MUSKOGEE — Two weeks before the Muscogee (Creek) Nation primary elections, eight of the 10 people vying to replace James Floyd as the tribe’s principal chief took part in a candidate forum to present their cases to voters.
But past Principal Chief George Tiger, who faces a federal bribery case related to his work as an agent of the Wetumka-based Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town, was absent — along with current National Council Speaker and candidate Lucien Tiger III.
A moderator attributed Lucien Tiger’s absence to a family emergency, but the candidates on Saturday appeared for the most part to avoid references to the pending case against George Tiger or an unrelated proceeding against Bim Steve Bruner, another principal chief candidate. The only direct comment on the allegations during the forum came from candidate Joseph Rogers Jr., a Tulsa construction business owner.
“We look at the Bible and what the Bible tells us about leaders,” Rogers said at the Muscogee Indian Community Center. “My belief is in God to lead our nation, to lead us in the right direction, to lead us to the straight and narrow. To make sure we don’t have any more embezzlements, make sure we don’t have any more theft, make sure all of our programs work right. That’s what we need to have.”
Saturday’s candidate forum gave those seeking election either for principal chief, second chief or eight tribal council seats up to three minutes each to explain their platforms.
The candidates touched on issues such as increasing access to education, improving veterans affairs outreach, retention of the tribe’s original language, child welfare, equal pay for women and making healthcare more obtainable for citizens. Floyd in June announced he would not seek re-election.
“I’ve heard a lot of promises since I’ve been on these forums,” said Tim Good Voice, who is currently the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town administrator. “As your elected chief, I will make sure they are kept. I expect you to hold me accountable to all of it.”
Good Voice said his priorities included reducing food insecurity and giving younger citizens an opportunity for healthy mentorship, along with improving communication between citizens and their leaders.
“One word: trust. You have to have trust. The Principal Chief should be setting the standard for leadership for everyone on down,” candidate David Hill, the National Council Second Speaker, said. “Women — men, don’t get mad — but women, there’s a lot of women out there that deserve the pay that they should be getting. That’s one of the things that will be reviewed.”
Okmulgee attorney Brenda Golden said she would ensure someone reviews every personnel action taken within the Creek Nation if she became principal chief, telling the audience she did that work while working for the City of Oklahoma City. She also included her interest in keeping a free and independent press for the tribe in her platform.
“Everyone should have the chance to be heard,” she said. “As it stands now, you can’t appeal anything until after you’re fired. A grievance process should be for any time that you feel aggrieved.”
Jackie Jackson, a grant writer and planning director for the Otoe-Missouria tribe, said she ran because she was also frustrated with current leadership and what it’s chosen to prioritize.
“We make money in gaming. We do not make money outside of gaming,” she said. “We have the Muscogee Nation business enterprise, which is not bringing us money either. So that’s something that needs to be revamped. One of my big goals is to work with the council to revamp the existing business enterprise so we can improve our programs.”
Bruner, a former representative for the Tulsa District, said he was proud in his past to have taken part in an oversight committee that oversaw the completion of the River Spirit Casino and Resort in Tulsa. His platform indicates he wants to improve the process by which Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizens see medical professionals, as they often experience long waits despite needing serious medical care.
“I’m not ever ashamed to talk about what we need to talk about,” Bruner said Saturday. “There’s so many good candidates. You’ve got a lot of good choices. But one of us has got to be chosen as a chief to be the leader, and I’m wanting it to be me. I want to give it the best I can. I have the wisdom and the experience to do so.”
Several of the candidates who spoke Saturday expressed concerns about the importance of asserting the sovereignty of the tribe and maintaining its identity outside of the establishment of casinos, which they said were apparently what past administrations cared about the most.
Sam Alexander, another former Tulsa District representative, said he would emphasize the sovereignty of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation if he won the race and believed there was “laxness” among current leadership on highlighting the tribe’s independence.
“How do we get to tribal towns? How do we get to calling ourselves ‘tribal towns?’ ” Monte Randall, dean of academic affairs for the College of the Muscogee Nation, asked the crowd. “White people told us that. Colonization, right? We’re continuing to colonize ourselves whenever we say that to ourselves, whenever we say ‘We’re from tribal towns.’
“We’re from nations of people, and that is the importance of our language. And that is how our language is tied to our sovereignty. If we lose our language, we lose our identity. We lose our culture.”
The primary election is Sept. 21, though voters can submit ballots in person early on Sept. 18 and 19. The general election is Nov. 2 after early voting on Oct. 30 and Oct. 31.
Absentee ballots were due by 5 p.m. Aug. 28.
In the event no candidate garners a majority of votes, the top two in a given race will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.