Native Leaders Need to Put People, Not Politics, First

Ray Cook, ICTMN Opinion Editor

Dear Readers:

Too often we simply accept that tribal governments (as opposed to our traditional governments) have elected representatives—presidents, chiefs, chairmen or CEO’s and so forth. They are entrusted with great powers and are expected to rule according to their thoughts, desires and beliefs. This is a dangerous thing.

We rarely hear what is in their minds and hearts as they compete for electoral votes and vie for positions of government. Positions of great power.

In Iroquoia amongst the Haudenosaunee we shun the gestures of the eager ones whose ambitions make them want a leadership role. We think them greedy or dim-witted, because only a crazy person would want the heavy responsibilities and the endless worries of leadership. So, in our traditions we pick our headmen and headwomen and when we do, all must agree. In order to agree that a certain person should be in a leadership position we must be able to honestly say we know this person and their character. Because we must trust them with all that we have.

Too often you elect people of sour character. You see this consistently in your national representative organizations and you see this consistently in the gaming organizations. The ambitious supersede the humble and patient. And often they are rewarded because you have adopted the American Way of thinking—the individual is better than the collective.

That is why you have such sovereignty compromising agreements such as the various Indian gaming compacts, law enforcement agreements and financial agreements. The eager do not respect the people they represent and thus they say stupid things and do even dumber things all on your collective behalf and at the cost of your collective rights.

The hard reality, the contradiction we all live with is that tribal governments will not go away anytime soon, so you must stack the deck in your defense. Stack those forcibly installed tribal governments with people of good character.

I am not a fan of the Indian Reorganization Act nor federally imposed tribal governments, designed to be controlled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, let there be no mistake about that. I am a fan of the people. And I make sure our Op/Ed pages reflect as often as possible that reality. Tribal sovereignty is a myth, an illusion. Only our traditional governments hold our inherent free and independent rights of life and liberty. "Don’t Tread On Me" is an Indigenous way of life. The Two Row Wampum is the true and only way to live amongst governments.

Today, I want to share with you the thoughts of a person who was asked to run for tribal office at the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Government. She does so reluctantly and at great cost to her family and her career.

This person is my sister and I have attempted to convince her not to run. But, in her heart and in the hearts of the people who believe in her is the feeling that balance and health has to be restored among our people and she is the person to accomplish this. And the poor woman is willing to sacrifice all she has to do this thing. I cannot help but love her and have compassion for her and her family.

I share with you her letter of intention to run for Tribal Chief of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe just so you can see the thoughts of an honest person who is entering a contest that if she wins, can only bring her endless hours of heartache and struggle.

I can only hope that you will demand such honesty from your leadership in the future. Your children require that of you. Learn this.


She:kon Akwesas:ronon,

I am Beverly Cook and I am running for the position of Chief on the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council. The decision to run for this leadership position did not come easy and I take this commitment very serious. 

I’ve worked in and around Akwesasne for over 35 years. I’ve been with St. Regis Mohawk Health Services for 29 of those years. Most of you know me in my role as a Family Nurse Practitioner, but I also serve as Clinic Coordinator. I love my work and the people I serve. I’ve tried to display the qualities instilled in me by my parents, Julius and Elda Benedict Cook: compassion, a strong work ethic and a keen sense of justice. I’m grateful to have played a role in protecting the health of our families and promoting healing and wellness.

It has been my honor and privilege to sit with many of you, to listen to your concerns and do what I could to help. Because of those conversations, I’ve come to understand the breadth and depth of the challenges we face as a Mohawk community. I’ve learned that achieving wellness requires a multi-faceted approach. A narrowly focused approach may heal the obvious wound but the underlying cause remains. This idea has informed the program development I have facilitated with the support of Health Director Debbie Martin.

