By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Kimberly Smith, an EBCI tribal member, has studied the history of Beloved Women of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians since elementary school. Until now, there hasn’t been an established set of procedures with the Tribe for designating an individual as a Beloved Man or Woman.
Tribal Council passed unanimously Res. No. 177, submitted by Smith, during its regular session on Thursday, April 5 that established the Beloved Woman Committee which, according to the legislation “shall develop and oversee the nomination process and commitments for the Beloved title”.
The Committee will be comprised of the following: one Tribal Council representative, one member appointed by the Principal Chief, one member from the North American Indian Women’s Association (NAIWA) Cherokee Chapter, and two community members (one male and one female) selected by the rest of the Committee.
“It’s something that is much needed, and with the recent interest on this topic, there’s been some confusion in our community about what exactly the qualifications are,” said Smith during Thursday’s discussion on the legislation. “What we know about these women has come from documentation by non-Natives. So, traditionally, this role was reserved for women, and on occasion men, who had done a lot for our community but were also affiliated with our military. Today, we’ve seen a significant decline in EBCI military engagement so the qualifications of this title need to evolve to suit the needs of our contemporary culture.”
She noted that the Committee will help bridge that gap. “This Committee is poised to where it can help bring those criteria to today’s community, but also revitalize the traditional roles these Beloved people had within our community. It stands to give us the opportunity to really provide a platform for our Tribe to define our culture within our own voice.”
The legislation states the main objective for the Committee, “…it is necessary to preserve the integrity of the Beloved title, those esteemed with the honor, and ensure future nominations meet the high standards of this recognition.”
Smith noted prior to the vote that she did not want to lead the Committee. “It should be created within the community. If I’m appointed within a role, that’s fabulous, but I want this to be something that came from the community and was led by the community, not by one individual trying to push this forward.” She did state the Committee would be responsible for helping educate others about the title of Beloved within the Tribe, and she also offered up the idea of establishing a logo or other visual image for the Beloved title that people would readily recognize.
Smith also noted that the actual honoring should be more reflective of Cherokee culture. “We need to have an honoring ceremony established so it’s more traditional in what they receive and it’s more unique to them instead of just getting a blanket that I have on my couch. It should be something that truly embodies the title.”
Peggy Hill, an EBCI tribal elder from the Yellowhill Community, stated, “Kimberly did come and presented the resolution, and NAIWA wholeheartedly supported this.”
Following the unanimous vote, Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell commented, “I’m glad we passed this legislation, but I think we need to look traditionally at the roles of the Beloved. I know it was referenced in this legislation about what was written historically by Timberlake and others…when Council would convene, they were followed by the Beloved Women and the Beloved Men.”
Amy Walker, an EBCI tribal elder from the 3200 Acre Tract, said it is important to remember the value system that was in place generations ago for Cherokee people. “I wonder how many people, in today’s society, really understand the value of who our ancestors were and the culture that they lived by. They couldn’t lie to each other back then. They lived in such a high place spiritually that they knew and the people knew they couldn’t lie to them. And, in today’s time, lies slide out of different people’s mouths very easily…so, when we talk about who deserves to be called Beloved, we need people who understand the value of who our ancestors were…”
There wasn’t a time frame set for the actual establishment of the Committee during Thursday’s meeting.
Later on in Thursday’s session, Tribal Council passed unanimously Res. No. 179, submitted by Wolftown Rep. Jeremy Wilson, which establishes a lobby wall in the Tribal Council House to honor all EBCI Beloved Men and Women.
“We’ve lost some magnificent people who have gained this title,” said Rep. Wilson. “I think this title is very highly distinguished and deservedly so.”
Referencing the photographs in the Council Chambers of the former Principal Chiefs of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, he noted, “I think it would be an honorable representation for us to do the same for Beloved Man and Beloved Woman. And, I think it would be a great thing for the families to come in and see that.”
Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha stated, “I think it’s a wonderful idea. To display anything of our Beloved Men and Women is truly honorable.”
Becky Walker, an EBCI tribal member from the Birdtown Community, suggested having a biography included with each person’s display. “Even though we know that Jerry (Wolfe) announced at the stickball games, that wasn’t why he was given that title. It was for the work that he had done in the community. It was his real contributions to the people. So, I think the truest way to honor them is to tell their story….it’s their legacy, and their legacy is how they impacted the lives of other people.”