Published On: Mon, Jul 17th, 2017

EDITORIAL: Pondering the weight while we wait

 

By ROBERT JUMPER

ONE FEATHER EDITOR

 

“A Tribal census, for the purpose of determining the weight of the vote to be cast by each 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 weight to each Council member. The individual voting weight 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 members.” – Cherokee Code Section 117 Subsection 12-C

“The membership of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians shall consist of the following: All persons whose names appear on the roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, prepared and approved pursuant to the Act of June 4, 1924 (43 Stat. 376), and the Act of March 4, 1931 (46 Stat. 1518). This is the base roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and shall be known as the Baker Roll of 1924. It is the foundation on which all enrollment decisions are made and shall not be subject to challenge or amendment as to the information contained therein. This does not affect the authority set forth in subsection 49-9(b) for disenrollment based on criteria in that section. All direct lineal descendants of persons identified in section 49-2(a) who were living on August 14, 1963; who possess at least 1/32 degree of Eastern Cherokee blood, who applied for membership prior to August 14, 1963, and have themselves or have parents who have maintained and dwelt in a home at sometime during the period from June 4, 1924, through August 14, 1963, on lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in the Counties of Swain, Jackson, Graham, Cherokee and Haywood in North Carolina; All direct lineal descendants of persons identified in section 49-2(a) who apply for membership after August 14, 1963, and who possess at least 1/16 degree of Eastern Cherokee blood; All direct lineal descendants of persons identified in § 49-2(a) who apply for membership after December 1, 2011, who possess at least 1/16 degree of Eastern Cherokee Indian blood, and apply for enrollment prior to their nineteenth birthday. This section does not apply to adopted individuals. All direct lineal descendants of persons identified in § 49-2(a) who have been legally adopted outside the membership of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who apply for membership after December 1, 2011 and who possess at least 1/16 degree of Eastern Cherokee Indian blood, provided they: Were legally adopted as infants; Have lived their entire lives in a place sufficiently removed from the Qualla Boundary to preclude their contact with or knowledge of the Tribe; and were unaware of their eligibility for membership in the Tribe. The descendants of individuals identified above, who also satisfy subsections (2) and (3) above and possess at least 1/16 degree of Eastern Cherokee blood, are eligible for membership.”-Cherokee Code Section 49-2

In May 2005, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians entered an agreement with the Falmouth Institute pursuant to an April 2005 Tribal Council resolution directing that an audit of the enrollment records of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians be conducted.  According the Tribe’s records, the audit was to be concluded by 2008.

The contract cost for performing this audit, per the contract, was not to exceed $846,900 and this was the estimated cost for completion presented by the Falmouth Institute. It has now been just over 12 years since we entered that agreement. From my recollection of Tribal Council sessions in which the enrollment audit has been discussed, the reasons given for the people not seeing a result from the audit range from an allegation that Falmouth Institute didn’t complete the task and did not have a final report to the Enrollment Office attempting to complete it themselves and being unstaffed to do so. And so, we have waited 12 years.

Per Tribal records, our community has not had a census since 1991. All elections held and votes taken after 2001 could, theoretically, present challenges to the legitimacy of elected officials and current law. Another small item to consider is that not just the Cherokee Code, but the EBCI Charter and Governing Document Section 19 states, “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.”

This issue was bought up in October 2015. Patrick Lambert, then Principal Chief, asked Tribal Council through resolution to conduct a tribal census to bring us back in line with Cherokee Code and to ensure proper “districting” when it comes to tribal elections and the weight that each Council seat carries in the ongoing legislation of our Tribe. In the resolution, Tribal Council gave a six-month deadline for having a plan to conduct an audit. The task was picked up by then Vice Chief and now Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, who, I believe, has said that we are close to a deliverable and are readying ourselves for execution of a tribal census. And so, we have waited 16 years.

The business of governance is slow and tedious. But that is usually because “i’s” are being dotted and “t’s” are being crossed. Most laws and actions are passed through committees, legal counsels, experts in the fields, etc. before they see execution. The fine-toothed comb is brought out to sift an action before it is released to have its desired effect on you and me. In these cases, though, or at least in the case of the tribal census, the law that was supposed to protect our rights to proper determination of representation seems to have been forgotten and/or overlooked.

As we look to September, we will likely have another election without these issues being resolved. A primary reason that the enrollment audit was initiated, according to the contract with Falmouth, is that “The tribe has identified a need for a thorough and independent review of the Tribe’s enrollment records to determine: whether there are persons listed on the Tribal rolls who did not meet the legal requirements  for enrollment when they were enrolled, and if enrollment criteria have changed, whether they meet the criteria in place now; to determine the accuracy and consistency of the Tribe’s enrollment records; to determine if there were deficiencies in the enrollment process; to identify improvements to the enrollment process and enrollment records…”.

It is a challenging proposition to conduct elections with uncertainty of valid enrollment. That uncertainty also bleeds into the hiring process, as we are a tribal preference employer. Add to that the fact that we have not a performed a requisite census in 26 years to determine if we are even voting in the proper communities.

Hopefully, we will see some movement to either finishing the enrollment audit or sharing the results of the audit. It is beyond time to put that to rest. As well, if we cannot get the census finished in time for the September election, I hope we will have the results in place and acted upon by 2019. And so, we wait…