Published On: Tue, Nov 7th, 2017

Overwhelming support for alcohol referendum shown at meeting

 

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 

The issue of alcohol sales on tribal lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is once again in the forefront, and Painttown Rep. Lisa Taylor introduced legislation, during an Annual Council session on Oct. 26, calling for a referendum vote on alcohol sales outside the property of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.  Overwhelming support for the idea of holding a referendum was shown by tribal leaders and community members at a Tribal Council work session held on the night of Monday, Nov. 6 at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds.

“My intent for submitting this resolution was for the people to have a say and whether they approve or disapprove of having alcohol on the Boundary,” said Rep. Taylor who noted she’s had numerous people in her community express their support for the referendum idea.

More than five years ago, in April 2012, EBCI tribal members voted on four questions dealing with alcohol sales, and only one – allowing individual communities the right to vote on alcohol through a referendum – was passed.  Alcohol sales started at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in 2009 following a referendum vote on that issue.

Much like discussion at the Oct. 26 meeting when the legislation was introduced, talk centered on the Blue Ridge law, a state measure approved by Tribal Council, 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.

“Many people in my community have approached me upset with those permits being issued,” said Rep. Taylor who added that the issuance of those permits, in her opinion, was “the wrong move to make.”

Early in the discussion on Monday night, the issue of the resolution itself was discussed.  Michael McConnell, EBCI interim attorney general, stated that the resolution, as submitted, did not have a proper referendum question in the verbage.  “My role in this is not to press the issue for or against the sale of alcohol,” he noted.  “My role in this is to present the issue to the people according to tribal law if Council says, ‘yes, we are going to have a referendum’.”

Tribal leadership was unanimous in their support for having a referendum.

“It’s a very emotional issue for a lot of people,” said Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed.  “There’s been a lot of damage that people have sustained in their lives.  At the end of the day, the referendum gives the vote to the people.  I’m in full support of a referendum vote.”

He did add, “I do want to reiterate the point I made before, if we repeal the so-called Blue Ridge portion of our ordinance, the state could repeal all sales on the Boundary.”

States were given the right to regulate alcohol sales, even on federal Indian lands, in the 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley called for unity.  “We need to quit dividing our Tribe.  We’re going to have to become one Tribe again.  Our people, they’re asking for a referendum.  Some are for, some are against…but, they’re the ones that are adamantly asking for us to vote again…I think, as a whole, we need to let the people voice their opinion.”

He went on to say that drugs are the biggest issue affecting the Cherokee community.

During Monday’s discussion, many tribal members spoke on the referendum issue and others addressed their concerns and opinions on alcohol itself.

Joey Owle, Wolftown Community, said he found the arguments against alcohol expansion “regressive” in nature.  “It’s something that is not going away.  It is here.  We have a package store just off the Boundary, and those folks are now millionaires.  I hope we can move forward with a referendum that will allow for a tribal package store or breweries.”

Amy Walker, a tribal elder from the 3200 Acre Tract, commented, “We always hear the side of economics.  Money doesn’t buy all things.  But, that’s usually the first argument that we hear is that everyone else is making money off of this so let’s not get behind.”

She added, “I would like for our people to have a safe place in this community.  If we all intend to make money, maybe we should just have prostitution here.  That’s a money-maker.  To me, alcohol ranks right up there with prostitution in my book.  For me, I say no.  Let’s keep it there at the casino.”

Peggy Hill, a tribal elder from the Yellowhill Community, noted that Drowning Bear, a Cherokee leader after the Removal, banished alcohol.  “He was a leader, and he was a person to prohibit, in his words, the destructive white man’s liquor.”

She noted that drinking was “unacceptable” when she was younger.  “There were very few that indulged in alcohol.”

Hill said the Tribe should follow the example of Drowning Bear, “One hundred and eighty-eight (188) years later, alcohol among the Eastern Band is still, for the most part, still unacceptable.”

Jatanna Feather, Birdtown Community, noted, “Both sides of my family have suffered from alcoholism and not just that, but diabetes.  I don’t agree with alcohol being here because I don’t think that it was made for native people.  I don’t think it’s safe for the ones that don’t have control.”

She advocated for the Tribe heading in a different direction than expansion of alcohol sales.  “If we’re going to go to the way of economics, then we need to go towards marijuana.  You can make a lot more money and put that towards other programs.”

Sheila Standingdeer, Big Cove Community, also advocated for medical marijuana as an economic boost.  “I don’t know why we haven’t jumped on that.  I say we plant every field full of it, hemp, marijuana…we are natives.  These are plants.  Why get alcohol that kills people?  We are sovereign.  We can have that here.”

Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle agreed, “There’s a tremendous amount of money to be made on this.  There are wonderful places to grow this stuff, but I think that would have to be a referendum issue too.”

David Jumper, Wolftown Community, said the alcohol issue should take the back-burner.  “It’s more than just alcohol.  We have a drug epidemic.”

He added, “I think the drug epidemic needs to be addressed before this even comes up…don’t even put it out for referendum.  The people spoke years ago.”

At the end of the meeting, Tribal Council representatives thanked the community for their input.

“I enjoy hearing what the people got to say,” said Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose.  “It does need to go to a referendum and let the people vote on it.”

Rep. Taylor commented, “It’s been a good discussion.  I’ll stand by what the people say in the referendum.”

Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell commented, “I know every family here has suffered in one way or another from alcohol.  I think a lot more discussions are going to be needed.”

He said clarifying the language is very important.  “What is key is what is actually in the question.”

The resolution is set to be discussed again in the regular Tribal Council meeting scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 7.