FROM THE ARCHIVE

The Seminole Nation's hanging chad

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THURSDAY, AUGUST 8, 2002

A dispute over the leadership of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma appears to get muddier as time goes on.

The short story goes like this: Jerry Haney was suspended as principal chief by the Seminole council in June 2001. Two months later, voters replaced him with Ken Chambers, who's been trying to run the tribe ever since.

The long story involves the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The battle has raged in court for about two years, with Haney recently being allowed to intervene -- a request that was supported by Secretary of Interior Gale Norton. The BIA still believes Haney runs the show, despite an overwhelming vote against him, because tribal members of African descent were excluded from the election.

That position, to some, seems odd. Haney, during a July 11 broadcast of the CBS program "60 Minutes II", suggested he didn't want the Freedmen, as the African members are known, in the tribe either.

"So if they're black and they can't prove that they have Indian blood, go away," said CBS corresponded Vicki Mabrey.

"Basically, that's what we're saying," Haney responded.

The government doesn't seem clear on the issue either. While the BIA won't allow the Freedmen to get kicked out, the agency also won't let them "in" by issuing Indian blood quantum cards.

A certificate of degree of Indian blood, or CDIB, would would essentially allow the Freedmen to receive federal services. It would also grant access to a $56 million judgment fund for land the Seminoles lost when they were forcibly removed from Florida.

The two issues are key Freedmen demands.

A federal judge in Oklahoma won't order the BIA to issue CDIBs. Another judge in Washington, D.C., won't let the Freedmen intervene in the leadership case.

Norton, as it turned out, opposed their involvement. Why? Because the Freedmen brought up the access issue.

That leaves Chambers and his administration still in power but only in the eyes of the people. The tribe has had to negotiate with the BIA piecemeal to ensure federal funds to housing, education, elder and health care programs keep coming.

And although the Freedmen, who are in the minority of the tribe, have been restored membership, the election which brought Chambers to power is still considered by the BIA as "contested."

Haney would like a new election. Chambers is confident of his leadership. The BIA, it seems, is still looking for that hanging chad.

Relevant Links:
Seminole Nation of Oklahoma - http://www.cowboy.net/native/seminole

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