Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor reads a resolution during the Aug. 15 Tribal Council meeting in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. STACIE GUTHRIE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Councilors reimplement Whistleblower Act
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At their Aug. 15 meeting, Tribal Councilors passed a new Whistleblower Protection Act after learning earlier this year it was repealed in 2012.
The act is to protect employees from “retaliatory action” when participating in “protected activities” such as reporting alleged wrongdoing of a co-worker, supervisor or elected official.
The vote passed unanimously with Tribal Councilor Wanda Hatfield absent.
During the July 12 Rules Committee meeting, Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo said the act would replace the one that legislators repealed in 2012.
“When the Ethics Act was amended in, I believe, 2012 it was included in the language… this repeals Title 28. When you repeal a title you repeal all of the title,” she said. “No one caught that at the time that the Ethics Act was passed…It should have said it repeals this section of Title 28, but what it said was it repeals Title 28. When the new Ethics Act was passed…it took out the whistleblower language.”
Tribal Councilor Buel Anglen said as soon as he heard the Whistleblower Act was no longer in place he and others worked to reinstate it.
“Of course that opened my eyes up when I found out that there was that one case where we found out that the Whistleblower Act was not in effect anymore and that it had been taken out,” Anglen said. “So I asked some of the council people that were on it when it came out, why did that happen, and none of them knew anything about it. It was kind of worded in there to where it didn’t look like anything had changed, eliminated…So we just jumped right on it to get it back in once we found that out.
“(Tribal Councilor) Dick Lay and I took the charge on it,” he added. “We got it back in, and I think now the employees can feel comfortable again. If something’s going on, they speak up and not have to worry about losing their job or anything else.”
Nimmo said new language states “protected activity does not include false information provided by the employee.” Nimmo said what this means is that the employee’s allegations have to be “true.”
“What we intended by putting this language in is saying that what they report has to be true. So it keeps an employee from making up something,” she said. “The way that this is written, also in the burden of proof, that if an employee made up false information and they were terminated for that and they filed a claim under the Whistleblower Act in District Court of the (Cherokee) Nation, which would be the AG’s office defending the Nation, could prove that the information that they shared was false and they knew that it was false then they don’t get their job back, they don’t get back pay and they’re not protected under the Whistleblower Act because the Whistleblower Act is intended to protect employees who make a good-faith effort to shed light on possible wrongdoing by the government.”
Also at the Aug. 15 meeting, legislators transferred tribally owned trust lands to mutual-help home participants. According to legislation, the tribe acquired Delaware County land in 1937 and 1938 from the United States. The tribe later set aside certain areas within that land to be leased “for the construction of Mutual-Help Homes.”
The legislation states within portions of this trust land the tribe “established multiple housing Subdivisions” and “desires to transfer the following Mutual Help-Home sites to the participants in Trust.”
The legislation lists Peggy Wagnon, Jerry and Velma Tagg, Molly Sapp, Stanley and Amy Proctor and Roxanne and Cordell Smith as the participants of the project, which will be in Kenwood.
Legislators also authorized the tribe to lease trust land to the CC Camp Community Organization.
According to legislation, the land is 26.48 acres in Adair County located on Hwy 59 that encompasses the Cherry Tree Red Gym and softball fields. The legislation states the organization will lease the land from the tribe for $1 a year for 25 years beginning this year.
Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis said leasing “this property to the organization will only lead to more community events and create a tighter bond between Cherokee families.”
In other business, legislators:
• Reconfirmed Susan Chapman Plumb to the Cherokee Nation Foundation board and Jeff Limore to Sequoyah High School board of education, and
• Authorized a grant of easement for right-of-way to the Adair County commissioners for the reconstruction of a bridge in the Lyons Switch community.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on Dec. 11 passed an act that establishes the Cherokee Nation Sovereign Wealth Fund, a fund that is expected to “ensure the continuation of tribal operations and the general welfare of tribal citizens for future generations.”
Tribal Councilor Dick Lay spoke about the act’s importance during the Nov. 14 Rules Committee.
