2023 General Primary Election Candidates Answers Two Questions

By Ardith Van Riper

     The Hocak Worak requested all General Primary Election candidates provide answers to two questions.   Those questions and their answers are compiled here, grouped in the office they are running for and appear in alphabetical order by first name.  Not all candidates submitted answers.

     The voting takes place on Tuesday, March 7.  Polls open at 8:00 am and close at 7:00 pm.   Absentee ballots must be received before 7:00 pm on March 7.


Hinu Helgesen Smith

Why did you decide to run for office and why should enrolled members vote for you?

There are many reasons I decided to run for President of the Ho-Chunk Nation. The first reason is out of respect for the elders and veterans who asked me to.  And I’d like to thank them for thinking highly of me, sharing their wisdom with me, speak generously of me, and offering kind prayers for me.  We’ve witnessed major changes within the Nation in recent years that haven’t been good for the government or our people.  I want our people to be treated with respect regardless of their lineage or blood quantum.  I want our programs and departments to realize their full potential serving our people.  I want to bring the Nation back to the forefront at the tribal, state and federal levels, as we once were. 

I feel my vision for the Ho-Chunk Nation, experience in the Executive and Legislative Branches, connection to the community, passion for our people, and leadership style give me the ability to bring strength, endurance, and stability back to our Nation while progressing our Nation forward. 

What do you feel are the major issues of the Ho-Chunk Nation and how do you propose to address them?

Addiction issues – I will work to fully understand why there seem to be gaps in AODA and mental health services for our people and commit to finding ways to correct them.  Many of our struggles are national issues and not unique to our tribe alone or as simple as “just hire more staff.”  With a shortage of treatment beds, sober spaces, and providers, there are a multitude of issues that will require a multifaceted approach for which I will address.  One of the first orders of business will be working to create sober houses within our communities for our people returning from treatment. 

Funding shortages and budget cuts – I will work to create a fully staffed grants division and development division, to acquire outside funding, utilize regional, state, federal resources, receive technical assistance all to supplement budgets and maximize resources and services.

Lack of strong tribal economy – I will work toward creating economic development and diversification.  I plan to utilize the relationships I have created with various resources and agencies to bring opportunity to the Ho-Chunk Nation.  I will foster a relationship with the Legislative Branch as it will require the efforts of both branches working together, not work in opposition to or through cross branch over reach, to propel the Nation and our people toward economic freedom. 

Communication and collaboration – I will work toward fostering a strong relationship with other branches of government, particularly between the Executive Branch and Legislative Branch.  These two branches of government work together on a day to day basis on various levels of various issues to bring solutions forward and create opportunities.  Executive Branch requires the creation of or amendments to codes, ordinances, and new entities to fully address the needs of our Nation. 

I will work to have an open line of communication and a productive, outcome oriented relationship with other branches of government to advance the Nation and not stimy the functioning of our government or tie up valuable resources fighting.

Deteriorating infrastructure – I will work to protect, preserve, and rebuild our facilities, systems, and structures.  This requires collaboration with Legislative Branch to create and fund dedicated line items, amend the Tax Code, support Executive Branch seeking outside funding, support collaborations with other entities or tribes, support the utilization of New Market Tax Credits or other opportunity, if appropriate, and for Legislature to lobby Congress to extend Opportunity Zones timelines and geographical locations. 

This is not an exhaustive list of major issues.  

Website:  https://hinuhelgesensmith.com/         

Email: hinuhelgesensmith@gmail.com

Facebook: Vote Hinu Helgesen Smith for Ho-Chunk Nation President


Marlon White Eagle

Why did you decide to run for office and why should tribal members vote for you?

One of the main reasons I am running for re-election is to build off the momentum we established over the past four years.

Our administration has navigated us through a worldwide pandemic, COVID-19. That takes hours of focus, sound decision-making, and teamwork to make it all happen.

We’ve used this time to build our leadership skills, learn more about our tribal operations, and develop solutions to make us more successful as individual tribal members, and as a Nation.

We didn’t have the option to sit doing nothing. We performed and executed.

Now, as a Nation, we are at a level of efficiency with our accounting, infrastructure, and business practices.

