Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Senate District 21 Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy speaks on educational reform during her two-minute Q&A response in last Wednesday’s vice chairman forum.  Crow chairman candidate Hubert Burdick Two Leggins discusses energy solutions during last Thursday’s chairman forum at Little Big Horn College. Two Leggins is one of 10 people running for Crow tribal chairman in 2016.The two-day 2016 Crow Nation candidate forum was live-streamed via Little Big Horn College’s Facebook page. Each candidate’s address can be viewed on the Little Big Horn College and Big Horn County News Facebook page.

LBHC holds first Crow Nation candidate forum

Politically interested members of the Crow Nation rallied last Wednesday and Thursday to recognize all 25 Crow tribal government candidates in a two-day forum hosted by Little Big Horn College.

The forum, a first for the college, allowed each candidate to address the public through a 15-minute presentation and two 2-minute Q&A responses on neutral ground. Candidates running for chairman, vice chairman, secretary and vice secretary took part in the discourse.

Ten chairman candidates and five vice chairman, five secretary and five vice secretary candidates participated. Subjects of interest to the majority of candidates included law enforcement, government transparency and accountability, education, economics, energy diversification and housing.

In regards to law enforcement governance, candidates predominantly embraced department expansion, ample training, and increased enforcement and expedited emergency responsiveness.

The majority of candidates called attention to the fact that only seven BIA officers are currently employed and suggested the development of localized sub-stations for each reservation district.

None of the candidates opposed the need for department expansion and improvement citing murders, deaths, drug epidemics, cross-deputization and unsatisfactory response times perceived throughout the reservation community.

“I truly believe there is so much more that can be done. When I look at the present state of our Crow Nation, I believe we can do better,” said chairman candidate Donald Stewart Spotted Tail. “I’m tired of seeing our people take the second seat. Why isn’t there an all-out war on meth for the last four years? Why isn’t this administration doing anything to save the Crow children who have been displaced? Our children are being taken off our reservations to be placed in non-Indian foster homes.”

Spotted Tail suggested creating a local receiving home as well as an increase in law enforcement funding to avert criminal and drug related epidemics he believes are creating these issues.

Discussions on economics largely involved scrutiny of a weakening coal industry and what possible alternative solutions are available to the tribe.

Candidates deliberated feasible business ventures including administration goals of Apsaalooke Inc.; land management; the mining of untapped natural resources such as limestone, uranium and oil; and the opportunity for the Crow Nation to become a contending producer in energy and natural markets via tribally-owned corporations.

“Lease revenues from the Land Buy-Back is what bought Crow Nation Express, which earns $1.3 million per year, and they’re making $15,000 a day,” said incumbent chairman candidate Darrin Old Coyote. “Westmorland Coal Company contracted 45,000 tons in 2018. In 2017, they had 1.8 million tons contracted.”

He also addressed the tribe’s current agreement with Westmoreland, which reduces coal revenue payments to the tribe. The current agreement, he stated, would not cut into members’ per capita payments.

“What we did was reduce the money coming to the Crow Tribe by $1.25 [per ton] to secure a contract because the market was low,” he said. “There was no mention of per cap being taken away.”

According to Old Coyote, 3 million tons are contracted for 2017 and 3.3 million tons are contracted for 2018.

Various candidates also suggested an investment goal of creating  a tribally-owned financial institution that would provide low-rate loans to entrepreneurs, investors and consumers. They agreed with the notion of localizing profits, industries and producers by enabling and promoting entrepreneurship.

“If there is no work here on the reservation, I will find you work elsewhere. Everybody needs to work,” said chairman candidate Scott Russell. “We have work all over this state and all over this country. I encourage our youth to actually leave the reservation and experience life away from here.”

An advocate of workforce development and technology, Russell plans to use Little Big Horn College to train and promote tribal growth through education, citing obligations to remain contemporary with mainstream society.

An increase in government transparency and accountability was also a point the majority of candidates agreed upon citing deficiencies in transparency, some suggesting annual proclamations of tribal government audits.

