Greg P. Chilcoat — the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma’s chief — is running for re-election against two challengers: Lewis Johnson, the tribe’s current assistant chief, and Sena Michelle Yesslith, a representative of the Mekusukey Band.
Election Day is July 10, and voting is open to all Seminole Nation members over the age of 18. Absentee voting is underway, and in-person voting will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at five different polling locations. Voters will need to bring an official tribal, state or federal photo ID, according to the Seminole Nation website.
by Joe Tomlinson
In addition to chief, the ballot also includes races for assistant chief and the General Council. The General Council is made up of two representatives from each of the Seminole Nation’s 14 bands. The chief and assistant chief positions will be decided by a majority vote, and if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the total vote, a runoff election will be held Aug. 7. Council members are voted on by band members, and the top two candidates in each band are elected by receiving a plurality of votes. There will be no runoff election held for council seats.
The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma is headquartered in Wewoka, and its tribal jurisdiction encompasses Seminole County. The Seminole Nation’s historic reservation was affirmed by an Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decision earlier this year following the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma.
The following details about the three Seminole Nation candidates for chief, presented in alphabetical order, have been gathered from publicly available sources. Candidates for chief and assistant chief spoke about their platforms at a June 12 forum, which lasted two hours. Video of the forum is embedded at the end of this post, and it begins at the portion involving Seminole Nation chief candidates.
Follow @NonDocMedia on:
Greg P. Chilcoat (incumbent)
Profession: Chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and CEO of its Division of Commerce.
Experience: Chilcoat was elected Seminole Nation chief in 2017 by defeating two-term incumbent Leonard M. Harjo in a runoff. Chilcoat has served as the CEO of the Seminole Nation Division of Commerce since 2013.
Platform: Chilcoat’s platform focuses on strengthening the sovereignty of the Seminole Nation as well as the tribe’s financial standing. During the June 12 forum, Chilcoat spoke fervently about his work to improve tribal finances during his initial term as chief.
“When I came in, I had a $296,000 fine (and a) $500,000 debt to our health provider (….) Not only that, coming into the next year we had a $225,000 fine,” Chilcoat said. “Let’s fast forward. We’ve been able to get the foundation of our financials under control. We’re no longer in the red. We’re currently in the black.”
In an interview with The Oklahoman in April, Chilcoat spoke on the tribe’s economic developments under his leadership. The newspaper asked about the tribe’s areas of focus regarding business development.
“The Seminole Nation is focusing on developing community sustainability and foundational economic growth,” he said. “Manufacturing and agricultural emergence are two focus items we are pursuing, fostering our immediate endeavors. Forward progress is being made in researching and developing tribal agriculture and livestock models.”
Chilcoat has three future plans listed on his website: Develop a new casino in Wewoka, develop a childcare center in Konawa and develop a new tribal court.
Profession: Assistant chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Johnson also serves as an associate pastor of Indian Nations Baptist Church in Seminole.
Experience: Johnson was elected assistant chief in 2013. Prior to achieving that position, he served two terms on the general council as band chief of the Tallahassee Band. Over his nearly 30 years of tribal government experience, Johnson has served as chairman of the Constitution Revision Committee, chairman of the Tribal Law Codification Committee, co-chairman of the Arts and Culture Committee, commissioner of the Housing Authority of the Seminole Nation and a member of the Administration Appeals Board, according to his Facebook page.
The National Museum of the American Indian conducted a Q&A with Johnson after he was elected assistant chief in 2013. C-Span also broadcast Johnson’s tour of the Seminole Nation museum in Wewoka, where he told stories about the tribe’s history.
Platform: Johnson’s campaign slogan is four words long: “Established experience does matter.” During the June 12 forum, Johnson spoke about his experience in tribal leadership and his foretelling of the reaffirmation of the Seminole Nation’s reservation after the McGirt ruling.
“We are in an era we’ve never been before. We have our reservation, that has never been disestablished. At our last term, I spoke of things of this nature. Many people called them a pipe dream at that time,” Johnson said. “What you need in a leader is someone who can see vision and see what is coming down the pipeline.”
Sena Michelle Yesslith
Profession: General council representative from the Mekusukey Band; child welfare specialist.
Experience: Yesslith has served as a representative of the Mekusukey Band since 2013. For more than a decade, Yesslith worked in child welfare at Eastern Oklahoma Youth Services Inc. and the Indian Child Welfare department of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.
Platform: During the June 12 forum, Yesslith spoke largely about applying for grants and funding for developmental programs for the tribe.
“We have so much potential to bring in revenue to help our current programs, to build up new programs and serve our people across the United States,” she said.
In a graphic on Yesslith’s Facebook page, she states that the Seminole Nation should be “targeting our children in headstart with language and culture,” while also stressing the need for programs that make counseling, drug and alcohol education and college readiness accessible to all.
If elected, Yesslith would become the second female chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. The first — Alice Brown Davis —was appointed chief in 1922 by President Warren G. Harding and served until 1935.
“We have given those with degrees, political titles, religions and the promises for growth, for better from men. Now is the time to give a woman a chance,” Yesslith said June 12.