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Agreement reached to allow CNE to buy art from tribal employees
By WILL CHAVEZ
Thurs, Nov 18, 2010
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Principal Chief Chad Smith and Cherokee Nation Entertainment officials recently agreed to allow Cherokee Nation employees to sell their artwork to CNE.
Smith sued CNE Public Relations Director Gina Olaya in the tribe’s District Court regarding CNE’s refusal to buy employee artwork for buildings and casinos based on a tribal conflict of interest law.
On Oct. 6, Smith asked the court to decide whether employees were exempt from Legislative Act 34-07, which prevents the CN and its entities from “purchasing goods or services, specifically artwork, from its employees.”
Smith states in his lawsuit that LA 34-07 and the tribe’s Ethics in Government Act violate a constitutional conflict of interest provision prohibiting employees from doing business with the Nation.
Smith said not allowing employees to sell their “goods and/or services,” including artwork, to the CN contradicts the framers’ of the Constitution and their intent to promote and further Cherokee people’s self-sufficiency.
He added that employees have been selling their artwork to the tribe and its entities since the passage of the 1976 Constitution.
“The prohibition of these sales is retroactive in its application and it was not the framers’ intent to forbid such sales,” he said.
Smith said the Ethics in Government Act and its amended form LA 34-07, known as the Sunshine Ethics Act of 2007, only deal with ethical situations involving Tribal Councilors and their spouses.
Attorney General Diane Hammons states in a 2009 opinion that the Sunshine Act is “unconstitutional to the extent that it allows” councilors to have an ownership interest in an entity doing business with the CN. However, the opinion also states “the spouses of the Tribal Council members are not prohibited from receiving ‘any interest, profit, benefits or gratuity’ from an entity doing business with the CN.”
On Aug. 20, Olaya sent an inquiry to Hammons asking if CNE was prohibited from buying employee artwork even though CNE was mandated by Legislative Act 01-07 to buy artwork only from CN citizens.
LA 01-07 is meant to preserve and showcase Cherokee culture at Cherokee facilities. The act ensures that 1 percent of funds for any construction or renovation costing $500,000 or more is earmarked toward purchasing “cultural, historic or traditional” artwork made by “blue card carrying” CN citizens.
Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo said on Aug. 24 that “art purchases from employees are prohibited.”
The following day, Olaya informed employees that based on Nimmo’s opinion, CNE “is not permitted to do business” with any employee.
Smith states in his petition that the opinion did not specifically address employees. But an Aug. 27 memo from Nimmo to Tribal Councilor David Thornton, who asked why CNE could no longer purchase artwork from employees, states “the Constitutional provision that was interpreted ‘included any person employed in any capacity by the Cherokee Nation.’”
Therefore Smith asked the court to find it constitutional for the CN to buy artwork from employees under LA 34-07 and that employees “suffer no conflict of interest” prohibiting them from “lawfully selling their artwork” to the CN and its entities.
On Oct. 7, District Court Judge John Cripps ruled after “having considered the stipulation and agreement of the parties” that employees could sell their artwork to the CN and its entities until the court makes a constitutional ruling regarding LA 34-07.