Cherokee Nation principal chief candidate David Walkingstick speaks at a benefit dinner, held in Eucha, Oklahoma, on May 24, 2019, to raise money and bring supplies to victims of tornadoes in the state. Campaign photo

Decision on Cherokee Nation chief candidate comes down to the wire

With just days left before the June 1 election, the highest court of the Cherokee Nation is deciding whether to allow David Walkingstick, a candidate for principal chief, back on the ballot.

Oral arguments for In Re: the Protest of Chelsea Huber to Disqualify David Walkingstick as a candidate for Principal Chief took place on Friday. But with Monday being a holiday and an additional filing due by noon on Tuesday, a decision isn't expected until after the justices receive all the pertinent information.

Complicating matters is the fact that early voting took place on Saturday. Despite the uncertainty, Walkingstick urged supporters to cast ballots for himself and for his ally Meredith Frailey, who is running for deputy chief and whose candidacy has not been questioned.

"I will still be on your ballot as a candidate for Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation," Walkingstick said in a video message prior to the hearing. "This will not change until the Supreme Court rules on the Election Commission's decision."

According to the election commission, Walkingstick violated Cherokee law. by accepting donations from a corporation called Cherokees for Change LLC and by soliciting illegal donations. Under tribal law, only individuals can donate to political campaigns .

Walkingstick denies the allegations and counters that tribal law has failed to take into account a U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United v. FEC. The ruling opened the door for independent corporations to spend so-called "dark money" on political campaigns based on the free speech protections in the U.S. Constitution.

The tribe, however, contends the controversial outcome has no bearing on Cherokee territory. "Citizens United does not apply to or within the Cherokee Nation," Chrissi Nimmo, the tribe's deputy attorney general, argued in court on Friday, The Cherokee Phoenix reported.

In an opinion published in Indian Country Today, attorney Keith Harper, a tribal citizen and former U.S. ambassador, argued the same.

"Given that Citizen’s United is a product of the broken national politics and, as a matter of record, has engulfed US politics with additional and exceedingly corrosive dark money, there is no reason whatsoever that the Cherokee Nation courts should follow the patently unwise and reckless decision," Harper wrote.

The U.S. Constitution recognizes tribes as independent sovereigns and the courts have held that their governments are not subject to the terms of the document. The distinction led Congress to enact the Indian Civil Rights Act in 1968 to ensure that tribes provide certain protections to their people, such as the right to free speech.

The courts also have held that it is up to tribes to determine how to carry out the mandates of ICRA. But the Cherokee Nation oath of office notably requires elected officials, including the principal chief, to swear to uphold the "constitution of Cherokee Nation and the United States of America."

Besides Walkingstick, Chuck Hoskin Jr., the tribe's Secretary of State, and Dick Lay, a council member, are running for chief. They are hoping to succeed Bill John Baker, who served two consecutive terms in office.

Though voters will pick a chief and deputy chief separately, Walkingstick has joined forces with Frailey, the speaker of the Cherokee Nation Council. Hoskin is allied with Bryan Warner, who also serves on the tribal council. Lay has not campaigned with a deputy chief candidate.

Read More on the Story
Cherokee Nation high court hears Walkingstick appeal to rejoin chief’s race (The Cherokee Phoenix May 24, 2019)
Cherokee Supreme Court hears Walkingstick appeal of disqualification from chief's ballot, offers no timeline on ruling (The Tulsa World May 24, 2019)
Court delays Walkingstick decision (The Tahlequah Daily Press May 24, 2019)
Cherokee sovereignty likely to be featured in arguments to Supreme Court about David Walkingstick's election disqualification (The Tulsa World May 24, 2019)

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