COMMENTARY: Who has the skills?

by Jun 19, 2023OPINIONS0 comments


One Feather Editor


When I look for someone to work on my home or my person, I want to know that they are skillful at what they do. My doctor and I have built a relationship and respect so that I am familiar with his credentials and have seen over time his ability to give good guidance to me regarding my health concerns. I know he has a calling, duty, and heart to heal. I have seen a level of accountability from him. He has built trust so that even when he has to say difficult things to me, I know he has my best health as his goal.

I know many men who stay away from doctors until they are in pretty rough shape. Health conditions that could have been avoided or at least softened go unchecked. Solutions become more difficult to find and concerns more grave appear. It isn’t a great visit when the doctor says, “if only you had come to me five years ago…” We don’t want to have or find any weak spots in our health. We prefer to think we can power through any weakness.

But you reach a time in your life when you can’t “wear out” sicknesses like you used to. A three-day-cold stretches into weeks and eventually a month’s long battle; skin bruises easier, bones are more brittle, and both take longer to heal. I used to have blood drawn and only have a pinpoint place on my arm where the phlebotomist inserted the needle. Now I get to wear a quarter-sized bruise at the injection sight for a few weeks when they take blood. And even though I trust the technician, I try to make sure of what kind of mood she is in before I let her at my vein with a sharp object.

When you must put your health and life in someone’s hands, you want that person to be as competent as they can be. You want them to have a good education (the best education) and as much experience as possible. It’s important to get the best care because the consequences of poor care when it comes to our health are too dire to not pay attention to who and how that is carried out.

The reality of things is that, in our personal lives, we expect that we will receive good care for most of our wants and needs. And we will do the research before making a big decision or investment of money or time. When we search for higher education, we look for the best fit for our needs, or our children’s needs. We make sure we are getting the best “bang for our buck”, from the food we eat to the toilet paper we…you get the point. We are not prone to settling when it comes to our stuff and services. When we determine we are not getting what we expect or desire, we search for better, and we drop what we find unacceptable.

Shouldn’t we expect, when it comes to tribal services and Indian-owned businesses, the same level, or better services as in other municipalities? The current standard for hiring in our Tribe when programs are looking to hire is that minimally qualified tribal members are considered before any other qualified candidate for a position. It is called Indian preference. I personally, am a big fan of Indian preference and have benefitted from it. But our current structure causes us to have to select minimally qualified candidates over potentially highly qualified candidates. To go back to the previous example, hypothetically, if we were hiring a surgeon, the current hiring policies would require the Human Resources Department to choose the least qualified surgeon over a highly skilled, experienced surgeon if the minimally qualified surgeon is a tribal member. The hiring manager or director doesn’t even see the qualifications of other non-Indian candidates if there is one minimally qualified candidate.

As I stated earlier, I think it is good and proper for us to hire our own people, our Cherokee people, in front of those who are not. If two applicants, one tribal and one not, of equal qualifications are in the running for a position, I firmly believe the position should be awarded to the tribal applicant.

I am not sure about the minimally qualified rule though. It would seem to ask the community to accept a quality of service that they would not otherwise accept. How many of us would want to be the first patient of the minimally qualified surgeon versus a highly qualified doctor? Apply the logic to any other goods and services you like. Would you opt for the least or most qualified chef to cook your meal? Would you want the least or best qualified mechanic to do your major car repair? Build your house? Care for your elder? Your child? Your pets?

We here, at the Tribe, are in an election cycle. We are making vital decisions regarding the governance of our tribe. There is so much at stake. We are building infrastructure to support our way of life, on-Boundary and off. We are investing, on-Boundary and off, to secure the future of our tribe. We are negotiating with state and federal governments to define and enforce tribal sovereignty and tribal identity, and all that implies. We are managing a quarter-billion dollar plus budget and a hundred plus programs. We are trying to put our “aces in their places” when it comes to leadership on tribal boards and high-ranking governmental positions.

And all these things have the potential to affect your life and mine, personally. Very personally. So, you must ask yourself, “Who is the best qualified to sit in the seats of power for our tribe?”. Who has the skills needed to navigate the complex matrix of government, finance, and community? Whether they are competing for an executive office, Tribal Council seat, or school board seat, are they the best qualified, or just minimally qualified? With as much as is at stake in the next two to four years, we can’t vote for someone because they are a “good ol’ boy or girl”. Take the election of your leaders as seriously as picking your heart or brain surgeon. Because it could be that serious. For your future. For your kids’ future.