By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
It has been and continues to be a historic journey for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. We are witnessing a government evolution and maybe even a revolution. Just in the past month alone, we have seen our government in the hands of courts and federal agencies. Men and women of our Tribe who have stepped into leadership roles have been accused of misconduct, including mishandling of funds and credit, manipulation of the personnel policies of the Tribe, inappropriate and criminal practices in the dissemination of housing, bribery and various violations of the Cherokee Code.
Much of the work of the Tribe has ground to a halt because Business Committee meetings and Planning Board meetings have been cancelled for months on end. And, we just witnessed one of the most painful episodes that an Indian tribe will face, the impeachment of a Principal Chief.
Emotions are high and many feel like their last nerve is being trampled on. On all sides of the issues, and there are many issues and leaders’ actions for the people to consider, there are passionate people who feel that injustice has been done to someone. And, a few are very vocal in their outrage.
I believe there is power in a free voice of the people. In my four years with the One Feather as editor, I and the staff have done our best to open the channels of communication for the people of the community of the Qualla Boundary. We have done our best to engage you in the print edition, social media, and wherever we could along the way to make your voice heard by your fellow Cherokee citizens, tribal leadership, and the general public.
We have also attempted to provide you with the news of the tribal government and community, free from governmental manipulation and without any bias or commentary in our news stories. For the most part, we have been successful on all but a few rare occasions. It has become a common practice in local, regional, and national news for so-called journalists to give opinion in news reports. When the reporter cannot get the facts, they will generalize or make assumptions, using words like “probably”, “likely”, and “presumedly” to caveat an assumption or opinion by the writer. I don’t “presume” to know the motives of these writers, but I would say that it is “likely” that they are thinking about how many more papers they will sell, how many additional advertisers they may attract, or how many more viewers they will pick up. The difference at the One Feather is that not only are we mandated by Code to provide you with government news and information, we have personal investments in this community because we are members of it. We know that you look to us for the truth and we don’t do things that will break that trust. It continues to be more important for us to get it right than to be popular.
Because the events of the recent past have been so emotionally energized, we have been forced to take precautions to limit some types of speech on the channels where we invite you to comment. We do our best to make the forums we offer places of free expression. But, we do protect the readers from hate speech of any kind, including name-calling, vulgarity, defamation, and threatening language. These types of communication do not convey a position on issues and they do not further any argument. They are just expressions of rage and ignorance; maybe worse than that, they are distractions from the real and serious issues at hand.
It is heartbreaking to be where we are today as a Tribe. We have had disagreements in the past, but we always knew that the situation and not the persons were the enemy. For example, it is my belief that we have seen the tragic events of the day not because of individual leaders within our government, but a breakdown in our system of law. The Charter is so outdated and the Cherokee Code so convoluted that, as one of my colleagues put it, they may have to be scrapped and redone from scratch. At the minimum, I hope that, as leadership moves forward, the Executive Office and Tribal Council will move quickly to instruct the Attorney General to do a complete and thorough overhaul of the Code, eliminating conflicting and contradictory laws and language, and either revise the Charter to meet the current wishes of the people and spell out clear guidelines for roles and functions mentioned within it.
The idea of a constitution for our Tribe has been bounced around for several years now. No one knows how much longer it may take to develop one. While we are waiting on that process, let’s be idle no more. There is no better time than now to demand clear and definitive law in our Charter and Code from your public servants.
Moving forward, I hope that you feel empowered to be the change you want to see. We will gladly continue to be a voice for truth, fight for transparency in government, freedom from governmental censorship, and share your voice on issues important to you and our community.