As many as 18 tribal leaders from across Indian country met with President Barack Obama last week in a Native American Roundtable discussion held in Washington, DC. The July 18th summit lasted an hour and took place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Details of who attended the event and what issues were discussed remains unclear. A press release issued by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma announced the tribe’s Principal Chief, Bill John Baker and CN Attorney General Todd Hembree were present at the talks.
According to the Cherokee Nation, Baker and Hembree used their time with the president to raise concerns involving the reimbursement of millions of dollars the Cherokee Nation says is owed to them by the federal government. Their claims follow last month’s United States Supreme Court ruling, Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter — a case under which Congress failed to fully appropriate funds for a host of tribal “self-help” programs linked to services like healthcare and education. Hundreds of tribes stand to reap the benefits of the high-court decision believed to be estimated at $1 billion. The Cherokee Nation says its expects to be repaid as much as $50 million.
Baker could not be reached for comment, but days after the June 18th ruling in Salazar v. Ramah, he was quoted in the Cherokee Phoenix, calling the 5-4 decision a “tremendous victory for the Cherokee Nation.” The Cherokee Nation says Baker was the only tribal leader to present a white paper to Obama outlining concerns on how the money should be returned to the tribe. Baker and Hembree are also said to have gifted to Obama a Native-designed business card holder with their business cards tucked inside. In a press release statement, Baker called the event “a good day of government-to-government relations.”
Days earlier, Baker reportedly lobbied with Senate Democrats during a weekend retreat and fundraiser at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Hosted by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, invitation to the event requires attendees pay $30,400 in political contributions to the organization. According to an article in the Tahlequah Daily Press, some tribal citizens are questioning Baker’s recent trip and whether it received council approval. A review of the Cherokee Nation’s Tribal Council PAC subcommittee records does not show how the tribe paid for Baker’s attendance and a spokesperson for the tribe could not be reached for further comment.
In 2008, the Cherokee Nation, under Principal Chief Chad Smith, did not seek councilor approval when it contributed $50,000 to support the inauguration of President Obama. Baker, then a member of the tribal council, was among those who spoke out against the secret donation.