PRYOR, OK — Dear editor,
There has been a considerable amount of concern and attention centered around the potential amendments to the Cherokee Nation Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Governmental Records Act (GRA).
These legislative Acts have ensured the right of our citizens to information and provided Tribal Council members access to governmental records so they can honestly, prudently and faithfully fulfill their responsibility as overseers of Cherokee people’s assets. The need to know and access to information is our citizens’ inherent right as the true owners of the Cherokee Nation government. We cannot take these pieces of legislation for granted. Restricting or limiting access to crucial information can lead to serious real life consequences.
I recall statements made by former Principal Chief, Chad Smith, about transparency and open government when he initiated the FOIA in 2001 along with the Free Press Act in 2000. A couple of statements he made about these two Acts left a lasting impression with me. He stated, “If I’m doing something wrong, the Cherokee people need to be able to read about it in the Cherokee Advocate.” As a visionary, Chief Smith always planned for the next 100 yrs. He must have had that in mind when he supported the Cherokee Freedom of Information Act in 2001 and said, “When you think about preserving our government for the next 100 years, you realize it’s good to have someone looking over everyone’s shoulder because having an informed citizenry is a very important thing.”
The enactment of the GRA and FOIA was his immediate and imperative response after the near collapse of our Nation’s government from 1995-1998. That was a time when the federal government suspended payments to the Cherokee Nation and we were on the brink of self-destruction. Comments were made by some in the media that the Cherokee Nation had become a “banana republic.”
In my opinion, there is no doubt that the near collapse of our government started over the issue of a serious lack of transparency. The Administration during those years refused to provide the tribal council with information on attorney fees and fired the Editor of the Cherokee Phoenix for increasing awareness of the need for an independent press, free of political control by any branch of government. Consequently, the Cherokee marshals received court approval and seized the information. Subsequently, the Administration fired the Marshals, tried to impeach the Judges and the federal government was considering taking control of the Cherokee Nation government after former administrations had work so hard toward self-governance and self-reliance.
We as Cherokee citizens simply can’t ignore the historic and inevitable consequences of suppressing transparency within our government and our businesses. We could pay an enormous price for it.
Meredith Frailey, former member
Tribal Council of the Cherokee Nation