By PRINCIPAL CHIEF PATRICK LAMBERT
Hello everyone! I hope your summer has been a good one so far.
The month of July has been incredibly successful. Over the past month, we have continued the serious work of making Tribal Government work for Cherokee families. Our agenda for the month included continuing economic diversification plans, strengthening tribal sovereignty through self-determination, and re-structuring our organization to gain more accountability and productivity.
The goal of all of this work is to ensure that we leave a Tribe that is stronger for future generations. The goal is to have a Tribal Government that spends its time and resources on the most important people of all – Cherokee families. And to ensure that we have an economy that is ready to compete with the potential for Georgia gaming by strengthening and diversifying our economy and bringing some real shopping amenities to our town with increased casino amenities such as the bowling center and a new hotel tower and convention center with capabilities of large sanctioned sporting events.
While I remain optimistic about our Tribe’s future, I do believe you deserve to know of some of the challenges that we continue to face. As someone who stays in contact with many people every day, there does seem to be a thread of hostility from the folks of the prior administration towards our plans for making Tribal Government more accountable. While I hear and understand their discontent, the reality is that the days of government unaccountability, aimless drift, and fear tactics are over. As long as I am Principal Chief, I refuse a return to the days of shutting out average people from their government. As long as I hold this seat, we will not be a government that spends massively on luxury travel, spends countless hours on political schemes of who’s up and who’s down, nor will we return to raiding the Tribal treasury while working Cherokee families struggle to make ends meet. Those long days of political darkness are behind us and I refuse to let them take us back to that place.
Just 10 months into my new administration, there are those seeking to divide us. They are preying on some of your elected leaders, and in a bonehead or two, they are finding a friend. Driving division, creating false intent, and overall havoc is their goal. My opinion on the matter? Your elected leaders are supposed to work for you, listen to you, and advance the overall goals of your community – not take marching orders from old, washed up, former politicians. I have come to realize that there are still many negative forces from the prior administration who want to see us fail and will go to any lengths to try and undermine our good works. Works that include: pushing us forward to develop an economy that is not stagnant and is once again vibrant and modern; and ferreting out corruption, greed, abuse and theft of resources.
More than ever before, I am progressing an agenda that ensures that all Tribal employees are giving their fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. By this, we will be installing time clocks in the next week or so to ensure that while you pull your eight hours, that your colleagues also pull their full eight hours too. I so firmly believe in this that I am installing a timeclock for myself, the executive staff, and secretaries too. I will never ask you to do anything I won’t do myself.
I believe in this Tribe. My goal since taking office is to make this place the model it once was in Indian Country again. A time when Indian leaders looked towards the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians as the model for success. We still have that shine to us, we just have to brush it off and clean it up a bit. That success, and the success of our children stems from God’s divine favor, our Tribal employees unwavering determination to help our people, and leadership that recognizes that we can’t run from the problems that face us – rather we have to face them. I’m going to continue to fight for your future. I’m putting every bit of my might, education, and experience into your future and I won’t stop now. Everywhere I go people tell me they are proud of the job we have been doing and ask that we not let up and to keep working for the people and Cherokee Families. You are what keeps me going everyday – you and your prayers. Thank you for all the positive support!
I approach each day with a renewed vigor to do the right thing and I ask God every day for the guidance, wisdom, strength and patience to do those things that will work to most advance His plan. Thank you and God Bless the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
The following is a report for my activities during the month of July:
4th of July!!! A 4-day weekend to spend with your family!
Had a personnel policy work session with Tribal Council and also several staff meetings with Secretaries. Later in the afternoon I meet with some folks on farming matters for our local communities. I also had a chance to meet and visit with Mr. Hartwell Frances who has been a big help in our recent language protection and revitalization efforts. I drafted and sent a letter to WCU on his behalf for the work he has performed and our desire to keep him on board.
Tribal Council today. I also met with the Tribal Historic staff and have ordered a Phase II Archeological study to begin soon on the large parking lot in the lower casino parking lot. This is where we plan to develop an outlet mall shopping area but we must first secure and protect any cultural and historical artifacts that may be there. This work will begin following our work on the old elementary school site.
Today, I held several meetings on a number of different topics. We discussed the start of the new minor’s per capita staggered payments, and I also held a meeting on developing a new plan for our recreation department. I had a lunch meeting with the Harrah’s and Corporate management of the Casino, Council leadership, TCGE board and the Vice Chief and myself. We have a very serious issue pertaining to how much Harrah’s wants to attempt to charge our Tribe for enterprise shared services from their corporate office. Some people want to agree to pay them whatever they want to ask for, but I have argued that we do not owe them for certain services because it is a matter of contractual rights. I, for one, will argue on behalf of our Tribe!
