In August the Cherokee Nation bids farewell to five members of our legislative branch and welcomes new elected members. Some of the departing councilors reached their constitutional term limit, while others chose not to seek reelection in this year’s mid-term elections, which conclude after runoff elections on July 24. Their admirable service has helped advance progress in Cherokee Nation in the best traditions of the Council of the Cherokee Nation.
The Council’s leader, Speaker of the Council Joe Byrd, completes an impressive 10-year run on the Council after serving a term as Principal Chief and eight previous years on the Council. His time in public service extends back to the Chief Wilma Mankiller era. Speaker Byrd, of Tahlequah, not only saw incredible milestones in progress for our Nation, but he had a hand in so many of them. From gaming to self-governance to our recent historic efforts to revitalize the Cherokee language, Speaker Byrd has been a witness to history and he has helped make history.
Harley Buzzard will have served 12 years total on the Council, the last eight as consecutive years. Councilor Buzzard was a superb advocate for Delaware County and other parts of his district. He was an advocate for many matters of national interest, including maximizing Cherokee car tag dollars for education. He asked tough but fair questions on the Council, always focused on making the work of Cherokee Nation the best it could be.
Mary Baker Shaw leaves office after one term, having made an impact on behalf of Cherokees near and far. Councilor Shaw advocated for at-large citizens and at-large community organizations. Together, we crafted programs to boost at-large scholarships and increase the flow of information to citizens living far away from our reservation. She also chaired the Council’s Health committee during a period of enormous expansion of programs and services.
Janees Taylor concludes two terms representing parts of Mayes and Rogers counties. Councilor Taylor’s time in office was marked by a range of impressive local improvements, including more housing and access to job training, just to name a couple of her priority areas. She also chaired the Council’s Executive and Finance committee, where she not only oversaw record-setting budgets, but helped us successfully navigate the extraordinary economic and fiscal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canaan Duncan, of Adair County, leaves office having served less than three years after a special election. He leaves an impact that outsizes both his short time in office and his age. One of the youngest Council members ever elected, Councilor Duncan helped write and advance some of the most important legislation in the modern history of the Cherokee Nation. From the largest investment in elder home repairs in generations to the largest increase in job training programs in Cherokee history, Councilor Duncan’s work has helped pave the way for a bright future for Cherokee Nation.
What I appreciate most about these individuals is not that we walked in lockstep on the issues. The fact is, we disagreed from time to time. What I appreciate most is that we always worked together to find common ground, to make progress on behalf of those who elected us. We treated each other with respect and in that way showed respect to the citizens who put us in office. Having served on the Council myself, I know firsthand that it is a place where its members can make a positive impact on their constituents in a way that seems lost in Washington, D.C., or in state capitols.
In federal and state politics, the goal too often is for one party to tear down the other for short-term political gain, often leaving our governing institutions dysfunctional. From time to time we see the dysfunction of D.C.-style politics creep into Cherokee Nation. Thankfully, this type of cynical “us versus them” politics has been rejected by nearly all of our elected officials and by Cherokee voters. The Cherokee Council is a fine institution from which many in Washington, D.C., could learn a great deal about service and cooperation.
A strong and effective Cherokee Council means a strong and effective Cherokee democracy. At its best, the Council is a place for ideas to take shape. At its best, the Council is a place where citizen legislators can gather to debate the issues, advocate for their constituents and reach a consensus on how best to move the Cherokee Nation forward. At its best, the Council is a place where its members can disagree with each other – even with the Chief – and still maintain a focus on service and “gadugi,” the Cherokee word for “working together.” My hope is that those who succeed our five departing council members in office on Inauguration Day, August 14, share this view so that we can continue to have a Council worthy of the Cherokee people.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.