Running for Tribal Council is a weighty endeavor. When I ran and served on Tribal Council in the early 90s it was much different. I don’t remember having to mail out a flyer to every Tribal member at a cost of several thousand dollars. Nor were there umpteen candidates running. Social media and blogs, like the one you’re reading now, were not yet conceived. Incumbents and challengers were on a very similar footing, both financially and in name recognition.
The Tribe was much more inclusive. It felt more like a big family than a business with warring splinters and factions. When we had a tribal meal it was a potluck and our elders and wives were great cooks. I don’t remember any mud-slinging but rather the exchange of ideas and the inspiration of natural leaders like Marvin Kimsey, Margret Provost and Merle Holmes.
The stakes were not as high or so it seemed. Back then we were laying bricks on foundations that would last for generations. The Tribal Council was exerting our newly restored Tribal sovereignty through management of our own timberlands and contracting Federal dollars from the BIA and IHS to fund our own programs.
Indeed our Tribe has grown and progressed since I was on Tribal Council. Growth and change was expected. In 1994 we made the decision to pursue gaming and by the time I left office the casino was about to open. Year after year revenues increased with each expansion of the casino. The decade from 1996 to 2007 was marked with increase and abundance. This abundance came from the Tribe’s sovereignty, which allowed us to have the casino.
With abundance and prosperity came increased benefits to the membership including per-capita, health care, and other programs. Unfortunately, the Tribal administration, governmental budgets, and spending also mushroomed during this time. Even with the treat of off reservation gaming our government continued to spend like there was no end to the supply of cash created by the casino.
In 2007 while I was on the Board of Directors for Spirit Mountain the economy began to slow. When the stock market crashed and housing bubble burst in 2008 our casino felt the strain and the year over year increases came to an end.
Governance in years of abundance is much easier than in years of scarcity. Our elected officials and Tribal administration continue to spend as they had during years of abundance. The governmental infrastructure including programs, staffing levels and employee compensation levels are unsustainable and many on our current Tribal Council are unwilling to make the hard cuts needed to restore benefits to the membership.
Yes, times have changed from abundance to scarcity. Now is the time to elect leadership that has both experience and formal education to find solutions to the problems we face.