Barnett shares experience as National Council representative
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council Creek District Seat B Rep. Dode Barnett called her position as one of three women on Council, interesting.
Barnett shared her experience during five years serving with the legislative branch.
“I have loved my time serving my people and I think that it has been an enormous blessing and honor and it has come with a lot of challenges,” Barnett said.
Barnett’s term began in 2012 after a special election was held to fill the seat vacated by George Tiger after he was elected principal chief.
“I’ve grown a lot. I’ve failed a lot and that’s OK because it’s a continual learning process. Nobody steps into this job prepared,” she said.
Barnett said the lack of an orientation process and organization regarding operations makes it difficult for a new representative to effectively serve on the Council.
“We have no training system for the leaders of our Nation. That’s crazy,” Barnett said. “…That’s a serious lack of vision that we have and an under expectation. We’re setting ourselves up for failure.”
She said more organization, preparation and focus produces better leaders for MCN.
She expressed how there are different dynamics in a male-dominated work environment, which was the case during her time on Council.
In some instances, Barnett felt reactions to decisions she made were judged more harshly than her male counterparts.
“If I make a tough decision or an unpopular decision then I’m automatically an expletive. But if a man makes that same decision then that man is celebrated for being tough and really digging in and advocating for the people,” Barnett said.
She described instances where male representatives yelled at employees during a meeting and no complaints were filed or investigated.
“…yet I was investigated for accusations and was never allowed to face my accusers. I do think there is a disparity there and you definitely have to walk more on eggshells as a female sitting at this table than you do as a male,” she said.
Mvskoke Media contacted Council Speaker Lucian Tiger regarding her claim that complaints about some representatives were not investigated and did not receive a response as of press time.
The preconception of camaraderie Barnett envisioned with her fellow female representatives was disenchanted early in her term.
She said roughly a week after she was sworn into her position she received a phone call.
“I got a call from a female rep. that’s not on this Council anymore that I would get a call every month telling me how to vote because all the women vote together,” Barnett said.
She said she declined the proposition.
Barnett said she was also approached by another female representative and informed she was not suppose to talk for the first two years of her term.
Again, she disagreed.
“If I don’t speak, my people in Creek District don’t have a voice. I am their voice and if I don’t speak you’re asking a whole district to be silent and I don’t agree with that and I did not follow that,” Barnett said.
Barnett does not attribute the imbalance she witnessed on the Council to cultural teachings. Instead she attributed the conduct as a result of European influence.
She referenced the writings of Muscogee (Creek) attorney and domestic and sexual violence prevention advocate Sarah Deer where she addressed the tribe’s first contact with Europeans.
Barnett said Deer’s work explores how the influence women had in the tribal community and decisions about their own bodies were a foreign concept to the settlers.
Barnett said Mvskoke culture celebrates women so when institutional bullying and sexual harassment are present, the attitudes of what she views as “oppressors” infiltrate the mindset.
She wants Mvskoke people to embrace their culture.
“To completely 100 percent not tolerate or accept any bad behavior that we experience on this campus. I’ve been slapped on the rear end in the middle of my office. That should be completely unacceptable and never tolerated,” Barnett said.
Barnett said she had women come to tell her about sexual harassment that they experienced asking if she could help them.
“I say ‘yes, I can look into it’ but then they’re afraid to actually put anything in writing because they know they’ll get fired,” she said.
She said the issue has gotten better since the last administration, but there are still issues that need to be addressed.
“We still have our own battles to fight here before we can go out there and fight with the rest of the world,” Barnett said.
Barnett said she dreams of a place where employees can be proud to come to work and advocate for the tribe.
Barnett hopes one day it does not matter if a National Council representative is male, female, young or old and that they all have an equal voice when they sit at one table.
When asked about the inspirational figures in her life, Barnett said that she tries to find inspiration daily and is greatly inspired by the Mvskoke people.
“The wonderful thing about this job is you have people that let you into their life and they let you share a part of their story and what’s happening to them,” Barnet said. “Sometimes it’s celebration and sometimes it’s some of the darkest times in their life and you walk through those with people.”
Barnett said her mother, who served on Council for a number of years inspired her by making tough decisions during her time as a representative.
Along with her mother, other former NC members like Sandy Golden, Nancy Watson and Sandra Peters inspire Barnett.
“I don’t think it was necessarily about gender. I think it was about everyone advocating for what they believed in,” she said.
Barnett’s did not file for reelection and her term will end in January with Patrick Freeman, Jr. stepping into the position.
The ratio of men to women on the Council will remain the same with Thomasene Obsborn also set to be inaugurated in January to Seat B of the Tukvpvtce District.