By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Have I ever mentioned to you how much you mean to me? I want to share everything with you.
Don’t worry. I am not about to propose to you. I just think that if we are in a right relationship, we don’t need to have any secrets. After all, we are allowing each other to be a part of our lives. What I do, and, to a certain extent, what I have done, will affect you and the decisions you make and vice versa.
Don’t you want that in a relationship? Honest. Integrity. Transparency. If you and I were starting or in a personal connection, wouldn’t you want to know my history and if there are bones in my closet?
There is a television series that airs on Investigation Discovery (ID) titled “Evil Lives Here”. The tagline for the show is “What if the person closest to you…were a devil in disguise? Evil Lives Here tells the true stories of people who lived with a killer. How well do you really know your family? Would you recognize the warning signs? Or, would you become entangled in evil?”
In many of the modern crime stories, many of gunmen, slashers, or bombers who destroy lives in ways ranging from mental anguish to physical death are “boy or girl next door” types. They lead ordinary lives in front of their closest friends and family while having sinister mindsets that they hide from all view.
Terri Roberts, the mother of Charlie Roberts, was dumbfounded by the actions of a son who she knew to be a quiet, normal son. Charlie Roberts is the young man who walked into an Amish School in Pennsylvania in 2006 and killed five young girls. She spoke out concerning her ordeal in an interview by Joanna Moorhead titled “My son, the mass murderer: ‘What did I miss?'”
She explains that the only outward sign that she could point to about Charlie Roberts is that he was “quiet.” She referred to him as a “loving son.” This loving son walked into a one-room schoolhouse, ordered the boys in the class to leave and then shot and killed five little girls, and wounded five more, including a six-year-old who doctors expected to die, but survived with severe brain injuries. Charlie Roberts took his own life immediately after the shootings. Later, a letter was found written by Roberts admitting to raping two girls two decades before he committed mass murder. Basically, from all appearances on the surface, Charlie Roberts looked and acted “normal.” This is just one example of even immediate family members who had no idea what was going on the mind of their “loved one.”
Evil and bad actors thrive in darkness. They use it like a cloak, a way to continue the negative behavior and to push their agenda, which almost always to the benefit of themselves and to the detriment of you and me. From murder to assault to psychological trauma, those who commit harmful acts depend on lack of transparency and darkness to continue their behavior.
Perpetrators and victims of domestic violence have one thing in common. They both will typically conceal the behavior. The perpetrator covers his actions because of fear of being caught and stopped. The victim conceals the perpetrator’s actions and their wounds, for fear of retribution from their abuser.
Recent legislation to address the issue of domestic violence came up for vote titled the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). It has passed the House of Representatives and now moves on for the Senate to discuss and vote. In the language of the legislation, some interesting light is shed on truths about, specifically, Native American women. The report states that more than four in every five Native American women (84.3 percent) are victims of violence in their lifetimes. 96 percent of female victims report being abused by a non-Indian. According to the bill writers, “Tribal prosecutors report that the majority of domestic violence cases involve children either as witnesses or victims, and Department of Justice reports that American Indian and Alaska Native children suffer exposure to violence at rates higher than any other race in the United States.” Exposure of these facts is helping to move the legislation forward. It is also educating Washington, D.C. and the general public of a long-hidden truth.
In the movie, “Wind River”, a young Native woman loses her life due to the vicious acts of non-Indian men working at or near the reservation. At the end of the film, the following text is displayed:
“While missing persons statistics are compiled for every other demographic, none exist for Native American women.”
The movie was a work of fiction but based on the real situation that faces tribal communities and Native women. We are traditionally stubborn when it comes to sharing information. Part of the reluctance to share comes from our distrust of outsiders and particularly the local, state, and federal governments.
But, our secrecy is not limited to those entities. The One Feather regularly runs into roadblocks and barriers when it comes to data that should be readily available to the public. We have talked with citizens of our community who request information that never sees it or must make repeated requests until the data is turned over. Either because of ignorance or arrogance, there continue to be challenges to the idea of tribal transparency.
We live in an information world culture where information is the currency of the day. Knowledge is power. If we are really interested in bringing power to the people then, as a people, we should demand transparency from our leaders. Organizationally, each person responsible for dissemination of information should know and understand Chapter 132 of the Cherokee Code. Closed sessions of our leadership should be taken seriously by our community, and we should hold our elected officials accountable for any time we are not allowed to know what is going on in a meeting, be it a Council session, School Board meeting, appointed board meeting, or even meetings held at the Executive level. There are certainly things that we, as a tribal community, should allow our leadership to keep out of the public eye for our benefit. But, in the name of the public good, we are becoming a culture and a people of secrecy and silence.
As I recall, every candidate for every office in at least the past two elections campaigned in favor of transparency in government. It is time for you, community member/constituent/voter, to assess how well that campaign promise was kept and how prospective candidates will keep it moving forward. It may be the most crucial question you need to be answered to decide on your future and the future of your children.
Part of our job, our duty, as the One Feather – the function that is called out by Chapter 75 of the Cherokee Code – is pushing for that transparency in all things. And, speaking of the Public Records section of the Code, it is high time that part of the Code is brought up to modern standards. Having governmental 15-day waiting periods for allowing the government to respond to information requests in this technologically-advanced age when data may be researched and delivered electronically in minutes is another barrier to transparency.
It is critical that we insist on transparency at every level. Just do what you do at home. Parents who allow their children to keep secrets from them are inviting pain and suffering. Spouses who hide behavior from each other are destined for divorce court. Friends turn into adversaries when they find out what each other has been doing behind the other’s back. Silence, deflection, and deception are relationship killers, whether in personal relationships or professional/political partnerships.
We are strong enough as a Tribe to bear anything that the light exposes in the darkness. Turbidity is defined as “the quality of being cloudy, opaque, or thick with suspended matter”.
In the absence of fact, people will accept fiction. Gossip and rumor prevail in the absence of truth. So, when the government is silent, elusive, or closed, the community conjectures. And, our lives as community members get more complicated and cloudier.
From leadership to constituent, we need to commit ourselves to be open with each other. We don’t need to traumatize each other on top of the history we all share. It is because of our shared history that we need to be in right fellowship; a relationship of openness and transparency.