When voters from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation go to the polls to vote in the Board of Trustees election Tuesday, they’ll get to consider a variety of experience and age.
There are 20 people vying for eight total seats on the Nov. 14 ballot, including several first-time candidates, current members and others who have been on the board or run previously.
With the exception of Treasurer Rosenda Shippentower, every incumbent is running for re-election, with Shippentower running for an at-large seat instead. Every officer position on the board — chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer — is being contested and a dozen candidates are vying for four at-large seats.
A handful of younger candidates is seeking a seat at the table in 2017. Three under-40 candidates who were interviewed all said they wanted to bring their experiences as younger tribal members and listed better communication between the board and the rest of the tribal community as one of their top issues.
Johnny Sampson, 28, is the youngest candidate in the field. An employee for the tribal fisheries department, Sampson said he comes from a line of tribal leaders — his grandfather, Carl, the chief of the Walla Walla tribe, and his father, Donald, was a former chairman of the General Council — and is running for an at-large seat on the board.
Jill-Marie Gavin, 29, is also running for an at-large position on the board. With the board generally older and male, Gavin, a reporter for tribal radio station KCUW and an interim editor for the Confederated Umatilla Journal, said she felt like she wasn’t being represented and decided to jump into the race.
Shana Radford, a 33-year-old running for the vice-chair position against incumbent Jeremy Wolf, echoed Gavin and Sampson.
“We need a younger generation,” said Radford, who added that she ran with support of some tribal elders.
Cedric Wildbill, a 54-year-old who splits his time between his production company and a job in the CTUIR Office of Childhood Support Enforcement, said he ran for a seat on the board 10 years ago. Although he didn’t win, he said it’s a good experience for younger candidates to mount campaigns for the board and is using his previous experience in his run for the secretary seat against incumbent Kat Brigham.
Bob Shippentower, 71, said it’s good that young candidates are running, but they should build their experience with the tribes’ various committees and commissions. Shippentower held an at-large seat on the board from 2009-2015, and is trying to mount a comeback bid after a failed write-in candidacy for general council chair in 2015.
Sally Kosey, a 62-year-old at-large candidate, saw value in the trend.
“Sometimes we need a younger voice to get a different viewpoint,” she said.
Among the candidates interviewed, improving the tribes’ economy and removing barriers for young tribal members were common themes.
Wildbill said he would like to see the tribes expand their entrepreneurial arm past the Wildhorse Casino & Resort and into general contracting for federal government agencies like construction and environmental clean-up.
Kosey, a retired social services worker and Indian education coordinator, said she wanted to see more job training and support programs for tribal youth so they could work the jobs that non-tribal members were currently filling. On the other side of the age spectrum, Kosey said she would also like to see a tribal assisted living facility for elder members.
One issue that won’t show up on the ballot is marijuana legalization. Despite being legal in Oregon, it remains a banned substance on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The General Council referred the issue to the Board of Trustees, but the board didn’t refer it to the ballot.
Radford, a former tribal health liaison for the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation with degrees from Portland State University and the University of New South Wales in Australia, said she was an advocate and supporter for the CTUIR’s treaty rights and highlighted her support for equity, inclusiveness and engagement.
But she’s also the vice-chair for the Warm Springs Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which oversees the Central Oregon tribes’ foray into marijuana production. Radford said marijuana legalization is a conversation worth having for the board.
Elections for the Board of Trustees and the General Council will be held Tuesday at the Nixyaawii Governance Center from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.