By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
We are coming down to the end of October. Things are winding down. Many thought we would be seeing life return to “normal” by now, but we are fast realizing that normal as it looked in December of 2019 may not be a reality even in the year to come.
There is no ignoring the devastation that is being left in the wake of COVID-19 and the social calamities of the past several months. Families and communities have been torn apart with sickness, death, and violence. And, it continues on even today. As many have said, we are in unprecedented times.
Anyone who tells you they have all the answers to the crisis of today must be delusional. From backseat driving on COVID-19 to the challenges of systemic racism, we have been assaulted with “what if” hypotheticals from the different political factions at play in America from the top leadership down to the decisions made by townships and school boards.
How ironic is it that we expect perfection in the face of a storm of calamities that modern times and leaders have never faced before? We have become so pampered, particularly in America, that even directives to social distance, wear a mask, and wash our hands have been a rallying cry for political factions to either rage for or against.
Seriously, I have seen gentlemen use the restroom facilities in the Ginger Lynn Welch Complex either without masks or neglecting to wash their hands before they leave the restroom. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt by saying neglect because it very well may be intentional. And, this type of behavior is being seen all over the Qualla Boundary, all over the region, all over the country.
When anyone advocates for doing the Wash, Wear, and Wait regimen, there will be someone waiting to condemn the behavior as “sheepish”. And then the battle of words begins. It seems to have its foundations in an argument over public health and safety versus personal freedoms debate. I like debate as good as the next fellow, but it surely looks like the stakes are very high in this particular debate for it is life and death. And the losses in this battle of words are not abstract. Death, painful sickness, development of chronic, lifelong health conditions, economic recession or depression, mental health issues, domestic violence issues, and even some of the rioting and social discord can be traced back to COVID-19. After all, how much civil unrest was there prior to COVID?
I am not minimizing the need for social awareness and change. I think a frank discussion of race is long overdue in America, because I think there are misconceptions on all sides of the issue that we should be talking about from the municipal level upward, to put our issues on the table and devise solutions for that will result in actions of peace and not escalating violence. We have been fortunate on the Boundary to not have those tensions, at least not to the extent of many communities, including reservations. But, that doesn’t mean we are forever insulated from it.
There are a couple of more weeks remaining before the last chance to make a difference in the direction of the country all the way down to municipal government takes place. Election time is the time you have a voice to speak with in all those elections. Next year, we will be making those choices for tribal legislative leadership. This year, we are deciding what kind of leaders will guide the federal, state, and municipal governments. We tend to think that, if we live on the Boundary, those elections don’t matter. And we could not be more wrong. Having people in positions of power who are sympathetic and empathetic are more important now than ever. There are laws and lawmakers in the federal government who decide legislation that impact tribal operations, support, and even sovereignty. State governance is a huge deciding factor in how the Tribe provides for itself, as the leadership of the state negotiates and partners with us on what type of gaming that we will be able to deploy.
As the Tribe attempts to add to its existing revenue streams by building business outside the Boundary, we must negotiate with municipalities for land use and support services. Despite what some may think, we are not an island and we are not self-sustaining. We need not only non-Indian tourism traffic for our daily bread, but we also need the support of outside governments to provide the services that we enjoy on the Boundary. And that means we need to do our part by voting in candidates that know us and support us.
Two-party politics and unlimited terms have caused much of the divisiveness and silos we are experiencing in our society today. Incumbents leverage their seats to gain power and constituency, and, over time, develop voting blocks that are insurmountable for young, inventive, intelligent aspiring leaders. We need to somehow get beyond our one-dimensional thinking when it comes to governance. We need to be willing to elect fresh faces and fresh ideas even if it means giving up some power. We are citizens of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and we are citizens of the United States and each of those states and municipalities we live in. We have a right and duty to vote and to elect representatives who reflect our views; all of them as different as they may be.
Voting couldn’t be easier. Mail-in voting is available for those who want it. Polling places are open for early voting if you want to go in-person. It is easier to vote in off-Boundary elections than it has been in the past for tribal elections. We, as Cherokee people, need to be more engaged in the selection of those leaders of outside influence to the tribe. For a little effort, you can make a big difference. We are fast approaching our last chance in this election.