From the Leelanau Enterprise:
Ed. note: New Tribal Chairman Derek Bailey of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, who was sworn in to his new position Thursday, talked with Enterprise reporter Eric Carlson Friday on a wide range of topics. Following is their conversation:
Enterprise: During the remarks you made at your swearing in, you seemed to become quite emotional and had to pause to compose yourself as you were talking about your wife and your family. Please tell us a little about about them.
Bailey: My wife Tonia and I live right here in Leelanau County, in Solon Township, with our five children. Our youngest boy, Maeengun, is just six months old. Our two girls, Panink and Daanis, are 11 and 8 years old; and both attend the Leelanau Montessori school at Suttons Bay. We have two other boys, Nimkees, 9, and Kihaw, 5. We really enjoy cultural activities together, going to pow-wows, eating out and visiting family and friends, going to the movies. We have a second home in the Upper Peninsula and often visit family and friends there who are part of the Bay Mills Indian Community.
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Enterprise: In thanking those who showed up for your swearing in ceremony, the first group you thanked included the Suttons Bay Public Schools superintendent and other top school administrators who attended. The Peshawbestown reservation is located within the school district, and the largest concentration of tribal youth are being educated at Suttons Bay. Yet, state testing has shown a wide “achievement gap” between Native American students and other students at Suttons Bay. What more could the school district be doing to help tribal members, and what more might the tribe do to help the school district?
Bailey: Both the school and our tribal nation need to work together to meet the needs, aspirations and educational goals of our students. We have an excellent relationship with Mr. (Mike) Murray (the Suttons Bay superintendent). He’s very open and responsive. When I was growing up in Suttons Bay, I went to elementary school through seventh grade there before I transferred to Traverse City. I ended up graduating from Traverse City St. Francis in 1991. Recently, I saw an ad in the newspaper for a fluent Anishnabemowin (native language) instructor to work at Suttons Bay Public Schools, and I was struck by how far we have all come since the days when I was a student there. I know concerns have been raised about the achievement gap between tribal members and other students, and this is definitely an area I will be looking at. We’ll be working with the administration to improve education for everyone.
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Enterprise: How do you see the faltering state and national economy affecting the tribe, its Economic Development Corporation and its various commercial enterprises, particularly its casinos, over the coming years; and what ideas do you have for improving the tribe’s economic outlook?
Bailey: Everyone is aware of the economic troubles we’re all facing right now and that we’re in a recession. Here in Michigan, I hope to help lead a charge with other units of government to come together and collaborate toward some ideas that will help us all. I think that we can and should definitely strengthen and build upon the relationships between the tribe and other local units of government and still help tribal members. Here in Leelanau County, we’re looking toward completing our marina project in Peshawbestown. In Grand Traverse County, we’re continuing to improve amenities that will enhance and add to our customer base.
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Enterprise: Since the end of the 2006 election cycle, which remained unresolved until 2007, some tribal members have been advocating for amendments to the Tribal Constitution that might allow tribal members to vote for their own judges, prosecutor, police chief, other officials and members of bodies such as the Election Board, all of whom are currently appointed by the Tribal Council. What are your views about a possible amendment or set of amendments to the Tribal Constitution?
Bailey: Our Tribal Constitution guides the membership. And if the membership collectively comes forth and wants to make amendments, then they have a guiding document that the framers put in place to exercise that right. If that happens, and a vote is taken in favor of amending the Constitution, I will uphold the will of the people.
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Enterprise: What do you think can or should be done to make the tribal election process go more smoothly than it has in the last two election cycles?
Bailey: The history of significant challenges and disputes within our election process since 2006 tells me that this is an area we really need to look into closely so that in 2010 we can have a smoother tribal election process. For one thing, new election regulations for the tribe have not actually been codified yet so far, and that really needs to be done.
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Enterprise: What in your view were the major accomplishments of your predecessor, Robert Kewaygoshkum, and might there still be a place for him in tribal government?
Bailey: There definitely is a place. He has an extensive history with our nation’s government in addition to his two terms of service as tribal chairman. At the time he took office, he represented a change of leadership that was right for the time. Accomplishments that stand out during his time in office, of course, include purchase of the Grand Traverse Resort property, land acquisition, and the new hotel and casino facilities at Turtle Creek. I have a genuine respect for him and look forward to him coming back to work for the tribe.
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Enterprise: The topic of salaries for tribal councilors has received a considerable amount of public attention recently and is currently the subject of a Tribal Court case. Members of the Tribal Council, meanwhile, set the salary for the tribal chairman. What do you believe would be an appropriate salary level for a newly-elected tribal chairman?
Bailey: Although I served on the Tribal Council, I was not involved in setting the salary for the former tribal chairman and I honestly don’t know exactly how much he was making. My hope is that my own salary will fall in line with what has been set historically for tribal chairmen with prior experience on the tribal council. I’m sorry, but I don’t have an actual figure I can give you right now.
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Enterprise: During and since your campaign, you have vowed to improve communication between tribal members and their government, as well as make tribal government operations more “transparent” to everyone. How do you plan to accomplish this?
Bailey: With technology, for one thing. We have more means available to communicate now than ever. My own web site was very successful during my campaign; and I hope to launch a Tribal Chairman’s website very soon to communicate more effectively with everyone. As a tribal nation, we need to recognize that we have members not just in our six-county service area here in Michigan, but all over the world. In addition, I expect to do more mailings and make better use of our tribal website as well as our tribal newsletter. I also hope to spend more time in the community meeting face-to-face with people.
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Enterprise: You have also indicated you hope to improve the tribal government’s relations with the local community and local units of government within Leelanau County and elsewhere in the tribe’s six county service area. How do you plan to accomplish that?
Bailey: Right now, I’m compiling a list of local governmental meetings which I plan to attend so I can go there and introduce myself. I will take the initiative to reach out.
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Enterprise: One of the issues of greatest interest to local units of government is the “2-percent” casino revenue payout process. Do you foresee any changes in the way the Tribal Council reviews and decides upon requests for payments to local units of government?
Bailey: Not at this time. The Tribal Council will be meeting in January to consider requests for the next 2-percent cycle, and I will be evaluating the process very carefully at that time.
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Enterprise: What question did we not ask that you wish we’d asked; and how would you answer that question?
Bailey: I just want to say that I believe in our sovereign nation and our Constitution and the inherent, indigenous rights that we hold. I am truly honored to have been sworn in as the fifth tribal chairman in history of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.