EDITORIAL: Scandalous behavior

by Jan 25, 2019OPINIONS





When we are children, it comes naturally to point fingers, mainly if we can’t get things to go the way we want them to or if we feel we are going to be blamed for a bad outcome. “He did it, no she did it!” conversations come as naturally as “Hi mommy; hi daddy.”

We are great at taking credit for the good, but we are lousy at accepting responsibility for the bad. Fault finding consumes precious time that could be better spent on creating solutions.

Do people take advantage? Yes. Do some people get more than their fair share by manipulating the system? Yes. Is it wrong? Yes. Will we change those yes answers to no by pointing fingers? No.

I know that some finger pointing has an agenda beyond the situation at hand. After all, we are in an Executive election year here on the Boundary, and our Tribe will be looking at possible changes in leadership as all Tribal Council seats, Principal Chief, Vice Chief, and half of the Cherokee Central Schools Board seats are up for election. There is even discussion of final submission of a constitution to replace the governing documents to be voted on by the people in the general election.  Convincing people of or implying culpability in suspected bad behavior equals changes in hearts, minds, and votes. Never mind that the accusation may be unfounded. In the court of public opinion, your guilt is determined by the popularity of the one making the charge. No evidence is required.

Some of us thrive on controversy and innuendo. The inference of scandalous behavior builds media empires. The tendency of news organizations to tell half-truths (i.e., lies) or embellishing news stories with opinion or supposition (i.e., lies) has grown to a seemingly uncontrollable state. Even a seemly credible news giant like the American Broadcasting Company, and its subsidiary WLOS in Asheville, perpetuated a scandal that caused an uproar in Indian Country and across America. A group called the Black Hebrew Israelites (BHI) incited a confrontation between a group of Catholic school students involved in a pro-life rally and a group of Native peoples showing support for the Indigenous Peoples March. The BHI quartet was left out of the original reporting, leaving the public to believe that incident was solely sparked by the students. At the center of the confrontation was one of the students and Mr. Nathan Phillips, an Omaha Nation elder.

The rest of the story has finally been told in the media. I won’t rehash it. It was true that the students made inappropriate and culturally hurtful language (and gestures). There were also some interesting and helpful statements made in the analysis of the incident that I think is important for us as we take in the remainder of the election year to come. As the rhetoric escalates, it will be increasingly difficult to parse fact from fiction. Statements will be made by our friends, our candidates, and those outside our tribe that we cannot, should not, take at face value.

During an ABC Nightline report, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Professor at Temple University, said that it is important to stop and take time to research any news or story that we hear and see.

“When the story came out, everyone pounced on it and had an immediate reaction,” Dr. Hill noted.  “The more information we got, the more our positions changed. The level of unsafety and insecurity that we are feeling because of the political discourse and the feeling of unsafety and insecurity makes people react quickly to any symbol or sign of disrespect or discrimination or anything else. If there is any lesson that anyone could learn from this incident, it is to take a pause. The media should get the full story before a rush to judgment. Look at more data, more evidence to find out the full story.”

In the office, we are required to ensure our accuracy in the stories we provide you. In the past, large media organizations like ABC were considered by the staff as credible sources that would be safe to provide information. And yet, they pounced on this story, presumedly that they got from the internet.

A Nightline reporter said, “It is a sobering reminder of the Internet’s ability to oversimplify a complicated event.”

Relationships in the tribal communities of our Tribe are complex. Sometimes, it is just as important to look at the motivation of the messenger as it is to verify the information they bring.

We, as a people, must engage more. We must insist on transparency in our dealings with each other and with the government. When we don’t understand, we must ask for clarification. When the government offers opportunities for the constituency to provide input and get explanations, we need to seize those opportunities. And the only agenda that matters is the one that brings a better life, the right way. We must stop saying we love each other and the next breath rip into each other like we are at war. Either we need to truly love each other or drop the pretense.

In an utopian community, an election would be about that – candidates debating who to bring a better life to those in the community and doing it in the traditional Cherokee way. It would not be about the past. It would be about the future. A scandal would not be the talk of the town and would be snuffed out by the people who refused to hear it.

Mr. Nathan Phillips, the Omaha Nation elder at the center of the Washington controversy, when asked what he saw any opportunity that came from the scandal. He said, “An opportunity to bring people together with the purpose of peace and a better future for all of our children.”  That sounds good to me.