Cherokee Nation: Wikis


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Cherokee Nation

Flag of the Cherokee Nation

Total population
Regions with significant populations
Enrolled members:

Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma:

Coordinates of the Cherokee Nation Complex
   35°51′8.00″N 94°59′26.80″W / 35.85222°N 94.990778°W / 35.85222; -94.990778Coordinates: 35°51′8.00″N 94°59′26.80″W / 35.85222°N 94.990778°W / 35.85222; -94.990778

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, North Carolina:

United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, Oklahoma:


English, Cherokee


Christianity (Methodist, Southern Baptist), Kituwah, Four Mother's Society

Related ethnic groups

Iroquois (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Tuscarora), Nottoway, Meherrin, Coree, Wyandot, Mingo

The Cherokee Nation (ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ or Tsalagihi Ayeli) is the largest of three Cherokee federally recognized tribes in the United States. It was established in the 20th century, and includes Cherokee people descended from Cherokees who relocated of their volition from the Southeast to Indian Territory and surrounding states, and Cherokees who were forced to relocate on the Trail of Tears. The tribe also includes Cherokee Freedman and descendants of the Natchez Nation. Over 270,000 people are enrolled in the Cherokee Nation, with 110,000 living within the state of Oklahoma.[1] According to BIA head Larry EchoHawk the Cherokee Nation is not the historical Cherokee tribe but instead a "successor in interest." [2]

Headquartered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, 35°51′8.00″N 94°59′26.80″W / 35.85222°N 94.990778°W / 35.85222; -94.990778Coordinates: 35°51′8.00″N 94°59′26.80″W / 35.85222°N 94.990778°W / 35.85222; -94.990778 the Cherokee Nation has a tribal jurisdictional area spanning 14 counties in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma. These are Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Delaware, Mayes, McIntosh, Muskogee, Nowata, Ottawa, Rogers, Sequoyah, Tulsa, Wagoner, and Washington Counties.[1]

The tribe has a democratically elected government, led by a Principal Chief, Deputy Chief, and Tribal Council. Cherokee Nation has two tribal courts, the District Court and the Judicial Appeals Tribunal (JAT). The Cherokee Nation Marshall Service polices the tribe. A wide range of tribal businesses are operated by Cherokee Nation Entertainment (CNE), based in Catoosa, Oklahoma[3] and Cherokee Nation Industries (CNI), based in Stilwell, Oklahoma.[4] The tribal newspaper is the Cherokee Phoenix. The Cherokee Nation operates Sequoyah High School and W. W. Hastings Hospital, both based in Tahlequah.


Modern Cherokee Nation

Cherokee Nation Historic Courthouse in Tahlequah, built in 1849, is the oldest public building standing in Oklahoma.[5]

During 1898-1906, beginning with the Curtis Act of 1898, the US federal government all but dissolved the former Cherokee Nation's governmental and civic institutions, to make way for the incorporation of Indian Territory into the new state of Oklahoma. From 1906 to 1938, structure and function of the tribal government was not clearly defined.

After the dissolution of the tribal government of the Cherokee Nation in 1906, followed by the end of its reservation, the Federal government appointed chiefs to the Cherokee Nation, often just long enough to sign a treaty. In reaction to this, the Cherokee Nation recognized that it needed leadership and a general convention was convened on August 8, 1938 in Fairfield, Oklahoma to elect a Chief. They choose J. B. Milam as principal chief.[6] As a goodwill gesture, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt confirmed the election in 1941.

W. W. Keeler was appointed chief in 1949. Because the federal government had adopted a self-determination policy through a Congressional Act signed by President Richard Nixon, the Cherokee Nation was able to rebuild its government, and W. W. Keeler was elected chief by the people. Keeler, who was also the President of Phillips Petroleum, was succeeded by Ross Swimmer, and then Wilma Mankiller.

