A History Lesson


By David Cornsilk:

We should know our history. But it must be the real history. When it is said "we did that" it infers that Cherokee Nation had anything to do with the development and recognition of the UKB. If that's what is meant, it's not true. It was the intent of Congress and the mixed blood Cherokees that the Cherokee Nation cease to exist when our lands were allotted and Oklahoma became a state.

The full bloods were opposed and formed the Keetoowah Society Incorporated to continue some semblance of governance for themselves. When Congress did an about face in Indian policy and passed the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 it did not apply to Oklahoma tribes. The primary reason was not white opposition. It came from mixed blood Cherokees and Creeks who did not want retribalization.

The full bloods were incensed and demanded Congress fix the law. In 1936 Congress passed the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (OIWA) to apply IRA to Oklahoma. The Keetoowah Society Inc. sought federal recognition as a tribal government. At first Congress refused because mixed bloods opposed to reorganization,characterized the Keetoowah as a club rather than a tribe. D'Arcy McNickle, a Colville Indian, history scholar and BIA employee, investigated the Keetoowah and found they were historic successors to the Western Cherokee Nation which had two treaties with the US prior to the Trail of Tears and separate from the Cherokee Nation.

The Keetoowah Cherokees, mostly full bloods, were recognized by Congress in 1950. Meanwhile, the Cherokee Nation continued on its path to termination set in motion by the 1906 Five Civilized Tribes Act. The 1898 Curtis Act had already stripped the CN of its courts. The 1906 Act stripped CN of its legislature, gave appointment of the chief to the US President and permanently closed the citizenship rolls of the Cherokee Nation. This was all done in preparation for the termination of the Cherokee Nation government. But the Act also continued the tribal government "in full force and effect...according to law."

Several times over the three decades after statehood, Cherokees would gather to mark the final closing of the Cherokee Nation. Speeches were made and history remembered. But not once after OIWA was passed in 1936 did anyone associated with the Cherokee Nation seek reorganization.They intended that the Cherokee Nation would cease to exist.

After WW Keeler was appointed principal chief in 1949, the appointment was made annually because of the lawsuits that needed to be filed to recoup lost lands and money the Cherokees had been cheated out of since the first days of the American Republic. Keeler piggy backed his lawsuits on the Newly recognized United Keetoowah Band because the Cherokee Nation, suffering from serious disabilities, had no power to sue. Not the least of its disabilities was the fact CN had no legislative body.

The largest monetary win in court was the Outlet case. The Cherokee Nation was awarded $14 million dollars, which was paid out in per capita payments to living Cherokee citizens or their heirs determined per Oklahoma law. Any money that was not paid out reverted to the Cherokee Nation. That amounted to a little over $2 million. That money was used to create the Cherokee Heritage Center, which was organized as an Oklahoma corporation, again because the CN had no authority.

In 1968 Keeler was sued by three UKB members because he was wasting Cherokee money and spending it without authority because he had no legislature. Congress responded to the suit by passing the 1970 Principal Chiefs Act which allowed the 5 Civilized Tribes to "popularly select" their principal officer. You'll notice that Act did not say "elect." What Congress did  was to repeal the previous disabilities it had imposed to imply the CN could exercise sovereignty. The 1970 PCA also authorized the sitting chief to promulgate the election rules (since there was no legislative body) and required that the CN's election rules be submitted to the President for his approval.

During this time, neither the CN nor the UKB had much money. But that was about to change. In 1973 Congress passed the Indian Self-Determination Act allowing for tribes to contract federal funds. It was the availability of hundreds of thousands of federal dollars previously administered by the BIA that finally got the mixed bloods interested in tribal government.

Keeler got himself elected in 1970 by handing out voting cards to a hand picked group of 1500 Cherokees. Remember, the 1970 PCA had authorized him to make up his own election rules. One good thing about Keeler was his willingness to work with the UKB; but his successor was not as friendly. During Keeler's four years as elected chief, he and the UKB worked together on several ventures including what we know today as CNI and the Juliano Project which lead to the creation of the Lodge and Restaurant of the Cherokees and saw nearly 80,000 acres of land deeded to "a Cherokee government organized under OIWA." That land included where the current CNO complex sits today.

After his election in 1970, Keeler was accused of campaign contribution fraud. Because of that, and age, he chose not to run for another term. He called for a new election in 1974 and named Ross Swimmer, an Oklahoma City lawyer, as his chosen successor. Five men ran against Swimmer in the 74 election. But again Keeler being the sitting chief made up the rules. He didn't include a provision for runoff and Swimmer won the election with 23% of the vote.

It didn't take long for the traditional full blood Keetoowahs, who had an office in the tribal building, to butt heads with the non-traditional Swimmer. Within six months of the election, Swimmer unceremoniously booted the UKB from their office. This move created problems for the CN because it still had no legislature. That's when Swimmer got the grand idea to create a corporation with a board to represent tribal interests. He would, of course, be CEO. Thus was born the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

This new organization would rise to great heights contracting federal money. Meanwhile, there was still the problem of the existence of the Cherokee Nation and the UKB. The Cherokee Nation part was easy. Just convince the Cherokee people that the 76 constitution was actually the CN reorganizing. This, of course was not true because Swimmer was not authorized to reorganized the CN unless he did it under OIWA. That was the only federal law that could remove all the disabilities imposed by Congress in 1898, 1906 and 1970.

The original constitution Swimmer had sent to Congress for the CN was rejected by the BIA because of those laws. So Swimmer simply created another constitution that created the CNO and all was well with the BIA.

But then what to do about the UKB? Swimmer, Mankiller and Smith all did their best to destroy the UKB. Swimmer kicked them out; Mankiller got their funding cut off; Smith tried to take them over by running his dad Nelson Smith on a termination ticket. Nothing worked because the UKB is a federally recognized tribe, CNO is not. WHAT? That's right, CNO is not federally recognized.

The BIA recognizes the Cherokee Nation. The federal register actually says Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma is recognized. The BIA has declared the Cherokee Nation to have sunset and the CNO and UKB are it's successors, legal heirs so to speak. This happened because if the 1906 FCT Act. You will recall that the 1906 Act closed the citizenship Rolls of the Cherokee Nation. Since that time no new citizens have been or could be added to the CN citizenship Roll.

At least not without some action by Congress. That action was OIWA. But you'll recall the CN DID NOT organize under OIWA. The UKB did. When the last citizen of the Cherokee died in 2011 or 2012, the BIA notified Then Acting Chief Crittenden that the CN had sunset by its own inaction, leaving the CNO corporation and the UKB as its successors.

But what about your blue card I bet you're asking. That card represents membership in the CNO, not Cherokee Nation. Swimmer had no authority to open the CN citizenship rolls closed by Congress. So he created a smoke and mirrors, slight of hand, dog and pony show. Since he was CNO member number one, all he had to do was convince the Cherokees that he had reorganized the CN. That wasn't hard because most Cherokees had been kept in the dark and didn't know our history. They wanted to believe.

You will note that the UKB did not raise these issues in their fight to keep their casino open. Since the BIA had already raised them, and had sound legal arguments to support them, it is most strange that the UKB legal team didn't glom onto it.

There could be closer ties between the UKB legal team and CNO than is immediately apparent. Since most of them are CNO members, a definite hmmm is in order.

As you can see, the Cherokee Nation had nothing to do with the organization of the UKB. The economic ties benefited the stripped bare CN and once the money was rolling in, they booted the UKB to the curb. And now that the last real citizen of the Cherokee Nation has died and the CN sunset, it is more important than ever that the UKB be destroyed. And that brings us to where we are today.