Cherokee chief seeks new vote on constitutional amendment 6-2-07

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith has called a special meeting this week to ask the tribe's council to place a constitutional amendment question on the ballot for an upcoming election.

Smith is seeking a second vote on an amendment to remove federal oversight of the tribe's constitution. Voters approved the amendment in 2003, but the federal government never approved the election.

The special meeting will be held Wednesday night in Tahlequah. The amendment would be placed on the ballot for the June 23 election, which includes Smith's bid for re-election.

Carl Artman, the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said a second vote would not mean that the government would approve it, but a review would be swift. There is no legal deadline set by the bureau or the Cherokee constitution, Artman said.

Tribal spokesman Mike Miller said the tribe stands behind its assertion that the 2003 vote is the binding voice of the Cherokee people and was implemented by the tribe's supreme court in 2006. The tribe could vote on the same issue again as a matter of course, he said.

“I think we can pursue both causes at once,” Miller said. The 2003 amendment vote “doesn't need further approval.”

Artman said one issue with the 2003 amendment was that freedmen, the descendants of slaves owned by the Cherokees, were not allowed to vote in the election.

Last month, the tribe's attorney general agreed to a temporary injunction in tribal court that would allow the freedmen descendants to vote in the June election.

The freedmen descendants have challenged the constitutionality of a March election that rescinded their tribal membership. Lawsuits are pending in tribal and federal courts.

A hearing on the federal lawsuit is scheduled for June 11 in Washington, D.C.