By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Editor
First off, we are not discussing traditional or culturally held values, so you may put down the torches and tar. Not in the historical sense anyway. Our elders and ancestors had the wisdom to pass those down to us in language and stories so that we don’t have to go there. The only thing I ever heard about our understanding of Cherokee traditional history was to be careful when reading or studying accounts of non-Indian documenters who interviewed the Cherokee people back in the day. This admonition came from an elder who told me that the Cherokee people were great pranksters and quite capable of making up stories to tell outsiders just for the kick of seeing those same outsiders tell some Indian fiction for truth. So, some of the tales of the Cherokee coming from folks like Timberlake and Mooney might need to be taken with a grain of salt. Things are not always what they seem.
We just finished up the Tribal Council and School Board debates for the 2021 Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians election cycle. The candidate turnout was extraordinary with 82 percent of the Tribal Council candidates showing up for debate and 100 percent of the School Board candidates in attendance. On behalf of the One Feather, I want to thank each candidate that took the time to meet with us to share their vision for our people and our kids.
While I am at it, a big thanks to the EBCI Communications Division and Cherokee Central Schools for their amazing work on the debates. The debates could not be done and communicated to you without their selfless work. Election after election for over a decade, we have worked together to get the candidates in front of you to answer your questions and let you see and hear those who will be potentially representing you for the next two years in the case of Tribal Council and four years with regards to the school board candidates.
Based on the issues that are currently facing the Tribe, the One Feather asks the community a question each week. We get your answers. Some are funny and whimsical. Some are inappropriate. Some are letting off steam. Some are trying to convince others to think their way. And some are genuinely trying to share their thoughts on the particular issue before them. In addition, we are continually interviewing tribal members, tribal leaders, programs, and businesses on the Boundary to get insight into the central issues affecting tribal members. It is part of a journalist’s job to take notice and record. So, when election season rolls around, we take all of those stories and survey questions into account when we are considering the questions to be posed to the candidates. We also give the community additional opportunities to provide direct input on the questions.
The number of candidates is one of the factors that will affect the length of a debate session. For example, the largest single debate involved all the school board candidates, which was the most candidates on stage at one time during the series. Questioning continued for approximately three hours. On the other hand, some of the Tribal Council candidate debates involved just two candidates and lasted less than an hour. Some candidates prepared responses (all of the candidates received the first twelve questions in advance) that used their full allotment of time while others did not, also affecting the total time. Some may have thought the sessions should have been shorter, but we felt that the community needed to see as much of their candidates as possible. While the debates are an opportunity for the candidates to promote themselves and their agendas, the goal of each debate is to provide the community and voters as much information about the individual candidates as possible.
Some may have felt that we focused on the negative during the debates, as we did ask questions about service providers, services, and lack of services in places like the hospital and school. It is important to keep in mind that we will be expecting our Tribal Council and School Board to address the real and perceived efficiencies and deficiencies within our government and institutions. Getting the information that the community needs to make an informed decision may mean that questions about things that we may individually hold sacred must be asked.
It doesn’t mean that anyone is against the government or the institutions. Even the best of governments and the best of institutions have room for growth and improvement. In fact, one of the ways we can make improvements to both is to elect leaders who will be equipped and competent enough to do so.
There are a total of seven debates in the 2021 series. One for each Tribal Council community and one for all the School Board candidates. They are available for viewing at www.ebci.com, on Facebook on our page and on EBCI Communications Divisions page. I recommend all of the debates for concerned citizens of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The best way to assess a story is to hear and see it firsthand. As at least one candidate said, as Cherokee people, we have a tradition of taking care of each other. Electing our leaders is one way we do that. It is one of the things we hold sacred.