OKLAHOMA CITY – “The Guardian,” a sculpture created by former state senator and current Seminole Chief Enoch Kelly Haney, sits atop the Oklahoma Capitol, a Native representation of standing firm in the face of any adversity.
In the 2006 election, two Indian candidates are taking on the Guardian’s true meaning by running for Oklahoma House of Representatives in their respective districts: Chuck Hoskin, Cherokee, Democrat from Vinita, running for District 6; and Scott BigHorse, Osage/Cherokee, Democrat from Pawhuska, seeking election in District 36.
Hoskin’s journey began in the area around Vinita, Okla., within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation in northeastern Oklahoma. Growing up on his grandmother’s allotment land east of Vinita, Hoskin’s education started in a one-room schoolhouse known as Cobb School.
“I was the entire first grade,” Hoskin said. “There’s certain things about rural schools that make a lasting impression upon you.”
After graduating from Vinita High School in 1970, Hoskin served four years in the U.S. Navy. Following his military service, he worked five years as an ironworker and six years as a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier.
But it was in education where Hoskin spent much of his professional career, earning his bachelor’s degree in education from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah and teaching American history and government in Vinita.
Eventually, Hoskin earned his master’s degree in education administration and served as assistant principal and principal in nearby Locust Grove.
Hoskin gained political experience upon winning his first term as Cherokee Nation council representative in 1995, winning re-elections in 1999 and 2003.
Although Hoskin is making the move from the Cherokee Nation Council to a bid for the Oklahoma Legislature, Hoskin doesn’t see these offices as being much different.
“First and foremost, I want to be a good representative for the district that sends me there,” he said. “Being a good representative is the same thing as being on the tribal council: [it] is to let the people of this district’s needs, wants and desires be known to the state government and be able to stand up and fight for issues that the people tell me they see near and dear, and want to have a leader doing those things.”
Some of the problems that Hoskin sees affecting all Oklahomans include lack of adequate health care and a need for the proper care of elders. Having been an educator for many years, Hoskin also sees that one of the biggest problems affecting Oklahomans is what many Oklahomans refer to as “brain drain” – using an Oklahoma high school or college education to obtain higher-paying jobs in other states.
“Being an educator for many, many years and a school administrator, I’ve witnessed firsthand our best and brightest moving to other states that offer better-paying jobs, better situations for their young families,” he said.
“We need to be out there and compete with the same thing. We need to draw those people and keep them home.”
Hoskin also said that Native and non-Native constituents can gain from a Native representative that knows not only the needs of a constituency but one who also has an understanding of tribal sovereignty.
“We have a unique perspective in which we come to the table with, an understanding of the needs and desires of Indian people,” Hoskin said. “We have to be prepared to represent all. Having that background among Indian people and Indian issues will benefit both our constituents and the state of Oklahoma.”
Scott BigHorse’s entry into politics, on the other hand, may appear to be more recent than Hoskin’s, but BigHorse has been around local Oklahoma politics for the majority of his life.
As a teenager, he worked on his mother’s campaign for court clerk of Osage County, Okla., and was a chair of the local chapter of the Young Democrats.
BigHorse is also familiar with tribal politics, where his father, Kenny, serves as assistant chief of Osage Nation. Scott is also well-known on the pow wow circuit, where he and his brothers perform as Osage singers.
BigHorse has worked for the past 15 years in the field of corrections for Oklahoma. He worked his way up to senior correctional training officer.
He eventually gained the opportunity to open and operate a juvenile detention center within an adult county jail there in Osage County.
This type of facility was the first of its kind in Oklahoma, with its emphasis on education and a complete separation from the adult population.
One of the main parts of this job, said BigHorse, is that he has had to meet frequently with lawmakers to guarantee the future of his program.
“For the past five years, I have been running back and forth to [Oklahoma City], lobbying for money to make sure that our monies do not get cut, that we have the proper amount of money to operate this detention ... I was down there with the legislators almost on a weekly basis.”
BigHorse’s work in the juvenile detention sector earned him the notice of local Democratic leaders to become a candidate in District 36, which includes a large portion of Osage County, running on a platform that includes the needs of rural residents such as better emergency services communication, better education, better health care and financial responsibility on the part of state governments.
In addition to his platform for his entire district, BigHorse also knows the need and importance of Native people to be represented on the state and federal levels.
“How many Native American people have we had – whether it be state government or it be federal government – sitting at the table, voicing our concerns? Very few,” he said. “Sovereignty is at the top of my list. We are being hammered so, so hard. In my own home state that has 39 federally recognized tribes, it’s like we don’t even exist.”
At press time, BigHorse is unopposed in his primary race, and Hoskin has
one opponent for his primary. Democratic primaries are July 25.