To free the land, you must first free your mind...

This is a conceptual platform for the expression of ideas and issues initiating discussion and action. The communiqué's are my perceptions, opinions and vision about contemporary issues/causes, people I admire & respect, and my goals for the future. My main focus is on the Chahta People by sharing our past to plan for the future today!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Choctaw Nation Election 2015: time to speak up!

Due to an wave of outrage by the citizens of the Choctaw Nation after the federal conviction of Jason Merida for corruption, Chief Gary Batton, appointed his Election Reform Task Force, to provide him with a bullet-list to present to the tribal council.

One resulting action is that the Biskinik will now have an insert with candidates and election information in the May issue. Another is that a letter was sent to registered voters asking they check box whether they want their addresses released to qualified candidates, those whose replies were postmarked before April 30th will be accepted. It is unknown at this point the number of letters that were returned undeliverable as a result of no forwarding address or if the person was deceased. Some have quoted their sources as saying it numbered in the thousands.

On Monday morning (May 11th) the Election Board at the Choctaw Nation headquarters in Durant will begin accepting applications for candidacy for the offices of Chief and Council. The council seats and incumbents are:
Choctaw District Map

District 1 - Idabel, Thomas Williston
District 2 - Broken Bow, Tony Messenger (retiring)
District 3 - Talihina, Kenny Bryant
District 5 - Stigler, Ron Perry
District 8 - Hugo, Perry Thompson
District 11 - McAlester, Bob Pate

Filing will close at the end of business day on Wednesday, May 13th. After that date, the names of the qualified candidates will be posted along with information on how they can be reached. The date of election is July 11th.

Eaglemanz Commentary

This election year, we have heard that several candidates are running in District 2 - Broken Bow, where long time Choctaw Nation employee, Tony Messenger, is retiring from public service. Names of possible candidates have popped up for this open seat: Ivan Battiest, Tony Ward, Green Davis, Mike Amos and Taloa Gibson. Originally, I had intended to run for Chief this year, but after the Merida trial, attending the the only public Election Reform Task Force meeting and then seeing the resulting tribal council actions, I began to consider running for District 2 council. It wasn't until an incident of  betrayal by a Senior Executive Officer, Stacy Shepard, regarding developing a prison reintegration program for Chahta people leaving prison, that I decided my best course of action was to wait until the 2019 election where I will run for Chief.

My decision based upon the experiences I pointed out above is to demonstrate the capacity of our people to become the leaders we are. Those who are elected are not our leaders, they are the people who willingly offer themselves up for public service. This means they are to be accountable to the people, their actions are open and above board. No secret meetings behind closed doors, no withholding of information affecting the Chahta people and above all no refusal to answer the questions of the Chahta people.

It seems that years ago after the Chahta people won a victory in averting termination by J.W. Belvin and the federal government, we were beginning to recover when we had our only free and fair election that placed David Gardner as Chief. When he died in office, it seemed that a process was put into place that began to disempower the Chahta people. If you spoke out against the chief, you or your relatives were threatened with the loss of their Choctaw Nation job or you might be blacklisted and services were withheld from you. Then the sitting chief was arrested and convicted for embezzlement, but won re-election in spite of that. Then a few years later he was indicted for sexual assault of a female employee and sentenced to prison.

Most everyone had thought the era of fear and intimidation was over. People remembered Chahta people passing out pamphlets printed by "Choctaws for Democracy" and being arrested and charged. This had a chilling effect on the voice of the people that one had better not speak out or up. The issues were a biased election process and a slanted tribal paper that actively promoted the Chief and Tribal Council. People began calling the Biskinik, "The Bisquik: for white and fluffy feel good news", tribal employees were conditioned to tell nursery fairy tales about the administration, or to not speak at all.

The Merida trial exposed more than the administration probably cared for and when it became known of the abuses of office, various groups circulated the information in the social media. It has become known that the administration has began paying attention to various groups that have formed, such as Choctaws Rising, Chahta Veterans for Chahta Civil Rights, Eaglemanz: Chahta Nation, and the Choctaw National Party. These groups are made up of former council members, attorneys, military veterans, medical personnel, a minister, American Indian Movement activists and other Chahta citizens like yourself who want to bring about accountability and transparency in the constitution, elections and the administration of the Choctaw Nation.

