By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Last week, 11 tribal employees were given administrative leave while a conflict between the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) was resolved. Principal Chief Patrick Lambert issued the executive order that suspended tribal use of the building because, in the opinion of the EBCI Attorney General Danny Davis, a memorandum posted by the Superintendent of the BIA threatened federal, criminal prosecution of “unauthorized” persons or personnel accessing federal documents housed in common records offices within the BIA building. In addition to the employees leaving the building, all land transfers and other realty business were frozen.
Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor, at the behest of Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, called a work session on Tuesday, Aug. 16 to discuss the situation. BIA Superintendent William McKee spoke to Tribal Council and said that no one was in jeopardy. Rep. McCoy’s primary concern was that employees have an option to work for the entity of their choice. This discussion goes back to a Tribal Council vote in the Aug. 4 session to rescind the negotiating capacity of the Principal Chief for BIA services. As part of the contracting process, Principal Chief indicated that he wanted to have a meeting with the employees and the BIA leadership asked that meeting be put on hold. In the meantime, the vote was taken to rescind on Aug. 4. Rep. McCoy referenced employees that she had talked to who are concerned about job security of a transition from a federal to a tribal position.
A large portion of the discussion centered on “blame” for the tribal realty shutdown. The BIA Superintendent inferred that his office was not properly addressed by the Principal Chief.
McKee stated, “You don’t have to like me, but please respect the Office of Superintendent, because that is the first line of authority for government to government negotiations.”
The discussion became heated to the point of Wolfetown Rep. Bo Crowe asking the Chairman to expel the next person and anyone who made an accusation with regard to the situation. He further said that everyone should be focused on resolution of the issue and getting the employees back to work.
As a result of the work session, the BIA Superintendent was to receive a letter outlining the guarantees needed for tribal employees and the tribal leadership to feel safe from any threat of prosecution from the EBCI Attorney General. And then, the BIA Superintendent was to issue a letter to the Executive Office and Tribal Council that provides those guarantees.
A press release from the Principal Chief’s office on Thursday, Aug. 18 states the following, “Chief Lambert is pleased to announce that the Tribe was successful in leading the reopening of the Tribal Realty Office by requiring Cherokee Agency Superintendent McKee to put in writing an assurance that he would not prosecute Tribal employees for simply doing their jobs. All employees who were sent home last week on Administrative Leave will be asked to report to work beginning tomorrow, Friday August 19, 2016”.