In 1975-76 the tribe wrote a constitution as the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma,[7] (CNO) and received federal recognition. In the past the tribe has conducted litigation using this the name Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.[8][9]

In recent times, the modern Cherokee Nation has experienced an almost unprecedented expansion in economic growth and prosperity for its citizens. The Cherokee Nation, under the leadership of Principal Chief Chad Smith and Deputy Chief Joe Grayson, has significant business, corporate, real estate, and agricultural interests, including numerous highly profitable casino operations. The Cherokee Nation controls Cherokee Nation Enterprises, (Recent name change to Cherokee Nation Entertainment) Cherokee Nation Industries, and Cherokee Nation Businesses. CNI is a very large defense contractor that creates thousands of jobs in eastern Oklahoma for Cherokee citizens.

The second construction of Cherokee Female Seminary was built in 1889 by the Cherokees Nation.

The Cherokee Nation has constructed health clinics throughout Oklahoma, contributed to community development programs, built roads and bridges, constructed learning facilities and universities for its citizens, instilled the practice of Gadugi and self-reliance in its citizens, revitalized language immersion programs for its children and youth, and is a powerful and positive economic and political force in Eastern Oklahoma. Recently, the tribe has assumed control of W. W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, previously operated by Indian Health Service.[10]

The Cherokee Nation hosts the Cherokee National Holiday on Labor Day weekend each year, and 80,000 to 90,000 Cherokee Citizens travel to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, for the festivities. It also publishes the Cherokee Phoenix, a tribal newspaper, which has operated continuously since 1828, publishing editions in both English and the Sequoyah Syllabary. The Cherokee Nation council appropriates money for historic foundations concerned with the preservation of Cherokee Culture, including the Cherokee Heritage Center which hosts a reproduction of an ancient Cherokee Village, Adams Rural Village (a turn-of-the-century village), Nofire Farms and the Cherokee Family Research Center (genealogy), which is open to the public.[11] The Cherokee Heritage Center is home to the Cherokee National Museum, which has numerous exhibitions also open to the public. The CHC is the repository for the Cherokee Nation as its National Archives. The CHC operates under the Cherokee National Historical Society, Inc., and is governed by a Board of Trustees with an executive committee.

The Cherokee Nation also supports the Cherokee Nation Film Festivals in Tahlequah, Oklahoma and participates in the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.


Principal Chief Chad Smith, 2009.

Today the Cherokee Nation has judicial, executive and legislative branches with executive power vested in the Principal Chief, legislative power in the Tribal Council, and judicial power in the Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal.

The Principal Chief, Deputy Chief, and Tribal Council are elected to four-year terms by the registered tribal voters over the age of 18. The council is the legislative branch of government and represents the nine districts of the Cherokee Nation in the 14 county tribal jurisdictional area. Two council members represent the at-large community who live outside the 14-county area.

The judicial branch of tribal government includes the District Court and Judicial Appeals Tribunal, which is comparable to the U.S. Supreme Court. The tribunal consists of three members who are appointed by the Principal Chief and confirmed by the council. It is the highest court of the Cherokee Nation and oversees internal legal disputes and the District Court. The District Judge and an Associate District Judge preside over the tribe’s District Court and hear all cases brought before it under jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation Judicial Code.

The Congress of the United States, The Federal Courts, and State Courts have repeatedly upheld the sovereignty of Native Tribes, defining their relationship in political rather than racial terms, and have stated it is a compelling interest of the United States.[12] This principle of self-government and tribal sovereignty is controversial. According to the Boston College Sociologist and Cherokee Citizen, Eva Marie Garroutte, there are upwards of 32 separate definitions of "Indian" used in federal legislation as of a 1978 congressional survey.[13] The 1994 Federal Legislation AIRFA (American Indian Religious Freedom Act) defines an Indian as one who belongs to an Indian Tribe, which is a group that "is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians."

