(Update: Two candidates advanced July 10 to the Saturday, Aug. 7, runoff election for assistant chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Brian Thomas Palmer and Anthony “Buddy” Wood were the top two vote recipients, with 372 votes (21.8 percent) and 338 votes (19.8 percent), respectively.)
Seven candidates are running for the Seminole Nation assistant chief position being vacated by Lewis Johnson, who is running for chief of the nation.
Election Day is Saturday, July 10. In-person voting will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at five different polling locations, and voting is open to all Seminole Nation of Oklahoma citizens over the age of 18. Absentee voting is underway. Voters will need to bring an official tribal, state or federal photo ID to cast a ballot in person, according to the tribe’s website.
by Joe Tomlinson
Outside of assistant chief, the general election ballot also includes races for chief and the General Council, which is comprised of two representatives from each of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma’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.
Candidates for chief and assistant chief spoke about their platforms at a June 12 forum, and assistant chief candidates answered questions at a June 25 forum, both of which lasted more than two hours. Videos of both forums are embedded at the end of this post and are cued to begin at the portions that involve the candidates for assistant chief.
The following details about the seven candidates for Seminole Nation assistant chief were gathered from publicly available online sources and are presented in alphabetical order.
Profession: Certified language instructor for the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
Experience: Former director of the Seminole Nation Language Program.
Platform: During the June 12 forum, Coon spoke the Muscogee language for his first two minutes at the podium, before saying, “Did anybody catch that? Probably not, because our language is dying, and we’re not doing very much to keep it. I went to the council and told them that we needed money for our department so we can save our language. Well, I guess it wasn’t that important.”
Coon spoke largely about educational funding and vocational technical schools during the June 25 forum.
“We need vocational jobs for our students,” he said. “Not everyone can be a doctor or lawyer. Some of them need to go out and work, weld, plumb. Let’s put some money aside for that.”
When asked his opinion on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, Coon spoke on the decision’s ramifications in regards to education, arguing that since the Seminole Nation’s reservations were subsequently reaffirmed, they could fund STEM programs for the reservation’s schools.
Coon also mentioned the Seminole Nation’s need to strengthen their law enforcement and jail system as a result of the SCOTUS ruling.
“We’re going to have to get on the ball and get us law enforcement. That’s including the judges, courts. We don’t have a prison, a jail. We’re in a bad spot. We’ve got to have those things,” Coon said at the June 25 forum. “If we don’t hold up our end on law enforcement, there’s a chance that the state is going to try to get in and take some of that away from us.”
Links: Coon does not appear to have a social media presence, nor a website.
Profession: Seminole Nation General Council representative of the Eufaula Band.
Experience: Harjo has held the position of Eufaula Band chief on and off since 1997, according to a political ad on his Facebook page. Most recently, Harjo was elected to be a General Council representative of the Eufaula Band in 2019.
Harjo is a former member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Native Nations Broadband Task Force, former alternate area vice president for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and former alternate member of the board of directors for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA). Harjo also worked as a gaming commissioner for the Pawnee Nation, Kickapoo Tribe and the Sac and Fox Tribe.
Platform: On Harjo’s political ad, he supports infrastructure improvements for churches as well as social services and prioritized housing for the Seminole Nation’s elders. Harjo wants to fund social services with a portion of the $88 million the tribe is receiving from the American Rescue Plan.
“A lot of times, our tribal members have problems making ends meet and need just that little bit of nudge to help them with their electricity bill during the summer time, or during the winter time they need help with their propane bills,” Harjo said at the June 25 forum.
At the June 12 forum, Harjo spoke on the Seminole Nation’s need for better communication.
“We lack and sorely need communication. I don’t like to talk bad about people because I wasn’t raised that way, but I just looked at the tribal newspaper, and it could be better,” he said. “We don’t have that communication now, and we really need it.”
Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk
Profession: Lyons Echo-Hawk is a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law and is employed as a birthworker and student midwife.
Experience: In 2018, Lyons Echo-Hawk ran for District 35 of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Her work focuses primarily on women’s health care access. Lyons Echo-Hawk’s biography references efforts to end violence against women, advocacy on behalf of missing and murdered Indigenous persons, breast/chestfeeding advocacy, body sovereignty and birth justice, food sovereignty, gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform.
Platform: In a graphic posted to Lyons Echo-Hawk’s Facebook page, her policy priorities include protecting and advancing Seminole Nation interests, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing the public health crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous persons, economic and community development, as well as improved communication.
At the June 12 forum, Lyons Echo-Hawk critiqued the Seminole Nation government’s communication capabilities.
“We could have used a lot more messaging regarding this COVID-19 pandemic and the distribution of funds. We could have used a lot more information regarding the McGirt ruling and what that means for our criminal jurisdiction,” Lyons Echo-Hawk said. “That’s something that’s largely missing from our tribal council and our community as a whole.”
