By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
As a tribal member, I was left a little bewildered by the Tribal Council sessions of the last week of March and the first week of April. It ran the gambit of alleged unethical hiring practices at the Gaming Commission to alleged dipping into the tribal coffers for personal benefit to alleged conduct unbecoming a gaming commissioner.
Also during this session, we were scheduled to get our first look at the new ethics policy. If there was ever an example of why we need an ethics policy in tribal governing, all we need to do is go back over those last work sessions and Tribal Council sessions. There were so many references to drunkenness, credit card theft, misuse of power and position and favoritism that parts of the Tuesday and Thursday sessions looked like a reality television show. The bad news for all of us is that it is not a reality show but our reality.
Just the thought of funds that should be used to uplift the Cherokee people, allegedly being used to buy a nightie or two at Victoria’s Secret should be enough to sicken any member of our community. And, then one member of the Council requests the removal of a Gaming commissioner based on a portion of video that the Council Representative refers to; a portion of which has been appearing on social media and is a topic of discussion at most water coolers on Boundary (the behavior seen in the video is apparently not suitable to discuss at the dinner table). In this case, the Council member indicated that they have seen a copy of the original security video feed from the Gaming Commission. The commissioner in question is denying any wrongdoing and some Council members want an investigation into how presumably confidential, proprietary video was leaked to the public and ended up on social media.
The outcome of all of this alleged, contemptable behavior is yet to be seen. The strongest charges come from the Principal Chief of the Tribe, who is a pretty reliable source. He shared some comments from a forensic audit that he had commissioned after he took office. He hasn’t yet said the “who”, but he was very specific about the “what”.
The “what” is thousands of dollars of your money…money intended to feed, clothe and care for children, debilitated, elderly tribal members, money that should be spurring economic growth and municipal projects like schools and medicine, allegedly being used to buy clothing, meals and massages, rent limousines and movies, and have golfing outings across the United States and Puerto Rico. And, if that doesn’t make your blood boil, when the Chief concluded his list, he added, “Folks, this is just the beginning”.
Just the beginning? I am having trouble digesting a few days’ worth of Council sessions and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg? It is time to break out the Tums.
This is not the first time we have had accusations of corruption in government, but, it is the first time in recent history that so much has come to light in so many sectors of our government. We need those forensic audits and the information that those expose should be given to every tribal member. We need the ethics policy, created and approved by the people, not by the government. We need an ethics policy that actually holds politicians accountable in the same way that tribal employees are held accountable with specifically-defined penalties for violating the code of ethics. We desperately need a constitution that establishes a true democratic government and provides equal protection under the law with legislative, executive and judicial authorities; and a constitution that clearly separates those duties. And, we need those who hold the purse strings of the Tribe to be diligent and hold themselves accountable for the bad, as well as the good, decisions they have made in allocating funds. The worst enemy of an elected official is the use of the term “I didn’t know”. Constituents expect their leaders to know.
The ethics policy did not make it to the floor on Thursday. The submitting committee asked that it remain tabled. There was also a separate proposed resolution to establish a separate ethics division, which was also tabled.
From the unemployed tribal member to the highest position in the Tribe, all of us make mistakes. None of us are perfect. The difference is what we do with our mistakes. We have the choice to either hide or make excuses for our failings, or to take responsibility for our actions and try to correct and be better for it as a government and as a people.