This is my formal declaration that I am voting for Deborah "DJ" Battiest for Chief in the election on July 11th. As Chahta people, we ARE a matrilineal society that has been pushed back from a male dominant society. It is important that we return to our ways and install a woman to be our Chief. It has always been a woman's role to nurture and create a solid stable household. If the Chahta people want to see a change, this is your chance, not solely because she is a woman, but because she is a woman who has the experience and skills to manage human resources to create an efficient operation. She has the peoples concerns at heart, talk to her and share your concerns so that she will know more about what she can do. For the first time in 40 years, I am hopeful that we can begin to move forward in the ways our nation have always fallen short. Ben Carnes
This was my post last weekend on Facebook after our candidates forum here in Broken Bow, and in discussions with my wife, she suggested I expound my my reasons and after further thought, I agree.
As Chahta people, women has occupied an important role in our society, as well as the societies of other Indigenous Nations. In the Iroquois Confederacy, the women, known as Clan Mothers were entrusted with the inherent inherent right to the title of "Chief" and whom they selected to serve in that capacity. They also held the right, if the "Chief" disobeyed the Clan Mothers, to remove that title and select another. In Chahta society, the women remained within their clan and could divorce their husband by setting his personal effects outside the door. The children would remain with the Mother and her Clan so they could be raised raise in the ways of her people.
When the European immigrants who came to our hemisphere, fleeing their own for religious persecution or in pursuit of wealth, their society viewed the status of women as property. They would only deal with the men of our people, who deliberated in council with the other Peace Chiefs and War Chiefs, including spiritual leaders and women. The immigrants, who created their own Nation called the United States of America, felt that our process was too cumbersome and selected those they wanted to deal with. Why our people acquiesced at the time, I do not know. I only wished our ancestors had been more adamant, and quite possibly, we would still be living in Mississippi rather than being exiled to what was called "Indian Territory".
We all know, in general, about the "Trail of Tears and Death", the Supreme Court decisions that determined we were to be wards of the federal government, the false promises that we would never be made into a state or become part of the US (Article IV of Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek), the treachery of the Dawes Allotment Act, the imposition of the State of Oklahoma upon our remaining territories and the 1924 Citizenship Act, all the way to where Harry J.W. Belvin, a Choctaw Chief appointed by the US President, proposed legislation terminating the Choctaw Nation through liquidating our assets. It was a Chahta woman who told her son, upon receiving a letter notifying her of the pending termination, that she instructed her son to stop this. Randy Jacob felt that he was a nobody and had no power to stop a Chief appointed by the US President or a congressional legislation. Yet, in Indian ways, he obeyed his Mother wishes and sought out other Chahta people and began the efforts to fight for our survival. They eventually succeeded in averting termination, but secured our right to electing our own Chief, taking away the US Presidents practice of selecting who would be the Chief he would deal with. Today we are recognized as the third largest First Nation in the US, with a billion dollar a year industry.
That victory did not come without setbacks, in gaining our election, Belvin crafted the election rules ensuring that he won the election as Chief. Later David Gardner, whom Belvin had disqualified based upon the rules he made up won the next election in 1975, but died in 1978. Hollis Roberts ascended to the position and served the remainder of Gardner's term, before winning the next election where he served for 19 years until he was convicted of sexually assaulting a female employee in the offices of the Choctaw Nation. During Roberts tenure, numerous allegations persisted of campaign fraud and coercion of votes and favoritism towards those loyal to Roberts. Roberts had been indicted earlier for embezzlement, but through the efforts of his attorney, Bob Rabon, Roberts succeeded in reducing the felony to a misdemeanor to which he pleaded "No Contest".
