TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith expressed disappointment in the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Bush vs. Gore, which assured Texas Gov. George W. Bush the U.S. presidency.
Smith said he believes that for tribes to continue to grow and prosper, they have to look beyond the election decisions and keep their eye on their ultimate goals.
Like other legal experts throughout the United States, Smith, a former law professor and practicing attorney, said he was concerned about what the decision will mean in terms of trust between citizens of the United States and its highest court.
"In terms of the process, I am very disappointed in the Supreme Court's stay. I find it extraordinary," Smith said, adding found it difficult to determine what was the fundamental issue the court addressed.
He went on to say he believed the written opinion of Justice John Paul Stevens best described what actually came from the Supreme Court's interference in the election process. "I think Justice Steven's observation that the court lost the confidence of the people was correct."
As the leader of the largest tribe in Indian country, Smith, like others throughout the country, is cautiously watching to see who will be appointed to various cabinet positions in the Bush administration.
Smith said he is watching the president-elect to see if he will fulfill campaign promises. "I look forward to pretty much seeing if he'll be good to his word. His campaign platforms and pronouncements were that he would respect our sovereignty work with tribes and allow them to solve their own problems.
"His State's rights pronouncements were a campaign of whistle stop speeches, early in his campaign." Smith continued. "The impression that I have is that after his advisors gave him a more seasoned platform, he adopted that, or at least professed to adopt it."
The Cherokee leader said he looked forward to seeing Bush implement his pronounced platform, which respects the sovereignty of the tribes. "By definition he has to yield states' rights."
The Cherokee Nation will soon open the doors to its capital office and tribal leaders believe it will be a helpful tool to educate members of the new administration, a task Smith thinks is the most important that tribes have in front of them.
"Any changes in the administration, you have shake-ups," Smith said. "You have people to educate ... certainly the Bush administration will have to be brought up to speed."
Smith said looking back through history may help ease tensions in the transition and help give the Bush administration direction in forming its policy with Indian nations.
"The history of Republican policy from decades past supported tribal rights. For example, self-governance and self-determination. But I think what we really see is there is no Republican Party or Democratic Party anymore.
"The thing that we want the Bush administration to do is to respect the diversity of tribes and the contribution tribes make to this country and for them to respect the treaty rights."
The fact tribes survived for 300 years of foreign governments is a positive sign they can continue to survive by adaptation, Smith said.
"Whether I would be concerned or not about a Bush presidency doesn't stop what we are going to do," Smith said. "We are going to work intelligently, we are going to be insistent, we are going to persevere, regardless of what obstacles that we might face.
"When you are in a marathon, you look for the ultimate goal," he concluded. "You anticipate some bumps and bruises along the way, but after three hundred years we are proof that we are survivors. Now is it is our choice to survive and prosper."