EDITORIAL: Your vote counts…but where?

by Dec 19, 2016OPINIONS0 comments





“In order to provide equal representation to all members of the Eastern Band, the members of the Tribal Council shall, in their deliberations, cast votes on a weighted basis, with the weight of each vote determined by each Council member.

“A tribal census, for the purposes of determining the weight of the votes to be cast by each Tribal Council member, shall be conducted prior to the 1981 tribal election and prior to the election each ten years thereafter to determine the number of enrolled tribal members residing in each township.

“After the regular 1981 tribal election and each ten years thereafter, the Tribal Council, at its first regular meeting, shall determine the total number of votes to be cast in the Tribal Council and shall allot a voting authority to each Council member. The voting weight allotted to each Council member shall be determined by computing the mathematical ratio, fraction or proportion that exists between the number of enrolled tribal members residing in each township and the total number of enrolled tribal members. All Council members, including the Chairman, shall be entitled to vote on all issues.”

Section 19 of the charter and governing document of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

We are a 15,424 tribal member nation strong. According to our treaties with the federal government, we are a sovereign nation with rights and privileges accordingly. We have our own rule of law that specifies our conduct as we, as a nation, have agreed upon. We vote our laws in through tribal referendum, or by vote of our elected body, the Tribal Council.

The Tribal Council are our lawmakers. They may be equated to the legislative branch of federal government. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, along with other tribes, adopted, or adapted, the U.S. model of democracy to use as our foundation for tribal government. A current dangling issue is that topic of a tribal court system. The Charter doesn’t mention a court system and some have argued that there is no equal “third branch of government” in the court. Others argue that the court was brought into existence as a third branch of government by vote of Tribal Council and added via the Cherokee Code. A discussion for another day.

The weighted vote was designed to ensure that each community’s representation on Tribal Council has the power of the population of each community. It is designed to make sure that communities with higher populations have a bigger voice than those of smaller populations. For example, the theory is that if Community A has 500 people in it and Community B has 1,000 people in it, then Community B should have twice the voting power of Community A.

The last report that I am aware of with regard to a census being held is in 1991. Based on the Charter mandate, a census should have been held prior to the election in 2001. I am uncertain if in January of that year if Tribal Council called for a census, voted a determination of weight, or left the situation unaddressed. But, the fact is that a census has not been held since 1991 and we have not been compliant with existing law since 2001.

By a reading of the Charter, it would look like we have not been compliant in eight election cycles (every two years, 2001 to 2015) and we are coming up on a ninth (2017). In 2015, the Chairman of Tribal Council and the Principal Chief called for and the Tribal Council voted unanimously to conduct a census. The Vice Chief is now working on organizing the Tribe’s first internal census since prior to 1991.

Being behind with our census brings up a number of questions. Should the Election Board execute elections while the community population counts are in question? Without valid weights for council seats, are votes taken on legislation valid? What are the ethical, political and societal consequences of operating government without adhering to the Charter?

We, who vote in tribal elections, are responsible to report when we move from one community to another so that when election voting occurs, we know where to vote and the Election Board knows where our vote counts with regard to community. So, the impact of a lack of census should not factor into the election of seats a community has. Since governing law states that each community will have two seats, that count is not impacted by census.

The voting weight of each seat could be significantly impacted by the census. While your voter information may be updated when you move in or out of a community, the corresponding percentage of weight given to the vote of a council seat is adjusted based on the census.

The current weight structure of the Tribal Council is as follows: each Wolftown representative is 12 percent; each Birdtown representative is 12 percent; each Yellowhill representative is 7 percent; each Big Cove representative is 7 percent; each Snowbird/Cherokee County representative is 6 percent; and each Painttown representative is 6 percent.

I know that the Vice Chief is working diligently to create a process that hasn’t been followed in 25 years. I know that the Tribal Council and Principal Chief are also working to ensure that the communities have proper and legitimate representation.

When Principal Chief Lambert brought the resolution to Tribal Council on Oct. 5, 2015, to immediately conduct a census, his words were sobering. “This legislation is long overdue. I have been sitting and waiting for a lawsuit to be filed against this Tribe for many years…not only our tribal law requires it, but we are still under federal court order. Today that order is still valid.”

And, as we close 2016, it has been my honor and privilege to serve as the editor of the Cherokee One Feather this year. We have seen some amazing things happen this year, and it has been fun and fulfilling to bring those to your attention; whether those were things to celebrate or opportunities for improvements to our way of life. I would like to thank Scott McKie Brings Plenty for his dedication and applying his superior writing and design skills to the publication. Our community has enjoyed world class writing because of his expertise. I appreciate Sally Davis, who diligently delivered most of the print editions of the One Feather. Whether you got your copy at a convenience store or at the mailbox, Sally probably touched it at least once. Many thanks to Amble Smoker, who, in early October, struck out on his own for the bright lights and big future of entrepreneurship. He was our advertising sales coordinator and did some writing for the paper in his spare time. Thank you to those who support us with their administrative skills, like Becky Young and Katie Cooper. Many thanks to the COF Editorial Board, which includes the staff, Sharri Pheasant and Mickey Duvall (and many times, by proxy, Mr. Doug Cole). We serve at the pleasure of the EBCI Executive Office and Tribal Council, and we are very grateful for their support and the support of our advertisers. But the biggest notes of appreciation go to you, our readership. You have faithfully read our stories, praised our pictures and even, at times, called us a name or two when you disagreed with us. At the end of the day, you, the community of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, are what the One Feather is all about. I wish you a very merry Christmas and look forward to talking with you in the New Year!