Tribal enrollment

Race and blood quantum are not sole factors in Cherokee Nation tribal citizenship eligibility. To be considered a citizen in the Cherokee Nation, an individual needs a direct Indian ancestor listed on the Dawes Rolls[14]. The tribe currently has members who also have African, Latino, Asian, white and other ancestry. Members of the Natchez Nation joined the Cherokee Nation as well as other southeastern tribes in the 18th century.[15]

Relationship with at-large Cherokees

Two tribal council members represent the at-large citizenry – those that live outside the tribe's 14-county jurisdictional area in northeastern Oklahoma. Eleven satellite communities have been organized by the tribe in areas of high Cherokee Nation populations. These communities are composed of a majority of enrolled Cherokee Nation citizens. These communities are a way for enrolled Cherokee citizens to connect with Cherokee heritage and culture and to be more politically engaged. These communities are located for in California, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, and central Oklahoma.[16]

Tribal relationship with Cherokee heritage groups

Chad Smith meets with Cherokee Nation members in California, 2006

Many groups have sought recognition by the federal government as Cherokee tribes, but today there are only three groups recognized by the federal government. Cherokee Nation spokesman Mike Miller has discussed that some groups, which he calls Cherokee Heritage Groups, are encouraged.[17] Others, however, are controversial for their attempts to gain economically through their claims to be Cherokee, a claim which is disputed by the three federally recognized groups, who assert themselves as the only groups having the legal right to present themselves as Cherokee Indian Tribes.[18]

One exception to this may be the Texas Cherokees and Associate Bands (TCAB) who prior to 1975, was considered a part of the Cherokee Nation as reflected in briefs filed before the Indian Claims Commission. In fact at one time W.W. Keeler served not only as Chief of the Cherokee Nation, but at the same time held the position as Chairman of the TCAB Executive Committee. The TCAB was formed as a political organization in 1871 by William Penn Adair and Clement Neely Vann, for descendants of the Texas Cherokees and the Mount Tabor Community in an effort to gain redress from treaty violations stemming from the Treaty of Bowles Village in 1836. Following the adoption of the Cherokee constitution in 1975, TCAB descendants, whose ancestors had remained a part of the physical Mount Tabor Community in Rusk County, Texas, were excluded from citizenship in that their ancestors did not appear on the Final Rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes. However, most if not all, did have an ancestor listed on the Guion Miller or Old Settler rolls. Another problem for the TCAB is that groups of Yowani Choctaws and McIntosh Party Creeks had joined them in the 1850s, changing the make up of the group. Today, most Mount Tabor descendants are in fact members of the Cherokee Nation, but eight hundred or so are stuck in the limbo without official recognition as Cherokees, with many of them still residing in Rusk and Smith counties of east Texas.

New resolution

Bessie Russell, Cherokee National treasure and master basketweaver

The Councils of the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians at the Joint Council Meeting held in Catoosa, Oklahoma on April 9, 2008 passed a resolution Opposing Fabricated Cherokee "Tribes" and "Indians".[19] It denounced any further state or federal recognition of "Cherokee" tribes or bands, aside from the those already federally recognized, and committed themselves to exposing and assisting state and federal authorities in eradicating any group which attempts or claims to operate as a government of the Cherokee people.

In addition, the resolution asked that no public funding from any federal or state government should be expended on behalf of non-federally recognized 'Cherokee' tribes or bands and that the Nation would call for a full accounting of all federal monies given to state recognized, unrecognized or SOI(c)(3) charitable organizations that claim any Cherokee affiliation.

It called for federal and state governments to stringently apply a federal definition of "Indian" that included only citizens of federally recognized Indian tribes, to prevent non-Indians from selling membership in "Cherokee" tribes for the purpose of exploiting the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.

In a controversial segment that could affect Cherokee Baptist churches and charitable organizations, the resolution stated that no 501(c)(3) organization, state recognized, or unrecognized groups shall be acknowledged as Cherokee.

Celebrities who claim to be Cherokee, such as those listed in this article, are also targeted by the resolution.

