Tahlequah Daily Press

Letters to editor

May 19, 2014

Reject changes to Cherokee Nation FOIA

TAHLEQUAH — Editor, Daily Press:

“Press releases tell us when federal agencies do something right, but the Freedom of Information Act lets us know when they do not,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy in 1996.

As Cherokee citizens, we have a right to know what our government is doing, including all of its business activities, rather than relying on its press releases alone.

Cherokee Nation passed a FOIA in 2001, providing citizens with guaranteed access to public records for the first time in the Nation’s history. This act, paired with the Independent Press Act in 2000, came on the heels of a heated election season, where release of records about the administration’s activities was the issue that set off a governmental crisis.

I was an employee of the Nation in 1998-1999, and not allowed to provide records to the elected councilors, much less to the Cherokee public. It was a complete lockdown, both literally with locked doors and cameras, as well as figuratively by the withholding of public information.

By the end of my tenure in 2011, it was my pleasure to be one of the officials responsible for implementing FOIA and the Government Records Act (GRA, for Council requests). Did it create more work for us? Certainly. Is it valuable and essential work to provide Cherokees with records they should have in order to keep everyone accountable? Absolutely.

The only criticism I have heard from citizens is that our FOIA could be stronger. However, the present course underway within the council is to severely weaken our FOIA and GRA.

The changes proposed would block Cherokee citizens’ and councilors’ access to information about our businesses. Cherokee Nation Businesses, including the hotel/casinos, represents about $850 million in the people’s assets. Cherokee citizens have the right to information about where our funding is spent, who contracts with CNB, and other activities. Why the sudden need to hide what goes on at CNB?

These bills will be considered at Rules Committee on May 28, 1 p.m. I urge our legislators to soundly reject these bills and save FOIA and GRA. Let’s not return to the dark ages of the late 1990s.

Melanie Fourkiller


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