Thursday, May 28, 2015

Candidate Q&A - Tommy Jones, Tribal Council - At LargeCandidate

Tommy Jones speaking with a voter

Message from Tommy Jones:

I'm Tommy Jones from Jones, Oklahoma. Until adulthood, I lived in poverty. Now I've earned two bachelor's degrees, a master's degree and am currently working on a Ph.D. My education has been funded entirely through scholarships and I don't take this for granted. My humble beginnings have inspired me to make a difference. My passion is to serve our people and work for our nation's future. It's time for me to give back and use my knowledge to benefit the Cherokee people. Your vote will help me do that. Please consider me when casting your vote for the At Large tribal council seat. 

A video message for At Large Cherokees:

Questions and Answers:

1    -What do you think is the biggest problem facing the Cherokee Nation today? What will you do to work toward a solution to that problem?

At this point, I find the biggest problem facing the Cherokee Nation is complacency with business as usual with the functioning of our government and services. Accountability breeds progress and greater societal well being for our people. Higher standards provide great efficiencies, as our citizens depend on our Tribe. We must ensure that transparency, accountability, and best practices are being utilized within each and every one of our governmental departments. By requiring these focal points we can begin to curb cronyism and nepotism and see great improvement within our service output. Requiring evolving best practices that improve our services is essential to meeting the needs of our citizens. Addressing this, we will have a solid base from which to build.

   2- How will you connect economic growth, cultural enrichment, and ecological sustainability to prepare the Cherokee Nation for a brighter future?

One of the first actions we need to do is place in law the protection of our cultural resources. A zoning approach can be used for important sites around our jurisdictional area. After this is done, we will know and any future developer will know what is off limits. I think doing this alone will ensure that our cultural resources will not face any real or perceived threats from development. Citizens and decision makers can get behind projects based on the merits of the development and not worry about what trade-offs will exist for our resources. With that said, I am a big advocate for renewable energy. I think there are many opportunities for economic development and self-sufficiency with renewable energy. We can develop small scale and distributed relatively easy within jurisdiction and even large scale. We can also invest in renewable energy projects around the country or world. Another area for which there is little work being done is Native-run renewable energy developers. Many tribes pay outside developers that are typically non-native and I think we could fill this niche.

   3-Current statistics say we only have 2400 fluent speakers of the Cherokee language. How will you work to revitalize our language?  

Language is a vital piece of our Cherokee culture; I recognize in myself and others of my generation that many are unable to speak our language, which is why language revitalization is important to me. This is an important family connection and tie to our ancestors. It is something that I am working on personally so that I will be able to teach my future children. From a Tribal Counselor standpoint, I would support continued and expanded funding for language. Expanding the online language classes is a good starting point. Language revitalization can have many different approaches (technology, face to face, classes), but what is important to me is to use language as more than a means of communication; to use language as a means to have a deeper cultural connection and to honor our ancestors.

   4- Many citizens of the Cherokee Nation have friends and family who are members of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. Will you work to improve our government to government relationship with them? If so, how?

CNO and UKB are intertwined in history, in family, geographically and with Cherokee blood. We do need a better relationship. I think that some of the problems that have arisen such as the UKB casino highlight something critical to the CNO. We need to diversify our economic development to not be so heavily dependent upon the casino enterprises. Our long-term sustainability must look past the windfalls of money from the casinos and consider other forms of development.  The recent proposals to have a congressional act federally recognize tribes further highlights this. This sort of legislation could easily spiral into a group having a lot of money, money from wherever, influencing tribal recognition, and getting land into trust. Which could mean casino money and whatever else natural resource to exploit. Working with UKB or even partnering with UKB should be considered. This way, improved relationships are built, money that is spent on lawsuits can be used towards needed improvements to citizen services, and battles that have long plagued the two federally recognized nations could begin to heal. 

   5- In the past, some council members have been slow to respond to emails or phone calls they received from their constituents. In your opinion, what is the longest a person should have to wait to get a response from their council person? What will be your policy on responding to your constituents’ emails and phone calls, should you be elected?

