Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith calls “desperate” an attempt by the descendants of former tribal slaves to link their ouster to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
However, an attorney for the freedmen descendants points to contact between Smith and former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles as proof that Abramoff’s machine was at work behind a March election that removed the freedmen from tribal citizenship.
“All that political intrigue is just desperation,” Smith said of the freedmen’s attorney, Jon Velie. “If you boil it all down “¦ to be a member of an Indian tribe, you’ve got to have an Indian ancestor.”
Smith and the Cherokee Nation have been under fire for a March 3 vote removing citizenship for the freedmen, members of the tribe descended from slaves once owned by the Cherokee. Velie and the freedmen oppose the change.
Velie said there is more than his opinion to support his claim that Smith sought help via Abramoff’s illegal political networking to broker the vote to get the descendants kicked out of the tribe, including:
” meetings between Smith and Abramoff cronies at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and
” documents showing Smith and the Cherokee Nation’s connection to Griles and Abramoff.
“The reality of it, is the gaming arm of the Cherokee retained and paid Abramoff $120,000. So, Abramoff is retained by the casino money,” Velie said.
Senate lobbying reports show two $60,000 payments made in 2003 to Abramoff and his lobbying firm by Cherokee Nation Enterprises, which operates the tribe’s casinos. Election records also show Abramoff contributed $1,500 to Smith’s tribal re-election campaign in 2002. “Ben Fenwick