In the aftermath of one of the more controversial issues recently to rouse Cherokee temperaments, Chief Bill John Baker issued a formal apology for his participation in the Jim Inhofe “Dove Shoot” fundraiser that has stirred media scrutiny from all over the United States.
The scandal has been hotly discussed among Cherokee citizens and generated well over a thousand comments on Cherokee Facebook pages.
The basic story is that Bill John Baker attended a Jim Inhofe pigeon hunt fundraiser that was infiltrated by an animal rights group. This group later released a video showing footage of what many people found to be cruel and abusive behavior toward animals. With a live mariachi band playing festive music in the background, 1000 domestic pigeons were tossed into the air with armed men and women shooting them down. The event’s video footage has circulated throughout the media in websites, newspapers and television news with headlines condemning the event. After the public exposure and reactions from Cherokees and non-Cherokees alike, Chief Baker issued a formal apology. He said, “Had I known the event on Sept. 5 was not a sporting hunt that would provide food for my family or others, I would not have accepted the invitation.”
Although hunting is a treasured sport in Oklahoma, the nature of this particular event seems to have broken the sport’s code of conduct and enraged many hunters.
The media attack on the Inhofe fundraiser has been vicious.
The Animal Right Group SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) investigated the event and presented a web article called, “Cowardly Canned Hunt,” showing footage of the shootings with pictures of Chief Bill John Baker. Many websites that reposted the footage labeled it; “Warning:  _place_holder;This video contains graphic material and may not be suitable for all audiences.”
An Oklahoma City NBC news station issued a story, “Animal rights group calls Oklahoma Senator’s pigeon shoot cruel.” The animal group’s spokesperson said, “I consider it to be real cowardice and I believe the only people who take part in this kind of thing are corrupt,”
An ABC national news site’s story, “Senator’s Live Pigeon Shoot Draws Criticism,” leads with a quote, “Hunting is not supposed to be wanton slaughter. This is the antithesis of hunting. Every hunter, and every gun owner for that matter, should be infuriated by this.”
A national news magazine, Crooks and Liars, released the story “Caught On Video: US Senator James Inhofe’s Sociopathic Donors Paid To Shoot Pigeons.” The story ends with a question. “What kind of person waits in line to slaughter an animal that has only, at that very moment, been allowed outside a cage for the first time?”
In London, England, the Guardian, a UK news magazine, published the story, “Republican US senator condemned for taking part in live pigeon shoot.” The article says, “The video shows workers flinging birds into the air as shooters take aim. A round of shots rings out and some birds fall from the sky, while a live mariachi band serenades guests in the background.”
Cherokee Facebook pages raged with comments of disgust, betrayal and shock. Even those who clearly supported Chief Baker admitted the nature of the fundraiser was disgusting and these types of events need to be stopped.
The main attack on Chief Baker from Cherokees seemed to focus on how he was tainting the image of Cherokees for the world to see. News sites posted pictures of Baker’s vehicle that was clearly marked by his large sign, “Principal Chief Bill John Baker.” Cherokee citizens were outraged because Baker, wearing a Cherokee Nation shirt, did not represent himself as a private citizen, but as the face of the Cherokee Nation.
Some Cherokees questioned if Chief Baker broke the Cherokee Nation’s own Tribal Law statues on animal cruelty. A Cherokee attorney wrote a letter to the Cherokee Nation’s Attorney General demanding a criminal investigation into Chief Baker’s activity (see sidebar).
This story appears to have struck a nerve with Cherokee citizens. Perhaps it is because Cherokees and all Indians in Oklahoma are often so maligned in the media that we feel sensitive to such derogatory images of ourselves, images that could further damage what goodwill we have with the general public. We know our sovereignty rights hang by a thread as highlighted by the ”Baby Veronica” case and we feel we need to stay aware and work to maintain what little political capital we currently have.
For some Cherokees, this event ran contrary to the traditional Cherokee values of respect for animals and alignment with all living creatures. Not only was a challenge to Cherokee culture at stake here, but it was all conducted in the context of a federal government political event.
Several Cherokee Facebook comments reflect the sentiments of many Cherokees:
- I’ve been studying tradition, Cherokee values, attending stomp dances, learning the language, talking with elders. THIS HURTS!
- Well that’s one sick and disgusting event…..there are no words.
- I am more disappointed that the highly paid professional advisers to the CNO Chief failed to recognize the potential damage this event caused.
- We have every right to speak out against it if it offends us. His participation leaves a stain on the Cherokee Nation, not just him.
- My husband is an avid hunter…. But this is not hunting!!!
- I was just disappointed and could not figure out why BJB would represent our tribe like this. It may be nothing to you but to some it is heartbreaking.
- This kind of brutality is absolutely NOT the way honorable Cherokee citizens behave. Sad situation when our leadership sets such a horrifying example.
Seemingly, some of these comments were partisan influenced, coming from people who dislike Baker and found an easy target, but none of the pro-Baker commenters approved of the pigeon kill or Baker’s participation in the event. Most of them condemned the event, but were more sympathetic to Baker’s formal apology and suggested we all make mistakes.
In the sidebar are links to sites that show video footage and photos of the event and give more details of the story.