TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Council of the Cherokee Nation approved this week renaming the current Belfonte-Nicut Community Center after Cherokee Nation citizen and fluent Cherokee speaker Sallie Byrd Sevenstar, who passed away on August 24.
Sevenstar was a lifelong resident of the Nicut Community in Sequoyah County. She was a retired teacher of more than 30 years and member of the Belfonte Baptist Church for more than 50 years, where she taught Sunday school and led singing. She was also the first bilingual Cherokee speaker to receive a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
Tribal Council also approved naming the 4,000-square-foot food storage and outreach center under construction on the property. The building is among eight new facilities and four remodels being built in response to COVID-19. The $25 million in Respond, Recover and Rebuild facility projects, range from PPE manufacturing, added space for social distancing, food outreach sites and a new employee health care facility.
“Renaming the Belfonte-Nicut Community Building in honor of Ms. Sallie Byrd Sevenstar is such a fitting tribute to her lifetime of service to the Cherokee people and to her community,” said Tribal Councilor Daryl Legg who represents Sequoyah County. “Ms. Sevenstar leaves behind a legacy that not only her family and community are proud of, but the entire Cherokee Nation should be proud of. Naming this building in her honor puts her leadership and values on display in the heart of the community.”
The Council also passed an act revising Cherokee Nation election laws to enhance the electoral process and protect the voting rights of Cherokee Nation citizens.
Among the revisions include a section defining election fraud and its penalties. The legislation states illegal interference includes, in-person voter fraud, fraudulent activity involving absentee ballots, ballot stuffing, voting under the name of a deceased person, casting a ballot by a person not eligible to vote, submitting a voter request for any person without their consent, vote-buying and tampering with ballots. The act also states a person who commits election fraud subject to criminal or civil sanctions.
Additional changes to the election code include allowing the election commission to mark an absentee ballot as invalid if the ballot is signed by a person other than the registered voter, rather than discarding the ballot; allowing voters to return absentee ballots by 7 p.m. on election day, rather than be returned on the Thursday before election day and other measures.
“Last September, my fellow Council members and I formed a work group so we could look at the election code and see if the election process needed any revisions. It is important that our Cherokee citizens have a voice in tribal elections and with this work group we wanted to visit and see if we could make the voting process better and safer,” said Tribal Councilor Mike Dobbins. “I appreciate this work group for working so hard on these revisions. A lot of thought went into this, and we received input from the Election Commission, Attorney General and the Marshal Service, and I’m glad to see it pass. Tribal Council Attorney Tim Brown was also instrumental in drafting the final legislation.”
In other business, the Council of the Cherokee Nation also took the following actions:
• Confirmed the reappointment of Vivian Garner Cottrell as an advisory member of the Cherokee National Treasures advisory committee.
• Confirmed the reappointment of Vryl Keeter as an advisory member of the Cherokee National Treasures advisory committee.
• Approved the appointment of Kendra McGeady to the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission.
• Confirmed an act to enhance and expand the verification of identification of Cherokee citizens voting through absentee ballots.
• Lastly, passed an act to recognize the traditional Cherokee names of districts.
The next Council of the Cherokee Nation meeting will be Monday, November 16 in the Tribal Council offices located at the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah.