The primary issue of her election campaign to lead the Cherokee Nation, says Stacy Leeds, candidate for Principal Chief, is economic mismanagement. Of the $300 million dollars netted by Cherokee Nation Industries last year, according to Leeds, only 30 percent of the $78 million profit (less than $24 million) goes to support programs of the nation. That is less than 10% of what the CNI calls “after pay-out gross,” the only figure publicly released. This begs the question, How much is payed out to contractors and others before you arrive at the $300 million figure? No one knows, because the tribal administration will not release those figures.
Mismanagement of CNI, says Leeds, could be “an Enron in the making” for the Cherokee people.
I met Stacy Leeds Tuesday evening at the Beaver Creek Cooperative Telephone Company offices in rural Oregon City, along with a half-dozen other members of the local Cherokee community. Stacy is a very warm, unassuming woman, who doesn’t seem to have an ounce of political slickness, and yet she gives the impression of being a very capable leader. For me, this was her biggest attraction, as I’ve been very wary of the corporate patina I see reflected on the Smith-Grayson crowd.
Leeds is a former justice of the Cherokee Supreme Court, the only woman to ever hold that post. She is a tenured professor of law and has held many positions dealing with tribal law, making her an expert in the complex legal issues between the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. government.
Leeds called the recent vote to expel the Freedmen from the tribe, “the elephant in the room no one is talking about.” The federal government, through the B.I.A., has threatened to cut off federal funds to the tribe. If they do that, she says, the tribe will become insolvent in a matter of weeks, unable to pay tribal employees. When the Seminole Tribe similarly voted to remove their Freedmen from the roles, the Feds cut the tribe off immediately, and it took three years of legal wrangling and kowtowing to get federal funds reinstated. With the Cherokee Nation there are additional threats from a seriously angry Congressional Black Caucus, and from the U.S. courts over the ongoing legality issues of the Cherokee constitution.
I asked Stacy if there wasn’t also a moral issue with the Freedmen: since they are the descendants of the slaves of wealthy Cherokees, doesn’t the tribe have an obligation to recognize them? She agreed, saying that she had voted against the expulsion, and she felt that the Cherokee people had been misled on the issue.
Would the tribe have voted so overwhelmingly to expel the Freedmen if they had understood the moral issues and the economic consequences of doing so? I think probably not.
In addition to her mismanagement charge against the Chad Smith administration, she pointed out that Smith has constantly vetoed such legislation as increasing the minimum wage, health-care benefits for poor Cherokees, and modest bonuses for tribal employees. Six years ago the Tribal Housing Authority was winning awards for its programs, and now, she says, there is no housing program for Cherokee families at all.
She and Deputy Chief candidate Raymond Vann would concentrate their energies on helping out Cherokees in need, putting competent management in charge of Cherokee enterprises, and diversifying the economy of the tribe, which is too dependent on Casino revenue.
It was a pleasure to find a candidate with many admirable qualities. I found in Stacy Leeds a very intelligent leader with the interest of the Cherokee people at her core. A true progressive who I believe will stand up to the corporatization of the Cherokee Nation.
I am very glad I attended this meeting for another reason. I have been feeling isolated as a Cherokee far away from tribal life. To my surprise, I learned that there are several dozen registered tribal voters in the Portland metro area, and many more enrolled citizens as yet not registered to vote. It is very encouraging to me to know that I am not alone.
You can check out more about Stacy Leeds and Raymond Vann at the campaign website: www.stacyleeds.com.
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