We learned about localization — to translate their software into another language,” Boney said. “We started that project last year and Windows 8 came out in Cherokee.”

According to Carla Hurd, the Local Language Program’s senior program manager at Microsoft, Cherokee was the first Native American language to be included in the operating system.

“There are some indigenous languages, like Maori in New Zealand and Welsh, but the point of Cherokee is it’s the first Native American language we’ve ever done,” she said. “It’s very notable.”

Lois Leach was one of the native Cherokee translators to work on the project. She said the work was long and exhausting, lasting for nine months. Leach said she clocked around 2,000 hours on the project, which she worked on during evenings and weekends in addition to working her full-time job.

Leach said she and other translators were initially unaware of how big of a project they were involved in.

“We really didn’t think it would be this widespread,” she said. “At first, it was just a project were working on. But when we finally did see when it was launched into the computer itself, it was really something. We could not see that far, really, I don’t think.”

One of the challenges faced by the many translators, both Cherokee staff and volunteers, was developing new words and phrases in Cherokee for simple objects on a computer.

“This was really (about) getting into the meanings of things and what we had to do to guide somebody through the computer. It was not that easy,” Leach said.

An example of an English word without a Cherokee equivalent was “folder.”

“Folder — it just said you are putting papers in a container,” she said.

Boney said when all was said and done, Leach and the team of translators provided Microsoft with nearly 180,000 terms and phrases that were included in Windows 8.

He said even though the operating system is being used in the immersion school and is available for free for Microsoft users, there is still amazement by individuals in and out of the tribe regarding Windows 8 in Cherokee.

“People are in awe to see our language in technology,” he said.

While the Windows 8 project was a long, grueling project, this is just the first of many projects to spread the usage of the Cherokee Nation’s native tongue beyond its 3,000 speakers.

The translation team is working on projects with Google, Facebook and Apple in order to expand the language beyond eastern Oklahoma and parts of North Caroline, Boney said.

He believes the tribe’s history is one of the reasons Cherokee is seeing a resurgence as a language.

“What’s been interesting about a lot of this work is historically, the Cherokees were unique in that we had one man (Sequoyah) develop the writing system. That developed a curiosity in the language. A lot of people have heard about it and fascinated by it. We have our own writing system and we have a unique writing system,” Boney said. “I think that’s part of the appeal, is getting that writing system into technology because it is unique.”

Hurd said she was unable to disclose whether Microsoft would be releasing any more Native American language versions of Windows due to company policies.

“We’re always looking to expand our language set, whether that’s Native American or not,” she added.

Leach said she was thrilled to be a part of the Windows 8 project and was looking forward to more translation projects in the future.

“To me, I guess that’s really a good thing because it’s needed in our culture because they were getting to where they were forgetting it,” she said.

Julie Hubbard, communications supervisor with the Cherokee Nation, said individuals across the Fort Smith and eastern Oklahoma region interested in learning Cherokee could attend a class from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., in Evening Shade, Okla., on Monday evenings from now through May 6. Classes are free and open to the public.

Link here for more information on technology and the Cherokee language.

Cherokee Nation Developing Largest Tribal Wind Farm in U.S.

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The site of a former Indian boarding school in Kay County, Oklahoma will soon become the largest wind farm on tribal land in the United States. The Cherokee Nation has partnered with Chicago-based PNE Wind USA Inc. to develop a 90-turbine wind farm, which is estimated to generate copy6 million over the next two decades. Development will start immediately on 6,000 acres of the former property of the Chilocco Indian School, which operated from 1884 to 1980.

The 153-megawatt wind farm will power homes, businesses and farms of the southwest grid region.

“The Cherokee Nation has an opportunity to be a leader among Indian nations in renewable energy,” said Cherokee Nation Deputy Speaker Chuck Hoskin, Jr. “The tribe will be able to utilize an underutilized resource. We talk a lot about protecting our environment and conserving our resources, so this is a prime opportunity to put words into action.”

The Cherokee Nation owns half of the land on which the wind farm will sit. Chilocco was ideal because of its wind resources, and environmental studies show it will not curtail the migratory bird population. The entire Chilocco wind farm will encompass 6,000 acres total.  The other 3,000 acres is owned by four other tribes, the Kaw, Otoe-Missouria, Pawnee and Ponca nations.

The tribal council voted 14-2 to approve the wind farm.

“The Cherokee Nation is playing a significant role in creating new green jobs and expects to play a key role in Oklahoma’s emerging wind energy industry,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a press release. “The Cherokee Nation is committed to growing the Oklahoma economy, helping reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and creating sustainable jobs for our people in the renewable energy sector.”



