By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
“Does a resolution trump an ordinance?” This and many other questions were presented during Tribal Council last week. You really felt like you needed a lawyer present just to interpret the proceedings and things have gotten very contentious as we move forward in a very volatile election year. It is a great irony of the governmental struggle that is taking place in our Tribe that someone used the term “trumped”. As one of the community members who addressed Council on Thursday stated, the disarray in our government looks very similar to that current state of affairs in the federal government.
My thoughts are not intended to be directed at any one or group of leaders. I would like to discuss the situation as a whole and hopefully talk about how we behave as public servants and as a community. I am no one’s judge and am certainly not a model of perfection myself, so I hope to provide observations instead of criticisms. It just seems that we are spending much of our time trying to justify current behavior based on the approval or acceptance of past behavior. There is a certain amount of minimizing the idea of right and wrong, particularly if someone did “it” in the past and “got away with ‘it’”.
This train of thought may be why our tribal code (https://www.municode.com/library/nc/cherokee_indians_eastern_band/codes/code_of_ordinances) is so full of contradictions. If you take a look at the Code, it doesn’t take long to find conflicting language within it. The contradictions in Code have been a topic of discussion throughout several administrations. It would seem that a cleaning and organizing of the Cherokee Code would be at least as important as a constitution for the Tribe. And, I believe that the constitution is a matter of paramount importance to the people. With the validity of the Executive Office, Tribal Council and now the Cherokee Court system being questioned, we, the Cherokee community, are left wondering where we go from here.
I have been reading a book by James Merritt titled “9 Keys to Successful Leadership”. I read books like this from time to time, even though I am on the downhill side of leading. In my 30-plus years in business, I have led several workgroups. I continue to learn from my team members and, I hope, they learn from me.
In a chapter titled, “The Key to a Winning Organization”, Dr. Merritt points to a very surprising key, that of goodness. In the chapter, he quotes the second president of the United States, John Adams. “Public virtue is the only foundation of republics. There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, all her power and glory established in the minds of the people, or there can be no republican government, no any real liberty. By the way, the definition of republic is ‘state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch’.”
The point Dr. Merritt was making is that goodness will make or break an organization; that “public virtue depends upon private character…just as moral goodness leads to tremendous economic and financial benefits, the collapse of morality entails enormous financial and economic costs”.
An interesting point Dr. Merritt brings up is that goodness does not come from education. It doesn’t really matter how intelligent a person is if there is a lack of integrity in the heart. For several years, we have talked about how we want educated leaders, but we have not had many substantive discussions about integrity, until now. Again, I am not pointing fingers at anyone nor am I casting any stones. I am just saying that as a community, we may not be focusing our efforts when we are choosing the direction that we want our Tribe to go in, in the best way.
We, the community of Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, need to decide what kind of leadership we want. The truth is that each of us is a leader when it comes to this Tribe. We have the power to choose the people we install as public servants and we are capable of choosing the direction of the tribal operations. It is just a matter of whether we want to be good leaders or not.
Is this an oversimplification of the issues? Probably. We have a very tangled web at the moment. But, we have to start somewhere. The lines between good and bad have been blurred by looking back at our past and justifying decisions based on previous behavior. It is time to start making decisions based simply on whether it is right and ethical to do a thing or it is wrong.