After Roberts was remanded into federal custody to await transportation to begin serving his sentence at a federal prison, the Chahta people felt the iron-fisted reign of fear and intimidation was over. That was short-lived when it appear that Pyle, who served under Roberts from from 1984 until Roberts conviction in 1997, was more subtle and refined in whom he rewarded for their loyalties. Calls for reform in election rules, campaign finance and transparency remained ignored. That is until a employee of a contractor of the Choctaw Nation discovered irregularities in the invoicing. She was told to ignore the matter, but she turned the information over to the federal authorities which led to several indictments. The latest conviction was of former Senior Executive Director, Jason Merida. At trial Merida testified that his role was to direct prospective, and current contractors to attend the Chiefs fundraisers and to contribute generously, implying it would aid in securing or maintaining their contracts.
Interestingly, for the third time, an assistant Chief ascended to the Office of Chief when Pyle announced his resignation in April 2014. There had been rumors it was health related, while others speculated it had to do with the ongoing investigation. Seven months later, Pyle, Batton and Casino Executive Director, Janie Dillard were called to testify in the Merida trial. The defense attorneys had submitted a brief alleging that both Pyle and Batton were "unindicted co-conspirators" in the corruption, money laundering, and bribery investigation.
The trial revealed what so many Chahta's had long suspected of the upper management officials who enjoyed lavish shopping spree's, hunting trips and vacations. Batton, when asked by the federal prosecutor about the amount of money in the campaign account (held in several banks) that Pyle signed over to him, he replied that it was a little over a million dollars. The trial lasted over the course of several days and was attended by several Chahta's. Some attended the entire trial and reported daily through social media the events of the day until the closing where the federal prosecutor assured the Chahta's in the audience that their investigation is not over and told them they had a lot of work to do, meaning the lack of transparency and accountability by elected public servants of the Choctaw Nation. (I'm awaiting trial transcripts which should be available in about 2-3 months, when I'll write more quoting direct testimony of all the witnesses exposing a practice of corruption and fraud).
After what so many people heard, they were amazed that Batton or Pyle had not been indicted already. They felt Merida was offered up as a scapegoat. I have spoken with Mr. Merida and he told me that he thought they were all his friends until his arrest. He said that what you all heard at trial was nothing, there is a lot more and I hope that it will all come out. I wanted him to come onto my show and tell his story, but he was awaiting sentencing and could not speak about his case. I sympathized with him in his feeling betrayed by those whom he trusted, just as the Chahta people have in those they have elected. I left my card with hopes that someday he may contact me and be prepared to share more.
Immediately after his conviction, Chahta's formed a grassroots group raising specific issues relating to election reform, campaign finance reform and ongoing efforts at amending or creating a new constitution that would embed checks and balances. They've traveled to different communities sharing what they heard at trial and what their proposals could do to clean out an institutionalized system of wrongdoing. In response, Batton selected individuals he trusted to form an Election Reform Task Force to produce recommendations. Doug Dry, a long time proponent for election reform and transparency was invited on the committee. He had been asking the meeting be open to the public and the request was not granted until the third meeting. Even then there had been resistance from other members while Yannash Scott and I waited outside the conference room to be allowed in. After about 40 minutes, they opened the door. The following were the four recommendations by the task force:
- A motion to vote on a recommendation that access be given to community centers for tribal political candidates passed unanimously.
- A motion to vote on a recommendation that we have a standalone electoral publication for tribal political candidates to use as a platform passed unanimously.
- A motion to vote on a recommendation that Chief begin the process to reform and regulate campaign financial transactions passed unanimously.
- A motion to vote on a recommendation that Chief review and regulate to protect the integrity of the absentee ballot process that is fair to voters and candidates passed unanimously.
After the last motion was passed, Batton was asked by Sandy Stroud about when they should meet again. His response was "I don't care what you do. I have what I need right here.", while waving his notes. Neither Yannash nor I were were allowed to participate, just observe. At the following council meeting, they voted to allow inserts in the tribal paper. Short of the recommendations of the task force, and even less than what the people wanted. The council called it a big step. Do those people realize that we have eyes to see through what they are doing? Ears to hear their hollow words? And an intelligent mind to understand they are not really changing anything! I know they do, but it is sheer arrogance that they feel we are ineffective to make a difference. My question to the readers is this, if a caring woman was in those offices, would they shame us in this manner? I believe the answer is a resounding NO! Especially a woman who has not been groomed to maintain a 37 year dynasty where corruption has become an acceptable institution!