Any individual who is not a member of a federally recognized Cherokee tribe, in academia or otherwise, is hereby discouraged from claiming to speak as a Cherokee, or on behalf of Cherokee citizens, or using claims of Cherokee heritage to advance his or her career or credentials. – Joint Council of the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.[20]

This declaration was not signed or approved by the United Keetoowah Band. Even still the Cherokee Nation acknowledges the existence of people of Cherokee descent " states such as Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas," who are Cherokee by blood but not members of the Cherokee Nation. [21]

"There are more than 200 groups that we’ve been able to recognize that call themselves a Cherokee nation, tribe, or band," said Mike Miller, spokesman for the Cherokee Nation.

"Only three are federally recognized, but the other groups run the gamut of intent. Some are basically heritage groups – people who have family with Cherokee heritage who are interested in the language and culture, and we certainly encourage that," said Miller. "But the problem is when you have groups that call themselves ‘nation,’ or ‘band,’ or ‘tribe,’ because that implies governance."

Current affairs and recent history


Today the Cherokee Nation is one of America's biggest proponents of ecological protection. Since 1992, the Nation has served as the lead for the Inter-Tribal Environmental Council.[22] The mission of ITEC is to protect the health of American Indians, their natural resources and their environment as it relates to air, land and water. To accomplish this mission, ITEC provides technical support, training and environmental services in a variety of environmental disciplines. Currently, there are over 40 ITEC member tribes in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.

The 1997 Cherokee Constitutional Crisis

The Cherokee Nation was seriously destabilized in May 1997 in what was variously described as either a nationalist "uprising" or an "anti-constitutional coup" instigated by Joe Byrd, the Principal Chief. Elected in 1995, Byrd became locked in a battle of strength with the judicial branch of the Cherokee tribe. The crisis came to a dramatic head on March 22, 1997, when Byrd, stated in a press conference that he would decide which orders of the Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court were lawful and which were not.

A simmering crisis continued over Byrd's creation of a private, armed paramilitary force. The crisis came to a head on June 20, 1997 when his private army illegally seized custody of the Cherokee Nation Courthouse from its legal caretakers and occupants, the Cherokee Nation Marshals, the Judicial Appeals Tribunal and its court clerks. They ousted the lawful occupants at gunpoint. Immediately the court demanded that the courthouse be returned to the judicial branch of the Cherokee Nation, but these requests were ignored by Byrd.[26]

The Federal authorities of the United States initially refused to intervene because of potential breach of tribal sovereignty. The State of Oklahoma recognized that Byrd's activities were breaches in state law. By August it sent in state troopers and specialist anti-terrorist teams. Byrd was required to attend a meeting in Washington DC with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in which he was compelled to reopen the courts. He served the remainder of his elected term under supervision and remains a free man.

In 1999 Byrd lost the election for Principal Chief to Chad Smith.

1999 Constitution

Cherokee Nation Marshal Patch, 2001

A new constitution was drafted in 1999 that included mechanisms for voters to remove officials from offices, changed the structure of the tribal council, and removed the need to ask the Bureau of Indian Affairs' permission to amend the constitution. The tribe and Bureau of Indian Affairs negotiated changes to the new constitution and it was ratified in 2003 but confusion resulted when the US Secretary of the Interior would not approve it.[23] To overcome the impasse, the Cherokee Nation voted by referendum to amend its 1975/1976 Constitution "to remove Presidential approval authority," allowing the tribe to independently ratify and amend its own constitution.[24] As of August 9, 2007, the BIA gave the Cherokee Nation consent to amend its Constitution without approval from the Department of the Interior.[25] Nonetheless, certain non-Cherokee groups contest the viability of this constitution.

2004 Marriage Law decision

On June 14, 2004, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council voted to officially define marriage as a union between woman and man, thereby outlawing same-sex marriage. This decision came in response to an application by a lesbian couple submitted on May 13. The decision kept Cherokee law in line with Oklahoma state law, which officially outlawed gay marriage as the result of a popular referendum on a constitutional amendment in 2004.

Cherokee Freedmen

The Cherokee freedmen, descendants of African American slaves owned by citizens of the Cherokee Nation during the Antebellum Period, were first guaranteed Cherokee citizenship under a treaty with the United States in 1866. This was in the wake of the American Civil War, when the US emancipated slaves and passed US constitutional amendments granting freedmen citizenship in the United States.