Budget Hearings were scheduled for this entire week but it seems someone had other ideas, so I readjusted my schedule and got to work on other matters. I held a Secretaries meeting in the afternoon and also a Project Development Working Group meeting to pursue our efforts to bring economic diversification projects to fruition.
Had a Business Committee meeting this morning and it was discussed for the Tribe to cancel the lease on the old TeePee restaurant that was given to the Chamber of Commerce and Forrest Parker last year for only $1 per year. I support cancellation because the “Fly Fishing” museum is seldom, if ever, used and does not bring one red cent into the Tribe. I heard an idea expressed that we should find someone to turn it back into a restaurant and then we could at least make some tribal levy and lease off of it. Someone even suggested to attract a Chipotle’s restaurant. Let your voice be heard on this matter if you would like to see it be a productive property for the Tribe again.
Later in the day, we held the first ever “Summer Splash” sponsored by the Principal Chief’s office. It was a fun time for family and gave the kids a chance to enjoy summer time with water activities galore. We had a great turn out (well over 600) and we had many volunteers to help. I appreciate everyone that came out for this event and to all those that donated their time and energy to make this event a success. Next year we will make it even bigger and better!
Today was the groundbreaking for the new treatment center in Snowbird. It was very well attended with several speakers, many hospital employees, some council members and it was a proud moment to be able to show support for this well-needed center. A special note of appreciation goes to Tommye Saunooke who originally submitted legislation for a treatment center to be built many years ago.
Today was the Senior Celebration held at the event center at the Casino. There were over 300 people in attendance and it was an honor to speak to the crowd and show my support for our seniors and I will continue to do so. I am planning a special event for our Seniors and plan to have several groups for gospel singing to come for entertainment. I am still deciding if we have a lunch time gathering or an evening gathering. More details will be coming soon.
Today, Cyndi and I attended the pre-K graduation for the Kituwah Academy students. I have to tell you this was probably one of the best graduations we’ve been to. It was so heartwarming and exciting for the future of our Tribe and to see how many young kids are learning our Cherokee language and will be able to carry on one of the very important cultural aspects that makes us who we are. I was very proud to be a part of that and to hear that the theme was “I can be Chief too”. We were able to listen to all of their platforms and they were spoken in Cherokee, it was a very proud moment to watch. It was perhaps the best and most enjoyable hours I’ve spent since being in office. Thank you for the invitation.
This day I traveled to Baltimore for a quick meeting with David Cordish from the Cordish Company so I could follow up on plans to bring him in to help our Tribe with future development projects.
The meeting with Cordish went very well and I am hopeful that we can find the way to move this project forward. Their company is experts in developing very successful outlet malls and I firmly believe this type of development would be a huge success for us here. Also on this same day the Planning Board met and unanimously approved for us to move forward on 5 different projects that we have been working on; the new Convention & Hotel Center, the new retail complex, the new water adventure park, the plans for downtown revitalization and the addition for new amenities to be added to the Murphy Casino property. A resolution will be submitted for Tribal Council for authority to move forward with planning and financing.
Today was another important accomplishment for our Tribe and all our members. We held a ground breaking for our new Bowling Center that will be located at the casino. This entire project will be paid with savings and will be 100 percent debt free when it opens. It’s very exciting for our Tribe and my administration to work toward progress and help our future be more productive by bringing diversification in all ways possible. Thank you to all our Seniors and to the senior game participants who have helped push this idea to become a reality.
Today, I met with our Commerce Department, Tribal Construction Director and Facilities Manager to develop a plan to properly protect and sustain the old high school building. That building is a super structure and has been neglected and left to vandals. I plan to put real efforts into cleaning it up and utilizing it. We are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to keep it heated and cooled yet not the first person uses it. Just as Council and others have suggested, I will make the space available and work to make it a one-stop-shop for our members dealing with tribal programs. Utilizing this building will save us huge amounts of money in duplicated efforts, maintenance, and man hours.
Today, we also held several meetings dealing with legal matters for the Tribe and efforts to protect us.
Today, I had meetings on Police Commission matters, Internal Audits and Forensic Audit matters, Department of Agriculture discussion and several financial statement reviews. Later in the afternoon, I had discussions on the emerging financial threats to our Tribe from competition. I am developing a stronger response and a much broader team to protect our interests. We owe it to our entire Tribe to do everything within our power to guard our Tribe and its market.
Early today I met with various lobbyists and discussed efforts to guard our interests in Washington and Raleigh. I also held meetings regarding our technology, communications and potential new data center under discussion with some Council members.