Prior to the candidates submitting their names to the ballots, it was widely believed that he will win the election. When two challengers filed, Batton and Rabon filed to disqualify them. Rabon and the election board disqualified Sherman "Bo" Miller, but were unsuccessful in disqualifying Deborah "DJ" Battiest. She brought mountains of evidence to substantiate her residency, including affidavits from those who know her. So she is a candidate.
The question that emerges is if we believe the system is so unfair and unjust, why do we even bother to give Batton the appearance of a fair race? That is easy, we aren't giving Batton anything, instead we are rallying our people who want a change for the better. Someone who won't resist and fight us for the honorable principles we have been putting forth. If Ms. Battiest doesn't win this election, the concerns will not go away. In fact, I believe the post-election mood will be even more determined in preparation for the next two elections within four years.
It will be difficult in a male-dominated society for a woman to be accepted as a credible candidate. In social media, it was even implied that women aren't good at politics, especially at a certain time of the month. I know that is far from the truth, men may not have a menstruation cycle, but I believe I have been around enough men to recognize when their testosterone can cause bad judgement. The prisons and death row are full of them.
So much of the headway made through political arena's have had Native women as the backbone. There is a Cheyenne Proverb that says "A nation is not defeated, until the hearts of its women are on the ground." In Fact, Dr. Henrietta Mann said “You’re not going to meet any more formidable advocate than a mother," speaking of women activists. “In my estimation, a woman, a mother is not going to blink twice about saying, ‘I’m going protect the integrity of my tribe, my children,’” she said.
Last year, at the annual Choctaw Festival in Tushkahoma, Batton invited Oklahoma Governor, Mary Falling to attend and unveil a statue "Honoring the Giver of Life". That drew the immediate outrage from numerous Choctaw women. Summer Wesley, both a Choctaw member and an Oklahoma-based Tribal Law attorney, couldn’t believe her eyes when she read the announcement: “Mary Fallin has demonstrated to not be an ally to Native tribes, yet has been chosen to not only appear at Choctaw Fest, but to unveil a statue in honor of our women,” Wesley said. “As a Choctaw woman, I am appalled that she is being given a platform for her insincere pandering and her participation in the unveiling causes the statue to lose all honor to me. Further, I think this sends the wrong message to Indian Country regarding the Choctaw Nation's priorities and loyalties. Fallin's participation implies that our Nation condones her anti-Native policies.”
The first time a woman ran for Chief was in the special election following Gardner's death, Minnie J. (Thomas) Voyles. Roberts was elected Chief in a run-off against Charles Brown. The next woman to run was in Aug 20,1983,the votes came to:
Hollis Roberts 1,701
Wyndle David 1,738
Ed Curtis 661
Harriet James 399
James Jones 263
Jonas White 63
Total Cast 4,825
A run-off between Roberts and David on Sept. 17, 1983 came to:
Hollis Roberts 2,594
Wyndle David 2,310
Total Cast 4,904
With the history and information shared here, I hope that many of us can take a long hard look at what we really need for our Nation, just not what we can personally benefit for ourselves, but a lasting legacy that comes from fairness, honesty and integrity. Ms. Battiest does not have a million dollars to conduct a campaign like Batton and Pyle generated through the very virtue of their office from hopeful contractors and others who liked business the way it is.
The numbers outweigh us in whom we can contact with almost 80% of the registered voters casting their absentee ballots. They do not get the news from here, except with what we can share through social media. But it is happening, here's one video prepared by a young Choctaw voter in New Mexico:
It is time for our women to have their voice and I hope that many of you will join me and many others to cast your vote in making this stand for our people.