By Rick Coates
Chairman Derek Bailey of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB) recently postponed a family getaway to the Upper Peninsula to speak at a memorial service. These constant schedule changes and being accessible 24/7 as the Tribal Chairman have become the lifestyle Bailey and his family have adopted since his election three years ago.
We were looking forward to our trip, but I was asked to speak at a memorial service for Helen Hornbeck Tanner. I considered it not only an honor but my obligation to be there, said Bailey. Tanner, while not Native American, played several crucial roles in the recent history for Indian tribes of the Great Lakes region. She is not the only reason but she certainly is a key reason why we (the GTB) are where we are at today. It was important that I let her family and friends know how much we appreciate what she did for us and equally important that our tribal communities know of her importance.
Tanner, a long time Beluah resident, was considered the leading authority on the Native American history of the Great Lakes. She authored several books and research papers during her tenure as a professor at the University of Michigan and as a senior research fellow at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Her Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History, documented the displacement of Indian communities from 1640 to 1871. Her research and expertise played a crucial role in upholding Indian treaty rights with the federal government, including fishing rights on the Great Lakes.
Baileys presence at the memorial service marked the type of leadership style those within the GTB have come to expect. That leadership style has also made its mark throughout Northern Michigan, as well as in Lansing and even in Washington D.C..
In 2008 at the age of 36, Bailey became the fifth and the youngest Tribal Chairman elected by the GTB. Bailey has set out a course to build partnerships throughout Michigan and in the nations capital. In just three years of creating collaborations and partnerships, some in the Northern Michigan business community are calling on Bailey to consider either running for the Michigan State Senate or U.S. Congress.
BOTH SIDES OF AN ISSUE
I think Derek would make an excellent representative for Northern Michigan in Lansing or Washington D.C., said Don Coe, managing partner of Black Star Farms Winery and chairman of the Michigan Commission on Agriculture and Rural Development. What he has been able to accomplish in just a couple of years as tribal chairman is remarkable and his leadership skills in Lansing or Congress would be a valuable asset for us here in Northern Michigan. Derek has worked hard to not only better the GTB but also the greater Northern Michigan community.
Coe is impressed with Baileys ability to understand both sides of an issue and bring opposing sides together.
What I like is his ability to represent the GTB positions on issues and put those forward in a way that that is not threatening but accepting, and he is also able to put forward the issues of others back to his membership, said Coe.
Coe adds that Bailey is also an exceptional listener, and has attracted the attention of the Obama administration. “You dont call the White House, they call you and the Obama administration has been calling.
That most recent call came a few weeks back when President Obama visited Holland and the White House called Bailey to let him know that the president requested his presence in Holland for a brief meeting.
It was a true honor and my second time meeting with the president, said Bailey, who last year was appointed by President Obama to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education. Our first meeting I was able to discuss Indian education issues with the president. A few weeks back I had hoped to discuss in detail the Asian carp issue with him but time was cut short so that discussion will take place at another time. The important thing for me is that the White House recognizes the GTB, and so getting this type of face time whether with the president or the governor puts a face to who we are. It says that we are active and engaged in our community.
Bailey feels honored that business and community leaders are approaching him to consider running for an elected office outside of his current role as chairman of the GTB.
First of all, I was elected to a four year term as chairman of the GTB and I will fulfill those responsibilities that expire in May of 2012. So any type of political appointment or elected office would have to come after I meet my current obligation, said Bailey. A couple weeks ago a business and community leader pulled my wife aside and said you need to let Derek run for office, we need people like him representing us. I have had people ask me directly to consider state and national elected offices. I am definitely going to explore that possibility.
Prior to being elected as Tribal Chairman Bailey served on the Tribal Council for four years. While he is eligible to run for as many terms as he would like as Tribal Chairman the idea of serving in Lansing or Washington D.C. intrigues Bailey on several fronts.
There have been few Native Americans elected to Congress, said Bailey. There are issues that our Tribal Nations are facing throughout the country that I could be a voice for. I also feel I could be a voice for all of Northern Michigan, I understand many of the issues our region is faced with, our economic challenges, the potential threats to our Great Lakes and our environment. Certainly, there are many other issues that face our region and our country and I have found that my success to date has come from taking time to listen to others and understand their positions and viewpoints. If I run for a state or national office that will be my approach.
If Derek Bailey decides to look at running for Congress it would be in District 1. The 2010 census resulted in the Michigan losing one seat in Congress and the Michigan legislature redistricting all Congressional seats. That redistricting will start with the 2012 election and now puts several Northern Michigan counties into District 1 including Manistee, Leelanau and Grand Traverse and moves some current Central Michigan counties to other districts. The seat is currently held by Republican Dan Benishek, a Tea Party candidate, who defeated Senator Jason Allen by 15 votes in the Republican Primary last year.
Chairman Bailey will get a chance next month to get a little taste of life in Washington D.C. While not a political appointment Bailey was nominated to participate in the The Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC). The program is sponsored by the Secretary of Defense for civilian public opinion leaders interested in growing their knowledge of the military and national defense issues. JCOC alumni are encouraged to share their experiences with their circles of influence when they return home. Attendance in JCOC is very competitive with more than 1,000 nominations put forward and only 80 candidates chosen to participate.
I consider this a great honor and will be heading to Washington D.C. in a month to participate, said Chairman Bailey. The program gives the participants a behind the scenes look at how the Department of Defense works and the functions of each of the five military branches. I will get to meet with high ranking military leaders, participate in some of the training and come away with a better understanding of how our military works. I will then share that knowledge with not only the GTB but the community of Northern Michigan as a whole.
When Chairman Bailey returns home after participating in the JCOC he will have a lot on his plate to consider this fall. If he decides to run for public office he will need to make a decision soon as the 2012 political campaign season is underway.
Next week the Derek Bailey Q&A session.