Canaan Duncan secures tribal council seat
Cherokee Nation District 7 candidate Canaan Duncan hugs his wife, Keeli, and daughter, Kayni, 4, in the election commission parking lot after learning he won the Jan. 5 special election. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH — With backing from nearly 66 percent of District 7 voters, the Cherokee Nation’s newest and youngest tribal councilor was elected Jan. 5.
“I’m relieved and ecstatic right now,” Canaan Duncan said after the special election votes were posted. “It’s a big percentage, and I’m proud of it. I’m proud of my campaign, the race I ran. I’m excited to get in there and serve the people.”
According to the CN Election Commission’s uncertified tally, Duncan, 28, won the vacant, Adair County-based seat with 573 votes against challengers Robert Eagle (185 votes) and Frankie Lee Duncan (113 votes). Second-place finisher Eagle said he joined the race because, “I think we can do better.”
“To me, the Adair County people need better representation,” Eagle said. “We just need more. We’re not getting enough help around here.”
Frankie Hargis previously represented District 7, which includes Stilwell and other western portions of Adair County. A tribal councilor since 2011, Hargis was appointed the Cherokee Nation’s new registrar in November, replacing a retiring Linda O’Leary.
The District 7 term expires Aug. 14, 2021.
“I do think more focus could be given to Adair County to give them everything they need to be successful,” the successful Duncan said. “All Cherokees deserve the best.”
A Stilwell native and former CN government relations employee, Duncan said he “always kind of aspired to run for tribal office of some sort.”
“I’ve been working kind of in that realm for five years,” he said. “I feel like I can do a good job. I just felt like the time is right.”
He plans to address health care while championing employment opportunities in Adair County.
“We need jobs,” he said. “There are just a handful of good places to work.”
Concerning health care needs in his district, Duncan suggested “maybe a wellness center of some sort.”
“I’d like for the tribe to come in and do something for the Cherokees there,” he said.
Prior to Duncan’s election win, legal efforts were made to disqualify him from the race.
“I kind of expected it somewhat,” Duncan said. “I tried to take them like I do everything in life, and that’s to be graceful in all that I do, be true to who I am and try to do the right thing.”
Two Cherokee citizens claimed Duncan should have been disqualified because he violated tribe law by campaigning while still an employee of the nation’s secretary of state office.
According to CN law, tribal employees and employees of CN majority-owned entities must resign before filing for an elective position. Duncan resigned from the nation one day before he filed, according to his attorney, Curtis Bruehl.
The petitioners, CN citizens Robin Mayes and Tim Houseberg, argued that Duncan became a candidate before resigning because he met the $1,000 fundraising minimum that makes a person a candidate, according to a 2016 amendment to the election law.
The election commission indicated it found no constitutional provision or legislative enactment that prohibits a CN employee from becoming a candidate and campaigning for elective office while being an employee other than the provision stating an employee must resign before filing.
The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court later upheld the commission’s ruling.
According to CN officials, Duncan, at 28 years old, is the second youngest tribal councilor in modern history.
“We need younger people like him to step up and take leadership roles,” Duncan supporter Tommy Wildcat said. “That’s what we always talk about, for our younger people to get active and be involved.”
In 2014, Duncan was part of the annual iON Oklahoma 30/30 Next Gen class recognizing Oklahomans under 30 years old “who demonstrate talent, drive and service to their communities.”
Duncan is married and has a 4-year-old daughter. He is scheduled to be sworn in later this month, then attend his first council meeting in February.
The Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction is divided into 15 districts with one representative from each, along with a pair of at-large seats.
Votes cast in the Jan. 5 special election will be certified Jan. 11, according to CN officials. VOTING BREAKDOWN Absentees
Canaan Duncan, 368
Frankie Lee Duncan, 14
Robert Eagle, 14 Early vote
Canaan Duncan, 12
Frankie Lee Duncan, 7
Robert Eagle, 5 Cave Springs precinct
Canaan Duncan, 20
Frankie Lee Duncan, 14
Robert Eagle, 19 Stilwell precinct
Canaan Duncan, 141
Frankie Lee Duncan, 68
Robert Eagle, 108 Chewey precinct
Canaan Duncan, 2
Frankie Lee Duncan, 0
Robert Eagle, 14 Westville precinct
Canaan Duncan, 30
Frankie Lee Duncan, 10
Robert Eagle, 25