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Perhaps the most disturbing element of this event was the "Ugly Choctaw Contest". When I heard this over the loudspeakers, I was stunned. I watched one man urged on by his family to go out into the arena and it appeared he grudgingly stood up and with each step I saw his spirit sink away into the ground. He may have not felt he was the best looking man there, but he did not need this. I cannot explain how heartbroken I felt for this man. I saw others going out without a care, smiling. I turned away from this spectacle and thought about what has reduced us to something as disparaging as this. I've spent most of my life defending Native rights and lands through awareness and direct action. I've written about the conditioning and brainwashing that our people have gone through to make us feel inferior, and that we have to stand tall to make our children proud, to be Native, proud to be Chahta, even if they have other blood coursing through their veins because we all bleed red. We've taken on issues of mascots, policies that affect traditional cultural and spiritual practices and other forms of institutional racism, even from our own people. It was our Chahta people who recently walked off Adam Sandlers set after they had been lied to when they had been assured of a tasteful representation of Native people.
When it comes to institutional racism, we are often told that there are more important issues, I strongly disagree. All of these issues are interconnected, they can be tied into our high rate of alcoholism/drug use, teen suicides and low self-esteem, as well as a societal misunderstanding of whom we are as Native people. It is hard to break through the steel walls of stereotypes, and people are surprised to find Natives who are educated and work as professionals. The struggle to break through has been ongoing for years.
And for Chahta people, we can look within our own territory and see these things happening, even during Tushkahoma. Instead of Native performers, we see only non-Native performers, we go into the arts & crafts building and see flea market items, and then our traditional stickball games, we see how it has been conformed to fit within another societys form of sports. We had no referees, time-outs, or announcers. It seems as if we are slowly losing our grip on whom we were as Chahta people.
This is where each and everyone of us comes in, we have to begin standing up in our leadership role and demand that the candidates who are going to run for office support what we want. We have to make our voice heard throughout our nation wherever our Chahta people live.
We must be the ones setting up a candidates forum so that we can present the changes that we want to see and find out who will vow to make it happen. One of the key points I feel will weed out the candidates is to ask who will present a council bill in their first meeting to reduce the salary of the Chief and Council:
The Chief makes $281,000.00 per year, with medical and numerous other perks. I would propose lowering that salary to $65,000.00 per year. If the Choctaw Nation health care is good enough for us, then it has to be good enough for them, otherwise, they can pay for superior health care out of their salary or work harder to improve our health care services. The Council members can have their $151,000.00 salary cut to $35,000.00 per year, with the same stipulations as the Chief regarding medical.
Any Choctaw who is making minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) could gross as much as $15,080.00 per year. As a person who has met real traditional chiefs, they are usually the poorest of their people because they give what they have to help the people survive. Our Chief and council should not be living better than the people they have been elected to serve. I can accept that corporate ceo's get paid a lot more, and if our people want that kind of money, then go to work for a corporation. We are not a corporation, we are a Nation of Indigenous peoples and we have a cultural standard of practice that served us well before we began acting like Nahullos. If a person who is elected can show us how they have raised our people above the poverty line and that we have prospered as a people, TOGETHER! Then I say we should reward them with a slight salary increase. The people who run for these positions should do so solely for the love of their people, not for how much money they can pocket.
The following are some points that can be formulated into questions for the upcoming election so that we can find those willing to stand up for the people. More will be forthcoming in the coming weeks.
Constitutional Amendments or a Constitutional Convention: There is a need to strengthen our constitution, after 32 years, we now have an better idea of its shortcomings. We need to know from our candidates if they will support a constitutional convention before the next election in two years. Choctaws Rising has a list of proposed amendments, while I do not support tampering with the blood quantum for holding office, I would support all the other proposed changes.
The Choctaw National Party also has a list of the platforms, take a look at these and see if this is something you will support and ask the candidates to affirm or refuse to support these type of changes.
And because it is an election time for the next two months, maybe we can obtain a public reply from Batton on the Chahta Veterans for Chahta Civil Rights Petition to respond to the Chahta peoples concerns about how this breakdown occurred, where are the checks and balances to guarantee this hasn't happened in other circumstances prior to this federal investigation, and afterwards. There are many questions that have been on the table, but Batton has said he would only meet with the people one on one. I'm sorry, that is not good enough, nor is it productive. It would be more expedient to address a general gathering where we can all hear the questions and the answers at the same time, as well as record it for those who could not attend. This is the accountability that is lacking from our administration. Whenever we ask for answers, no official should refuse to provide it.
We only have two months to get our own forums set up and the Chief will have to (or should) attend forums set up by the people in each district. Especially when we have a candidate for Chief who will be filing this week, D.J. Battiest. I recently heard D.J. speak in Durant and found her to be charismatic, sincere and above all down to earth. We will be looking forward to hearing more from her in the next two months.
The following is my suggestion for a timeline for the districts to host the forum for the candidates/incumbents (Chief and Council) on a Saturday:
District 1, Idabel @ 12pm
District 2, Broken Bow, @ 6pm
NONE (Memorial Day weekend is when most families have their own time)
District 3 - Talihina, @12pm
District 11 - McAlester @6pm
District 5 - Stigler @ 6PM
District 8 - Hugo @ 6PM
These are merely suggestions and it could work for those where the locations are nearby that two in one day could be done. The community in each district could host the forums with a potluck and set the stage for future political campaigns, making fundraising an obsolete process. We don't need to see wasteful spending of tour buses, lavish spectacles or big name musicians. We aren't Nahullo's, we just want to hear the truth and see your hearts with no distractions.
Remember several corporations have made political contributions to Batton and Pyle with hopes of obtaining a contract with the Choctaw Nation enriching them with a million dollars to campaign. Lets remove the potential for abuse and take control of our elections. We are the leaders, and they are the public servants. We didn't get this way overnight and it it isn't going to be fixed quickly, we have a long road, so lets begin walking it together with dignity, integrity and a common voice.
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