It takes courage to admit to a serious mistake or a personal lapse, especially when the nature of the situation may call for a public mea culpa.
That’s what happened earlier this week when Todd Hembree, attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, asked for and was granted a leave of absence from his duties.
Hembree and Principal Chief Bill John Baker could have arranged the leave with no public comment, or by citing “personal reasons,” and only those involved in the situation would have known the details for certain. Instead, they chose to be forthright in their admission that Hembree will be seeking treatment for alcohol dependence.
They also elected to make a candid comparison, with Hembree saying in a letter to Baker, “...alcoholism has been the scourge of Indian Country for generations, and no one – regardless of education, position or faith – is immune.”
He’s got that right – and, it should be added, the scourge is just as likely to afflict those outside of Indian Country. Addictions wreak havoc on businesses and institutions, and they damage families and relationships with co-workers and friends. One only needs to sit through a few court cases to see the evidence.
The reason for the high-profile announcement from the Cherokee Nation could be related to incidents at the tribal complex. Baker said Hembree’s problem has had an effect on tribal employees, and the chief also asked CN Marshal Shannon Buhl to investigate the matter. In that case, it was smart of the administration to get out in front of the issue before it escalated.
Public reaction to Hembree’s announcement has thus far been positive, with many folks offering him their best wishes for a speedy recovery. Had the administration tried to keep a lid on the situation, sentiments might have lined up quite differently.
Baker was wise to point out that while decisions and actions conducted behind the sheen of alcoholism cannot be tolerated in his administration, compassion, support and forgiveness should also be part of the equation.
It would also be a good idea to use this as a teaching moment for others who may be walking along the same path. The seriousness of this issue cannot be diminshed.
We, like everyone else, wish Hembree the best, and we join the tribal administration is asking for support and healing for his family. At the same time, we also hope for the same healing for anyone who might have been harmed before this problem fell into the spotlight.