“So the idea was to take a small amount of funding from the businesses, set it aside for just extreme financial emergencies, and I think (Treasurer) Lacey (Horn) and her group have been working along the same lines, so we’re going to try and get those together,” Lay said.
Horn said creating a “permanent fund” was something she had wanted to do, and after working on Lay’s model with Controller Jamie Cole and Assistant Attorney General Chad Harsha they created an act to bring before Council.
“This act establishes a wealth fund, which shall be held by the treasurer in accordance with the act, and assets shall be maintained in an interest-bearing account or otherwise invested to promote growth of the fund's assets,” she said.
Within the fund, Horn said, there would be an Emergency Reserve Fund that would “receive a direct and continuing appropriation.”
“The Emergency Reserve Fund that receives the direct and continuing appropriation of 2 percent of the net income of our dividend-paying corporations as well as not less than 50 percent of funds received by the Cherokee Nation through judgment or settlement of legal claims,” she said. “That’s not to say that we couldn’t put 90 percent. That’s not to say that we couldn’t put some percent higher, but it’s just sort of setting that floor as to what’s going to go into this fund.”
The Motor Fuel Education Trust would also be moved to the new fund, which Horn confirmed would be an added “safety” measure.
“It had previously been collateralized in an interest-bearing CD that was used to borrow funds to build the Vinita (Health) Clinic, and that collateralization was removed whenever we entered into the loan with Bank of Oklahoma for the Tahlequah Joint Venture Project, and so these funds are…free and clear,” she said. “So this will take that fund, put that within the construct of the Cherokee Nation Sovereign Wealth Fund and allow us to invest that fund and continue to grow it.”
Horn said the fund could also have endowments, trusts or other funds incorporated within it periodically. “There’s often endowments, trusts that we receive from individuals that need to be invested for income-generating purposes, and this would be the perfect place to put (those) up underneath as well.”
Horn said all assets for the fund would be “reported and accounted” for separately and would support itself by not relying on any General Fund dollars.
“Expenses incurred and maintenance invested in the fund shall be paid for by the fund. So we won’t be utilizing any General Fund dollars to operate this fund it will be self-sustaining,” she said.
When it comes to distributing the fund’s money, there must be approval from two-thirds of the Tribal Council as well as the principal chief. According to the act, “a distribution from the Reserve Fund may only be made in the event that a financial emergency exists, the severity of which threatens the life, property or financial stability of the Nation.”
Also, according to the act, “a distribution from the Education Trust may only be made to satisfy a substantial need in higher education scholarships resulting from an unexpected funding loss or shortfall and distributions from all endowments, trusts or other funds held in the fund shall be made in accordance with any originating document or restriction applicable thereto, and subject to the appropriation laws of the Cherokee Nation.”
The act also notes that the fund “may not be used to finance or influence political activities.”
“I hope that you can see that we feel very strongly, very happy about this legislation that we put forward, and we hope the Tribal Council feels the same,” Horn said.
Councilors also passed an act relating to the adjustment of dividends known as the Corporation Emergency Dividend Reserve Fund Act, which is included within the Sovereign Wealth Fund.
Lay presented the act during the Oct. 26 Rules Committee meeting where he said it’s not an “original” idea but one that should be implemented as an “emergency fund.”
“It would cause the chief and the super majority of council to bring funding out of it to be used only for abject financial emergencies,” he said.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker was pleased to sign the Sovereign Wealth Fund into law.
“The idea of permanent fund was something we discussed within the administration several years ago. Having reached a number of major policy and legislative goals during the past six years, the time was right to focus our attention on this important safety net. I was pleased to sign this important act into law before year’s end, and appreciate the collaborative effort of my team and members of the Council in achieving this goal.”
According to the act, for-profit corporations that the tribe is the “sole or majority shareholder” and are under CN law “shall issue a monthly cash dividend in the amount of 30 percent” from a “special quarterly dividend” they “deem” appropriate. An additional 5 percent is set aside for Contract Health services for citizens. According to the act, another 2 percent would “be set aside exclusively for an unanticipated and extraordinary revenue or funding loss that creates a budget shortfall where appropriation from any other source would be unavailable.”
