|The following is the opinion of Todd Hembree, the attorney general for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree. Photo courtesy Cherokee Nation
Recently, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Chief George Wickliffe released a statement concerning the relationship between the Cherokee Nation and the UKB. In that statement he said that Principal Chief Bill John Baker broke promises to work with the UKB by filing an injunction to prevent the UKB from gaining land into trust.
I respect Chief Wickliffe as a Cherokee Elder and as a leader of his people. However, there are certain points that must be made clear.
The Cherokee Nation is a constitutional government with separate and distinct branches and specific constitutional offices, each with its own duties and responsibilities. One such office is that of Attorney General, which I have the honor to hold. The paramount duty of the Attorney General is to represent the Cherokee Nation and make all legal decisions for our nation. The office of Attorney General is purposely set out in our Constitution to be an independent office, free of political influence.
Therefore, when Chief Wickliffe says that Chief Baker made the decision to oppose the UKB land into trust issue, he is incorrect. This decision was made by me, the Attorney General. The decision to defend our sovereignty and jurisdiction was made based upon the facts, the law and what is best for the Cherokee people. Under our Constitution, I am duty bound to uphold jurisdictional integrity.
When the UKB casino closed, Chief Baker immediately offered jobs to any displaced Cherokee employee with no strings attached. Chief Baker also notified our departments to find ways to help Cherokee citizens in need of assistance because of these events. The Cherokee Nation continues to have a standing invitation to any UKB leader to sit together and negotiate a resolution that can best serve all Cherokees without costly litigation.
Throughout his life of service, Chief Baker has proven himself time and again to be a friend to the Keetoowah Cherokee and an advocate for all Cherokee people. Litigation between the Cherokee Nation and the UKB has been ongoing for more than 30 years. However, as stated earlier, all litigation is directed by the Attorney General, not the Principal Chief.
Political influence and campaigns bear no weight in my decisions. It is my hope, as well as that of Chief Baker, that the Cherokee Nation and the UKB can come together to resolve all issues in a way that preserves the sovereignty and dignity of both nations.
George Wickliffe: United Keetoowah Band fights for its rights (1/30)