By T.J. Pyette
Eight candidates are vying for four seats on the Chippewa Cree tribal council in Tuesday's election. Three of the eight are incumbent council members seeking another term.
The candidates collectively agree that creating employment on the reservation is a main issue facing the tribal council, while other concerns are varied and include helping tribal youth and elders, preserving natural resources, promoting education, establishing financial accountability for elected tribal officials, and improving law enforcement, housing and health programs for tribal members.
Incumbent Brian "Kelly" Eagleman, 39, has worked for the tribe for 15 years, starting in 1985 as a clerk of court, then moving to the environmental G.A.P. program in 1989. He has served on the council for two terms.
Eagleman did not respond to requests for an interview. Previously, he has said that jobs are his top priority.
"The bottom line to all this is job creation. I think that is the number one goal," he said.
His other main issue is natural resources. "We need to start looking over our natural resources, and try to benefit from and protect these," he said in a previous interview.
Candidate Lois J. Gopher, 58, has a bachelor of science degree in home economics and health education from Montana State University-Bozeman. She works at the Women, Infants and Children program. Gopher formerly worked as a community health representative and emergency medical technician for the Chippewa Cree Tribe for seven years. She also worked as a guidance counselor at Stone Child College for a year.
Gopher, 58, said she is concerned about the problems facing youth on the reservation. She said teen use of drugs and alcohol is a major problem.
"There's alot of apathy toward teen drug abuse on the reservation," she said.
If elected, Gopher said her 12-year tenure with the Rocky Boy Women, Infants and Children program will give her the experience to more effectively deal with the pervasive problem.
Gopher said she would encourage the development of youth-directed programs and activities designed to help children and teens focus their energies on more positive endeavors. Having raised nine children herself, Gopher said, "I feel I know what they need."
Gopher said she believes providing more meaningful employment for teens on the reservation would be a good start, while simultaneously focusing on promoting education and encouraging higher learning.
Gopher also said the council needs a woman's point of view to bring balance to important issues.
Russel T. Gopher, 44, works for the Stone Child College language preservation program. He previously spent 20 years with Rocky Boy Schools before leaving that job in 2000. He also spent a year on the Rocky Boy school board. He is a Box Elder High School graduate, spent two years as a student at Stone Child, and has taken various courses from other colleges.
Gopher said he has ideas for improving many areas of tribal government, social programs and education. He said he believes strongly in accountability for tribal officers.
"Duly elected tribal officials should uphold the premise of why and how they were chosen to serve in that capacity, he said. "Decisions must be made with prudence, objectivity and fairness, with the best interests of the tribe taken into deepest consideration."
Gopher said the tribal elders deserve honor and respect, and would like to see programs developed that bring the youth together with the elders to build a stronger cultural identity.
Gopher is said he is concerned about tribal housing, health programs and law enforcement. If elected, he said he will support efforts to recruit and retain quality law enforcement officers and tribal court personnel. Secondly, he said he will encourage proper training and equipment for tribal criminal justice personnel and said that they must have the support of the tribal council in order to provide a higher quality of service.
John "Chance" Houle, 38, is the current Chippewa Cree Tribe social services director and has a bachelor of science in human services.
Houle said his experience in various tribal departments has acquainted him with the fiscal budget process of the tribe, which better equips him to work on his two main issues economic development and welfare reform.
Houle said he has been very involved in current issues regarding welfare reform and will work to make these programs more effective for families and children who need them.
Houle serves on a variety of community boards and committees and participates in many cultural activities on the reservation.
Larry Morsette Jr. attended college for two years and was in the U.S. Army for six years. He's been the risk management director of the Chippewa Cree Tribe for three years.
Morsette, 42, said he will concentrate on improving reservation law enforcement and creating jobs for tribal members if he is elected.
"We need to clean our own house," said Morsette. He said he believes there is alot of internal conflict within the tribal criminal justice system personnel.
"I'd like to install a police commission to oversee our law enforcement," he added.
Morsette said he would also like to see the current criminal penalties applied more consistently. The high rate of crime on the reservation is "not only limited to the reservation, but is starting to spill over into neighboring communities like Box Elder and Havre," he said.
Morsette said he is also concerned about the number of available jobs on the reservation, but added that he believes it would be difficult to keep up with the current population explosion on the reservation using only internal job resources.
"We have to start going beyond our own boundaries," he said. "We need to start competing for government and private contracts in order to create jobs for our members."
Russell Standing Rock said he is relying on his previous track record as a tribal council member to give him the edge over his opponents. Having served on the tribal council from 1996 to 2000, Standing Rock said, "It took me two years to be the push for stability in our accounting and finances. When I left, we had money in the bank."
Standing Rock said his key issues focus on elders and youth. He said tribal elders are being neglected in many facets of their lives, including economics, health and housing.
Standing Rock said he would also like to see more effective programs for youth to address what he refers to as "a severe infestation" of drugs and alcohol.
Standing Rock said he believes that by restoring accountability in tribal government, balancing the budgets and implementing improved accounting practices, "we would have the funds available to provide for the
elders and youth."
Standing Rock said he would support the development of new industries and enterprises on the reservation, including a new casino.
Bruce Sunchild Sr., current vice chairman of the tribal council, earned a GED and completed one year of Great Falls Auto College. He spent two years in the U.S. Army. Prior to joining the council eight years ago, he was employed with Indian House Service for 25 years.
Sunchild, 57, could not be reached for comment, but has previously said, "The main issue right now is we're plagued with high employment. We would like to hire as many as we can, but we are limited in resources."
Jonathan Windy Boy, 43, has a telecommunications degree from Southwest Indian Polytech in New Mexico. He's an incumbent council member seeking a second term and is also running for a seat in the Montana House of Representatives.
Windy Boy said he is concerned about a broad spectrum of issues, including senior citizens. He would like to work to prevent large cuts in state health and human services programs from adversely affecting elderly tribal members.
Windy Boy said he is proud to have supported the current expansion of Stone Child College, including the new $6 million campus now in progress. He said he will continue to support a growing college curriculum by encouraging the strengthening of current programs and the addition of new material in the areas of tribal and public policy and alternative energy resources.
The election will be held in the Stone Child College gymnasium. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters must provide their tribal identification card at the polling place.