By Rich Winter
On Thursday, candidates for the Director positions in the upcoming Cherry-Todd Election participated in a candidates forum held at the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Council Chambers. Candidates Phyllis Ann White Shield, Whitney Meek, Robert Becker and Dan Valburg participated in the forum led by Dan Gargan, President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Utilities Commission. OFFER (Oyate for Fairness and Equal Representation) was also present and part of the forum.
Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney Bordeaux opened the forum, welcoming the candidates before an opening prayer from OFFER’s Ronald Neiss.
Each of the candidates was offered an opportunity to explain why they were running for a director position for the Cherry-Todd Electric Cooperative.
Whitney Meek: I just want to provide the lowest cost of energy and be reliable. I’d like to see better communication and more transparency to know what’s happening. I’ve been at Cherry-Todd for three years and I hope that tribal members would support me.
Dan Valburg: I’ve lived in Mellette County for 57 years and we have been ranching east of White River. My wife and daughter both have defibrillator units and we rely on electricity. The reliability is the big key to me being here. Electricity is an equalizer, we all pay the same amount whether it is on tribal or deeded land and we all try to make it the same.
Robert Becker: The reason I’m running is I’m interested in learning more. I look forward to what’s coming in the future. The Tribe is expanding and it would seem essential that we have that power. We have to look at the future and find out what can we do to improve our resources. We need to start doing stuff to improve things for the 7th generation.
Phyllis Ann White Shield: I’m running to have a voice. Running is a risk; when a Native speaks up and advocates for their people, it is a risk. I’d like to show our young people how to advocate so they have better services in the future. Whoever wins we need to revitalize the voice of our people. We have been pitiful in so many ways for so long and we put up with things. Our nature is kind, generous, with empathy and compassion, but it is time to learn how to protect that and put it in a business sense.
Numerous questions were fielded by the candidates. The answers to two of those questions are provided below.
How do you feel about the make-up of the Cherry-Todd Board being related to the population of Cherry-Todd members?
Whitney Meek: I would be cautious of eliminating any member from representation. Further discussion is needed and looking at some other type of make-up that wouldn’t eliminate any portion of the co-op from representation. I come from a small community and remember the redistricting and how small communities felt when we had to redistrict. We kind of lost our voice and I’m cautious with something like that.
Dan Valburg: I can’t see us eliminating Cherry County because a large part of our revenue comes out of Cherry County on the irrigation side. Maybe another thought is maybe we could add a few more board members for Todd County. I believe Lacreek Electric has 12 board members. We have eight and I can see adding a few more, but keeping our Cherry and Mellette County representation.
Robert Becker: I’d like to see us increase the size of the board but also go by the population to ascertain a proper proportion to each board member.
Phyllis Ann White Shield: I go back to state and tribal law. This cooperative resides within the boundaries of the Rosebud Reservation. My understanding is we as a tribe may be following a state law. Is this a jurisdictional issue? We are focusing on directors but what about the tribal rights of the people?
If you were voted in would you publicize the events of the meeting and what would be your plan to accomplish that?
Phyllis Ann White Shield: That is so critically important. So many strategies that can be used to get the communication out there. We could work with our college students to get that out. I would be willing to come to the council and to give them that communication and give them that information. It is critical to get that information out there. If you have an increase in electrical cost and there are grandmothers that get $1000 per month and 30 percent of that goes toward electricity, that doesn’t put much on the table.
Robert Becker: I think transparency with any entity or cooperative should be public as far as I’m concerned. We need to strive to make that information known and we need to publish any big changes or small changes so the people know what is going on.
Dan Valburg: In the last several years, Tim (Grablander) has been more open with the tribe. I think we are very transparent as the minutes are open to anyone that wants to come read them. Maybe we could do a better job stating any major changes, but in the last two to three years communication has opened up more.
Whitney Meek: Transparency has been an issue. I envision a number of changes with Cherry-Todd communications. I’d like to utilize KOYA, Channel 93 and social media. I’d also like to see a much better website with a link to the minutes of each meeting and a link to the Cherry Todd policies.