Election Q&A: Tahlequah District
TAHLEQUAH - The Election Board for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians has finalized its list of 16 candidates for November’s Tribal Council Election. Upon receiving the finalized list, the Giduwa Cherokee News attempted to reach out to each candidate to participate in a Q&A session.
TAHLEQUAH DISTRICT CANDIDATES
Name: Mary Girty Age: N/A Community: Tahlequah district Years on council (if any): N/A
Name: Jeffery Wacoche Age: 47 Community: Briggs, Tahlequah Years on council (if any): None
Name: Teresa Webber Age: 45 Community: Briggs Years on council (if any): 1 year, 9 months
Editor's Note: Tahlequah District candidate Donald Adair did not respond as of press time.
GCN: Why did you decide to run for Tribal Council in 2018?
MG: To serve the people of this district for one thing. I was going to retire anyway in December and I kept thinking, ‘I know after two weeks I’m going to be wanting something to do.' I’m running to make a change.
JW: This is my first time running for office. While attending the UKB Strong event this past summer I was able to speak with current UKB members and employees that informed me of their hopes and dreams for the Tribe’s future, which gave me the inspiration to seek the position of UKB Tahlequah District Tribal Councilor.
TW: As the current Tahlequah District Representative there are some big projects that I’m happy to say I’m a part of. There are a lot of “firsts” happening right now within the tribe that I’ve had a hand in or was able to integrate during my term. For example, this Council was able to provide a budget for our Education program (something that hasn’t been done in years) we also included that the Museum have a budget (first time ever); Also we were able to provide health insurance for our employees and change policies in our Personnel Handbook to extend bereavement leave for employees who have lost an aunt or uncle, etc. I am currently working on a policy for our employees expecting a baby to allow them paid maternity leave; if passed, that will be extended to both mothers and fathers, if one year of employment is verified, another first for the Tribe, so I’m very excited to see these things happening. I’m also the Secretary for our Housing Committee and we have done some great things to provide more services for our tribal members and we are only just beginning.
GCN: What do you believe are some of the most pressing issues our tribe faces and what will you do to address those issues?
MG: Accountability, honesty and integrity are all lacking here. You can’t have one without the other two.
JW: I believe the most pressing current issue facing the Tribe is lack of funding and the ability to be self-sufficient. Without increasing Tribal Funds through grants and corporate growth the Tribe is limited in benefits that can be offered to our members in all districts. I will ensure the Tribe adheres to Federal regulations to obtain new grants and maintain current federally funded programs. Corporate growth is vital for the Tribe in becoming self-sufficient so I’m looking forward to ensuring that all current and future Tribal Corporations will have qualified management to provide financial stability, create jobs for Tribal members, perform monthly budget reports, and add transparency to not only the Tribal Administration but also to all Tribal members.
TW: Right now, the most pressing issue that keeps coming up is our Land in Trust lawsuit, an ongoing litigation that keeps the Tribe stagnant in some ways but we find other ways to work around that. Another main issue is our economic development, we need steady businesses, and being a small tribe has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to securing businesses to work with us. Lastly, I would like to see the UKB offer quality healthcare to our tribal members. All these issues can be resolved but it takes time to even get any ideas going and to do these things within two years is just not enough time.
GCN: What do you believe are the most pressing issues facing your potential district?
MG: We need more honesty and availability to get information out to the people. The complaints that I’ve heard here is that their calls are not being answered and they’re needing information on services and also medical issues. It’s a lot of medical issues and calls about Hastings. The big one for me is a man who is blind that needs help buying his groceries and I’m sure there are other people that need help like him, including getting to their medical appointments. They’re telling me they have to pay somebody to take them to the hospital. Council people I think get $2,500 and I think even with $500 I could do a lot of these things. I do some of that on my own anyway.
JW: In my district are members seeking healthcare at certain locations being turned away due to being UKB citizens. My goal is to be able to open our own health clinics and nursing centers in the future. I also plan to assist members in becoming more educated in Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and state insurance programs in those circumstances. I have established working relationships with a large variety of healthcare professionals that are always willing to help educate or assist the public with obtaining services or medical equipment needed to insure good health and quality of life.
TW: One of the main concerns that I hear about is that constituents want housing rehab or a house constructed on their property. Our Housing Department offer a variety of housing services but the land has to be free and clear and without any restrictions, once again the Land in Trust issue arises. A ruling in the Tribe’s favor would help a number of tribal members with their land issues. Another issue is lack of employment, which could either be resolved by additional revenue coming in or to have a Keetoowah business in our area and that’s something that our Corporate Board is tasked with doing.
GCN: Have you set specific goals and a timeline to accomplish them if you were to win the council seat? What would be your first order of business?
MG: I figure after two years, if I’m not doing my job, I want them to tell me. After two years I should be able to do quite a bit.
JW: If elected I will spend each and every day working with the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches in our goal of obtaining our rights as a Federally Recognized Tribe. My first order of business would be to improve the current housing authority program to be able to provide houses to all members in need of a good home. I’m frequently traveling to rural areas visiting current homeowners in need of repairs to their homes so I know that a Housing Rehabilitation Program would also be very beneficial.
TW: I have specific goals for myself and for tribal members whether it be with Education, Healthcare, Working with the Elders, Housing, Language and Culture, etc... One of my main goals is for our Education program to flourish, at one time when I worked for the Education Department we served well over 300 students at any given time; I would love to see that done again.
GCN: How do you plan to stay connected with the constituents in your district (meetings, social media, home visits, etc.)?
MG: I want to hold community and district meetings and connect with people on Facebook. But then there’s a lot of elders that don’t have Facebook, that aren’t on Facebook, but I’ll visit them. I’ll be out and about. People can get information they need to make informed choices. I will fight for constitutional rights and fighting not to lower the blood quantum because that’s what makes us unique.
JW: I plan on holding district eat-and-greet meetings, family fun days with cookouts and sporting events during the summer and utilize the UKB Wellness Center for events during the winter. I don’t do social media because it’s too easy for someone to type something offense or take offense to something that you type, so I prefer face-to-face interaction and avoid the controversy of social media. I’ve always been easily approachable and love to talk to old friends or make new ones. I’m always out with the public attending events in the area so if you see me feel free to come up and say “Hi.”
TW: I currently hold monthly district meetings at different locations to accommodate those that live in different parts of the Tahlequah District, and I stay connected with constituents through email, social media and text/phone calls but nothing gives me more pleasure than one on one contact or fellowship and I will continue to do that.