The race for the Okmulgee District B seat on the Muscogee National Council features longtime incumbent James Jennings and three challengers hoping to unseat him, all with different ideas on how the nation should proceed in the years ahead.
The candidates have focused on a number of issues, including tribal sovereignty, access to health care, jobs, elder care and the physical and mental health of the nation’s citizens.
A primary election will be held Sept. 18., with absentee voting underway and early voting set for Sept. 15 and 16. A general election, scheduled for Nov. 6, will be held for the council seat if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary.
This year’s Council elections mark the first election cycle since the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed existence of the Muscogee Reservation in July 2020, a decision with ramifications that tribal leaders are working to implement.
The Okmulgee District includes the towns of Beggs, Okmulgee and Henryetta. Each of the eight districts represented in the tribe’s National Council has an A and a B seat, which are up for grabs in alternating elections. Representatives serve four-year terms on the Council.
Below is a look at the four candidates for the Okmulgee District B seat. The following information was gathered from publicly available sources, and candidates are presented in alphabetical order, with recorded candidate interviews conducted by Mvskoke Media embedded when available as well.
Profession: An Okmulgee native, Beaver is a volunteer for several organizations, including the Okmulgee Public Schools. She previously worked for the Muscogee Nation as the Social Security assistance program manager, according to a recent interview with Mvskoke Media. She currently works at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
Experience: Beaver recently obtained a master’s degree in Native American Leadership and is vice chairwoman of the Muscogee Women’s Leadership group.
Platform: Beaver has said that, if elected, she would be approachable to citizens who have ideas and concerns. She also believes the Muscogee government needs to combat poverty, substance abuse, homelessness and elder abuse and should better provide for housing needs and elder care in the community. She also believes the nation needs to improve its election turnout.
Profession: Harjo has a degree in robotics and previously ran a copy service and networking business. He is also a former adjunct professor at the College of the Mvskoke Nation.
Experience: Harjo served 10 years on the nation’s citizenship board, where he oversaw the beginning phases for the process of issuing Real ID cards presently used by citizens.
Platform: Harjo said on Facebook that he is running because he wants to be sure the people’s voices are heard in the tribe’s decision-making process, which he said would lead to “a more sound and beneficial direction” for the nation, whether it’s through private enterprise creating more jobs or protecting and reinforcing tribal sovereignty in the wake of the McGirt decision.
If elected, Harjo said, he would only pass legislation that would benefit all of the nation’s people.
Lanissa Jack Melton
Profession: A Beggs resident, Jack Melton is a mom of four and serves as a volunteer at her local school and with other community organizations.
Experience: Jack Melton ran for Okmulgee District B seat in 2017 but lost to Jennings. She ran for mayor of Beggs earlier this year, garnering approximately 16 percent of the vote. She has also served on the Beggs City Council.
Platform: If elected, Jack Melton has said she would work to increase preservation of tribal culture. She would also work to promote employment opportunities for tribal citizens and improve access to quality housing.
On her Facebook page, she said she’s running “for the betterment of the people with strength and guidance for the protection and preservation of the Muscogee Creek language culture and the MCN people.”
James Jennings (Incumbent)
Profession: A veteran of the U.S. Army, Jennings is the current incumbent for the Okmulgee District B seat, a position he has held for more than a decade. He has been married for 53 years and has three children.
Experience: Jennings serves as the Sergeant at Arms for the National Council, while also serving on its Health, Education & Welfare Committee and its Internal Affairs Committee.
Platform: Jennings does not appear to have an online campaign presence. In 2015, he voted to establish the Free Press Act to protect the editorial independence of Mvskoke Media. But in November 2018, he cast one of seven Council votes to repeal those free-press protections.
“It’s not personal against the media,” Jennings said at the time. “But I feel like the newspaper itself could have more positive issues on the nation and not so much negative issues.”
In his interview with Mvskoke Nation embedded below, Jennings said he filed amended returns with the Oklahoma Tax Commission for 2017, 2018 and 2019 but was denied.
“I plan to continue doing exactly what I have been doing,” Jennings said when asked what his next term might entail.