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Citing treaties, Cherokees call on Congress to seat delegate from tribe

TAHLEQUAH — Citing two treaties, officials with the Cherokee Nation formally called on Congress on Thursday to seat a nonvoting delegate from the country’s largest tribe.

Standing outside the tribe’s National History Museum, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. formally announced his nomination of Kimberly Teehee as the Cherokee Nation’s first delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The right to a congressional delegate is laid out in the tribe’s constitution and provisions in both the Treaty of Hopewell and Treaty of New Echota, which provided the basis for the Cherokees’ removal to what is now Oklahoma. If confirmed, Teehee would be the first delegate seated under the terms of those treaties.

“I firmly believe that the government of the United States ought to live up to its obligations under our treaties,” Hoskin said.

“We certainly take our treaties serious, and Cherokees always have ever since we’ve had a government-to-government relationship with the United States. This is a provision that we have not enforced, but just because we haven’t enforced it doesn’t mean that it is not valid and enforceable now.

“Today we’re in a position of strength, and we ought to be asserting our rights under our treaties. Our country is better if it keeps its promises, and I fully expect them to keep this promise they made to the Cherokee Nation.”

Teehee will go before the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council for confirmation on Thursday afternoon, first by the council’s Rules Committee, then by the full body at a special session. Beyond that, the timeline for if or when she will be seated as a nonvoting delegate is still unclear.

Should the tribe follow the same process used to seat the six nonvoting members of Congress from U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, the House of Representatives would have to formally vote to admit Teehee.

“First and foremost, it’s going to be a process where we educate,” she said. “There are examples out there. … We can look to the U.S. territories as a first step as to how we can get across that finish line.”

Hoskin said talks are underway with the state’s members of Congress and called on them to introduce legislation to seat her. On Monday night, U.S. Rep Tom Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, questioned whether the treaties cited by the Hoskin administration are still valid.

“First of all, … there are no statutes of limitations on our treaties,” Teehee said. “Just because it’s an old document, it continues to live just like the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The provisions that we are exercising today have never been abrogated. They are still in full force and effect.”

U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, whose eastern Oklahoma district includes much of the Cherokee Nation’s counties, issued a statement saying, “Appointing a tribal member as a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives is unprecedented and there are many unknowns ahead.

“As a member of the Cherokee Nation, I firmly believe tribal sovereignty and treaties must be honored by the federal government.”

Originally from Claremore and a graduate of both Northeastern State University and the University of Iowa College of Law, Teehee served as the first-ever senior policy adviser for Native American affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council for three years during President Barack Obama’s administration. She is currently the vice president of government relations for Cherokee Nation Businesses and director of government relations for the Cherokee Nation.

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'She deserves the best': Decorated Vietnam veteran, 74, enrolls in welding school to support ailing wife

Whenever he has nightmares about Vietnam, David Nelson takes solace in knowing he’s not alone.

His wife, Cynthia, is always by his side.

“I don’t have them as often as I used to,” Nelson said, “but when I do, it’s normally a doozy. And she just lays on me and hugs and kisses me.”

“She’s worth her weight in gold,” he added.

A decorated Vietnam veteran and Army retiree, Nelson is committed to supporting his wife, as well.

Since her diagnosis with cancer, it’s been a challenge. Recently, with the related expenses mounting, the 74-year-old took what seemed like an unlikely leap for his stage of life.

He enrolled at Tulsa Welding School to embark on a new career.

“I’m tickled pink to be here,” Nelson said Wednesday afternoon, after finishing up his third day of welding class. “It’s going to open doors for me.”

For their part, school officials are happy to have Nelson.

After learning more about his situation, they wanted to help.

“I spoke with the CEO and said let’s help him out,” said Jorge Hinojosa, TWS campus president.

The school awarded Nelson a full scholarship.

“It’s the least we can do. He’s so inspirational,” Hinojosa said. “We owe our freedom to people like him.”

Once he completes the 7-month program, Nelson expects to be able to enter the workforce immediately.

‘A killer and a money-stealer’

Nelson and his wife, who’ve been married for 16 years, live in Choctaw.

It’s nearly 100 miles from Tulsa, but he has no other option for now but to drive back and forth, he said.

Currently, Cynthia is in Tulsa, too, where she will learn from doctors whether she will face more treatment.

She originally was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2016 and underwent successful treatment then.

In the three years since, Nelson has focused on taking care of her.

“She’s my No. 1 priority,” he said.

But it’s kept him from being able to work the part-time jobs he did previously. The couple have health insurance from his military career, but the out-of-pocket expenses have been crippling.

“Cancer is a killer and a money-stealer,” Nelson said.

At last, feeling like he was “sitting back doing nothing,” he decided to act. Nelson went to check out Tulsa Welding School after seeing an ad on television.

“It was something I felt like I could do,” he said, adding that Cynthia was supportive when he told her.

Sgt. Eveready

Nelson, a native of Topeka, Kansas, served 15 years in the Army before retiring in 1976 with the rank of staff sergeant.

He did one tour in Vietnam, 1966-67. Serving with the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, he was part of three major operations there, receiving a Silver Star, Bronze Star for valor, and a Purple Heart, among other decorations.

The attrition rate was so high, Nelson said, in just a matter of weeks he’d gone from team leader to grenadier to squad leader to platoon commander.