We are financially minded, bring the Nation more grant dollars and relying less on our gaming revenue to fund our departments and programs. That frees up these discretionary funds to address our most important, tribal issues.

We have made our financial resources a priority, while investing in ourselves as a tribal government organization.

We want to see continued success with our Treasury Department’s InforLawson upgrades. Our Treasury team is executing a 3-year plan to implement increased services and capabilities.

We want to see continued success with our Administration Department’s broadband grants for planning and delivering high-speed internet to our tribal communities.

We want to see our rise and return as the preferred employer in the communities we operate in by continuing to offer the best employee benefits and competitive wages to all our employees.

To build on this progress, is important to provide consistency and continuity with our tribal members and employees by re-electing the WhiteEagle administration.

I vote for me is a vote for continued leadership to uphold our Constitution and laws in a manner tribal members want their sovereignty exercised.

I’ve held monthly presidential listening within our tribal communities and with our tribal employees to hear what issues they view as important. I will continue to provide avenues of communication for all interested stakeholders.

Tribal members should vote for me to continue to do the job they elected me to complete. Together we can build on all the success we’ve worked hard to accomplish.

Again, this provides consistent leadership and continuity with our tribal efforts for our tribal members and employees.

Whatever you plan to do on March 7, please participate in our tribal government by casting your vote.

What do you feel are major issues for the Ho-Chunk Nation and how do you process to address them?

One of the major issue we face as a Nation is lethargy and complacency when it comes to our individual and collective tribal identity, tribal government, and our place within the physical world.

We discount our importance when it comes to building our personal and collective, tribal identity. That is evident in our decreased participation in tribal elections and community functions.

We discount what are participation and involvement means for General Council branch’s ability to make policy and provide direction for how the other branches of government implement that policy. That is evident in our inability to reach quorum at our annual General Council meeting. It is also evident when we allow the legislative branch to subvert our Constitution policy implementation process for General Council resolutions.

That’s why I’ve created my campaign platform of the 4 E’s Principles: Encourage, Educate, Empower, and Endure.

We want to lift one another up to succeed, not put each other down as many do on social media.

How do we address the problem of lethargy and complacency within the Nation?

We Encourage opportunities to grow and advance.

We Educate all on our system of governance and culture.

We Empower our people to adapt and thrive.

We Endure the obstacles and journey ahead of us.

The Preamble to our tribal Constitution reads nothing about subvert our system of government through negativity, but promotes action and positivity.

There’s an element of misinformed and misguided people and practices. I have successfully directed our Nation anyway from this element.

Again, please make time to vote on March 7.

Thank you.

Rita Gardner

Why did you decide to run for office and why should enrolled members vote for you?

My decision to run for office was largely due to communication struggles between the Executive and Legislative branches.  Restoring communication is vital to moving the Nation forward.  Improved communications provide for better government and a more informed tribal membership.  

The General Council has not made quorum for the past two years. This has prevented us from knowing what is happening in major areas that affect our future growth.

Enrolled members should vote for me because I have the skills to lead the Nation. I have twenty-eight years of dedicated service to the Nation in critical positions. These positions include Executive Casino management, Finance Director in Treasury, and Enrollment Department Directorship. I also served two-terms as an Associate Supreme Court Justice. 

My experience has given me the following insights I believe will move the Nation forward. 

What do you feel are the major issues of the Ho-Chunk Nation and how do you propose to address them?

When the Wisconsin Winnebago Business Committee formed the government in 1963, it wanted housing, health care, better employment and educational opportunities for all tribal members.  We still face unmet needs in the areas of Housing and Employment.  And today, face major issues with Communication and Drugs.


I recognize the internal struggle that is keeping the Nation from moving forward and I want to fix it, not put up with it. 

My focus will be to improve communication using all sources of information. I will communicate openly with Elected Legislative officials.  And, will authorize my Executive Directors to communicate on matters requested by the Legislative branch.

Communication should not only be limited to the top officials. It must include tribal membership. I will have regular progress reports concerning the Executive branch.  I will have face to face community meetings and an open door policy. Improving communications within the government and with the tribal membership will develop a better informed membership and more accountable government. 


