By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Following a multi-day debate on alcohol issues, Tribal Council approved a referendum question dealing with the possible establishment of a tribal package store. Res. No. 119 (2018), submitted by Painttown Rep. Lisa Taylor, was passed as amended during a session on Friday, Feb. 2 – the initial debate on alcohol issues began on Thursday, Feb. 1. A date for the referendum vote has not been established as of press time.
The question, as presented in a floor amendment by Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose, is as follows: “To allow ABC permits to be issued to allow retail sales of alcoholic beverages on tribal trust land at a tribal-owned package store/ABC store”.
The resolution was passed 10-1 with Tribal Chairman Adam Wachacha voting against and Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah absent.
The original question as presented prior to the amendment stated, “To allow ABC permits to be issued to allow retail sales of alcoholic beverages on tribal trust land at locations other than casino property”.
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed made the suggestion for the floor amendment on Friday, “The question is too broad because as it stands right now there is no regulation on the front end. So, if you put this out there and it passes, then that means the next day after it is passed anybody who has four walls and wants to apply for an ABC permit to sell can do that.”
He added, “My suggestion would be to use a different question. So, if the question was, ‘do you support a tribally-owned and – operated package store?’ We could ease into it with one store to demonstrate that we have control and we know how to operate it. And, then we could build regulation afterwards for a question like this because as it stands right now there is no regulation on the books.”
Chief Sneed went on to say later, “Having a tribally-owned and –operated package store means that all of that money comes back to the Tribe. It demonstrates to the community that we have the ability to operate one and that the sky doesn’t fall. It’s just easing into the business.”
Prior to making the floor amendment, Rep. Rose stated his concerns about the original question, “I think it needs to be clarified. When it says tribal-wide, that means anywhere…is there some way we could zone it and keep it in the metro area instead of out in the community?”
Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell called for the need to establish guidelines. “We have no procedures in place, and there is no procedure or law governing that. It’s in an ordinance, but there’s no way it says to carry it out. I think it would be smart to have some sort of policy or procedure and then, once that’s approved – keeping it away from the schools, keeping it away from the hospital, keeping it away our kids- identifying where these sales could take place.”
Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle said during Friday’s debate, “I think we need a place where we can sell in one location…and, after we get that established, then put the broader question out. I think we need to simplify our question and make it direct what the people are voting for. They wanted a referendum so that’s what we’re giving them…let’s make the question real simple, direct, precise, and then, if it passes, let’s get a package store that supplies for everyone.”
AJ Bird, a former member of the Tribal Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, noted on Friday, “The law is already in place. I think that you’re going to be wasting your time putting out a referendum to allow the Alcohol Commission to open a package store…they can do it today, by the law. They don’t have to have a referendum vote to allow that to happen.”
Bird added, “The mechanisms and the laws are already in place to determine who can and who can’t have a permit, where they can and where they cannot have a permit.”
Amy Walker, an EBCI tribal elder from the Birdtown Community, said, “These permits that people are selling now, what I just heard was we haven’t had a referendum to say they can sell that here. So, I would like to see those permits being revoked.”
A long-time opponent of alcohol, Walker commented, “I don’t see how we can ok it to be sold anywhere else here on the Boundary. I’ll bet there’s not a family sitting in here or listening that doesn’t have family members that are struggling.”
After the floor amendment was made on Friday, Rep. Taylor made a motion to add a second question to the referendum that would read, “Do you want alcoholic beverages sold on the Boundary outside of the casino premises?” That motion did not receive a second and died on the floor.
During Thursday’s session, another piece of legislation dealing with alcohol was discussed. Res. No. 117 (2018), also submitted by Rep. Taylor, was killed 10-0 (Rep. Taylor abstained, Rep. Wahnetah absent).
The legislation stated in part, “…the Tribe’s lobbyists are hereby directed to use all means possible in the upcoming 2018 session of the NC General Assembly to have this offending section (North Carolina General Statutes 18B-101(14a), and any other sections in the N.C. General Statutes that pertain to authorization of any particular permits or licenses to be issued upon our lands that do not strictly adhere to our local referendums, to be removed or rescinded from the N.C. laws.”
At the start of debate on that issue on Thursday, Rep. Taylor commented, “I still believe that when we had the referendum, the people said at the casino only, and I don’t believe that North Carolina would pull our alcohol permits from the casino it if were to be lobbied for. We were promised a lot of per capita to vote for alcohol, but the people said only at the casino.”
She further noted, “The Alcohol Board (TABCC) law says that they’ll keep the best interest of the people, and I don’t think what they done by issuing permits was in the best interest of the people. The best interest of the people was what they went and voted on, and that was at the casino only.”
The state law [18B-101 (14a)] referenced in the legislation is commonly referred to as the “Blue Ridge Law” and states, “Tourism ABC establishment means a restaurant or hotel that meets both of the following requirements: (a) Is located on property, a property line of which is located within 1.5 miles of the end of an entrance or exit ramp of a junction on a national scenic parkway designed to attract local, state, national, and international tourists between the State line and milepost 469, provided that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, established under G.S. 18B-112, shall have exclusive authority to issue permits pursuant to this subdivision between Milepost 460 and the southern terminus of the national scenic byway at Milepost 469 for any restaurant or hotel that is located wholly on Indian Country Lands. (b) Is located in a county in which the on-premises or off-premises sale of malt beverages or unfortified wine is authorized in at least one city.”
Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha said passage of Res. No. 117 would be a conflict to the referendum noted in Res. No. 119. “It would kind of put this entire thing in a backspin because the Blue Ridge Bill is recognized. And, then, if the referendum passes, it would be like we’re just doing all the work and then having to turn around and undo what we did.”
Mary Crowe, an EBCI tribal member of the Yellowhill Community, said she understands that offering alcohol at the casino was a business move, but she offered an alternative for the referendum. “Instead of doing a referendum on alcohol, do a referendum on alcohol or marijuana – honestly. Our times are changing folks. Our times are changing. You can see the medical marijuana…and the medical benefits that it has. Does alcohol have that?”
She further noted, “Look at our people right now. We’ve dealt with alcoholism all of our lives. But, let them have their marijuana, and I’ll tell you what, you would liberate this community. You would liberate this Tribe if you did that.”
Becky Walker, an EBCI tribal member of the Birdtown Community, said she is tired of the issue. “What is beyond me is what have our people said when you ask them to vote on alcohol. What do they say? No, every time, every time. Every time the people say no, but still we have this few, small group of people who somehow, their opinion and their wants and their needs outweigh the voice of the whole people. That’s just beyond me that the people of this community have consistently said no on tribal land other than the casino.”