A petition asking the federal government not to recognize the results of the Cherokee chief election has been filed by a tribal citizen but is not signed by the candidate whose disqualification is cited as a grievance.
However, the Bureau of Indian Affairs late Wednesday said it has “no authority to intervene with election results.” The results weren’t submitted to the BIA for approval or certification, and the department said it wouldn’t undertake such an action.
“Any disputes of election for Principal Chief would be handled internally in accordance with the laws and regulations of the Cherokee Nation,” said Nedra Darling, BIA spokeswoman.
Cherokee Nation citizen Cara Cowan Watts submitted a three-page letter Wednesday to the BIA. In it, she asked for a BIA investigation into conduct in the principal chief election and a refusal to recognize the election results and, therefore, not acknowledge Chuck Hoskin Jr. as the new chief.
David Walkingstick, whose disqualification by the Cherokee Election Commission was upheld by the tribe’s Supreme Court, didn’t sign the petition. Nor did Meredith Frailey, who campaigned for deputy chief with Walkingstick.
Watts’ letter says petitioners believe there is “substantial evidence” that the Election Commission and Attorney General’s Office violated their civil rights in several ways, including the disqualification of Walkingstick.
“The focus is not on David Walkingstick nor Meredith Frailey,” Watts said in an email response to Tulsa World questions. “The focus should be on the thousands of Cherokees who were disenfranchised from the voting process and their right to vote taken from them.”
Watts served on the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council from 2003-2015. She lost her bid for the District 14 seat in the general election in June. She said she and the other petition signers are hopeful for a new election that is “fair and transparent with BIA oversight.”
“Many Cherokee voters were disenfranchised by the Cherokee Nation Election Commission’s unfair and late disqualification of Chief candidate David Walkingstick when other valid complaints were being requested and not being investigated,” Watts said. “This is apparent in the steep drop-off in actual voter turn-out of 5,500 less voters than 2015’s General Election.”
In a phone interview, Hoskin called it a “wonderful day of unity” as the Cherokee people celebrated democracy with the transition of one elected administration to the next.
Hoskin said nothing that Watts filed in the petition will alter what he will do, which is work on behalf of the tribe’s citizenry.
“I do think that it is stunning that anyone who would consider themselves a current or former leader would run to the federal government and try to sever its historic recognition of the Cherokee Nation,” Hoskin said.
“That is a stunning action for a former tribal official to do having taken the same oath of office I just did.”
Walkingstick in a statement said that the Cherokee people were concerned with how the principal chief election was conducted.
“I hope that the BIA will conduct an investigation into the election and guarantee that no Cherokee’s voice is silenced by corruption,” he stated.
Hoskin and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner were sworn in to their new positions Wednesday.
“The timing is unfortunate, but I did not want to leave any Cherokee behind,” Watts said, noting that the petition had almost 1,000 signatures. “I had to collect the physical signature list from another person who was holding them.”
Hoskin received 7,933 votes in the election, to 3,856 votes for Dick Lay and 2,006 for the disqualified Walkingstick — a total of 13,795.
The Cherokee Supreme Court in June unanimously decided it had insufficient evidence to order a new election after Lay and Frailey filed complaints to invalidate the results because of alleged campaign finance violations by Hoskin and Warner.