By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
A resolution (Res. No. 47 – 2015) seeking Tribal Council to waive sovereign immunity in the pay raise lawsuit filed by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for Justice & Accountability was killed during Annual Council on Thursday, Oct. 29. The legislation, submitted by EBCI tribal members Becky Walker and Peggy Hill, asked that “Tribal Council waive sovereign immunity in the case of Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for Justice & Accountability v. Henry et. Al., Case No. CV 15-475 (filed October 6, 2015), which challenges Resolution Number 261, passed by the Tribal Council on October 14, 2014.”
Voting to pass Res. No. 47 were Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, Vice Chairman Brandon Jones and Wolfetown Rep. Bo Crowe. Voting against were Yellowhill Rep. B. Ensley, Chairman Bill Taylor and Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha. Four abstained including Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith, Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose, Painttown Rep. Marie Junaluska and Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke. Big Cove Rep. Richard French was absent when the vote was taken.
“There has been a black cloud hanging over our community since last October,” said Walker who explained that the lawsuit was filed because they “had exhausted every recourse that we had in these Chambers…all that we’re asking for is a Declaratory Judgment. We’re not asking for a settlement from the Tribe.”
She added, “This thing that happened last October wouldn’t have been acceptable 500 years ago, and it shouldn’t be acceptable now.”
Hannah Smith, EBCI attorney general, cautioned Tribal Council representatives named in the lawsuit from talking on the issue. She did say that the resolution would be better if it were put into a law that would cover all EBCI tribal members and not just one particular case. “We pass laws that are even and just and applied equally to everyone.”
Hill referenced the law relating to immunity for the Tribal Council and stated, “Your law is prohibiting us. If you don’t give this waiver, you’re impeding our right under the Indian Bill of Rights.”
Rep. McCoy commented, “I will waive immunity for our tribal members to sue us. All we have to do is follow the law.”
She made a motion to pass the legislation and said, “I think sometimes if government gets sued, then maybe government will start following the law.”
Rep. Smith questioned the need for the legislation and referenced comments made by former Chairwoman Terri Henry who told the group they could file a lawsuit on the issue if they chose to do so. “If you take Madame Chair’s point from that day, you don’t need this. From what I read, you can take it to court.”
Rep. McCoy noted, “If the court rules that the waiver of immunity never occurred, then the case just goes away.”
She then said that she never signed a conversion sheet, but received her raise anyways. Anytime a tribal employee or tribal leader receives a pay raise or change in their pay status, they must sign a conversion sheet.
“I am formally requesting that the Executive Office do a full-blown investigation into what happened,” Rep. McCoy said of how Council representatives received their raises without signing a conversion sheet. She also asked, “Who signed mine? I’d like to know.”