FROM THE ARCHIVE

Court decision rocks Seminole Nation

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WEDNESDAY, MAY 8, 2002

The current leadership of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma was kicked out of office on Tuesday by a court decision restoring ousted Principal Chief Jerry Haney to power.

Nearly a year after a disputed election unseated the long-time leader of the tribe, a Bureau of Indian Affairs judicial proceeding put him back in the top seat. In a decision with wide implications, Judge Philip Lujan of the the Court of Indian Offenses in Wewoka issued two "emergency" restraining orders against the tribe's current administration.

Current chief Ken Chambers and numerous other tribal officials, administrators and managers were summarily dismissed from their jobs by the court's directives. One order affects the tribal council and its members while the other impact the tribe's casino and business establishments.

In all, at least 30 top officials were removed while the jobs of an untold number of employees were put on hold because Lujan also ordered the Seminole bingo hall and other facilities to shut down immediately pending the transfer of power. Haney was establishing his own council and gaming regulators, according to documents filed in the court.

The decision is a major win for Haney, who fought his June 2001 suspension and subsequent ouster during an July primary on a number of fronts. He was unreachable yesterday but employees said he was well aware of the victory.

The Chambers administration anticipated some form of movement because the BIA court last week froze various tribal bank accounts. Saying the action caused "major turmoil" within the tribe, his council held a rally of sorts at Seminole headquarters yesterday morning and pitched the affair as an incursion on their right to self-determination.

Chambers and his council subsequently holed themselves up in Wewoka. Attempts to reach his representatives were not successful yesterday.

"They're going to have to carry me out," Assistant Chief Mary Ann Emarthla told the Associated Press.

Chambers won the title of chief after an August run-off in which he defeated challenger Leon Lusty. But the BIA was refusing to recognizing Chambers and subsequent actions due to a dispute involving the status of Seminole Freedmen, descendants of African slaves who were made members of the tribe by a post-Civil War treaty.

The Freedmen were restored full membership after being taken out during a 2000 referendum. The assurance led Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb to recognize the tribe and allow federal funds to flow.

The descendants have their own court action to seek access to a $56 million land claim fund. A federal judge last week dismissed the suit because the Seminole Nation wasn't a named party.

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

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