COMMENTARY: Oh, what a tangled web we weave

by Mar 24, 2023OPINIONS0 comments


One Feather Editor


I have always been a great proponent of transparency in government. And I know that some of you are wondering why I won’t let go of the topic. I think it is a critical need that is at the forefront of the issues of our Tribe. The trickle of information that comes to the public many times is just fertilizer for the gossip mill that takes a grain of truth and extrapolates a story that may be based on a small truth but has been built up into a big misrepresentation.

I was talking to a friend yesterday about the many areas of progress that are being made throughout our infrastructure, particularly the off-Boundary business development that we are seeing for the first time on any kind of grand scale for many decades in our Tribe. The problem is that so little information flows from these projects that one cannot readily see the benefits.

The truth is that the legislators and executives of our Tribe must and do work together to create improvements to our infrastructure that benefit us. There is a symbiosis between the two branches of government that has generated some pretty amazing things. We have been spoiled by the success of our adult gaming operation on-Boundary. When I say we, I mean me. And by me, I mean the average tribal member who hears both from the government and from members of the community, who sometimes tell stories about the same projects that have very different interpretations.

I don’t think there is much argument that the gaming revenue has made us different. Our attention spans and patience are short. Our tribal members back in the day [unfortunately, as we allow ourselves to become a casino town, time benchmarks end up being before casino (BC) and after casino (AC)], including tribal employees, learned to live on the federal and state government timelines for grants, because most of our funding BC was through grants and what we could make from family tourism. We learned to be content in waiting.

But all learned patience was quickly unlearned when adult gaming came to town. No longer was the Tribe dependent on federal and state subsidies. The money started coming in fast and furiously, and so has our appetite for spending it. I am not sure if our ancestors were impulse buyers, but I am pretty sure they would be wide-eyed at the way we blow through cash. The number one question from the population about any economic development project in the tribe’s strategy these days is “Will the money go to per cap?”

We want our cake, and we want to eat it too. We expect the per capita check to increase, but we also insist that our tribal community services do too. It’s like we have got one of those mechanical milking machines attached to our cash cow and still, we can’t seem to get enough milk to satisfy our cravings. And it seems like as the tribal services have increased and the per capita payments have gotten bigger, the biggest outcry is for more of both.

I once saw a child with its mama in a checkout line. The child was walking behind her, eyeballing all the candies along the front of the counter. It is no accident that owners of these businesses put candy at the counter. They know that adult and child alike find it hard to resist a serving-size packet of a sweet treat especially if we are at the counter with no time to ponder the consequences for our waistline or blood sugar levels. So, this child, before mom turns around, has gathered eight or nine bars of candy into his arms. When she does see the child, she tells him to put all of that back because they have candy at home. At this, a sound comes from the child like a car door has been slammed on his fingers. Large bellows and boohoos follow, along with a pretty fair stomping dance. I am sure the child would have rolled on the floor but that would have necessitated that he let go of the candy, which was not in his plan. You see, the child did not need the candy, he just wanted it. And when he was told no, he used whatever tools at his disposal to express his displeasure to the world, and to kowtow his mother into allowing him to keep what he wanted.

John D. Rockefeller, the famous businessman who once owned wealth equal to one percent of the entire U.S. economy and owned 90 percent of the oil and gas industry of his time, was once asked how much money would be enough for him. His response? “Just a little bit more.” And from one of the richest men in the world to that child in the checkout line to you and me waiting for the next per capita announcement, we echo the same refrain, all we want is just a little bit more.

We ask for per capita increases. Not only do we get per capita increases, but we also get a new program that basically releases more of those dollars to us through tax relief. We ask for housing on a Boundary that is limited in the amount of buildable land available. So, we get multi-family housing complexes in addition to clearing and making available additional home sites. We want workers for our businesses, but we don’t want them using our lands for housing. So we get off-Boundary workforce housing projects started to accommodate our need for workers. We asked for better facilities for our elder population. So, we get a massive, new tribal elder community project. We ask for more and better community services. So, we get a multimillion-dollar upgrade to our water and sewer capabilities that will not only serve the current population but is being expanded to accommodate the additional growth that will eventually add stress to the infrastructure. We say we want off-Boundary business development because we are afraid that with the growing competition, our cash cow may start to dry up. So, we get four new, never had tribally, business LLC operations to seek and develop sustainable economic growth for our tribe, making large purchases in other states, like other tribes have successfully done in Indian Country for decades. These among other things are going on in our tribe as we speak.

But, for some of us, it won’t be good enough until we get “just a little bit more”. And until then, we will take our grains of truth, embellish them, hold them up in our arms, and cry out that we want more.

I still believe that more needs to be done to share with our people and, yes, with the public, as much detail on infrastructure progress as possible so that those who might create their own narrative have less to work with and so the community may be informed when it comes time to ask questions and make governance decisions. In the world of information communication, gossip grows in a vacuum. Where there is an information void, that is where conjecture grows. As a tribal member, citizen, constituent, voter, every time there is a closed session, mention of an undocumented trip, or withheld or “lost” document, your “Spidey-Sense” should be triggered. For those who are not a fan of Marvel comics, the term “Spidey-Sense” was a superpower of the comic book character Spiderman. It was first introduced in 1962. Spidey-Sense allowed the hero to sense and react to danger before it happened and may even have been responsible for the quick reflexes for moving quickly. A corny analogy to convey some truth. Every time you are blocked from seeing what is going on in government, it should trigger you to inquire from your leaders about what is going on behind closed doors. Yes, Spidey-Sense is part of a fantasy world. Then again so are some of the stories and tales that get created about the work of the government and the general well-being of the community. Good decisions are a combination of knowing and understanding the facts and using good common sense. Without information, it is hard to make any sense of anything. Without common sense, you may have all the information in the world, and it won’t do you any good. And this is not to say that our leaders aren’t doing a good job (see the paragraphs above). But all it takes is the appearance of impropriety, just a seed of doubt, a sprig of gossip to alter the course of development in a negative way.

And who knows tribal member, you may be the one who after using your good common sense to analyze the facts, will come up with a better way for, not just you and for your family, but for the whole of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians community to grow and prosper in ways we never dreamed of. Truly, you may just be our Peter Parker.