Building an efficient workforce is fundamental to the progress of the Nation.  Employees treated with compassion and respect will be more willing to excel in their job. 

Each department will identify the critical changes needed for efficient delivery of services or revenue generation. Included will be a review of post-pandemic employee trends such as In-Office or Work at home situations. 

A competitive wage analysis will be made to identify the industry standards for administrative, retail and gaming operations. This is necessary to build and maintain a stable workforce.  Offering competitive wages will encourage employee retention. 

We need to streamline the hiring process. For operational needs we need to fill vacant positions as quickly as possible.  This will avoid a lapse in services and keep the workforce productive.

Employee morale is a vital component to building an efficient workforce. Making time to listen to employees' concerns through an open door policy will open up much needed communications on all levels of the workforce. Implementing weekly employee meetings to keep them apprised of changes, events or project planning will demonstrate positive Executive Director leadership.

I will put into practice programs to incentivize employee accomplishments. Such programs may include intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.  Also, employee self care will be encouraged to prevent over-worked and burnt out employees. 


To meet the Housing needs of the Nation it will be necessary to direct resources to existing vacant homes first.  At the same time we must identify what type of housing is needed, and where it should be located. 

We need to renovate vacant existing homes a lot faster to allow for quicker occupancy. To do this I will review and revise current Housing policies to make this process more efficient. I will also review the probate processes and make recommendations for changes to allow for quicker occupancy of heirship properties.

We must understand where single-family and multi-family residences are needed and direct our efforts to filling those needs. Housing should be made available for both families and single adults. Recent high construction costs have left many vacant lots open in the Nation. We need to develop a housing plan that encourages the Housing Department and HHCDA to work together in a complementary manner. We need to make the best use of each program's resources.

Doing these things will greatly serve the tribal membership and alleviate the housing shortage we are currently experiencing.

Drug Epidemic

In 2014, the Legislature passed resolution 10-21-14JJ, Declaration of State of Emergency for HCN Communities, Families and Children related to AODA issues. The AODA/drug issues continue to be a major problem for the Nation. In fact it has become a deadly problem. It is my intent to place Behavioral Health in the forefront of this issue to provide responsive counseling. 

We need to recognize the underlying causes of drug use are frequently responses to intergenerational trauma and physical abuse. Effective counseling strategies to address these issues are imperative to the healing process and will be promoted. We need an effective crisis hotline that will be monitored 24/7 to provide immediate services when a member reaches out. 

The needs associated with the AODA/Drug problem in our communities are great.  A Tribal Action Plan needs to be put in place to address the needs of active users wanting to recover. Aftercare and reentry programs need to be provided for recovering members. In order to combat this issue, a Tribal Action Plan needs to receive the full support of all branches of the government. We can no longer sit idle.

These are what I believe to be major issues affecting the health, safety and welfare of tribal members.  Feel free to reach out to ask me any questions.


Robert J. Mann

Why did you decide to run for office and why should enrolled members vote for you?

My family and other relatives, said I have proven my leadership qualities and with my work experience in the judicial system helping tribal members with substance abuse shows how much I care about our people. They also know that my cultural knowledge with help bring peace and harmony back to our people.

What do you feel are the major issues of the Ho-Chunk Nation and how do you propose to address them?

There are many issues we are facing today I will name a few; 1) inter-governmental collaboration, 2) alcohol and drug addiction issues, and 3) the hiring & selection process. To address these and other issues I will have a 4 year plan. It will be the responsibility for each executive director to identify problems, concerns and recommendations. These recommendations will come with a timeline to accomplish these goals. I as President will address these recommendations with the Legislative branch. Through collaborative efforts we will work together to resolve these issues & concerns.

Ryan John Crain, Sr.

Why did you decide to run for office and why should enrolled members vote for you?

My goal in life is to make the world a better place. Becoming President of the Ho-Chunk Nation gives me a huge opportunity to make our world a better place.

