By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Although to make law, the election year has been shortened to begin January; we are now within 12 months of our tribal elections. At that time, we will be selecting our leaders. The offices of Principal Chief, Vice Chief, and every Tribal Council seat will be elected. Other important and often neglected seats to be filled within our tribal organizations are those of half the School Board. Candidates for all these seats will be on the ballot in September 2019.
Candidate filling is just five months away (March 2019). Those with the ready cash and the ability to pass the Election Board’s background check will be put before us for consideration to be leaders of our Tribe. They will make law, interpret law, enforce law, and decide who has jobs, how your health care is handled, what kind of education your children will receive, what your golden years will look like, influence financial stability and quality of life for the 16,000 plus members of the Tribe and thousands of others whose lives are impacted by the decisions of our tribal government.
Elected officials serve at the pleasure of the people. Each one of us who goes to the ballot box each election cycle plays a part in electing Chief and Vice Chief positions. Each community member going to the polls selects who will serve as their representative on Council and School Board. You, the member of the community, have a duty to choose those who will serve your interests to the best of their ability for the years to come.
Electing our government officials is a weighty responsibility. Those we select will be tasked with doing what is best for the entire Tribe. They should be familiar with the needs of the people and have the wisdom and heart for the good of the people to strategize and execute plans to meet those needs. And, while they may be selected by a smaller segment of the community, they must govern with the needs of the entire Tribe in mind. If their thoughts are on pleasing a select few, our elected officials will not address the growing needs of the many.
Our leaders will be managing the tribal budget, which fluctuates between $250 and $300 million annually. Multiple programs providing hundreds of services will need wise guidance in using those funds to the betterment of the tribe for today and our tomorrows. Those controlling the purse-strings need to have the expertise in accounting and program management to ensure that they can lead through tightening and loosening those strings at the right time and for legitimate need.
Who can best govern this nation? Who has the integrity? Who has the wisdom? Who has the education? Who has the experience? These are the questions each member of our tribe must answer in the coming months. An election should not be able to be purchased for a personal favor or pocket change. Your vote is too important for that. The future of the Tribe hangs in the balance every time you go to the polls. For those who claim that it doesn’t matter what you say because they are going to do what they want anyway, elections are so that you may say something that will be heard. Nothing speaks louder to a servant-leader than the voices of his/her constituents.
The quality of the leadership of this Tribe depends on you. Don’t wait until the last minute to start your decision-making process. Some of our tribal members have already commented that they will be running for seats of leadership in our government. Some are easily assumed will be running for seats. Begin your analysis now. Think globally, not just in individually families or communities. Think about what you want your Tribe to look like in 5, 10, even 20 years. If you have children, grandchildren, what kind of legacy will your vote leave for them?
Deliberate voting requires sacrifice. It will require that you pay attention to the words and actions of those who will be seeking seats of power. You will have to research character, education, and experience.
Would you make a good servant-leader? Could you stand for the right of the people and do the right thing for the people, even at the cost of being unpopular? Because, if you think you would be, you should be getting in the game now. It isn’t that I don’t think we have good, competent leadership now. It isn’t that I think we don’t already have the best. The reality is, it doesn’t matter so much what I think as it does what we think collectively.
There will be many who will not cast a vote who are eligible. Again, there are the “doesn’t matter what I think they are going to do it their way” thinkers who would rather concede to be victims than to attempt to make change and risk failure. There are those that live too far away to get back here to cast and don’t meet the criteria for absentee. There are those who have physical and other limitations that may prevent them from registering or voting absentee. If you know someone like this and can help them to vote, please do. The more voices that are heard in the election, the more unified and satisfied with the results we all will be.
The Cherokee Indian Fair this year was fantastic. The weather was the best I have seen in years of participating in the Fair. I told someone that it almost didn’t seem like Fair-time at all with the warm weather and lack of significant rain. Tuesday, spectators lined the streets to see the spirit of Ga Du Gi parades down our streets. On Wednesday, that same spirit was evident with all the children on the Fairgrounds. Thursday, two large tents were overflowing with our spirit that flows from our elders and the same was true on Friday with our veterans. And on Saturday, the spirit of unity showed forth as our people came out to celebrate the community. The Fair is an example of bringing resources and expertise together to create something uniquely Cherokee to the people, in a way that we enjoy and share. I overheard people talking who don’t see or talk to each other all year long. But they find each other at the Fair. Any old wounds are mended. Any old quarrels settled. It is an opportunity to unify and begin again.
The Cherokee One Feather will be holding candidate forums/debates at the Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center in June, after the primary. That will be one of many opportunities to get to the know the candidates for the general election, another educational opportunity for voters.
May the 2019 election, as in past elections, be a time when we concentrate on the good of the tribe in unity. It is something that may only be accomplished if we all work together to achieve it. If we make it our mission to vote wisely, we will reap the benefits. If we don’t, then we will reap what we have sown.