By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
I was watching the live feed of Tribal Council and again some of the official video archives of different sessions of government workings, and I came away a little sad at what we are allowing ourselves to be and how we talk to the people we say that we love.
We sometimes forget that we have elected people to office. Yes, they are servants of the people. That is the calling they have chosen. But, we called them. We said these are the people we want to guide our tribe into the future. And we did that whether we cast a vote or not. We did that whether the person won by popular vote or they were installed by legislation because we voted for the people who made that legislation law. So, we are ultimately accountable for every decision that they make or don’t make.
Which makes it even more puzzling to me that we must be so rude and discourteous to each other, I can’t imagine that being a Tribal Council Representative, Principal Chief, or Vice Chief would be a walk in the park. They spend a great deal of time listening. Don’t think that is a tough job? Imagine tens to hundreds of “constituents” meeting you face-to-face, calling you on the phone, texting, and emailing you, with questions about their plumbing, housing, job security, health, and education. From paying a light bill to managing the $300+ billion-dollar industry that the EBCI has become, you might say that our elected officials have a lot on their minds.
Each elected official carries the weight of all of those who voted for him/her into the Council Chamber. When they make decisions, they are voting for you on each resolution. Imagine every decision that you make being analyzed and scrutinized by hundreds, if not thousands, of your constituents.
The term constituent means, “a person who authorizes another to act in his or her behalf, as a voter in a district represented by an elected official.” Again, it is by our choices that the people who are in those elected seats are in them. That is why, over and over, in our editorials, we have stressed the need for informed voter decisions. It is why we have pleaded that, as a voter, you look beyond immediate gratification that a candidate can provide, to their qualifications and character to pick leaders for this tribe. We said to question them and find out what their positions are on critical issues facing the tribe. We held candidate forums and debates to give the community access those candidates to ask those questions. Based on all the opportunities we constituents are afforded to preselect our elected officials, we should be good with the people we vote into office. We, as a people, have chosen to have a government organized this way. And we should be good with that too.
That is not to say we won’t have disagreements as our leaders hear from their constituents and attempt to find the consensus within the hundreds and thousands of people they must consider when formulating a position. Sometimes, they will have to make an unpopular decision, because they have access to more information than the average constituent, and the report goes against the will of the majority. It doesn’t mean that they have turned their backs on the constituency. It says that they are trying to do the right thing based on the information that they have that maybe we don’t.
I imagine there is not one Tribal Council representative or one member of the Executive Committee who doesn’t want to hear what the people have to say-what they have to say. It is difficult for me to listen to some of the people who come to the podium in the Council Chambers sometimes. They many times claim to speak for “what the people want.” I can’t recall the last time any of those people asked me what my position was on any issue. On the other hand, I have had a few Council members and Chiefs ask me about my thoughts on a matter (not so much since I became the editor of the newspaper). Knowing what the majority wants is the bread and butter of any elected official and, ultimately, that is what they get paid for – to ensure that their people have a voice and power in the government.
Most of us have computers now or have access to someone who does. So, we are all capable of seeing the rules for public comment at our Tribal Council sessions. If you have read them, you know that they are quite liberal compared to those at say a county commissioners’ board meeting, the state legislature, or a meeting of the U.S. Congress. If those bodies are conducting business, public comment is usually limited to a single, confined time, specified by the chairperson or a consensus of the board, and is not allowed item by item, unless the body is holding a public hearing. People are given a time limit, usually two or three minutes, and the board hears them. The board is not required to respond to any question that a person may bring up and usually does not.
We also tend to get informal in our meetings here on the Boundary. After all, everybody knows everybody, and there is a good chance they may be kin to us. But that familiarity leads us down a slippery slope at formal meetings. For example, it is not uncommon for our community members to address our elected officials by the first name when addressing them in Tribal Council sessions. I think, consciously or not, that calling our leaders by their first name during these formal sessions leads us to not respect the people and proceedings in a way that would normally. Referring to our Principal Chief as “Richie” in a formal meeting has led to some very negative engagements in the Chambers. Referring to our Vice Chief as “B” doesn’t show him the courtesy of recognizing his office and the responsibility he has taken on. If you notice, our legal folks, attorneys from the Attorney General’s office and others who show up in our Council Chamber from time to time, are very careful to refer to our tribal leaders by their titles, such as “Chairman,” “Representative,” and so on. That is partial because they work in the courts, where a lack of proper respect and decorum can put you behind bars. Next time you’re in court, try calling the judge by his/her first name during a session and see how that goes over.
Don’t get me wrong. I disagree with the decisions made by our government at times. That doesn’t mean that I am right, and it doesn’t say that they are either. It just means that we don’t see eye to eye on a subject. But you can bet that if I am going to express my disagreement that I will do so based on the laws that our people voted into place, either directly or through their elected officials. Not because I necessary respect the persons in those positions, but I respect the title that they hold because most of the registered voters, representing all the people, put them in place. We have seen the chaos and pain that results when we do not treat each other with respect and courtesy. If we disagree with our leadership, let’s make it known and use the legal paths within our laws to fight for what we think is right, but let’s do so with the character and dignity that makes us so proud of our ancestors.