The action was intense and his memories tend to blur together.

One incident he remembers well happened during a patrol.

The designated “tunnel rat” for the outing, Nelson was sent into a tunnel to check it out. About a hundred yards inside, he encountered two enemy soldiers.

Not wanting to fire his gun for risk of collapsing the tunnel, he used what he had in hand: His flashlight.

He proceeded to beat them with it, he said. Nelson was able to subdue them until his comrades arrived to take them prisoner.

“They called me ‘Sergeant Eveready’ after that,” he chuckled.

After returning from his tour in Vietnam, Nelson thought he’d made it through emotionally unscathed. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, though, soon surfaced.

Today, Nelson is a 100%-disabled veteran due to PTSD.

Through all the “ups and downs” he and his wife have endured, their faith has been vital, he said.

“I really believe the Lord does what people ask him to do,” Nelson said. “That’s why I know I’m going to get through this.”

“It’s always been the three of us. My wife, myself and the Lord,” he said.

Tulsa Welding School, marking its 70th anniversary this year, has an enrollment of around 550 students, officials said. Nelson is the oldest.

The distinction doesn’t bother him. At “74 years young,” he said, he feels good and believes he’s up to the challenge.

“This is a good place to be. They’ve been very supportive to me,” Nelson added.

“I’m tickled pink. I really am. I’m looking forward to the rest of it.”

And every day, as he dons his helmet and gear, he’ll remember why he’s doing it.

“My wife deserves the best,” Nelson said.

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Time magazine names Gathering Place among 'World's Greatest Places'

The accolades keep rolling in for the Gathering Place.

Time magazine announced Thursday that the park along Riverside Drive has been named one of the publication’s 100 World’s Greatest Places to experience in 2019.

The Gathering Place will be one of three Greatest Places highlighted on NBC’s “Today” show Friday. The segment is scheduled to air at 9:40 a.m.

“We are so thrilled to bring this award to Tulsa with international recognition and the historical prestige of Time magazine,” said Tony Moore, the park’s executive director. “As we near our one-year anniversary since opening on Sept. 8, 2018, it’s humbling to look back on what we’ve done and how Tulsa has embraced this park and exciting to look to the future and all that is to come.”

Time magazine’s list includes places to visit, places to stay, and places to eat and drink.

The Gathering Place joined Fabrica de Arte Cubano in Havana, Cuba; Helsinki Central Library Oodi in Helsinki, Finland; and the Mori Building Digital Art Museum in Tokyo, Japan, as one of the list’s 37 places to visit.

Time magazine compiled the second annual list by soliciting nominations from its editors and correspondents, as well as from industry experts, according to a press release from the publication.

The nominations were then evaluated for quality, originality, sustainability, innovation and influence.

Since opening, the Gathering Place has also been named USA Today’s Best New Attraction and one of National Geographic’s 12 mind-bending playgrounds around the world.

The Gathering Place represents the largest private gift to a public park in U.S. history. Donated to the River Parks Authority by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which gave $200 million (including $50 million in land), it has received more than $150 million in pledges from corporate and community philanthropists. The city of Tulsa contributed $65 million in park infrastructure and improvements to Riverside Drive.

The Gathering Place in Tulsa on Friday, June 21, 2019. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World

Tulsa Mass Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee sets rules for physical process

The first two meetings to examine the possibility of locating unmarked burial sites of people killed in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, held in June and July, established the purpose of the project and outlined what the process will entail once started.

On Thursday, during the third meeting, members of the Mass Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee established rules for each step in the actual physical investigation and identified decision points that would be made in the future before searches get underway.

The subcommittee on Historical Context and Narrative is analyzing ways to share information about the mass graves investigation with the public while allowing community members to present oral histories, documentation and other items that would enrich the narrative of the massacre.

Sen. Kevin Matthews, chairman of the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, explained that he regularly holds public meetings to discuss items related to the excavation plan and the massacre itself.

Others, including committee member Kavin Ross, suggested that getting varying generations of residents involved in sharing stories is vital to the city’s — and affected families’ — efforts to get closer to the truth.

“If they are able to obtain their family stories, that will help the process,” Ross said. “Today, we are getting more stories about what happened that summer. More people are coming forward and saying things that had been hidden for decades. The only thing we are looking for is the truth and to bring respect to the people who were lost almost a century ago.”

MET Cares Foundation member Greg Robinson said advocating for public participation would encourage more people who are hesitant about sharing stories to feel more comfortable doing so.

Following the July meeting, the city of Tulsa established a website devoted to collecting information about burial sites and encouraged the public to share stories and personal details about the massacre.

All of the discussion eventually centered around the objective that the group needed to be as transparent and objective as possible with the understanding that all activities would be scrutinized, particularly if and when human remains are discovered.

“We don’t want a repeat of what happened in Sugarland, Texas,” said Chief Egunwale Fagbenro Amusan. In that town, Newsweek reported, public discussion of how to handle the 95 unearthed graves of black prison laborers who were forced to work on Texas’ sugar cane plantations from 1878 to 1911 occurred only after the unmarked graves had been disturbed.

“Our highest value should be to those who we find,” Amusan said. “The highest value needs to be placed there. We need to make sure our most ethical standard (is) to be truthful about what happened so people don’t try to marginalize the story.”

The next Mass Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at Vernon AME Church, 311 N. Greenwood Ave.