COMMENTARY: Excuse me, are you sitting in my seat?

by May 17, 2021OPINIONS



One Feather Editor


Yes. Tis the season when I nag you about voting. You do realize that there is a tribal primary going on, right? And three of the six communities have enough candidates to participate in the primary. My community only has four certified candidates, so I am not getting to vote, but that doesn’t keep me from itching to do so.

I like to vote. I want to vote. I am not jaded by anyone’s perception of a rigged system or the folks who bloviate about “they are going to do what they want, and nothing can change that”. If we all think that way, then it will be so for sure.

I believe that the way my voice is heard the loudest in government is with my vote. And even if it is a small voice, it is better than none.

I dislike the two-year terms with a passion. Having my representatives in perpetual campaign mode is counter to the goal of good governance. Instead of being able to concentrate on the long-term good of our community, Tribal Council must split time and mind between governance and campaigning. If you are an avid student of the Tribal Council sessions, you will hear repeatedly that items are passed and then disappear from the radar of the legislators for long periods of time. A Council member or members will wonder out loud why some of the things that have been approved by the legislative body are on the table for years with no forward movement. And it will be implied that others are not moving things forward like they should. And that is not always the case.

When a project, especially a big one, gets the “green light” from Tribal Council, that may be only the first stop in a series of repeat visits for the project to Tribal Council for additional blessings. And because elements of some large projects are subject to legislative approval, and because our elections may change the people in the seats of authority (doing so every two years), a project, even though approved overall, may end up in a political quagmire. Vote up, vote down, repeat. We have all seen legislation, materials, and work sessions get repeated after a change in who is sitting in the seats, be it legislative, executive, or even school board. It is not the fault of the people in those seats at the horseshoe, necessarily, it is just that new bodies mean new perspectives and education process.

I enjoy the primary process, even though my community did not have enough certified candidates to participate this year. I wish there were some way to engage those candidates who do not have a primary. The EBCI Primary does two things for the public. It pares or narrows the field to better facilitate getting a representative majority of the registered voters in a community to elect their general election candidates and it gives the candidates a bit of a quick, unofficial poll as to how they are being received by the voting community. In my community and the others who do not have enough candidates for a primary, we miss out on getting that benchmarking of the candidates. Maybe someday we may figure out a way to do that, or maybe the paper will engage in a bit of straw polling. Straw polls are unofficial and unscientific, but when you have nothing else, there is nothing that will start a discussion and peak interest like it. We may just stake out a space at Food Lion.

If there are candidates reading this, I want to make a last-ditch appeal. The One Feather for weeks has offered a free ad for any candidate who is running for a tribal office (Tribal Council and School Board). We have advertised this in print and on our Facebook page. Only a few candidates have taken us up on our offer. By the time this commentary is published, less than two weeks will remain before the political advertising deadline. I urge you to make use of that offer. It was curious to me that one of the regional papers did a feature on Tribal Council candidates and apparently invited comment on a couple of issues or questions. The reporter contacted all 19 of the Tribal Council candidates. Four responded (only one incumbent) by the publication’s initial deadline. Now, the One Feather offers commentary space for anyone, including candidates. We have political commentary policy, but, to date, none of the candidates have asked for a copy of the policy or submitted any commentary for review.

As a voter, I want to know two things from a candidate, and I cannot find those out from a cardboard yard sign. I want to know why they want to hold a position of elected leadership in tribal government because…motives matter. And I want to know how they are going to make our lives better. That is a question that every new candidate and incumbent should have no problem answering.

You see, when a person is elected to a seat in Tribal Council, they don’t own the seat, the seat owns them. They get elected to represent the 16,000 plus members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and subsequently the tribal citizens that reside or have affiliation with their individual communities. Represent the Tribe first and the community, whether it is Birdtown, Wolftown, Yellowhill, Big Cove, Painttown, or Cherokee County-Snowbird. The seats belong to the community, the citizens, the people, and people elected to them are serving and representing all of those who own the seats. Every so often, you will hear a person on council say that they are the “keepers of the purse”. What are they talking about? They are talking about the money and resources of the tribal government, the tribal purse. In other words, the collective purse that belongs to every one of the 16,000 plus members of our Tribe.

If someone holds your purse or wallet, don’t you want to know as much about that person as possible? If they are the executor of your bank account, don’t you want to know how trustworthy, educated, experienced they are? And what kind of mind and heart do they have for protecting you? All things we should all be concerned with before we hand over our seats for two years.

On a personal note, I want to congratulate my friend and sometimes Bear Dance partner, Ms. Carmelita Monteith. She is an amazing person – dedicated and in love with the community and our people. The Tribal Council and Beloved Committee has made an excellent choice in her for recognition as a Tribal Beloved Woman. Thank you for your service and your example to your people and your Tribe Carmelita.