Circle of Violence: Sex, Lies, and Sovereignty

Cedric Sunray

A few months ago, former Governator Schwarzenegger’s admission of fathering a child with his maid once again confirmed the reality of males in positions of fame and power. Whether they are politicians (Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Cherokee Chief Chad “Corntassel” Smith and John McCain), superstar athletes (Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods) or an American poster boy of righteousness (Martin Luther King Jr.), the story seemingly ends the same. Value and respect for women are continuously compromised. In Indian country particularly this lack of morality is simply covered up, dismissed, said to be “not be relevant” or worse yet, “a personal matter.”

Circle of Violence series

For most indigenous communities in North America, the honor of women is clearly defined and understood in both a historical and contemporary context. While assimilation has caused the place of women to be lessened, there still exist communities that have held close to their original beliefs in regards to the female gender. As life givers, women are the very center of indigenous family and community existence. This is not some romanticized notion, but a literal reality that cannot be redefined by those who seek to support paternal dominance.

Click here for a list of resources for victims of abuse.

Infidelity is a gateway to the acceptance of female marginalization in indigenous society. Time after time we see relationships maintained with the men who dominate their lives after reports of infidelity surface. As a father and husband, I know that such mental abuse would have a devastating impact on the life of my wife, daughter and three sons if I were to engage in such a practice. Our daughter would be shaken to the core if her future spouse were to be so hurtful. I was deeply impacted by my own father’s infidelity. This choice of his, as well as his involvement in drug dealing, led to the end of my parents’ marriage and my not being raised by him. Aside from the obvious moral and ethical failings, is the fact that infidelity can lead to death. HIV/AIDS are serious epidemics. What kind of man takes such a risk with the person he supposedly loves more than all others? What kind of leadership does this display for his children?

Then there are cases of children born outside of wedlock, such as in the Schwarzenegger revelations. Attempts to quash scandal tend to hinge on the “protecting the children” excuse, which does nothing to address the serious issues of sexism and psychological abuse. Cherokee Chief Chad Smith, who seeks a fourth term as leader of America’s second-largest Indian tribe (he and challenger Bill John Baker have each been declared winner of the recent election twice; the Nation's Supreme Court has ordered a run-off election at a later date) admitted to fathering three other children outside of his marriage when pressed by a Muskogee Phoenix reporter. In a November 4, 2007 article, now common knowledge to those of us who have lived in the Tahlequah, Oklahoma area, it was reported that, “In addition to his wife and three children, ages 5, 11, and 18, Smith confirmed Wednesday he has a second family of three children, ages 6, 10 and 11. He said he loves all his children and financially supports all of them…He said, he had hoped the subject wouldn’t come up until later in his campaign.” It didn’t, because the issue was put to sleep by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma political machine and the apathy and fear of some whose livelihoods are beholden to the tribal organization.

This is not an uncommon reality in Indian country. God forbid we talk about it as it may infringe on our national Indian sovereignty! In most mainstream cases such an omission would end one’s career for obvious reasons. What constituent could trust a person who would betray the person they supposedly love?

The May 30, 2011 issue of Time magazine published an article by Nancy Gibbs entitled, “Sex. Lies. Arrogance. What Makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs.” This expose of marital infidelity in various high profile occupations can be summed up in one of the author’s observations. “We know that powerful men can be powerfully reckless, particularly when they stand at the brink of their grandest achievement. They tend to be risk takers, or at least they assess risk differently—as do narcissists who come to believe that ordinary rules don’t apply. They are often surrounded by enablers with a personal or political interest in protecting them to the point of covering up their follies, indiscretions and crimes.”

Sound like any tribal “leaders” you know?

Cedric Sunray, Scottish/Choctaw/Cherokee, has served as a teacher and administrator in indigenous language, tribal, private, public, college and university education programs; he resides in Norman, Oklahoma with his wife, daughter and three sons.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page




davet's picture
Those without sin still should not cast the first stone, Cedric. You never know the secret sorrows and regrets of others. Sometimes one is married to the wrong person and sometimes not. It must be nice to be perfect. Come back in 30 years or so and let us know how your life turned out.
lyndapedro's picture
Yes, we should have higher expectations. This is wrong. He knew about it, chose not to disclose it because it would have a negative impact on his campaign. I agree Mr. Cedric Sunray that women should be held in the highest regard and this man's actions demonstrate that he thinks otherwise. I liked how you described the "high" they get from rules not applying to them, that people support them being complacent, protecting their indiscretions and crimes. Unfortunately, it does sound like too many politiicians on just about every rez...
thunterthehunter's picture
Thank you!
ndnlady's picture
Cedric Sunray's information on the Muskogee Phoenix article on Chief Smith is incorrect. It was not published in 2007 but in 1998! Cherokee voters chose to elect Chief Smith despite his personal issues and he has been elected twice since then because he has never violated the PUBLIC TRUST which the people placed in him. His administration has accomplished some amazing things, including quadrupling the budget for services, overseeing a health care budget that went fron 18 million dollars to 310 million dollars, growing our businesses and adding over 5,000 jobs, and implementing strong culture and language preservation programs. Sunray's attempt to twist every story he writes into a personal attack on Chief Smith says more about Sunray than Smith.
fanniebates's picture
Mr. Sunray is correct overall. However, there are two errors. I believe that Navajo is the largest tribe and Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is the second largest tribe. The second correct is: Chad Smith is not the newly elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma! There were two legal counts of the vote in the recent election for Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Chad's opponent, Bill John Baker, won both times. But Chad is not willing to step down, so he continued to apply pressure to the Supreme Court until they agreed to have another recount, which is not allowed under the tribal Constitution. Then the Supreme Court decided the election had to be thrown out, so there will be another election. As far as I know, the date of the new election has not been set.
fanniebates's picture
"ndnlady" who commented above needs to use her own name if she wishes to receive respect. Why would anyone use a fake name? Is ndnlady ashamed to let us know who she is? When Wilma Mankiller and Chief Byrd were Chiefs, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma was building lots of nice new homes for its citizens. Since Chad Smith became Chief, the tribe has completely stopped building new homes. I know a Cherokee elder who had to pay for her own walker because the tribe refused to pay for it. Elders are denied the medications they need because the tribe doesn't want to pay for it. Disabled tribal members are forced to live in inadequate housing because the tribe has refused to pay for it. It is true that the tribe is bringing in a lot of money from gaming, but Chad Smith has failed to see that the money is used for the good of the elders and people with disabilities. Chad Smith ought to go somewhere and sit down and let somebody else try to bring some compassion and integrity back to the position of Principal Chief.
fanniebates's picture
Here is a testimony from a real Cherokee woman who is not ashamed to give her name, talking about the service her family has received from the Cherokee Nation while Chad has been Chief: Alyssa Shade said: "I know when my elderly grandparents had a leaky roof, CNO ignored them(and they are in hulbert, 20 min from CNO HQ), it was Bill John who made sure they got an entire new roof. It took them 7 months to re-shingle my house that I had just moved into. They still haven't fixed all the other stuff they said would be fixed before I moved in a year ago. But the roof was the big thing. Every thing else we can or have fixed ourselves or just deal with."
jmurray's picture
I never know if it's wishful thinking or delusion when someone refers to the Cherokee Nation (of Oklahoma) as a "tribe." Whatever the CNO has morphed into it most certainly is not a tribe. A tribe shares, language, landbase and culture. The CNO's language is English, it's culture is fundamentalist Christianity and it is extra-territorial. Is a white child speaking english and attending a mega-church in the Dallas suburbs a member of an indian tribe? Well if you set the "tribal standards" low enough I guess so...