Good health is not only a physical state of well being, it also includes our mental, emotional and spiritual wellness. I’ve heard the cries of our mothers for their children. I’ve seen our men stumble and fight to regain balance and normalcy in their lives. Meanwhile, our children are swept along in the current, suffering the consequences of someone else’s choices. It’s likely they will model the behavior of their caregivers and continue the cycle of dysfunction. We are fortunate to have a tradition of loving family support where grandparents, aunties and uncles step in until balance is restored. That tradition of unconditional personal regard gives us a pattern to follow when designing programs and hiring or training individuals who will provide services to our community.     

We’re blessed to have many dedicated and gifted community members who work tirelessly in our programs and on their own to help create a brighter future. Although we are resilient, we still struggle. When I look at the enormity of the challenges we face as individuals and as a community, it reminds me of the sheriff in “Jaws,” who stared down the throat of the great white shark and said, “We’re going to need a bigger boat!”  We need each other more than ever.

Building a thriving community is a tremendous task. That is why I’m compelled to step out of my usual role and take a different approach. I ask you to consider a shift that combines vision and action, one that encompasses all aspects of our needs as a distinct people. It requires leadership that protects our basic rights to health and safety, education and food security. It must also engage the community in achieving environmental justice, a sustainable economy and creative solutions to the needs of our youth. We all dream of a secure future for our children and grandchildren. Now, let’s move forward with purpose.


