A leader, a dreamer and a doer – Archie Hoffman sought return of Cheyenne & Arapaho lands

Archie Doyle Hoffman, Sr., was born to Fred and Kathryn Hoffman in Clinton, Oklahoma, on February 2, 1937. An honored tribal elder in his latter years, he died July 25, 2012.

As a boy, Archie was raised in Herring, Oklahoma, later attending high school in both Hammon and Cheyenne. He was a good student, adept at solving practical problems.

Archie joined the U.S. Air Force in 1956, serving an overseas tour in Spain before his honorable discharge. He married Jesse Mae Hamilton on October 12, 1957. Over many years, he was a representative for the Native American Church.

To earn a living, he applied practical skills he had learned as a mechanic in the military. He made his way in the broader culture while retaining love for the old ways, including devotion to the rights of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes. He worked for the tribes for around 15 years during the 1970s and 1980s, then returned as an elected officer in the 1990s.

Mr. Hoffman was preceded in death by his mother, father, brother, sister, wife, son, daughter and grandson. He was survived by four sisters and two brothers, three of his daughters, 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

As the narrator of a news report for NBC television put it in the 1990s, “The Cheyenne & Arapaho tribes lost some of their lands to the federal government back in the late 1800s. And since then they’ve been fighting a 100-year battle to get them back. They tried lobbying, they tried the courts, and then, in 1996, after a meeting with some local Democratic officials, they tried something as old as American politics itself — they wrote a check.”

Thus began a story on behind-the-scenes efforts by Hoffman and a few other Indian leaders to regain land around historic Fort Reno that the U.S. government had long promised would – if the facility ever stopped being a military installation – be returned to the tribes. With the encouragement of a Democratic fundraiser, Hoffman concluded, as he told reporters, "You don’t get something for nothing. Not in this world."

Hoffman said at the time he had noticed the increasing clout of the Cherokee tribe and its leaders – influence garnered in part from significant campaign contributions to both major political parties. He and other leaders of Oklahoma’s smaller Indian Nations were frustrated by the ability of the larger tribes to leverage sovereign rights, leavened with those significant political gifts, to gain local and national market advantages.

Hoffman hoped adding political money to the merits of the Two Tribes’ case would open doors. A promised 1996 contribution of $100,000 to the national Democrats’ drive for Bill Clinton’s reelection was supposed to grease the skids to get a serious look at the issue, a consistent dream of the Cheyenne & Arapaho throughout their post-treaty unified era.

In a meeting with the president as the contribution was put together in June of that year, one of Hoffman’s close allies later said, Clinton affirmed “something to the effect” of “I’ll see what can be done about it." Hoffman’s friend, Charles Surveyor, later recalled that Clinton fundraiser Terry McAuliffe promised “the president says he[‘s] gonna do something, he’s gonna do it.”

Before too long, after they were dunned by some of the national party people, Hoffman and allies in the Tribes were able to send $87,671.74 – all they had in their bank account. Later, the total contribution reached $107,671.74.  Vice President Al Gore reportedly backed the cause, but a serious hearing on the issue was never held, and today the lands are still in federal hands.

Return of the land never happened.

McAuliffe denied to reporters he had ever made the promise on President Clinton’s behalf.

Senator Fred Thompson, who later led a lengthy investigation of campaign finance, concluded, with some sympathy for the tribes, “We know what was in the minds of the men from the tribe. And that is they thought that they had done themselves some good."

The C&A contribution, and other 1996 issues, became fodder for Thompson’s investigation, and in Congress steps were taken to put mechanisms in place that have thus far prevented return of the land.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. ruled the Tribes’ claim was time barred, even though the tribes entered evidence that legal status of the property had been deemed classified for fifty years after having been placed on standby military status in the 1950s.

The courts have never ruled on the merits of the Cheyenne & Arapaho claim to the former fort – a claim supported in U.S. Interior Department briefs through several administrations, but opposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which presently controls the land.

Archie Hoffman never stopped advancing the rights of his people. Just a few weeks ago, he appeared before a federal commission, still dreaming, and believing, that one day the Cheyenne & Arapaho will gain justice from the United States.