Was it an affair made public by a scorned lover? Was it a corrupt scandal leaving voters questioning her ethical standards and moral compass? Or could it have been her credentials and years of experience in tribal governance that caused the only female candidate running in 2015 for Chief of the Cherokee Nation to suddenly, and without warning, drop out. Of course it was none of the above, so what exactly was the impetus that made this candidate, forego a political campaign that was over a year in the making?
Judging by the looks of the candidate pool now, it seems not a lack of capabilities or even support stopped this contender. The simple and transparent fact that this candidate was a female seems to have precluded her ending before the race even began to shift its gears.
She was the only woman running amidst a dense fog of patriarchal egos; and a vendetta face-off fit to parody a House of Cards script. One could argue, this would-be dog fight that all registered Cherokee voters will see in the coming months, was not fit for a lady no matter how intellectually capable or organizationally qualified she was to be Chief.
Several candidates have thrown their hat into the ring, including incumbents, some being incumbents three times over, and a husband of a former Chief, as well as fresh leadership coming from the from the outside, and now they have one thing in common: they are all men.
While I respect the political process, my worry lies in our gender barrier and reluctance to accept that a woman can and should be given the same potential to be a leader, regardless of her opposition.
Isn’t this how the public views a male candidate? That a male stands alone in a race, he is his “own man” entitled to run regardless of the past debacles and number of elected tenures, entitled to run, and entitled to win, over a woman. We see this time again, looking back at the 2008 national election we saw this with Hillary Clinton stepping down to make way for now two-term president Barack Obama. We have not placed the same need of urgency to discuss the gender bias as equally important as the racial one. Showing on a national level, even if a woman has a thoroughly executed plan and qualifications, seemingly equal crowds of support and funding; naturally, she should step down, behind her male counterparts.
In the Euro–American political system, males dominate. Right now over 80% of the occupancy in both the U.S. House and Senate, are men, making a total of 104 women serving in leadership roles in our national government, and of those positions, only 33 are women of color. Minority females are the most underrepresented group in American politics.
But that’s just it. We aren’t America’s political system. We are Cherokee Nation’s.
And as a pre-contact matrilineal political society we were progressive beyond our years.
Cherokee Nation now controls hundreds of millions of dollars, not only through casino profits, but also public health initiatives as well as government funding. The tribe employees thousands of people in Northeastern Oklahoma, as well companies throughout the entire U.S., making it a powerhouse for commerce that rivals major corporations. Its citizen count is more than 320,000, adding to the already staggering numbers that make the Cherokee Nation a national tribal force to be reckoned with. So make no mistake, the ante is high, and the gamble is big.
Again we ask the question, why would any seemingly qualified candidate that has been meticulously organizing and executing a well thought out campaign with a favorable shot at being the front runner, completely withdraw her name from the ballot?
One reason beaming with bias and accepted by society is because according to statistics; she’s already 80 percent behind the curve. And good news for her male opponent’s, they have an 80 percent chance at winning any political race against female contender, simply based on gender. We find it very difficult to see a woman as a front runner when pitted against man.
Cherokees, along with many other tribes, were matrilineal, and women were involved in governance and making leadership decisions. But as we grow, adapt and learn to function as a tribe in dominant culture, we become more engrained into the overriding system, silencing a crucial voice needed to help us gain our full potential, the voice of Women.
Great things happen when we include women, not only in political structures but business and leadership roles. Women in the workplace and business are changing archaic outdated leadership models; going from autocratic to inclusive. The National Women’s Business Council stated in 2004, one in 11 Native Women operated her own business, making it the highest rate of entrepreneurship among all U.S. women. One of the greatest female leaders in American history was a Cherokee. Women are not less capable of leadership; they are simply less likely to get the chance.
While anyone can speculate the reasons why we now have only male candidate options and anyone’s right to forfeit is ultimately a private one. My intent here is to single out the widespread pandemic of lack of female leadership, and more importantly, public acceptance of it. The decision that was made should be respected. But also know that we all have a vested interest and obligation to help our tribe flourish and empower all of its members.
My 2-year-old niece inspires me on a daily basis to make the world safer for girls and healthier for women. So please think about what the average voting ballot looks like, across our country. Because on reservations all throughout Indian Country there is a young girl wishing to serve her community one day, in an official capacity, and to be given the authority and respect that decision making and leadership requires. Let us give her a fighting chance. And change that 80 percent outlook to lose, to a 50/50 chance to win, as it should be. Assuring she will feel comfortable remaining in the race.
Mary Grayson is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation; she holds a master’s degree in Human and Cultural Relations from the University of Oklahoma. Raised in Tahlequah, OK; she now lives in Santa Fe NM and currently works for SWAIA, and directs Artist Services for the Santa Fe Indian Market.