In 1988, the federal court in the Freedmen case of Nero v. Cherokee Nation held that Cherokees could decide citizenship requirements and exclude freedmen. On March 7, 2006, the Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeal Tribunal ruled that the Cherokee Freedmen were eligible for Cherokee citizenship. This ruling proved controversial; while the Cherokee Freedman had historically been recorded as "citizens" of the Cherokee Nation at least since 1866 and the later Dawes Commission Land Rolls, the ruling "did not limit membership to people possessing Cherokee blood".[26] This ruling was consistent with the 1975 Constitution of the Cherokee Nation, in its acceptance of the Cherokee Freedmen on the basis of historical citizenship, rather than documented blood relation.

The Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Chad Smith, later announced that because of a citizens' petition that contained the required number of signatures, the issue of Freedmen citizenship would be put to a vote by a proposed amendment to the Cherokee Nation Constitution. These amendments were intended to restrict tribal membership exclusively to Cherokees who were descended by blood from ancestors listed on the Dawes Rolls. This would simultaneously exclude non-Indian Freedmen and Intermarried Whites from tribal membership who were not on these rolls.[27] It would however, include 1500 descendants of former slaves with ancestors who were on the Dawes Rolls. The Constitution had always restricted governmental positions to persons of Cherokee blood.

In March 2007, the tribe voted on the constitutional amendment.[28] 76.6% of voters affirmed the proposed amendment, revoking the tribal citizenship of the descendants of former black slaves and intermarried whites that had previously been considered Cherokee citizens. Descendants of Cherokee freedmen and intermarried whites were excluded from voting on this amendment.[29] The vote to oust the Freedmen provoked controversy, particularly from various political circles, including the Congressional Black Caucus. Some called for revocation of all federal funding for the Cherokee Nation.[30]

On May 15, 2007, the Cherokee Freedmen were reinstated as citizens of the Cherokee Nation by the Cherokee Nation Tribal Courts while appeals were pending in the Cherokee Nation Courts and Federal Court.[31]

On May 22, 2007, the Cherokee Nation received notice from the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs that the BIA and Federal Government had denied the amendment to the 1975 Cherokee Nation Constitution because it required BIA approval, which had not been obtained. The BIA also noted that the Cherokee Nation had excluded the Cherokee Freedmen from voting on the amendment. The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled that the Cherokee Nation could take away the approval authority it had granted the federal government. Principal Chief Smith has also argued against the requirement for BIA approval for constitutional amendments.[32][33]

Congresswoman Diane Watson of California, where 20,000 Cherokee live, introduced a bill, HR 2824 in 2007 that would sever ties between the United States and the Cherokee Nation until the Freedmen were guaranteed full tribal citizenship;[34] however, her bill never became law.[35]

Until pending litigation is resolved, the Cherokee Freedman currently have all rights as full Cherokee Nation citizens, including voting rights and access to tribal services.[36]

Relationship with other tribes

Basket weaving workshop sponsored by the Cherokee Nation

The Cherokee Nation participates in numerous joint programs with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. It also participates in cultural exchange programs and joint Tribal Council meetings involving councilors from both Cherokee Tribes, which address issues affecting all of the Cherokee People. Unlike the adversarial relationship between the administrations of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians interactions with the Cherokee Nation present a unified spirit of Gadugi with the leaders and citizens of the Eastern Band. The United Keetoowah Band tribal council unanimously passed a resolution to approach the Cherokee Nation for a joint council meeting between the two Nations, as a means of "offering the olive branch", in the words of the UKB Council. While a date was set for the meeting between members of the Cherokee Nation council and UKB representation Chief Smith vetoed the meeting.

The Delaware Tribe, who became part of the Cherokee Nation in 1867, was previously part of the Cherokee Nation but achieved independence and federal recognition on 28 July 2009,[37][38] following in the footsteps of the Shawnee Tribe, who were historically part of the Cherokee Nation in the last century but are now once again an independent tribe.

