Voters often complain that it feels like campaign season never ends, but on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, it literally hasn’t.
Nearly three months after Election Day and with all the other races for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Board of Trustees and General Council settled, incumbent Jeremy Wolf and challenger Shana Radford are still vying for the vice-chair position on the board.
The BOT is a nine-member body, elected every two years, that sets policy for the CTUIR during weekly meetings.
The extended campaign is the result of a 370-vote tie between the candidates on the Nov. 14 election. In the event of a tie, tribal law requires the incumbent stay seated while both candidates participate in a runoff.
With less than a week before election day, Wolf and Radford got two more opportunities to make their case in front of a large audience of voters — a joint radio interview at KCUW studios and a community forum at the Nixyaawii Governance Center open only to tribal members.
At the Tuesday interview at the tribal radio station, both candidates spent a quiet hour answering questions KCUW had received through social media.
Wolf and Radford agreed that there was an increasing sense of polarization among tribal members, although they attributed it to different sources. Radford said the polarization in national politics has trickled down to tribes while Wolf said polarization has existed since the CTUIR drafted its constitution and signed the Treaty of 1855 with the federal government.
Asked to rate the board on a 1-10 scale in terms of adherence to policy, both candidates gave it high marks.
Wolf gave the board a 7, saying that there was still room for improvement in how they dealt with inequities amongst tribal members. Radford said the board deserved an 8, but its main problem was a lack of leadership.
Wolf talked up some of the new facilities the tribes were building — the Wildhorse Resort & Casino expansion, a school building, a middle-income housing development among others — but Radford said there was some concern among CTUIR members about the Wildhorse expansion, adding that the tribes needed to continue diversifying their enterprises beyond gaming.
Wildhorse is in the development stages of an $85 million project expected to add an 11-story hotel, five new restaurants, four new cineplex screens and a bowling alley by the summer of 2020.
But generally, the candidates had a cordial discussion while agreeing on several topics, like the need to preserve their tribal culture.
Radford said CTUIR culture was under threat from assimilating forces like technology and feared the loss of the tribes’ language.
Asked to name his greatest fear, Wolf gave a similar answer.
“The only fear that I have is that we forget where we came from,” he said.
Both candidates made an appearance at a forum at the governance center Wednesday, but media coverage was effectively barred from the event.
Although it had not been advertised beforehand, a woman ushered out reporters from the East Oregonian and the Confederated Umatilla Journal, saying only tribal members were allowed at the forum.
The election will be held on Monday. Voters can submit ballots at the Nixyaawii Governance Center Cayuse/Umatilla Room 102 A/B from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.