Vice chairman candidate Wade Driftwood cited tribal workers’ “fear of retaliation in voicing their true opinion,” saying that elected officials in past administrations have “failed to represent the people.”

Fiscal mismanagement and internal government law enforcement were also addressed by candidates asserting a substantial lack of government transparency.

Chairman candidate and Crow Sen. Paul J. Hill referred to Crow Tribe Law and Order Code regarding the tribal attorney general, saying the law is “a communist law.”

“‘The attorney general shall be the highest ranking law enforcement official in the Executive Branch,’” Hill quoted. “‘The tribal attorney general shall be hired to serve at the pleasure of the chairman.’ I’m a legislator: I see a lot of lawbreaking, I see a lot of mishandling of funds. Who’s going to prosecute? Is the chairman going to prosecute himself?”

Issues in educational reform necessitated increased  funding and expansion of Little Big Horn College, job security for higher-educated tribal members, an increase in school programs and functions, and tribal self-sufficiency through education.

“Education is very important. I think a percentage of the tribe’s money should be going into college for them to live better lives with a college education,” said chairman candidate Edward Shelby Iron. “The government is not against us; we just need to do our part, we need educated people to run the tribe’s industries.”

Solutions connected with the expansion of Little Big Horn College advocated for a pursuit in higher learning, suggesting top-level classes that would allow students opportunities to graduate locally in master’s programs. One candidate cited the recurring decampment of educated, industrious tribal members who seek alternative careers that are otherwise unavailable on the reservation.

“Information is knowledge and knowledge is power. With that power, you step into a voting booth and vote your heart, your mind,” said chairman candidate Robert Garrett Stewart Sr. “You can change the administration and where the Crow Nation is heading and it’s your right to have this power.”

During the Q&A segment, candidates were also invited to express their opinions on a tobacco tax that could potentially offer $1 million to Little Big Horn College. Beside Secretary A.J. Not Afraid, all those running for chairman endorsed the taxation and agreed they would use it toward development of higher-level programs and low-cost tuition for the college, while also creating additional plans for obtaining grants that surpass the tax amount.

Not Afraid noted taxes are being collected by the State of Montana from four different industries on the Crow Reservation, suggesting the tribe create its own tax on tobacco instead of collecting it from another entity.

“Your leadership is not protecting you. They’re allowing an outside entity to tax you,” he said. “The smoke and mirrors here is they’re already collecting taxes and in return, giving it back to the tribe. Sure, it’s $1 million dollars, but the general fund has more than that, so why not use it?”

Popular issues regarding reservation housing included veteran affairs, child protection and home management.

“We all have the same beliefs. In order to achieve our goals, we need to have better community conditions so that we can take care of our children,” said chairman candidate Chester Deputy Jr. “Housing issues are a big concern on this reservation; in one home, there can be three or more families, and that creates controversy, problems, health issues and tensions, but we all need to deal with those things.”

Various candidates referred to poor housing conditions and the small number of homes regularly available to tribal families, suggesting increased development of housing affairs and reservation-based foster homes.

Chairman candidate Paul B. Little Light cited his previous work in the development of veteran homes, referring to his tenure under the Carl Venne administration following his military discharge.

“We brought in $11 million to the Veteran’s Program in two years. I can triple that and make all these programs successful,” he said. “Those apartments are places for someone to live. In two years, I provided 21 houses.”

Candidates agreed on topics regarding energy diversification within the Crow Nation. They also concurred the coal industry’s decline and recommended construction of hydroelectric and wind power stations at prime locations throughout the reservation.

Candidates also considered geothermal and solar energy production as viable opportunities for tribal government to expand on its energy diversification goals. Chairman candidate Hubert Burdick Two Leggins also said he could assure subsidized electricity, through renewable energy projects, for all tribal-member-held households, if elected.

The two-day forum was streamed live through the Little Big Horn College Facebook page. To review each candidate’s presentation, visit the Little College Facebook page.

The Crow Tribal Primary Election will be held Oct. 8. A tentative date has been set for Oct. 26 for tribal debates at Little Big Horn College and Crow Tribal General Elections are set for Nov. 5.