Cherokee Nation To Fund $100 Million Overhaul of Tribal Health Care System

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker announces a copy00 million investment in the tribe's health care system. (Cherokee Nation)
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker announces a copy00 million investment in the tribe’s health care system. (Cherokee Nation)

The Cherokee Nation runs the country’s largest tribally operated health care system. And now it is investing copy00 million from its business holdings to improve it.

“This is exactly what our businesses were designed to do,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker in a press release. “Our financial success belongs to the Cherokee people. For the first time ever, we are taking a substantial amount of money directly from our businesses and putting it where it counts the most—health care for our citizens. Using our businesses to invest in and improve our health care system is the right thing to do, and it will literally save Cherokee lives.”

The tribe plans to replace or renovate four health centers and build a new hospital over the next two to three years. Cherokee Nation Businesses’ construction division will manage the entire project, hiring dozens of Cherokee subcontractors certified by the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO), which will help boost the local economy.

A major component of the health system expansion is a new 100-bed hospital, which replaces the current W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Built as an Indian Health Services facility in 1984, the hospital was constructed to serve 65,000 outpatient visits each year. Today, the facility is serving more than 400,000 patient visits per year. The new $53.1 million hospital allows the current hospital to become an outpatient center.

The expansion projects also include a new 28,000-square-foot health center near Ochelata and a 42,000-square-foot health center in Jay. The Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw will see a 30,000-square-foot expansion and 11,000 square feet of renovations. In Stillwell, 28,000 square feet will be added to the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center.

The CNB board of directors unanimously approved the investment. Under current Cherokee law, an annual dividend totaling 35 percent of CNB’s profits is deposited in the Cherokee Nation’s general fund. The Cherokee Nation general fund supports a variety of services, including housing, education, social services, health care and more. Last year, that dividend payment totaled $57 million.

“The needs of the Cherokee people are so diverse that the dividend payment helps us get closer to where we need to be on health care, but very slowly,” Baker said. “This infusion of copy00 million, solely to health care infrastructure, helps us impact the health outcomes of Cherokees so much quicker. Our businesses have become so successful in recent years that it just makes sense and, quite frankly, is the right thing to do.”

“This is a great opportunity to show the Cherokee people why our casinos are here,” said Shawn Slaton, CEO of CNB. “Our goal is to create jobs, grow businesses and provide funding to the Cherokee Nation for services to the Cherokee people. We are proud to be in a position where we can make such a huge contribution to the health and well-being of Cherokee citizens.”

Aside from annual dividends, this is the first major investment the tribe’s businesses have made directly to tribal infrastructure. CNB will pay for the construction of the facilities and lease them back to the tribe for operation. One of CNB’s subsidiaries, Cherokee Nation Construction Resources, will serve as the prime contractor and construction manager of the project.

“By managing this project in-house, our construction division grows in its capabilities and gains an important past performance résumé, which they can use to win contracts from the federal government and private developers,” Slaton said. “This is a real win-win for CNB and the Cherokee Nation.”

Cherokee Nation Construction Resources, a division of CNB’s environmental and construction portfolio, is managing the construction of the health system expansion. The company is using this as an opportunity to perform work for the tribe and earn past performance credit, which is a valuable credential in both government and commercial contracting.

“When we do a project, we always know that the revenue it is generating helps the Cherokee people, but normally that’s through providing jobs and via the dividend payment,” said Cheryl Cohenour, executive general manager of Cherokee Nation Construction Resources. “But this project is so much more meaningful to us. For the first time, our work will directly affect citizens in ways the 35 percent dividend or job creation cannot.  There is so much pride in knowing that as a Cherokee Nation, tribally owned business, we have something tangible to show our businesses’ commitment to making change for the Cherokee people. These new, updated health facilities are going to be a source of pride for our company, as well as the entire Cherokee Nation.”

The Cherokee Nation’s health system supports 1.2 million patient visits annually. It consists of eight health centers throughout the Cherokee Nation and W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah. Most Cherokee Nation health centers offer medical, dental, lab, radiology, public health, WIC, nutrition, contract health, pharmacy, behavioral health, optometry, community health service and mammography, or a combination of those services.

The Cherokee Nation also has future plans to make renovations at the Three Rivers Health Center in Muskogee and build a new Jack Brown Center in Tahlequah. The Jack Brown Center serves Cherokee citizens who may be struggling with an alcohol or drug dependency.

“I promised to make the health of our people a main priority,” said Baker. “This is a major step in the right direction.”