Notable Cherokee Nation citizens

Little Miss Cherokee (Ages 4-5), 2007

See also


  1. ^ a b c Oklahoma Indian Affairs. Oklahoma Indian Nations Pocket Pictorial Directory. 2008:36
  2. ^
  3. ^ Cherokee Nation Enterprises, Inc. Business Week. 2009 (retrieved 22 July 2009)
  4. ^ Cherokee Nation Industries. 2007. (retrieved 22 July 2009)
  5. ^ Moser, George W. A Brief History of Cherokee Lodge #10. (retrieved 26 June 2009)
  6. ^ * Meredith, Howard L. Modern American Indian Tribal Government. Tsaile, Arizona: Navajo Community College Press, 1993: 20. ISBN 0-912586-76-1.
  7. ^ "1976 Constitution of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma". Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. 1976. Retrieved 2007-07-04.  
  8. ^ "Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma et al. v. Leavitt et al.". Supreme Court of the United States. March 2005. Retrieved 2007-07-04.  
  9. ^ "Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma et al. v. Leavitt et al.". Supreme Court of the United States. March 2005. Retrieved 2007-07-04.  
  10. ^ Adcock, Clifton. Judge throws out suit challenging Cherokee control of hospital. Tulsa World. 2 June 2009 (retrieved 26 2009)
  11. ^ "Cherokee Heritage Center". Retrieved 2007-03-10.  
  12. ^ State of Utah Court Case
  13. ^ Garroutte, p.16
  14. ^ Cherokee Nation Registration
  15. ^ Natchez Indian Tribe History. Access Genealogy. (retrieved 16 June 2009)
  16. ^ Cherokee Communities. Cherokee Nation. (retrieved 16 June 2009)
  17. ^ Glenn 2006
  18. ^ Official Statement Cherokee Nation 2000, Pierpoint 2000
  19. ^
  20. ^ Joint Council of the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Resolution #00-08. A Resolution Opposing Fabricated Cherokee "Tribes" and "Indians."
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Inter-Tribal Environmental Council". Retrieved 2007-03-10.  
  23. ^ Hales, Donna. Cherokee Constitution in doubt. Muskogee Phoenix. 7 September 2006 (retrieved 16 June 2009)
  24. ^ The 1999 Constitution Cherokee Nation. Cherokee Nation. (retrieved 16 June 2009)
  25. ^ "Letter from Carl Altman, 8-9-2007" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-09-07.  
  26. ^ "Freedman Decision" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-03-10.  
  27. ^ "Citizen Views Fall on Both Sides of Freedmen Issue". Cherokee Nation News Release. 2006-03-13. Retrieved 2007-03-10.  
  28. ^ Morris, Frank (2007-02-21). "Cherokee Tribe Faces Decision on Freedmen". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2007-03-11.  
  29. ^ "Cherokees eject slave descendants". BBC News. 2007-03-04. Retrieved 2007-03-10.  
  30. ^ "Freedmen Seek Federal Injunction To Protect Cherokee Citizenship". KOTV News. 2007-05-09. Retrieved 2007-07-07.  
  31. ^ "Cherokee Courts Reinstate Freedmen".  
  32. ^ Cherokee Nation Says It Will Abide by Court's Decision on Constitution [1]
  33. ^ BIA rejects Cherokee Amendment [2]
  34. ^ "Watson Introduces Legislation to Sever U.S. Relations with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma". 2007-06-21. Retrieved 2007-07-07.  
  35. ^ "To sever United States' government relations with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma until such time as the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma restores full tribal citizenship to the Cherokee Freedmen...". Retrieved 2007-07-07.  
  36. ^ [ Citizenship Status of Non-Indians.] Cherokee Nation. (retrieved 22 July 2009)
  37. ^ Dowell, JoKay. Delawares pass constitution, move closer to federal recognition. Native American Times. (retrieved 16 June 2009)
  38. ^ Delaware Tribe regains federal recognition. NewsOk. 4 Aug 2009 (retrieved 5 August 2009)

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