To view the Sovereign Wealth Fund Act, <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2017/12/11828__WealthFund.pdf" target="_blank">click here</a>.
To view the Corporation Emergency Dividend Reserve Fund Act, <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2017/12/11828__Dividends.pdf" target="_blank">click here</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – With 18 years of experience serving the Cherokee people, Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd looks forward to serving another four years as the representative for Dist. 2, which consists of most of northern Cherokee County.
“I love serving the Cherokee people. They’ve got somebody that’s going to work for them again for the next four years, and I’m really looking forward to that,” said Byrd.
Originally from Belfonte/Nicut, Byrd was the youngest Cherokee Nation legislator to be elected. He served on the Tribal Council from 1987-95, followed by term as principal chief from 1995-99. In January 2012, he won a special election to replace Bill John Baker on the Tribal Council. Baker had taken office as the principal chief on Oct. 19, 2011, after a contentious and lengthy principal chief’s race against incumbent Chad Smith.
In 2013, Byrd was re-elected to serve his first full term under the tribe’s 1999 Constitution, which limits elected officials to two consecutive four-year terms before having to sit out a term. He was also named speaker of the Tribal Council in 2015 after then-Speaker Tina Glory Jordan termed out.
When he first ran for office in 1987, Byrd said he felt the need to help the Cherokee people with the issues they were facing.
“Our government didn’t begin serving our people until the 1970s. When I first moved to Northeastern (State University) in 1972 to get an education, it really opened my eyes to a lot of the issues our people were facing,” he said. “In the rural areas there were a lot of people who weren’t self-efficient, and I saw right then we still had many people out in the rural areas that needed help and needed an awareness that there is a tribe out there that should have a responsibility to take care of our people.”
As for his current term, deciding to run again for the Dist. 2 seat was an easy decision, he said, because of his love for serving the Cherokee people and because of his constituents who asked him to continue.
He spoke of elderly women who continues to set an example of how his constituents have not forgotten their Cherokee culture or who they are as a people.
“When people like that come up to me and ask me to run, it’s a real honor to have people with that kind of stature to say, ‘you need to run another time,’” he said. “The people will let you know when it’s time to run. You don’t have to consult them, they’ll let you know.”
During his time as Dist. 2 representative, Byrd has helped with projects to improve services for CN citizens, including the passing of a $900 million budget, a $100 million investment in Cherokee health care as well as a $200 million dollar expansion of the W.W. Hastings Hospital.
For this term, Byrd said he would continue working with the tribe to ensure rural area schools have shelter for inclement weather and that elders and veterans are taken care of.
“Our veterans seem to not be taken care of like they should,” he said. “When we give speeches and talks we all say, ‘we respect our elder’s and we respect our veterans,’ but we have many that are still homeless and not being served. I want to do anything I can to assist in making sure our elders and veterans are taken care of.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Harley Buzzard is beginning his third Tribal Council term. It’s his second for Dist. 10, which consists of northern Delaware County and parts of Ottawa and Mayes counties. Prior to that he served from 2007-11 for the former Dist. 2, which consisted of Delaware County and part of Ottawa County.
Buzzard worked for the Cherokee Nation for 24 years before running for Tribal Council in 2007. After a term serving Dist. 2, he was elected for Dist. 10 in 2013. He ran again this year because he said there was more he could help improve such as agriculture, sanitation and education. “There was just some things I felt I wanted to be involved with, see if I could help get it done.”
He said he’s stressed agriculture’s importance with the hope that Cherokee children would learn how to grow their food. “Now we’re just eating fast foods and pre-cooked meals and things like that, and our children don’t know about gardening. I’d like to get it to the point where we could raise enough to supply all our families that want those fresh vegetables, but also on a commercial basis too (by) putting it into our casinos and stuff like that.”
Buzzard said he would also like to see improvements with roads and water lines in his district.
He said he has much experience with water and sanitation engineering and that he sees a lot of Cherokee families that do not have inside plumbing and water. A water line extension for rural water is something he would like to work on, he said.
He said road conditions in his district’s rural areas are also a problem, as school buses contend with rough gravel roads or washed out roads during floods.
