Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 25, 2008

Challenger elected tribal chairperson


PESHAWBESTOWN -- Tribal members elected Derek Bailey chairperson of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians in a special election about-face.

Tribal voters in May backed two-term incumbent Robert Kewaygoshkum, but Bailey capitalized on a second chance prompted by a tribal court's order for a new election.

Bailey, 35, is slated to become the band's youngest chairperson after defeating Kewaygoshkum, 57, in a special election held Wednesday.

A tribal court last month ordered the redo after ruling the band's election board improperly censured Bailey just before the original vote. The board held an emergency meeting two days before the May election and, although no election violations were found, issued an e-mail censuring him for allegedly using his tribal computer to visit his campaign Web site.

Bailey's door-to-door campaigning, coupled with the ruling, helped him win the second election, he said.

"It's always hard to tell what to expect in an electoral process, but I know that I worked very hard in trying to reach the membership," Bailey said.

In May, Kewaygoshkum defeated Bailey 233 to 210. This time Bailey won the four-year position 256 to 186.

Voter turnout was nearly identical for the two elections: 442 tribal members voted on Wednesday, and 443 cast their choice for chairman in May. That counts for about 52 percent of registered voters.

About 1,600 tribal members live in Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix and Manistee counties.

Election challenges will be accepted until Oct. 1, Bailey said. If there are no challenges, he'll take office on Oct. 2.

Kewaygoshkum could not be reached for comment.

Tribal member Nettie Keusch voted for Kewaygoshkum and said he was a great leader who did a lot for the band.

"He knew what he was doing," Keusch said. "(He is) a wonderful person, a family man, very congenial. Everybody liked him."

Tribal member Frank Chippewa voted for Bailey in both elections.

"He's a younger person and I just want young faces," Chippewa said. "We can't do any worse than the older people. I feel it's our time to start running things."

Councilman Joseph "Buddy" Raphael, 66, formerly served as chairman for 16 years. He's excited to see young people take interest and come forward to serve.

"It shows that we have a lot of young members that are getting educated and coming back to serve the tribe, and that was one of the original goals of federal recognition, to help our people do better, help our people enter the mainstream of life," Raphael said.

One of Bailey's goals is to increase communication among tribal members, something he heard was much-needed as he campaigned door-to-door.

Another top priority for Bailey is working on the band's financial situation during the country's tough economic times.

"We need to really look at our position economically to prepare us so we are taking care of not only now, but those future generations," he said, mentioning minors' and elders' trust funds as important resources.

Wednesday's election did not impact the three tribal councilors elected in May. Incumbents David Arroyo and Sandra Witherspoon and newcomer Brian Napont already assumed office.