With a portion of the tribe’s $88 million from the American Rescue Plan funding, Lyons Echo-Hawk wants to address housing insecurity exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have housing insecurity within this jurisdiction and beyond. Seventy to 80 percent of our citizens live outside of this jurisdiction, so that’s something that we as a nation, we as a government, need to consider,” Lyons Echo-Hawk said at the June 25 forum.
Lyons Echo-Hawk also detailed the next steps for the Seminole Nation regarding its affirmed reservation.
“As a nation, we need to step forward, develop a plan of action, and make sure that the federal government monies are coming to fortify these institutions like courts and Lighthorse (police) and get ahead of the narrative (surrounding the McGirt decision),” she said.
William “Randy” Northcott, II
Profession: Seminole Nation procurement specialist.
Experience: Northcott has worked as a procurement specialist for the tribe since 2018, managing construction projects as well as holding the tribe accountable to federal guidelines when spending federal dollars.
In 1996, he founded Northcott LLC. Years later, he founded a construction company, which fulfilled construction contracts for the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Organizing business, budgets and law are what I’ve done for the past 25 years,” Northcott said at the June 12 forum.
Platform: When asked about the American Rescue Plan funding for the Seminole Nation at the June 25 forum, Northcott suggested direct payments to tribal members of $1,200 for adults and $600 for minors over the next two years. He said the remainder of the funds should address infrastructural needs.
“Broadband, sewer, water — money can go to churches,” Northcott said. “There are a lot of needs that have to be met — that must be met, that can be met — with the American Rescue (Plan) funds.”
Northcott told forum attendees that his experience following federal guidelines as a procurement specialist would allow him to maximize federal spending opportunities with the American Rescue Plan money.
Northcott called broadband the next “casino-type revenue” for the Seminole Nation, and he said he hopes to invest a portion of the $88 million in ARP funding into high-speed internet across Seminole County.
Brian Thomas Palmer
Profession: Seminole Nation employee who declined to state his exact job.
Experience: Palmer previously served as chief and assistant band chief of the Tusekia Harjo Band. After serving six years in the seat, Palmer resigned from the band chief position in 2020 when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Palmer also served one-term as the chairman of the Etolwv en Mekko, the organization which encompasses the band chiefs of the 12 Seminole Nation blood bands. Palmer previously served as a compliance officer and operations manager for the Seminole Nation Division of Commerce, as well as a general manager for Chickasaw Nation Enterprises and for Love’s Country Stores.
Platform: In a Facebook video discussing his platform, Palmer focused on the children of the Seminole Nation.
“Our nation needs somebody to be stewards of our children, to conquer the things that we need to now, so that they don’t inherit the things we’re going through today,” he said.
During the June 12 forum, Palmer spoke about investing in the Seminole Nation’s sovereignty and it people following the affirmation of the nation’s historic reservation.
“We must use McGirt to strengthen our sovereignty. We must invest in our youth, our elders and protect our women,” Palmer said. “We must preserve our traditional, cultural grounds, revive our language and support our churches.”
Palmer highlighted energy as an area of economic development for the Seminole Nation during the June 25 forum.
“We need to look at creating energy and maybe supply energy to our co-ops or to our housing and offset our costs that our tribal members are having to incur just to live and survive in our nation,” Palmer said.
Anthony “Buddy” Wood
Profession: Funeral director and embalmer at Phillips Funeral Service in Holdenville, where he began working in 1983.
Experience: Wood has no prior experience working within the Seminole Nation General Council and says he is not a politician.
“I have heard comments that I have ‘no experience’ within the nation,” Wood wrote in a Facebook post. “Okay I’d say that’s true. But there are some candidates running on their ‘experience’ but we all know our nation has been in bad shape for years now. One step forward, two steps back. We do not get a different result with the same old people in key positions.”
Wood hopes to act as a liaison between the tribes and the “outside” world.
“If you don’t have that perfect liaison that knows how to work and talk to people, you’re not going to get nowhere. It’s going to be a stutter step,” Wood said in a June 8 Facebook video.
Platform: In a graphic on Wood’s Facebook page, his platform advocates for governmental transparency, restoring the Seminole Nation language, “real help” for elders and children, no more bloated salaries, rebuilding key programs and tribal preference for employment.
“Transparency is being honest with each other. Letting the people know how we spend our money. Letting the people know where our funds our going,” Wood said at the June 12 forum.
Profession: Construction worker for over 20 years.
Experience: Yahola has served two terms as the Nurcup Harjo Band representative. He was elected in the 2009 general election and again in 2017, according to the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma Facebook page. Yahola has served on the Code of Laws Task Force, the roads committee, the judgment fund board, the constitution revision committee, and as a delegate on both the National Congress of American Indians and the 12.5 million Trust Fund Settlement litigation.
Platform: During the June 12 forum, Yahola focused on progress and stability for the tribe.
“Taking a look at which candidates perceive progress and stability, I believe I have the upper edge,” he said. “[I will work] to tighten up our laws, to clarify our laws — that’s the best thing we can get is clarification for the next generation so they don’t have the same interactions, fighting, disputes. We can move forward. We can make a foundation for them to build on,” Yahola said.
Yahola did not attend the June 25 forum.
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