EDITORIAL: Why is access so important?

by May 7, 2018OPINIONS





We consider ourselves to be a sovereign nation. We take pride in the fact that we have a government separate from the municipalities around us, and the state and federal governments apart from us. We feel that the band of Eastern Cherokee people has an inherent right to self-governance. As a people, we have chosen a form of democracy that mirrors that of the federal government of the U.S. We have created our own charter, which is our governing document, and a code of ordinances. We have elected legislators, executives, and have a semi-autonomous judiciary. In almost every way, we live in a society where the power of the people is supreme. Sort of.

We hold elections to designate the government officials who will be the overseers of our society. In many cases, less than half of the eligible voters come out to help make that decision, sometimes making the will of the people unclear. And with election malfunctions, inconsistencies, and the lack of a viable, charter-mandated census, we are left to wonder about the integrity of our democracy.

Throughout the centuries, newspapers, along now with other forms of media, have been the purveyors of information to the public. The Cherokee people recognized the need for a way for the actions of the government to be communicated early on. The Cherokee Phoenix was established in Georgia in 1828. The Phoenix is still published in Oklahoma. We took a little longer to get to it, but the One Feather was born in 1965 with the following statement in Volume 1, Number 1 of the Cherokee One Feather:

“With the publication of this news bulletin, tribal officials will attempt to inform reservation people of the business of the Tribal Council and executive officers of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

“The Cherokee One Feather is the bulletin, and, in the future, will hopefully become a printed newspaper capable of self-support. It will include information on the business of Tribal Council, first, but also on the activities of the community clubs and churches, an occasion editorial, a section of want ads, and item dealing with Cherokee history, culture, and folklore and language.

“A provision in the Tribe’s Workable Program for Community Improvement Call for providing information to the general public and especially to tribal members.  A committee has been appointed to oversee this task. Jarrett Blythe, Charlotte Sneed, Winona Digh, and Ella West comprise this committee, out of which has emerged the Cherokee One Feather.”

In the Cherokee Code, Section 75 states simply, “The Cherokee One Feather is hereby designated and recognized as the official publication of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for the instruction and information of the Cherokee community”.

Further in the Code, our government caveats the role of the newspaper with special review for articles about “controversial subjects” (my emphasis) and, in Article 2 (the “Free Press” Act), attempts to limit the influence of the government by stating, “Free Press shall be independent from any undue (my emphasis) influence and free from any particular political interest.”

While, on the surface, this may look like clear and ethical law, words like “controversial” and “undue” muddy the waters to the point that Editorial Board members must wonder what will get them into jeopardy and what will not. No definition is provided in Code for either directive. Add to these concerns the fact that there are contradictions in the EBCI Human Resources Policy versus the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, both of which we are bound to adhere to, including the requirement of reporting to a chain of command within the government and you can see where there is still work to be done to ensure a truly free press by and for the citizens of the Qualla Boundary.

Fortunately, we have legislators and executives in office who desire to secure and insulate the Cherokee press from influence, political and otherwise. The One Feather rarely runs up against political direction regarding the reporting of the news. The concern is that the community only gets that benefit because of the ethical behavior of our current leadership.

The One Feather could be at the mercy of leadership less receptive to transparency in the future. We could be only an election cycle, or one scandal, away from that kind of leadership. So, as we continue to identify ways that your newspaper may be free of any political influence (you must wonder why the drafters of the legislation didn’t just say that, “any”, instead of “undue”).  We feel that the more media covering Cherokee news, the better informed our community and readership will be. Each news outlet has its own editorial staff and journalists, with different views of what is relevant to cover. While overt biases should be avoided by media at all costs, every news organization will have a different perspective on news items based on their unique situations. And, that is a good thing.

It is important for our community to get the benefit of those different perspectives on news of the day. It is the way that we get the most complete picture of reality and how they can make decisions, including who they will trust to lead the way for them in government. Most of us, if not all of us, have expressed how important transparency is to our community. One of the critical checks and balances for our society and government is a free and independent press that may candidly report all news that is relevant to the community. We are well beyond the news bulletin days, but without the support and direction of the community, we are also only one election or one link in a chain of command from going backward to those days of government-directed information release. Restricting access may be a step toward a slippery slope of censorship that can be more damaging than anyone realizes.

My hope is that the Cherokee One Feather will continue to provide the community a voice and a window to important working and current events of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians long after I and the rest of the current staff are gone. It is our job to give instruction and information. Sometimes you will be happy with the information and sometimes the information may make you angry. That is part of the job of your newspaper, to provide access to instruction and information as freely and unbiased as possible, so you have the tools to decide what history will be.