People should vote for me because, I care! I want the best for our people and I’m willing to do the work to make it happen. My degree is in business management and that will allow me to hit the ground running. I’m getting my master's degree in servant leadership. Making ethical decisions and looking out for the health, wellbeing, and development of others is my calling.

What do you feel are the major issues of the Ho-Chunk Nation and how do you propose to address them?

Work culture needs to be improved- I will promote positive change through training and programs that develop our current and future staff. Communicating our purpose and getting everyone to buy in will set a strong foundation. 

Budget issues- Develop Grants Department that will bring in $100,000,000 additional dollars my first year. This will allow for more NPD dollars to be invested in expanding our businesses. The new department will allow tribal members to have access to more resources.

Resources are not evenly distributed- The executive branch will create a one-stop-shop for all tribal members to access resources. Improved communication will allow us to make sure every tribal member knows what is available to them.

No diversification in our business- Take control of our supply chain. This will keep more of our money in our communities. We must expand business now to secure our future. I will work with the legislative branch to create a business that can operate at the speed of business and not at the speed of government.



District 1, Seat 2

Amanda R. De Cora

Why did you decide to run for office and why should enrolled members vote for you?

I decided to run because my Cooka Derek asked me when I was going to run for office.  I had never considered it prior to him asking.  I decided to go for it as a way of giving back for all of the opportunities I enjoyed as an enrolled tribal member.  I attended several UNITY conferences as a youth, I participated in the youth worker program, and most importantly, I attended college and receive my Bachelors of Science from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse thanks to the scholarship I received through the Ho-Chunk Nation Education Department.  Those opportunities along with being raised witnessing so many smart, driven tribal members represent our Nation in a respectable way, inspire me every day to give back to the nation in my current role in the Treasury department, as well as inspiring me to serve in any way that can help the tribe as a whole move forward.

Tribal members should vote for me because of my excellent work ethic, my professionalism, and my ability to work through conflict.  I always show up prepared to get things done and I believe in researching issues to the greatest extent possible.  I try to understand multiple sides of every issue and seek out those who have firsthand knowledge that can lead me to a better understanding.

What do you feel are the major issues of the Ho-Chunk Nation and how do you propose to address them?

One major issue I have seen affecting tribal operations has the employee shortage in our front line customer service positions.  We cannot provide consistent, top-notch service to our customers without enough employees. Without good customer service, we lose repeat customers.  I propose a temporary amendment to the Employment Relations Act to provide a weekly perfect attendance bonus for employees in our gaming facilities to last until our wages can be brought up to competitive levels.

Another issue affecting the nation is the Opioid epidemic.  I believe we need a renewed push for a culturally relevant treatment center and prevention programs for our youth.  Helping our people overcome this epidemic would be the ultimate act of loving one another.


Ashley Gerdes

Why did you decide to run for office and why should enrolled members vote for you?

I decided to run for District 1 Legislator because I am determined to help move the Nation forward. I have worked in the Legislative Office for the past seven years, in various capacities. As such, I have the skill set to successfully meet the demands and duties of a Ho-Chunk Nation Legislator. I am knowledgeable, hardworking and I am committed to working for my People.

Enrolled members should vote for me because I will work hard and represent them. I will be there for all Ho-Chunk members, listen to their concerns, and advocate for them. I will work collaboratively with all branches of government. I consider myself a servant leader, and will work to serve others rather than myself.

What do you feel are the major issues of the Ho-Chunk Nation and how do you propose to address them?

We are over reliant on casino revenues and economic diversification will greatly improve the long-term financial health of the Ho-Chunk Nation. In time, diversification would ultimately benefit the Ho-Chunk membership through the General Welfare and other services provided. Further, because the Legislature holds the power to acquire and purchase land for the benefit of the Nation and its members, it is important we do so, then place the land into trust with the federal government. That land could be used for future Ho-Chunk Nation businesses.

In my career at the Nation, I have witnessed that the Nation is far behind regarding technology. We must move the Nation forward by integrating new technologies and modernizing our processes.  By amending the Technology Resources Act or creating a new law, the Nation can be paperless and more efficient for our members and our customers. These modernizations will reduce the Nation’s carbon footprint, promote sustainability, and help preserve Grandmother Earth for generations to come.  I believe that it imperative we embrace new technologies and new ideas.  There is no reason that the 21st Century cannot be the Ho-Chunk People’s most prosperous yet.