And upon a somber note… Today was a very sad day for me and my family on a personal level. We attended the funeral of someone that became very important to me at the start of my legal career – Ben Bridgers. He was a towering intellect and had an undying love for our Tribe. He wrote many books and a few about our Tribe. He was/is the main reason we even have a shot at getting the land placed into trust for our Tribe from the TVA. He was the attorney who fought the TVA for us in the 1970’s when they wanted to flood many of our original towns and burial grounds with the Tellico river. He worked for our Tribe for 20+ years and helped us in the early days to get the Compact with North Carolina for our Casino. He was a great lawyer, but he was an even better friend and family man. He leaves behind a beautiful family and a great legacy of work. What a friend he was to our Tribe and to me personally. I will miss him.
Today was a day for staff meetings and Secretary meetings. I attended a funeral at Crisp Funeral home at noon. Later in the afternoon at 2pm, I held a Project Development Working Group meeting to evaluate our progress and discuss next steps. I also held a meeting a 4pm to discuss grants and deadlines.
This morning was a Business Committee meeting. At that meeting we discussed approving a contract to build four new homes in the Birdtown Community, however the Birdtown representative sitting on the committee would not support the contract so it died and those homes are lost. This made the second time he has opposed those homes getting built so I have instructed the finance and housing teams to withdraw that funding and we will redirect it to other uses. All I can figure is because he hasn’t yet figured a way for himself to get the credit for them being built. It’s a shame at the games played sometimes for pure political reasons when, in the end, we have four families who will still be without a home.
Had some constituent meetings this morning and later had a lunch meeting with the Regional President of Caesars to further discuss the allocations that I mentioned earlier.
Held discussions on the Great Smoky Mountains and the recent rules passed into law that authorizes gathering in the National Parks after negotiating an agreement with the local park officials. I also held a meeting with our Education Department to discuss new policy procedures to help our young adults attend and be successful in college. Later in the morning, I held meetings ranging from cell phone towers to lobbying efforts in DC and Raleigh.
In the afternoon I dropped in on our 3rd monthly Bingo games for our Seniors at the Ceremonial grounds. A lot of good prizes are won at every game! Then I held a Bill signing ceremony to ratify and sign two very important laws: The new Ethics law for Tribal Officials and Usdi’s Law for 30 days paid maternity leave for our Tribal employees! Mr. Bo Crowe on the Ethics Law and Ms. Teresa McCoy on the Maternity Leave Law deserve full attention and appreciation for sponsoring these laws.
Received a full briefing on the status of the 638 Contract with BIA for the Realty portions. The current status of our land records is in complete disarray. Over the years the protection of our individual tribal members land records has been completely neglected by the BIA and now over the past few years they are simply turning a blind eye at the mess and shambles they created and it is left up to us to fix. But fix it we must and in order to do so we need to enter a 638 Contract and make them pay for the clean-up and development of the system to protect everyone’s land records. We are already well underway in this effort and things will ultimately get better. During this process I have stated publicly that all the current BIA employees will have the option to come over and be a Tribal employee or stay on as a BIA employee under an IPA. We must get our land recording system fixed! This is imperative for our future and the system of laws that we operate under. The old wild west days of the BIA must come to a close along with the major mess they created and left for us to clean up! Our Tribe deserves better and our sovereignty and self-determination depend on it.
Saturday July 30
Today, I fiddled with my lawn mower, it wouldn’t crank. All ready to mow and it’s a no go, don’t you love it when that happens? So, I went and helped Nelson move some furniture instead. He is getting settled back in and will begin work soon. Later in the evening Cyndi and I were invited to the Annual “DOG”. What a treat that was! DOG stands for “Dutch Oven Gathering” and there were 119 different meals cooked in cast iron dutch oven pots. It was the grandest “potluck” meal we have ever been to. Thank you for the invite! Hope to be able to join again next year.
This morning we went for a long walk thru the park and had lunch before I came to the office to get some work done.
I hope this report gives you a good indication of the volume of work we are doing on your behalf. I believe in hard work and putting in the time to get it right. I work nearly every day including weekends and evenings. I look forward to being able to give you some information soon on what expenditures I have made and areas where I have saved you and our Tribe some major money. When I report on these matters it will be to clearly draw the distinctions between the old regime and the new accountable and responsible government you elected to run our Tribe. I will prove that we can and have been doing more with a lot less just like I promised!
I love our Tribe and will do all I can to save and protect our assets and also to protect our sovereignty and right to self-determination. I will not and do not apologize for doing the right thing, even if that means stepping on a couple of toes. I will always try my level best to do what I know and believe is right and in the best interest of our Tribe. Thank you and God Bless you.