CTUIR Election Commission Vice Chair Michelle Thompson, left, and member Jeff van Pelt, right, check in voters and ensure the election runs smoothly at the Nixyaawii Governance Center during the final hours of the Board of Trustees and General Council elections on November 14, 2023. PHOTO BY CHRIS AADLAND

CTUIR members vote in 6 new leaders



MISSION, Ore. – The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) will be led by several new leaders after voters on Tuesday chose six incumbents and six challengers to make up the tribe’s Board of Trustees and General Council.

The turnover was similar to the 2019 election, while the previous one in 2021 resulted in most incumbents retaining their seats.

In a rematch of the previous two elections, Gary Burke – who has previously served in the role over two different stints – defeated N. Kathryn “Kat” Brigham in the closest race of the election to become the next BOT Chair, with 371 votes to Brigham’s 338. Brigham defeated Burke in 2019.

Brigham wished the new Board well and said she hoped members build on the work started under her tenure. She said the BOT had “so many things going on” and is disappointed she won’t get to continue that work or participate as the region’s representative to a Department of Interior tribal advisory committee.

“I’m disappointed, but at the same time, I guess it happened for a reason,” Brigham said.

Aaron Ashley will remain the BOT Vice Chair after beating challenger Kola Thompson with about 61.5% of the votes, while CTUIR members chose to replace incumbents Sally Kosey and Sandra Sampson with Roberta Wilson as BOT Secretary, and Raymond Huesties as Treasurer.

Additionally, Alan J. Crawford is set to become the next General Council Chair, fending off a write-in campaign challenge from Boots Pond, current BOT Member-at-Large who had intended to run for that position again but was kept off the ballot because he incorrectly filled out candidate paperwork. Current General Council Chair Lindsey X. Watchman didn’t run for re-election.

BOT Member-at-Large incumbents Corinne Sams, Lisa Ganuelas and Toby Patrick will be joined by newcomer Steven Hart to fill out the rest of the CTUIR’s policymaking body.

In an emailed statement, Sams said she was honored to have been re-elected and grateful for the support of those who voted for her in addition to being appreciative of other CTUIR tribal members who participated in the election and “exercised our constitutional duty to elect our leadership.” She also thanked the Election Commission for its work and outgoing BOT members for their contributions, saying she is confident that they “will all continue to contribute and support our tribal government in other capacities.”

“I have total confidence in the newly elected members to fulfill their roles and responsibilities,” Sams said in the statement. “We have a variety of new and seasoned individuals, all with unique and gifted skill sets. I am excited to collectively continue to create policy that is equitable and serves all our membership in a sovereign, and holistic way.”

In addition, voters retained Michael Johnson as General Council Vice Chairman in an unopposed race, and Thomas Morning Owl as its interpreter in a write-in victory over Fred Hill. Martina Gordon will replace incumbent GC Secretary Shawna Gavin, who unsuccessfully ran for a BOT seat, in another write-in candidate victory.

Tuesday’s election brought in voters – spanning tribal citizens who always vote in tribal elections to younger members who were voting for the first time – from across the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the surrounding area, and even from more distant places, like Portland.

Of the more than 2,400 eligible voters, 744 tribal members voted, either in-person throughout the day at the Nixyáawii Governance Center – where they were offered refreshments and a meal afterwards – or via an absentee ballot.

The turnout was similar to the last election, said Election Commission Vice-Chair Michelle Thompson.

One of those voters was 21-year-old Dakota Sams, who said he was voting in his first election.

Sams, who is currently attending Portland Community College, said he was voting because he had two family members on the ballot – but also because he is paying more attention to tribal affairs and wants to see elected officials be responsible with, and transparent about, how they spend tribal funds so all tribal members can prosper.

“I’ve gotten a lot more into Native politics, what’s going on around my community more,” he said. “Just wanted to show my support, most of all.”

Another voter on Tuesday, Jeanine Gordon, said she never misses voting in an election and looks for candidates dedicated to relying on, and protecting, the tribe’s treaty, constitution, and bylaws for guidance and “who are there to make progress and get the right things done.” She also said she uses candidates views on natural resource issues, like protecting water resources and rights, as a guide in choosing who to vote for.

While she didn’t say who she voted for, she said she was confident that the candidates she voted for met her requirements.  

“What I look for, and why I vote, is to vote for the candidates who I see as relationship builders and communicators,” Gordon said.

The unofficial results were announced at about 12 a.m. on Wednesday morning after tallying the votes, and have since become official, Thompson said.

Those elected will officially take office after a swearing-in ceremony Nov. 29 in a 9 a.m. ceremony at the Nixyáawii Governance Center.

The CUJ will update this story as it receives more comments and reactions from candidates.

Following are the unofficial election results showing the number of votes received. The winners are identified with an asterisk, in bold. The certified results will be completed in accordance with the Election Code.

Board of Trustees Chair        

*Gary I. Burke                        371

N. Kathryn Brigham                338

Board of Trustees Vice Chair

*Aaron Ashley                       438

Kola Thompson                       274

Board of Trustees Treasurer

*Raymond Huesties              404

Sandra Sampson                    325

Board of Trustees Secretary

*Roberta J. Wilson                368

Sally Kosey                             329

Board of Trustees Members At Large

*Toby Patrick                         496

*Steven Hart                         362

*Corinne Sams                      326

*Lisa Ganuelas                      319

Matthew Farrow Jr.                 290

Linda A. Sampson                  229

Shawna Gavin                         207

David Wolf Jr.                         195

Cami Lewis                             142

Victor Bates                            141

Jesse Bevis Sr.                       108

General Council Chair

*Alan Crawford                     395

Boots Pond (Write-In)             254                 

General Council Vice Chair

*Michael R. Johnson             633

General Council Secretary

*Martina Gordon (Write-In)  125

Shawna Gavin (Write-In)        44

General Council Interpreter

*Thomas Morning Owl (WI) 177

Fred Hill Sr. (Write-In)             65