These groups have traveled to a number of communities to help get the word out, even to the gathering in Bakersfield, California. There were several Chahta okla expressed their surprise because they had not known about the trial or the activities of the various grassroots for a positive transformation. Some of the delegation who traveled there were also surprised by the hostilities encountered from the organizers, Bill and Theresa Harrison. Two members, Yannash Scott and Stephen LeFlore, were told they could not march in the arena to honor military and war veterans with their banner "Chahta Veterans for Chahta Civil Rights". Even I was told that if I was going to talk about politics I don't need to come back. I returned on the following day and learned that the organizers had attempted to have campus security remove them from the premises. The day before, Batton was present when the veterans were told they could enter the arena with their banner, during the night and the next morning I learned that Batton had been made aware of the incidents taking place. I spoke with Batton later at this event and he had urged the organizers to not make an issue of it. Apparently, the Harrisons disregarded Batton, so when these men were approached by campus security, Batton sent his personal security officer to intervene as can be seen in the video.

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.

Election and campaign reform: one should not be able to “buy” an election based upon how much money one has or how popular they have made themselves as a result. It should be about the issues that they stand upon and what they will contribute to the Nation as a whole. The hard honest truth is that a candidate needs access to the registered voters, and we have a vehicle for that: 
a) The Biskinik, in the three months prior to an election, candidates must announce their intent to file and present their platforms, the paper must give equal time to all candidates after they have formally filed their candidacy,

b) Our community centers should be made available to the community for a candidate’s forum for council and chiefs. I'm inclined to make attendance by candidates mandatory or they forfeit the race.

c) The CNO website should have a section of the website set aside for the candidates with their platforms, their photo, bio and contact info. With these items, it isn't really necessary to fund-raise, because this will provide at a minimum, exposure and a means of connecting with registered voters.
d) It also needs to be said that no campaigning should be conducted by the candidates while employed by the CNO, nor should volunteers employed by the CNO conduct similar campaign activities. Violators employment will be terminated and future employment will be prohibited. 

(Not all of us have a million dollars to run a campaign with. From the information revealed by Pyle and Batton during the Merida trial, their ability to raise such a massive amount is by virtue of their office creates an uneven playing field. Should this be adopted, then we should ask Batton to transfer the estimated one million dollars to an interest bearing account to cover the expense of mailing the paper and documented related costs. The balance in this account with interest accrued should be published each month. The basis for this is as I’ve stated, this money was raised by the position held in the Choctaw Nation, it would be an honorable gesture.)
After the elections, Battons' Election Reform Task Force will reconvene. We must ask that the candidates present a bill to make all committees, and any meetings called by an official or employee of the Choctaw Nation, public. At the same time, each of our districts needs to organize into groups that can attend these meetings and report back to their community to work on reform provisions.

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:

May 23rd
District 1, Idabel @ 12pm
District 2, Broken Bow, @ 6pm

May 30th, 
NONE (Memorial Day weekend is when most families have their own time)

June 6th,
District 3 - Talihina, @12pm
District 11 - McAlester @6pm

June 13th
District 5 - Stigler @ 6PM

June 20th
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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  2. Halito! Do we know the dates the districts are to host their forum for the candidates/incumbents? June 13th is McCurtain County's, but wasn't sure if you have heard of any news. Yakoke, Mandi Tomasi

    1. The idea of each community hosting their own candidates forum is a concept that I am hoping will catch on. We have 6 in this district and its starting to get confusing as to who, when, where and what time.
      We need a system whereby the candidates don't need to win an election with how much money they can raise or spend, or under the table promises of jobs, services or goods, including cash payments for votes. The same for a Chief who can raise money solely by virtue of his office. This became readily apparent during the Merida trial last November.
      There are only two districts that have challengers to the incumbents, the other is District 11, McAlester. I know Nellie to be a good person, and I haven't met the other person to say anything, one way or the other. I am hoping that one of our candidates for council will impress upon me enough to vote. If not, then I will be pushing hard over the next two years to have our ballots include a "No Vote" of confidence for any of the other candidates.
      There are many changes we need within our Nation, and whatever happens on July 11th, July 12th is the beginning. It is by no means over until we have allowed the light of day and fresh air into the halls of our Nations headquarters.