“Kids have to ride the school bus to school, and a lot of them have to travel over these gravel roads and roads that don’t have bridges (and) washed out roads when they have floods. Those things are important to me also,” Buzzard said.
As for education, he said school funding in Oklahoma is decreasing and he, along with the rest of the CN legislators, would like to help fund school programs for students in the CN jurisdiction.
Buzzard said his district covers a larger area, and he does what he can in terms of allocating monies he receives via the Tribal Council to help fund needs and programs such as law enforcement and roads.
“Money is spread pretty thin in my district as far as trying to help (law) enforcement and road issues,” he said. “I don’t know what I could do other than put the money where it’s most needed. That’s how I base where the funding goes, is where the need is…you can’t go wrong by doing that, using that philosophy.”
Buzzard said he’s “happy” about the support he received this past election and surmises he “must be doing something right.”
“A lot of people come up and tell that they’re happy that I got re-elected. It’s always good to have people tell you that. Sometimes you wonder, ‘am I doing a good job for my citizens that live here?’ When they tell me that and vote for me by that majority, it means that I’m doing something right,” he said.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Frankie Hargis looks to serve the Cherokee people of Dist. 7 for another term after being re-elected in June. Hargis was initially elected on Dec. 2, 2011, to replace S. Joe Crittenden, who resigned after being elected deputy chief. She served her first full term after being elected in 2013.
“I chose to run for re-election because I have enjoyed serving the Cherokee people. There are projects that I want to see completed, and there is still work to be done.” She said.
Raised in Stillwell, Hargis graduated from Stilwell High School and then from Northeastern Sate University with a bachelor’s degree in education. She has worked for the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Enterprises in several capacities.
“I was raised in Adair County, raised my children here and want only the best for Cherokees in this district. We have made great strides in several areas, including health care, education and housing,” she said.
Before taking a seat on the Tribal Council, Hargis had never planned to run for tribal office. However, when she saw that the people of Adair County needed someone to be a voice she made the decision to “step up” and be that voice.
“I saw a need, and I knew it was not right to sit back and hope someone else would take care of things,” Hargis said. “I was taught the importance of caring for others and that the right thing to do when you see a need is to step up and do what you can.”
During her time as a legislator, she has worked with the Tribal Council to complete projects to improve the well-being of Dist. 7 and its constituents, including getting $80,000 to establish a shelter in Stilwell for survivors of domestic violence, $4.2 million to build a new child development center in Stilwell, $11 million for the expansion of the Wilma P. Mankiller Clinic as well as $1 million for roads and bridges in Adair County.
Hargis said for this term she would continue to support the Cherokee people as she always has, but with one major goal in mind.
“I will continue to support health care, education, job development and housing,” she said. “One goal I do have is for the Housing Authority (of the Cherokee Nation) to build a housing addition in Adair County in the near future for those citizens who are on the New Home Construction Program list but do not have their own land.”
She added that she is honored to serve a second term. “It is my opinion, we should always consider it an honor to serve others. I count it a blessing to continue as District 7 Tribal Council representative.”
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. – New At-Large Tribal Councilor Mary Baker Shaw said she’s “eager and excited” to begin assisting Cherokee Nation citizens in areas including health care and education.
Baker Shaw, who graduated from Tahlequah High School, said living in Tahlequah gave her a “unique perspective” on now being a CN citizen who lives outside the tribe’s jurisdiction in Oklahoma.
“They (at-large citizens) don’t have the same educational opportunities and benefits as in-jurisdiction has had,” she said. “They don’t have the advantage of the culture. When you’re in jurisdiction it’s just a part of your life more so than at-large. I want to engage our at-large communities to converse with each other and expose them and give them opportunities that they don’t have.”
Baker Shaw comes from a bloodline familiar with serving the Cherokee people. Her father, Amon A. Baker, was a Tribal Councilor under Principal Chiefs Ross Swimmer and Wilma Mankiller.
“His advice is to always vote for what is best for the Cherokees,” she said of Amon’s influence.
Baker Shaw’s platform includes improving the tribe’s health care.
