By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
It has been more than five years since the members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted on referendum issues dealing with alcohol on tribal lands. During that vote, which took place in April 2012, four questions were put forward to the people and only one – allowing alcohol sales at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort property – was passed.
Painttown Rep. Lisa Taylor introduced legislation, in Annual Council on Thursday, Oct. 26, calling for a referendum vote on sales outside the property of the casino. After much debate on the issue, the resolution was tabled and a work session will be scheduled.
“I think that our people here are intelligent enough to make decisions on this issue, and we’ve not been able to vote and our voice has been cut off,” Rep. Taylor said during the discussion on the resolution. “So, I think give our people an opportunity to say whether we want alcohol or not in other areas other than the casino like it was voted on.”
Much of the discussion centered around the Blue Ridge law which allows alcohol sales in restaurants located within 1.5 miles of an entrance or exit ramp of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Several businesses in Cherokee, located within that distance, have already been issued permits under that provision.
Michael Gross, an attorney from Raleigh who represents the TABCC (Tribal Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission), spoke and noted, “While I do respect the contention that the Tribe is sovereign, and it is. However, with respect to alcohol there is a little bit of a hiccup.”
He said part of the problem is that federal law states that tribes must comply with state laws when it comes to sale of alcohol on tribal lands
“That provision of federal law was passed pursuant to the passage of the 21st Amendment which repealed prohibition,” said Gross. “The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution then limited the ability to regulate alcoholic beverages anywhere in the country to states. The federal government doesn’t have the authority to regulate the sales and service of alcohol except through taxation – the provision of a federal tax stamp.”
Teresa McCoy, former Big Cove Tribal Council representative, commented, “Good legislation; someone is thinking about what the people want.”
She added, “When you were campaigning, your people addressed you on alcohol issues and they were very serious about this. They are entitled to a referendum. They are entitled to voice their opinion. It’s then up to this administration to find out whether or not that voice even matters. It’s past time for us to step up and voice an opinion. The Tribe may surprise you and say ‘we’re in favor’.”
Joey Owle, an EBCI tribal member from the Wolftown Community, stated, “It’s here, let’s regulate the sale of it. Let’s make sure that we put appropriate precautions and measures in place that we prevent alcohol of getting into the hands of those that are underage or those who don’t need it, and let’s move forward… let’s handle this issue appropriately – either through referendum or a Council member bringing in an ordinance change.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed said, “The states, by the 21st Amendment, have the ability to regulate alcohol sales. That’s the U.S. Constitution. The state, working in conjunction with the Tribe, granted the Tribe the ability to have our own alcohol commission so long as we were in compliance with North Carolina law.”
He stated his support for having a tribal-wide referendum, “I don’t disagree that we should have a referendum. I think everybody agrees that we should have a referendum. My concern is the language in this particular resolution. If it repeals the Blue Ridge provision, we are out of compliance with North Carolina state ABC laws. Once we are out of compliance with one portion of the state ABC laws, the state can, at that point, stop all alcohol sales to the Boundary including, what was passed at referendum, sales at Harrah’s. If you want to have a referendum, let’s have a referendum, but you have to extract the language about the Blue Ridge Law because you will put us out of compliance.”
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke recommended tabling the issue for further discussion. “I don’t want to do anything that will jeopardize the laws already in place.”
Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose supported the idea of further discussion in the form of a work session. “We need to go to a work session and make everything very clear because the last one wasn’t very clear.”
He said people will ask about opening wineries and breweries. “All of that needs to be addressed…is it going to be zoned? Where are we going to put it? Will it just be the downtown area? Are you going to put a three-drink limit on it in a restaurant so people are not getting drunk in front of kids?”
As of press time, a work session hasn’t been scheduled.