By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Sometimes, we act like crabs in a bucket, mindlessly pulling each other down from our effort to leave the bucket behind for a better life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
Our bucket-mates try to convince us that there is nothing outside the bucket worth the attempt or they violently wrestle anyone who might be trying to better themselves.
As I discussed this with an acquaintance, it was a real head-scratcher to hear him say that it is sometimes easier to down or belittle an associate, and by doing so, to look better in the eyes of others through distraction, than it is to do the work it would take to look better in the eyes of others outright. For many, having a fulfilled life is impossible without keeping someone from fulfilling their dreams.
Like some of the faux fans of NASCAR, who go to a car race, not to see heroic driving, but in hopes of seeing a horrendous and spectacular accident, we stop at the local convenience store and pick up a copy of Fuzz Buster, to see if we know any of the “damaged and less fortunate” than we. Instead of fixing what is amiss in our own lives, we celebrate the failings of others and proudly state, “Well, my life may not be peaches and cream, but at least I am not like them.” And it makes us feel better about ourselves?
More than truth, we value entertainment. That is why we listen to movie stars and professional athletes guide us in our philosophies of life. We genuflect at the feet of someone who has expertise in dribbling a ball, begging for their knowledge of the universe so that we might mimic their “logic” and potentially their fame. We select a hero or heroes from today’s society and get close to them, hoping just “to touch the hem of his garment” and all will be right in our world. After all, they have fame and fortune in this world, why wouldn’t they be able to make ours right?
It is an unfortunate fact of modern society that there are some of us who glory in the failure of others, or even in the perceived failure of others. And we allow ourselves to be twisted into believing in things that, if we gave it attention and thought, we would never believe. But we have become accustomed to being led by the nose. Why? Because that is easier than thinking for ourselves. If the mob believes it, I will have to go against them to have my own opinion and direction, and that is just too hard. Much easier to follow the crowd. Entertainers, athletes, politicians, and even some so-called journalists have become experts at crowd manipulation. Granted each person has a right to give their position and opinion on any subject under the sun. But many of us, like sheep, will abandon reason, common sense, and wisdom, to follow the advice and direction of those who entertain for a living. Their expertise is derived from acting classes, singing lessons, or a writing class. How would anyone presume that those folks could give group guidance on philosophy, governance, and the betterment of the human condition?
Some of our readers love that we provide a forum for discussion. We are particularly glad that the Cherokee community contributes to public debate on things that matter to them. There are some in our community who don’t like that openness and would prefer that only news and the government line be towed. May it never be so. Some have expressed their disdain for the “devilish” social media. Personally, I don’t believe in the demonization of social media. As in the use of any tool, it is not the instrument that decides its handling and direction. Social media is neutral. It is the good or bad in us that comes out when we use it.
Knowledge is power. And the hording of power is what stunts growth and causes famine. Equality and opportunity depend on our willingness to commit to information sharing and transparency. We must, as a community, insist on better openness of government to provide information. It should be a priority of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to reform the public information laws, to assign people and resources to creating a digital architecture for efficient distribution of data and records to the people, both the individual citizen and the media, and to change the mindset of government that it would take too much time and effort to educate the constituency, so just provide topline information and say we are doing it because it is “for your own good”.
Many times, when the One Feather requests information, we are blocked because of some sort of ongoing process, a negotiation or investigation. At the leadership’s discretion, those things that warrant private discussion are mingled with things that should likely be public domain. And at times, we along with the community, are invited to leave meetings for “executive or closed sessions”. For many of you, if you are watching a meeting on cable or internet stream, you will see the screen go dark. After the lights come back on or we can enter the room again, we may or may not be told what went on in the dark. Is there a law against it (the not reporting out and discussing things in the public domain part)? Sure. But how do you enforce a law or its violation when there is no check or balance mechanism available to the public’s knowledge and review?
I am not a political animal. That fact has been detrimental to my career at times, especially with the Tribe. I have been privileged to work for the community in several capacities and am honored to have served in my current role for going on eight years. In this position, my primary duties are to prevent political influence; to fairly, honestly, and equitably report Eastern Band news; and to provide an outlet for community commentary. It is not my paper. It is not the government’s paper. It is our paper; the Principal People’s paper. The newspaper of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. And our paper is more important than any of us may realize. There have been times in the history of our paper when our it was nearly converted into an employee newsletter, only telling our people what the government wanted to be heard and seen. The editor and staff would be bullied into removing photographs and manipulating written content. Website and social media were banned from use because those would be more challenging for the government to control.
Back in those days, it would have been unheard of for the Cherokee One Feather to have a voice or seat at the table when certain boards convened. It would have been placing jobs in jeopardy to disagree with a Chief or Council member publicly. But mindsets and hearts have changed over the years for the better. Our Principal Chief, Vice Chief and Tribal Council have all expressed their desires to allow the One Feather to operate as the framers of the Free Press Act, Former Editor Joe Martin and Former Big Cove Council Member Teresa McCoy, had envisioned. Much of the freedom of speech that you see on a daily basis in the One Feather, and indeed, other media outlets who have more access to Cherokee and our people than ever before, are because of the efforts of Joe and Teresa, and the current wise leadership of the Principal Chief Richard Sneed, Vice Chief Alan B Ensley and each of the twelve members of Tribal Council. They have proven time and time again that they will stand on the side of free speech even when the stories may be unflattering to them. They may not like it, and at times they say so, but they abide it because they know it is the right thing to do.
We can never take for granted the right of free press and free speech. For example, during the years that oppressive government constraint muted the voice of the press and people, few in the community took notice. They either didn’t know what they were missing, or they just assumed that was the way it was supposed to or going to be. Because those leaders could suppress any information going out to the public, the staff would have had to put their jobs on the line in order to relay what was happening. And since the community wasn’t perceiving a problem, it would have been likely that there would be no public outcry if a staff member was terminated or transferred for providing that to the community.
In our history, one of the most effective, powerful governmental mechanisms, one that carried over from our Native style of government to the new representative republic we live in as a tribe, was the Grand Council. If a Grand Council was called, everyone in the township came to the Council House or Meeting Place to discuss the issue. There was a sense of duty among us to our future and to each other and if a community member didn’t come, it was likely they were sick. Elders, men, women, and children all congregated to hear the issues and make decisions. Time and space have made the ability to have a true Grand Council, as our ancestors held them, a near impossibility. Our people are scattered all over the world. To have all our people’s voices (or even a representative majority of the population) heard at a Grand Council would strain even modern technology.
The most effective means of the people communicating their thoughts and positions in modern society is through media-radio, internet, television, and print. For example, a simple letter to the editor will reach thousands, with the potential to reach hundreds of thousands, well beyond the 16,000 plus membership rolls of the Eastern Band. It will reach the Tribal Elder sitting on his porch in Big Cove and the aspiring Tribal college student in her dorm at Stanford or Berkley in California. And they will be able to respond in-kind. It is surely no substitute for face-to-face contact, but it does allow us to have a voice in our community, locally and globally.
Our excuses are gone. We are not bound to follow in blind faith or by blind loyalty. By simply disengaging from the conversation, we are disengaging from the community. We have come too far to let that be our epitaph.