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Circle of Violence: Sex, Lies, and Sovereignty

A column by Cedric Sunray about marital infidelity and Cherokee Nation Chief Chad Smith

A few months ago, former Governator Schwarzenegger’s admission of fathering a child with his maid once again confirmed the reality of males in positions of fame and power. Whether they are politicians (Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Cherokee Chief Chad “Corntassel” Smith and John McCain), superstar athletes (Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods) or an American poster boy of righteousness (Martin Luther King Jr.), the story seemingly ends the same. Value and respect for women are continuously compromised. In Indian country particularly this lack of morality is simply covered up, dismissed, said to be “not be relevant” or worse yet, “a personal matter.”

For most indigenous communities in North America, the honor of women is clearly defined and understood in both a historical and contemporary context. While assimilation has caused the place of women to be lessened, there still exist communities that have held close to their original beliefs in regards to the female gender. As life givers, women are the very center of indigenous family and community existence. This is not some romanticized notion, but a literal reality that cannot be redefined by those who seek to support paternal dominance.

Click here for a list of resources for victims of abuse.

Infidelity is a gateway to the acceptance of female marginalization in indigenous society. Time after time we see relationships maintained with the men who dominate their lives after reports of infidelity surface. As a father and husband, I know that such mental abuse would have a devastating impact on the life of my wife, daughter and three sons if I were to engage in such a practice. Our daughter would be shaken to the core if her future spouse were to be so hurtful. I was deeply impacted by my own father’s infidelity. This choice of his, as well as his involvement in drug dealing, led to the end of my parents’ marriage and my not being raised by him. Aside from the obvious moral and ethical failings, is the fact that infidelity can lead to death. HIV/AIDS are serious epidemics. What kind of man takes such a risk with the person he supposedly loves more than all others? What kind of leadership does this display for his children?

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Then there are cases of children born outside of wedlock, such as in the Schwarzenegger revelations. Attempts to quash scandal tend to hinge on the “protecting the children” excuse, which does nothing to address the serious issues of sexism and psychological abuse. Cherokee Chief Chad Smith, who seeks a fourth term as leader of America’s second-largest Indian tribe (he and challenger Bill John Baker have each been declared winner of the recent election twice; the Nation's Supreme Court has ordered a run-off election at a later date) admitted to fathering three other children outside of his marriage when pressed by a Muskogee Phoenix reporter. In a November 4, 2007 article, now common knowledge to those of us who have lived in the Tahlequah, Oklahoma area, it was reported that, “In addition to his wife and three children, ages 5, 11, and 18, Smith confirmed Wednesday he has a second family of three children, ages 6, 10 and 11. He said he loves all his children and financially supports all of them…He said, he had hoped the subject wouldn’t come up until later in his campaign.” It didn’t, because the issue was put to sleep by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma political machine and the apathy and fear of some whose livelihoods are beholden to the tribal organization.

This is not an uncommon reality in Indian country. God forbid we talk about it as it may infringe on our national Indian sovereignty! In most mainstream cases such an omission would end one’s career for obvious reasons. What constituent could trust a person who would betray the person they supposedly love?

The May 30, 2011 issue of Time magazine published an article by Nancy Gibbs entitled, “Sex. Lies. Arrogance. What Makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs.” This expose of marital infidelity in various high profile occupations can be summed up in one of the author’s observations. “We know that powerful men can be powerfully reckless, particularly when they stand at the brink of their grandest achievement. They tend to be risk takers, or at least they assess risk differently—as do narcissists who come to believe that ordinary rules don’t apply. They are often surrounded by enablers with a personal or political interest in protecting them to the point of covering up their follies, indiscretions and crimes.”

Sound like any tribal “leaders” you know?

Cedric Sunray, Scottish/Choctaw/Cherokee, has served as a teacher and administrator in indigenous language, tribal, private, public, college and university education programs; he resides in Norman, Oklahoma with his wife, daughter and three sons.