Imagine you are the President of the United States. Then imagine that you've been President for 24 years, having been elected 8 separate times for 4 year terms, and with no term limitations. And, this being 2009, you're up for re-election again.
Now imagine that there is a monthly newspaper called the "American People's Newpaper" that informs the public of anything important they need to know about government, politics, services, financials, and generally letting the public know how we as a Nation are doing. It has news, articles, Letters to the Editor, Obits, photos, human interest stories and election reporting. A newspaper that is paid for by American taxes, mailed out by American taxpayer funds.
Now imagine that you personally own/operate/edit that newspaper yourself!
What could go wrong with that?
This is exactly what the Citizen Potawatomi Nation is faced with during the 2009 elections, where the Chairman John "Rocky" Barrett's position(equivalent-president) and 4 legislative seats are up for vote.
Citizen Potawatomi Nation is the ninth largest tribe in the United States. It owns/operates the FireLake Casino, the FireLake Grand Casino, FireLake Golf Course, First National Bank and Trust, a mini-putt course, a grocery store, several restaurants, and other various ventures and land. It's enterprises bring in millions of dollars a year.
It also has a tribal newspaper, called the HowNiKan, which is described on the CPN official website as "Redesigned recently, the HowNiKan is the Nation's voice. Informing tribal members about advances in services, delivery and accomplishments by tribal members and the Nation itself." On the official website it is listed under the heading of 'services' provided by the CPN to it's enrolled members.
What could be wrong with that?
Well, first of all, even though Citizen Potawatomi Nation pays for the writing, printing and mailing/distribution of the HowNiKan, it is not a free press. It is, in fact, a newsletter (meaning it does not have to follow any journalistic standards), and it is not owned by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. It's private. Yet it is paid for by CPN tribal funds and accesses private tribal roll contact information in order to send it out to the approximately 25 thousand plus CPN members who have asked to receive it.
What could be wrong with that?
The latest issue is the kickoff point to the CPN 2009 elections. The HowNiKan provided that all candidates could receive a free ad. Sounds fair, eh? Current Chairman John "Rocky" Barrett obviously took them up on the offer, as he has several ads in the issue, one of which is a full page ad. The opposing ads were few and far between.
In this issue, there are 25 photographs/graphics which feature people. Three of them are for obits, 16 are for elected officials (including Mr. Barrett), and of the 6 remaining, 5 feature Chairman Barrett prominently. One is almost a 3rd of a page. Unfair advantage?
There is only one supposed 'Letter to the Editor', and it is about a topic addressed in one of the accusations in Chairman Barrett's ads, which had not previously even been covered in previous issues. That's more than a little suspicious. Another story 'reporting' on the history of the HowNiKan also mentions this topic. One of the 'stories' was written by Chairman Barrett himself, complete with picture, exhorting respect of elder women. Specifically respect in voting how they would prefer you to vote.
Chairman Barrett, the Vice Chairman and the Treasurer all use their alloted 'reporting' space to endorse re-election candidate Barrett. Chairman Barrett goes further, naming one of his opponents, calling them a disgruntled ex-employee, and making implications that the person did not resign their previous employment, but left because of disciplinary problems. He suggests background checks for candidates and reporting for things like 'sexual harrassment' and 'downloading pornography on Tribal computers', implying that this is the 'disciplinary problem' he's accusing his opponent of.
What could be wrong with that?
The HowNiKan, billed as being the Nation's Voice, is mailed out using CPN funds, and using tribal rolls for addresses. But, opponents are not allowed access to those same rolls in order to directly appeal to the people and ask for support. Their only venue is the HowNiKan, (which as a private newsletter has no obligation to provide equal space for opposing views) which is no venue at all.
It starts making sense how one person could be in constant leadership/power for the last 24 years, doesn't it?
But what's really wrong with that?
Nothing, I guess, if you are the present Chairman. A lot, if you are the 25 thousand plus who are NOT.
As president, wouldn't you like to control the ONLY newspaper your Nation's funds pay for? Wouldn't YOU like to be in control of the editorial content, Letters to the Editor, photographic coverage of yourself being shown doing good deeds on behalf of your constituents? Being able to personally attack any of your opponents, while stifling any venue for them to present their truths to the people? Limiting access for your opponents to reach the very people that are supposedly excercising their right in voting, whilst you use every issue to promote yourself and whatever cronies have pleased you?
Well, I wouldn't. It's corrupt, dishonest, and possibly a legal conflict of interest.
This is the first installment of a series following the 2009 Citizen Potawatomi elections. The next installment will focus on the inequities a CPN election candidate faces in attempting to participate in an honest election, and the corruption that makes it next to impossible to win.
To access the official Citizen Potawatomi webpage- http://www.potawatomi.org/default.aspx
To access the latest issue of the HowNiKan which I have referenced here- http://www.potawatomi.org/pubinfo/HowNiKan/HowNiKanFebruary2009LR.pdf
If you are Potawatomi and would like to contact your regional representative, email me. I promise not to tell you who to vote for.