By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Editor
With this being the year of decision for our people and all, you will be seeing the One Feather asking you, in print and digital posts, some pretty repetitive questions like “what would you ask your candidates if you had the chance to ask?”
Before 2013, The amount of information that you were able to get from the newspaper was much more limited that it is today. Overseers of the paper tightly controlled content. Staff had very little say or freedom to invite you into the discussion and, in some cases, were not even permitted to approach certain members of leadership to inquire about projects, nor anything else. Even the number of football jerseys in a picture was monitored and deemed fit for censorship. Even though the Free Press Act had been written into law in 2006, government continued to use its power to prevent and suppress community opinion and control the flow of information.
Polling questions, like we do routinely today, were banned from the Cherokee One Feather. It has taken some work and focus to move from a totally controlled newsletter type publication to something resembling a tribal newspaper. The website and social media (“social media” was not permitted for the One Feather back then either) were linked so that not only did you see the news, but were finally able to publicly comment on what you see. It has been exciting and fun to watch the readership grow and engage as more and more information has been made more publicly available. We still have a long way to go, but we surely have come a long way. And if you are reading this, you have been with us for at least a portion of the ride.
We, at the One Feather, have strived to fulfill the charge we receive from the Cherokee Code. We are not a politically-biased outlet, meaning our writing and content selection is not influenced by incumbents and candidates. We abide by the Code and work to provide the community information that is free from outside influence-political, special interest, or promotion of any kind that might benefit us, but not the community.
We don’t play favorites. Do we have them? You bet. Each member of this staff has a vested interest in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians culturally, communally, and from a financial perspective. And each of us will share opinions because we have those too. But we will never share our opinions in a newspaper forum created to give you the facts you need to make decisions. And we will never skew fact to push any individual agenda. The Cherokee One Feather doesn’t belong to any one of us, or you.
It belongs to all of us. You and me – the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. And we have a right, a duty, to each other to provide that safe place where you and I may disagree, but we may understand each other. Something we have lost in society, this and others, is the ability to disagree without hating.
Information is power. Wisdom is power properly wielded. The more we know, the better decision we may make. And that is what we push for as a paper and as a community. The definition of a stupid mistake is to allow someone else to make decisions for you without making sure that you may trust and that the one you entrust know what they are doing.
So, we ask a lot of questions. And we get a lot of answers. Some given thoughtfully while others are tongue-in-cheek. And some are downright silly. Then there are some that are just not fit for print. But that is what free speech is all about, letting me know what you think and me letting you know what I think. Even the silly answers will tell you something about how a person feels about an issue.
The Cherokee Code gives me a very specific job to do, but it does not give me the ability nor authority to control the One Feather or the content contained in it. The Code charges me with unbiased, fair, and equitable filtering of material so that opinions are respected and those who what to contribute their voice find a safe and protected environment to do so. Just like in all other aspects of life, there are those who would like to manipulate you and take from you. Some would like nothing better than for the One Feather to become a gossip column, while others would whittle it down to a governmental newsletter. I as a community member, want more than that. And all of us want it to be more than that.
Years ago, we implemented another community forum for elections that we call the debates. We started with Executive and Tribal Council, then later were able to add School Board candidate debates. The format is structured to not invite a free-for-all unintelligible vocal battle of wills, but to allow for sincere questioning for the answers to make a wise decision. Now some, maybe some in high places, don’t like the format nor the questions that we ask. That is okay. Everyone has their opinion. But I want to make it clear that I, personally, do not decide what questions will be asked, that is done by committee, typically the Editorial Board. As we said in the beginning, we routinely and frequently ask you what you would like to have asked in those debates. We get them via comment on posts, email, and on the night of the event from community members who care to attend the debate in person. They are not just my questions, as some may have tried to convince you. I will definitely put my two cents worth in on what questions to ask, but as a member of the community just like you.
Questions are reviewed and decided by the Board before we lock them in for the debate. We must set a number of questions to ask, so that means not all of our questions will be selected. Each question must be asked of each candidate with ample time for responses, and there are only so many hours in a night. We also leave room for questions from the audience, which are vetted by a separate panel before I get them. I have moderated the debates (with the occasional guest host giving me a break – thank you Sabrina Arch and Jonah Lossiah) because you need to have a little experience at that sort of thing or, again, you end up in a free-for-all where no one learns anything.
So, I ask and encourage you to participate in the surveys that One Feather does in preparation for the debates and then join us as we present the questions to the candidates. There may be no more important thing that you do than to fill out your ballot in the elections this year. We created the seats of power and we are responsible for who we let sit in them, even if we never enter the polling place. Don’t let your choice be that of risking a stupid mistake. Educate yourself. Better yet, let’s educate ourselves together.