Answering calls and returning emails is not hard to do. If an overload of letters came in there are programs that help you write emails and letters, they put the header, the greeting, the closing and you personally respond to the question in the body of the letter. With technology that makes answering constituents easy and less time consuming, there is no excuse. I personally find the constituent response and interaction to be the exciting part to this process. I want to help make a difference and that means I must be responsive to those that need help or have suggestions on how to improve our government and services. I have a vested interest in responding as quickly as possible. It doesn’t seem unrealistic to respond daily to emails and phone calls. That would be my personal goal. And the longest a person should have to wait is no more than three days. That's more than enough time to respond. That’s a huge part of what counselors are paid to do. But life does happen and getting behind on tasks is expected. However, making getting behind a habit is unreasonable and irresponsible.

   6- The number of people falsely claiming Cherokee ancestry is growing every day. Not only do they create a revisionist history of the Cherokee Nation, they are also a direct threat to our sovereignty. How do you feel the Cherokee Nation should address the issue of:
            A - Fraudulent Cherokee tribes? 

This is definitely a problem that has to be continuously fought. In terms of partnerships for economic development or societal improvements (like partnering with a non-profit) it is critical to not have the Cherokee title associated with groups that are not legitimate. This can hurt our own progress through perceived risks of partnering with “Cherokee” or actually competing for grants. Not to mention the ridiculous romanticized version of Cherokee culture these groups many times exude. A consortium of the CNO, EBC, and UKB could potentially help curb many of these groups. A united effort that helps preserve our Nations, our people, and our culture could help the cause. For groups attempting to get state recognition, I think about how the federal recognition process is very stringent (although it is currently being streamlined to some degree). I definitely support a task force at the Cherokee Nation that focuses on fraudulent tribes.

      B -  State recognized tribes who claim to be Cherokee? 

The BIA has blood quantum certificates, cities having a rich history of the tribe and politically work together, a continuous governing system, and the tribe has good lawyers. That's a majority of what federal recognition takes. Some tribes are looking for re-recognition and state recognition is just one further step to help the process. Also, several big casino tribes have disenrolled members based on blood quantum and those people have showed interest in state recognition. One major reason is they are directed to federally recognized tribal clinics. I think following along the same process as federal recognition should be adhered. There are legitimate cases where the federal government has dragged their feet (i.e. Shinnecock of New York took some 30 years to be recognized) and state recognition has stood in its place and helped deserving tribal members. An extensive process that weeds out free riders should be in place. State recognition, will need to be vetted to higher standards and that is something that can be improved with better state-CNO collaboration.

      C - High profile fraudulent Cherokees, such as MA Senator, Elizabeth Warren? 

Clearly and firmly separating the Cherokee Nation from these people is needed. However, this should not be a witch hunt. Research into the background and detailed explanations for claims by the individual should be a priority. After this, a statement should be released that addresses the issue and demonstrates a hard stance against those who falsely claim Cherokee heritage.

     - FOR AT LARGE COUNCIL CANDIDATES -- How will you work to improve the relationship between the Cherokees who live inside the jurisdictional boundary and those who live At Large? 

A great way to bridge gaps is to find areas that transcend politics. I am an avid supporter of healthy living. Organizing support groups that can merge healthy living with culturally relevant teachings would be incredible. This would be a great way to stay connected or to learn the history of the plants, our language and form a deeper philosophical bond with our ancestors. The seed collection that is available is one way to start this. Also, expanding on the Remember the Removal types of events would be a great way to fellowship. An online forum that showcases that at-large truly do care about these events and our culture would be a good way to inform those within the jurisdictional area. From there, greater collaboration and shared knowledge can emerge. From this collaboration and fellowship, or networking, we can begin to see increased avenues for at-large citizens to benefit the nation as a whole and form better bonds with in jurisdiction citizens.

Traveling to the various communities this year has shown me first hand the effort that folks are putting towards the satellite communities. Sharing more of this with in jurisdiction folks I think would be a great idea.

copyright 2015, Polly's Granddaughter - TCB

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