James Murray on Cherokee Nation (of Oklahoma) Election 2011 –
After months of politicking, hog fries, and high/low drama it all came down to 11 votes. Tahlequah furniture salesman and slum lord Bill John Baker defeated the ‘George Wallace of indian country‘, Chad “Corntassel” Smith. It was a relief to me really, I had considered Smith a personal and political enemy for years. It was Smith, among others in the artificial entity known as the Cherokee Nation (of Oklahoma) who had conspired openly and via shady legal machinations to deprive the black Freedmen of eastern Oklahoma of their rights and legal standing. Smith had also spent decades (both in service to Wilma Mankiller and as Chief) to persecute, hound, defame and destroy his apparent relatives in the only real tribe of Cherokees in Oklahoma, I am referring here to the United Keetowah Band (UKB).
Smith was well known in the Cherokee capital, Tahlequah as a pathological liar, racist and banana-republic style petty tyrant. His quest to win a 4th term was primarily based on the ‘5000 jobs,’ he had brought to the “Cherokee Nation.” These would be mostly of course casino jobs. 8 dollar an hour service shitwork for people often commuting 40 to 60 miles one way to work on the most dangerous roads in Oklahoma. There were other jobs created too of course, mostly bureaucratic slots filled by CDIB card holding (but only marginally indian) college/post grads. The CNO would hire these people, work them little and pay them rates unavailable in the private sector. These new-hires inevitably bought SUVs/Hummers, etc. and eastern OK variants of the McMansion. Then of course these folks were wholly bought and owned by the white-indian elite of the CNO. Any disruption of the CNO status quo operating procedure could be disastrous to these pampered lifestyles.
And what is the status quo operating procedure of the CNO? It has remained unchanged since the CNO invention circa late 60s/early 70s. – The Cherokee Nation (of Oklahoma) is a funnel – designed to transfer capital from the coffers of the federal government into the hands of white-indian elite. Weekly, if not daily I hear indian people say, “The CN is not helping the people. It’s not doing what it’s supposed to do…” No my friend, you are gravely mistaken – the CNO is doing exactly what it was designed and intended to do. How is this possible? Do you not believe the rich, white, republican men who “reformed” the CNO over a generation ago did so with a reason? And they set it up without a “blood quantum.” This too, they did with a reason. These reasons were not to help the Tsa-la-gi people…they were to benefit and enrich themselves. And this they have done.
The 2011 Cherokee Nation (of Oklahoma) election featured Baker, well known as a “liberal,” and supporter of the Democratic Party versus Chad Smith, who has been open about his Republican party affiliation. It was liberal wing of the white indian elite versus conservative wing of the white-indian elite. Early on in the campaign a Smith operative told me, “Baker wants to give hand-outs. Chief Smith is for hand-ups.” The implications of such jargon were very clear to me. The “hand-outs” would of course be money going to the backwoods “full-bloods.” (housing, septic tanks, transportation services.) Whilst the “hand up,” meant money going to white people with CDIB cards, (full college rides to suburban kids in Edmond, hiring preference for 1/64 recent Criminal Justice grads.)
Baker and his team ran a very polished professional political campaign. Apparently he spent upwards of 80K of his own money and he utilized a lot of good, smart volunteers. He out-hustled Smith there is no doubt. In the last weeks of the campaign there was hog fry after hog fry in Cherokee communities from corner to corner in the old Cherokee Nation. At perhaps at low ebb in this period one story circulated of Chief Smith being reduced to politicking in the waiting room of the “indian health clinic,” in Stillwell. Smith was too well known to win the local vote, in fact he had been losing it for years. His ace in the hole had always been the “out of jurisdiction” voters. Yes, of course, in the cause of white indian Cherokee Nation supremacy any Cherokee Nation “citizen,” can vote from any geographic position. The “California Cherokees” were vital in this regard – they came to visit the “homeland,” every other year but voted religiously. They had been electing Smith for years. But this time things were different….Baker had (wisely) spent months before the campaign with a voter registration drive. He was trying to turn out the local vote like never before to offset the “California Cherokees,” et al. And apparently his strategy worked. As I write this he has an 11 vote lead and is the presumed winner.
That Bill John Baker could win the office ‘Principal Chief’ of the Cherokee Nation should have been obvious. He is rich (by local standards) he is white (by any standard) and his brother is the Tahlequah District Attorney. 9 days before the election Baker was “outed” as being a seemingly remote “1/32 Certificate Degree of Indian Blood.’ But the decades of white indian mythological propaganda held sway and for once perhaps turned against Smith. The official white indian line is – all Cherokees are equally Cherokee regardless of “blood quantum.” All that matters of possession of a CDIB card. It takes a tremendous amount of class blindness and wishful thinking to believe that a 14-year old on Santa Monica soccer field with a CDIB listing 1/256 is as much Cherokee as a 14-year old “full-blood” living without running water in Kenwood, Oklahoma. But this is the official position. “We are just a family of families,” Smith once said, all for one and one for all. (This has always reminded of nothing so much as German National Socialism circa 1936 – it doesn’t matter if you are a custodian at the Krupp steel works or the CEO, we are all equally Aryan men – this is what they said…yeah right….The false (lack of) contradiction is obvious of course, this then/now is an attempt to manage class struggle towards the benefit of the ruling elite..)
But this ain’t the Cherokee Nation of yore. The numbers are constantly in flux but it’s likely at least a half of CNO “citizens,” have lower “blood quantum” than new Chief Baker. Outing him at 1/32 did the supposed ½ Smith no good. People want a Chief that reinforces their white indian identity and Baker could do that as well or better than Smith. “We all come from one fire,” Baker said as part of his standard stump speech. This is his version of the “Family of families,” yarn.
Will Baker be a better Chief than Smith. Probably. He has promised to cease fire on the UKB. And he has promised to accept the court’s decision on the Freedmen issue, (like what else can he do?) That he is more humane than Smith I have no doubt. But this says very little really.
On the CNO’s big election day a celebration was being thrown by the real Cherokee tribe in Oklahoma – the UKB. They were giving away t-shirts and buffalo meat to celebrate the recent BIA decision to allow them to place land in trust. The CNO had been fighting this Keetowah right for decades. There is nothing the CNO would rather do than cut a deal with the Keetowahs to have them join the CNO. Then they could funnel the real indians money into their white hands and place the “full-blood” element under white indian political dominion. There are near constant cries to “Unite,” by CNO members but no Keetowah ever speaks of it. It will never happen. The UKB will never unite with the CNO.