COMMENT: satisfied with the status quo?


One-feather staff

Do you think we have a perfect governance system with the best possible leadership? To hear some voices in the community, the answer to this question would be an emphatic “no”. And then you would also hear a lot of people saying “yes”. It’s a fact of politics: you can please everyone some of the time and some people all the time, but you’ll never please everyone all the time.

In my own work here at the newspaper, when I hear people’s compliments (which I’m humbled and grateful for) but don’t hear criticism, I get a little nervous. Because the reality of this job is that I often have to do and say things that offend or upset at least one or two people if I want to stick to my value system and that of the newspaper. In short, if you do the right thing by a consistent standard, you will inevitably offend or rub someone the wrong way. The same paradigm can be applied to the political environment of the tribe. And a lot depends on the “standard of law” or ethical standard of each person in our tribal leadership. To paraphrase a former US president, whether or not you do the right thing depends on your definition of “good.”

We live in a society that searches for itself and thrives on propaganda and media hype. Politicians, even those who deny being politicians, regularly exaggerate to accentuate their positions. There is not much in this world and few people in this world who are totally bad or good. Generally, people and things are a balance between good and evil. And even good and bad are in the eye of the beholder, socially speaking of course. I intentionally steer clear of personal religious beliefs, mostly because that also tends to gravitate toward political extremes today. Without some sort of social norm, right and wrong are truly subjective and, as is the case with situational truths, depend on how well educated a person is about a particular topic, idea, other person, or a group of people. Thus, we generally tend these days to market our value system to others. And part of our marketing strategy is to highlight our “goods” and their “bads” and conversely, we ignore their good and our bad. So what you typically see in an election are candidates painting incomplete pictures of themselves and their opponents.

Facebook and other social media have made billions of dollars satisfying our appetite for gossip. We have itchy ears. And we want to hear what we want to hear. We gravitate to the pages of people and groups who confirm our already formulated idea of ​​what is good, fair or ethical. Again, it all boils down to your definition of “law”.

If you look at any of our old tribal voting records, there’s one glaring fact that strikes you when you analyze the data. We had elections in which less than 40% of eligible voters turned out. In a few cases, there were not enough voters to create a valid quorum for a referendum vote. And when you ask voters why they don’t vote, you get the propaganda answers; “Well, I don’t think my vote counts”; “They’re going to do what they want to do anyway”; “I know so-and-so is going to win, so why bother”. This mentality prevails even though some races in our tribal elections came down to ten, five, and in at least one case, one vote. Based on our historic voting records, it’s a great turnout if we manage to get 50 or 60 percent of the electorate to take a few minutes, twice a year, to participate in the electoral process. It makes it more understandable that some think they can stand in front of the Tribal Council Chamber podium and say they speak for the people or tell you what the people want. Those people in the gallery don’t have to worry about half or more of us contradicting what they say, because we won’t even speak with our vote.

Our government is juggling a lot of balls. Construction is happening at a pace I haven’t seen in 20 years. More recent tribal councils and executive administrations have addressed land use planning. For example, we have at least five large multi-unit dwellings (apartments and duplexes) completed or in the final stages of completion. Single-family homes are moving more slowly, but they are progressing. Building land, as far as residential use is concerned, is a “high priority”, whatever that means in our current environment. And yet, we continue to see battles among our leaders over the purchase and use of land. The latest battles that have been announced have focused on land use planning and the integration of workforce housing. Because we have limited land mass and limited “buildable” land, there needs to be consensus around purchase and use to find productive solutions for people. And while some try to make reasoned arguments for and against, much of the debate includes accusations of personal agendas, character challenges, and political rhetoric, all of which deflect from solving a problem and therefore delay remedies for the tribesmen.

Many statutes in our Cherokee Code contain an element of quasi-civil rights. They reside in the Code because the Charter does not imply any rights of members except voting and a census to make the vote fair and equitable (a right, by the way, which has been denied to the people for at least a decade of elections). It is, after all, a charter, not a constitution.

There are other projects, like a homeless shelter, recognition signage for cultural figures, Cherokee code cleanup/update, and others that are mentioned from time to time, but as cans down the road, they are kicked out to another tribal council headquarters. or Executive Election. Important large-scale projects, at least according to the tribe’s own strategic economic development document, are rejected for so long that they become obsolete and must be delisted.

Routinely, Tribal Services will be audited at a monthly Council session which requires reports from major programs and divisions within the Tribe. Almost as regularly, tribal council representatives or community members come to ask for information and correction of a lack or delay in services. Whether it is medical care, facilities, housing, or a number of other social programs, there are usually a few areas that need to be addressed or corrected. The law of averages would say that’s normal. What is neither normal nor acceptable is the deviation that occurs in some of these cases. When there is a problem to be solved, there is sometimes a tendency to divert attention from the problem to personal attacks. To distract from a problem and its resolution, you might hear “We have good people on our team and we won’t allow their reputations to be tarnished.” At this point, the focus shifts from solving a potential problem to a perceived personal attack of some sort. We sometimes seem to have a hard time keeping the basics as the main thing.

We have a problem with the flow of information within our government. Our leaders have expressed a desire to be transparent, but transparency takes more work than you might think. I advocated for a tribal program, perhaps hosted by the Communications Division, that would be responsible for disseminating information to the community and general public. Some programs, programs, and tribal entities have actual Public Information Officers (PIOs) who are tasked by their job descriptions with disseminating information to the public. The challenge with most information in tribal government is that according to human resource policy, basically anything discussed in a program is confidential until it’s released, and I’ve had managers who have told me said they couldn’t release material until it was released. do so by the executive office.

In one instance, I was advised by an attorney, regarding a request for information made to the Tribal Council through the operations office, that the Code did not require disclosure of that information, so they would not release it not. In short, it was not the content of the information that determined its release status, it was a legal loophole that provided the general power to refuse release of information to the public. The lawyer did not even mention the possibility that there was confidential information in the requested document. It was simply refused because they could. We have even had situations where the tribal government has denied us information that our government has provided to the federal government. We subsequently made public information requests to the federal government and obtained information that our tribal government could not provide. Transparency at its best, no.

A public information office would organize existing public information officers into a legitimate representative entity of the tribe. He could be educated in what is legally public information and could act as a clearinghouse for external communications for all iterations of our tribal government. Simple laws could be created, as they were for the ethics committee, to provide guidelines and authority for a public information office to work with programs and entities to generate reports that would be transparent, without compromising confidentiality. One of the issues the government deals with on a daily basis is real community engagement. Commitment to knowing what most people want. A good public information office could streamline the paperwork process that has bogged down our public records law since its inception.

We are a nation of people and we are a multi-hundred million dollar corporation/government. We need to pay attention to the adjustment needs of our government and it is not just for leaders to make this happen. It’s up to all of us who are tribal members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

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