If you have any questions, please reach out to me at ElectAshleyGerdes@gmail.com, or visit my Facebook page: Ashley Gerdes for Ho-Chunk Nation District 1 Legislator, Seat 2. Thank you for your kind attention.


Rodney Rave

Why did you decide to run for office and why should enrolled members vote for you?

I recently retired after 30 years in construction, during that time I felt as though I only took from the Nation. Becoming a legislator I felt it would be a way for me to give back, one way would be to help the legislative and executive branches work together for the greater of the nation, and second, this isn't just a job for me or a stepping stone for anything else. I want to be here for District 1, to be their voice, and to move the Nation forward.

What do you feel are the major issues of the Ho-Chunk Nation and how do you propose to address them?

I feel the major issue with the Nation currently is the divisions the government has. We should be working together for the common goal of moving the Nation forward and the health of our people and businesses. With a goal of working together we can prosper.

District 2, Seat 1

Gabrielle Rave

Why did you decide to run for office and why should enrolled members vote for you?

I decided to run for office because I’ve been asking myself how I can give back to my community after I received my bachelor’s degree. I am motivated by social justice to improve our communities. My passion for community care would ensure that no one gets left out.

What do you feel are the major issues of the Ho-Chunk Nation and how do you propose to address them?

My current duties with Hostopi Hoci has made me realize that we need to move from criminalization to supportive services, healing, and more sober living spaces.

Youth and young adults need more support. We have to start making our resources more accessible to them such as making sure that they are getting enough support from youth services programs.

Some of our facilities are going without necessary renovations and upkeep. We need to maintain or upgrade and improve infrastructure of the Nation’s current facilities.


Heath Littlejohn

Nasanehiiga “He who makes the tree white by scratching off the bark”

Bear Clan

Why did you decide to run for office and why should enrolled members vote for you?

My decision to run for Legislator was thought out very carefully with the idea of the Nation reaching its full potential. To end the Status Quo and infuse innovative ideas while still encompassing our Ho-Chunk Way of Life.  The enrolled members should vote for this candidate, yours truly, that has the future and foresight of the ENTIRE NATION while still procuring for area communities.  My plans include helping secure that future with opportunities available for all members of this Great Ho-Chunk Nation.  I have always had plans and thoughts to make our Nation one of the foremost Fortune 500 Companies in the Midwest.  That reality can be here and if that happens our members will benefit greatly, in many ways, because of that.  Future generations will have our legacy to build from.  Elders can live comfortably.  Membership will enjoy another renaissance of substantial livelihood.  Veterans will have the support to lead an improved lifestyle.  Voting for Heath is voting for the future.

Today’s Progress is Tomorrow’s Future!

What do you feel are the major issues of the Ho-Chunk Nation and how do you propose to address them?

The major issues surrounding the Nation are different from district to district, community to community, and village to village.  Each have their own issues they would like addressed.  I do plan to address each of those areas and help those communities help themselves and sustain that assistance as best I can with what resources that are available.  But the main problem we face right now is communication.  Communication with different branches of this government.  Communication amongst leadership in their respective roles.  And mostly communication of leadership with the community members themselves.  That is easily rectified by talking and listening to the Tribal members.  Communication is a two-way street that will benefit both parties when used correctly.  Right now, we’re not moving forward in any sense of the word.  Were treading water and not doing anything,  Lets at least go in a direction instead of staying in one place.  And just know that if the direction we go in is not helping it is never too late to try a different direction.

 I thank you for taking the time to read this.  I look forward to speaking with most of you in the coming weeks, months, and years.  And most of all, thank you for your belief in my determination to move us forward.

 Vote Heath Littlejohn March 7th.


 District 3, Seat 1

No responses.

District 4, Seat 2

No responses.


Supreme Court Associate Justice 2

No responses.

Trial Court Chief Judge

No responses.

Trial Court Associate Judge 1

No responses.

Trial Court Associate Judge 2

No responses.