“I’ve got a lot of ideas about medical care, and I want to get more familiar than what I’ve been allowed to do so as a visitor in the committee meetings,” she said. “I think our Tribal Council has meant very well towards the medical care, but they don’t have a background in it.”
Baker Shaw has worked in the medical field for years, including earning her associate degree in nursing from Bacone College before going on to study anesthesiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Additionally, she has served as the director of surgery at Doctor’s Hospital in Tulsa and is the business manager for University Heights Medical Clinic in Muskogee.
She said she’s also concerned with educational opportunities for at-large citizens and regularly features scholarship information on her Facebook page.
“I call it ‘Scholarship Saturday,’” she said. “I provide every piece of information I can find on scholarships to try and help our at-large citizens in obtaining scholarships because I think education is the answer to just about any problem that we could possibly have.”
In addition to attending at-large meetings, Baker Shaw said she plans to create a monthly webcast beginning in September or October that will keep at-large citizens informed.
“I’m going to do these little webinar things to tell everyone what’s happening and how I voted and why,” she said. “I wanted to help in the ways of communicating and connecting with the at-large citizens because I saw a need that they feel disconnected from our tribe, and I’m hoping that I can come up with ways to help them feel more connected with our Cherokee Nation. All they’re getting is their ID cards, the tribal card, and I want them to have more than that to feel connected, so that’s what I’m hoping to do.”
Baker Shaw has been married to Dr. B Frank Shaw for 36 years and has one daughter and two granddaughters. According to her website, she also serves on the American Indian Resource Committee for Tulsa City/County Libraries, Bacone College board of trustees, Signature Symphony Advisory Board, Tulsa Community College Foundation and is an emeritus board member of Tulsa Opera.
Baker Shaw, along with eight other Tribal Councilors, was sworn in on Aug. 14 at Sequoyah High School’s “Place Where They Play” gymnasium.
VINITA, Okla. – In the fall of 2013, Victoria Vazquez was elected to the Tribal Council after then Dist. 11 Tribal Councilor Chuck Hoskin Jr. was appointed to serve as the Cherokee Nation’s secretary of state.
“I had a special election with two opponents that took about six weeks, and on Oct. 22, I was sworn in,” Vazquez said.
In 2017, before the CN’s general election in June, Vazquez faced no opponents to again represent Dist. 11, which includes all of Craig County, part of northern Mayes County and northern Nowata County. Her district includes more than 2,000 constituents.
Before becoming a Tribal Councilor, Vazquez was a self-employed potter. She became well-known for her pottery classes, which she taught for about 20 years. She is a consultant, educator, historian and potter who showcases pottery that southeastern United States tribes once. She also helps preserve that culture, she said.
In 1990, Vazquez took a year off from working to study as an apprentice in pottery with her mother, Anna Sixkiller Mitchell. A full-blood Cherokee, Mitchell revived Southeastern and woodlands-style pottery in Oklahoma more than 40 years ago, Vazquez said.
Vazquez’s pottery is on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Department of Interior, University of Arkansas, Bartlesville History Museum, Cherokee Heritage Center, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, First National Banks and in the Ruth Bader Ginsburg collection.
Vazquez did not have political experience before being elected to the Tribal Council. Instead, she worked with the CN by teaching classes at the CHC, schools and various places for 10 years, she said.
“I had established a relationship with a lot of people with the CN, and I had become well-known in the area. As a Tribal Councilor, you’re a representative and you develop a relationship with your constituents,” she said.
During the 2017-21 term, Vazquez said she would like to see certain areas of the tribe improve.
“The main issues I am working on are health care, housing, scholarships and just about anything CN offers to our citizens. I ensure our citizens have access to that,” Vazquez said.
During this term, she said she plans on building a nutrition center in Vinita that is modeled after those in Jay and Nowata for low-income citizens.
“Currently those in need have to drive to Jay or Nowata. This center could serve them lunch several days a week. We have a few of these in other (CN) districts, and it is my main goal for my district,” she said.
In 2015, Vazquez was elected to serve as deputy speaker of the Tribal Council and is serving as the chairwoman of Culture Committee. She said she does most of her representative outreach through email. To contact her, email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.