Beverly Cook


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




Anonymous's picture
beverly...forward in strength and committment...aiahninchi ohoyo
Anonymous's picture
To be a authentic traditional leader, its waste, to stay out of the crossfire of the white man. Sometimes the best way to win a war, is to go around it! However, Old RED Men and Traditional Grandmas , Old Traditional Men, did not choose anyone for anything, the Great Mystery did, and the Old Ones respect this Mystery but most of all were in love with this Greatest of all Warrior's" (Wakan Tanka), and all First Nation's of this continent called, Turtle Island were connected and some, very few, still are; with his infinite character and nature and traits of vision, insights, peace, harmony, balance beauty love, compassion, solitude, the winds, the rains, the tree's, the water, the sky the child, the "red indigneous child of the Sun. He picked our leaders because our leaders has a genuine relationship with him and his earth, our mother and all living thing's. No one and no thing could then and can't now, ever undermined that reality, because that reality is red on this sovereign First Nation Homeland's. Consecrated by the Holy One above all Powers! But, life is this reality, this reality is a ceremony, cosmic interpretations that like light reflect of the mineral of mother, that we are composed of. Star Dust!!!! He molded us, then, into the beauty of earth and dressed us in the heavens.. We traditional people then were a Holy People. Children from Mother, Eva and Adam! ! At one time we were all "One People" before nationhood's, and our Lights were one, in the oneness of timeless life. We are the transcended cosmic interpretations of Creator upon a physical plan we called Earth! This is what has govern all authentic traditional leaders, peoples and helper's within a genuine traditional govt. Not IRA Lead By a BIA Construct of lies and systematic institutionalized oppression and repression of genocide....of the inherited divine earth keepers, spokespersons, teachers, helper's original sovereign ordain, and "Spirit" lead authentic traditional First Nation's government's that follow the Vision, that still lives in still in each one of us, but we fight it within our fears, that possibly we and are red indigenous children of mother earth are not cared about, loved, respected, honored, appreciated, grateful for, nor free or protect by this empire, that is still lost in their "man-made" seas and oceans of national systemic sin's and transgression against their own national faith, imperialist Christianity white superiority Euro America racial violence, lies, destruction and death, and continual economic torment, spiritual torment, and a American Dream that is a American Nightmare!
Anonymous's picture
These are just words. Time will tell the story. Till then it's hope, dreams, etc. Blessings.
Two Bears Growling's picture
Brother of the people, you said just what I would have said myself! You must have been in my mind! As you said, many times folks get elected to a position & abuse that trust & gift that the Great Spirit gave them. They become corrupt, self-serving instead of selfless. Too many times it becomes a game for attaining more power of the wrong kind. One must never forget that any gift we have is not from ourselves, but an extension of the Creator that works through these earthly shells we are housed in for the time we are in this realm. When one uses the gifts we have been granted for bad things or to profit off of them it is at that time one has forgotten who is true giver of the gift(s): The Great Spirit. We should NEVER sell what we do with a gift from Man Above. We should always give it freely to those in need. After all, it is not from us, it is from our Creator to use in His name to heal & help those He chooses. It is a great burden many times when the Great Spirit grants someone a great gift. Many times it is a lonely journey as we travel to where we are needed to help others. Many times one sacrifices time that could be spent with ones family, uses personal resources getting to where we are needed to help at & can be many times very stressful trying to juggle everything we have to & not go insane. There are times that those who Man Above chooses to give a gift must get away by themselves to refocus, reenergize, pray & seek the Great Spirit's guidance in what to do when things become so over-whelming. It is a lonely road so many times & is not something most would choose. There is honor in serving our many people, but it seldom comes without a great sacrifice to oneself & many tears at times. So be careful in what you pray to receive my friends.
Two Bears Growling
Anonymous's picture
If you are a BIA and IRA Tribal Government phony traditional chief supporter or employee, or a president or chairman, counsel people you are not a authentic and chosen spokesperson and leader. Like Alex White Plume, Russell, Means, Floyd Hand, Oliver Red Cloud, Orval Looking Horse, etc... and many others and they're hollowed indian buddies, the U.S.. Who continue to remain silent and do nothing about long history of the US. and their racist Indian policies, laws, attitudes and the real systematic institutional genocide and national genocide being committed by they U.S. lead phony tribal governments. Your not indigenous to this earth, your not moral and ethical, honest, truthful, or whole genuine traditional person with any genuine traditional knowledge, ethics, morality, courage, love, compassion, strength, power, authority, dominion, legal or civil human rights and were not chosen by old traditional authentic counsel leaders and peoples, that remain silent and fearful of their futures as they are being political executed under the illegal occupation of the BIA and IRA corporate U.S. lead intervention construct of lie's, theft, deceit, division, greed, corruption etc...; under the illegal occupation of continual oppression, repression, war, jealously, hatred, violence, the white mans image and genocide on Sioux Nation Homeland's by the Gate Keepers of Empire's! The United States Government is not "God" they are nothing but ungrateful cry babies that are never satisfied with being fair and honest, they like to be liars, it profits them, and the true Creator hates their evil white greedy man ways, euro American ways, who will and is, going to destroy them, and every political, economic, religious Satanist plan they have against his "Red Life" the red life of the Son of God, the Christ, which has been here sense the beginning of time and we are indigenous nationhood's worship him with our mother, earth our red life here on earth, but I promise the Christ is with us, and soon he will show them we are the "Creator" here on his Red Ancestral Indigenous Homeland's of this Western Hemisphere! You are a BIA, IRA Coward, and Traitor to your own kind...; you do not love life, you show you love death, when you sell the souls,, future, vision and relationship that are people have with the Creator whom we love of your own red peoples to the U.S. Govt. You might have mix blood with our blood, but you don't have to think and use you mind like a half-breed, who has been castrated and brainwashed by your close so called friend, white man, the BIA and IRA crime buster dual "Lone Ranger" and his side kick Tonto...!
Anonymous's picture
The article is promoting your sister's bid for Chief, not about in-depth its title. I'm surprised your editor allowed it because its a bit self serving. I'm sure many who read ICTMN would like some campaign exposure for their rez, besides that you shouldn't be speaking on her behalf, how do we know you're unbiased. I dunno, nice flowery piece,just doesn't fit the bill,too close to family. Frank Jr Molley
Anonymous's picture
great comments... don't sound like voters tho
Anonymous's picture
If (that is a big IF) writer is true to his words (despite the shout-out to his sister), then Tribal Governments should be taking RESPONSIBILITY for their appointed government activities (than to indiscriminately lay blame to Washington). The indian people voting these tribal government officials into office, MUST hold them accountable!