By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
It was a good day in Tribal Council yesterday (Thursday, Sept. 6) for the press and the people. Your right to free speech was endorsed by your legislature in the form of substantive changes to the Cherokee Code regarding the Cherokee One Feather and the Free Press Act.
In the Sept. 6 session, the Tribal Council approved changes to ordinances that were long on ambiguity and short on substance. Words like “controversial” and “undue” were removed to clearly state in our law that any influence by politicians into the reporting of the Cherokee One Feather is unacceptable and that the editor, working within guidelines established by the Editorial Board, will have the latitude to edit the paper without concern for what controversy might develop from reporting the facts and documenting community and government activities.
A fundamental right of privacy was acknowledged by the Tribal Council with the addition of protection of anonymous sources written into law. With this new ordinance, the One Feather may not be compelled to release the names of sources who may be concerned about retribution. We previously had to advise whistleblowers that the One Feather had no authority under tribal law to withhold their names if government directed us to release it. This meant that people had to expose themselves to retaliation if they chose to provide the newspaper with information. The people now have a law to protect them from exposure when they want to report corruption. This is another critical step in getting transparency in government.
And, the Tribal Council approved an overhaul of the makeup of the Cherokee One Feather Editorial Board. The new Board will include a representative each selected from the community by Tribal Council and the Executive Office and a member designated by the Office of the Attorney General. This will provide voices from the community who will have an active role in making Cherokee One Feather policy. Each member of the One Feather staff sits on the Board as well.
Once ratified by the Principal Chief, this legislation will be the most significant upgrade to the media laws of the Tribe since 2009. Earlier in the year, Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed deemed an Executive Order that had been invoked against the One Feather to prevent the One Feather from publishing a “Cherokee Rants and Raves” column and prohibited the use of anonymously submitted material to be invalid and expired. In his opinion, Chief Sneed stated that his understanding of the law was that Executive Orders died with the administration that created it. He has many times expressed his view that the press should not be interfered with by government apart from violation of the law.
While there are still many battles to fight to ensure that the Principal People have a free and unfettered press, it is important to celebrate this important milestone. We all can remember days here at the One Feather that government influence shut down our social media and web presence, and fear kept reporting to a minimum. At one point, the paper was even directed by a supervisor not to cover Tribal Council sessions in person and the editorial leadership so afraid of repercussions that they would veto a story rather than risk any supervisory chastisement or discipline.
We hope to work with the Executive Office, Tribal Council, and all government entities in providing this community and the readership with insightful commentary, unbiased reporting, and the tools you need to form well-founded opinions and make sound judgments about day-to-day living and casting votes that will continue to change the face of your leadership and future.
The vote to approve these ordinance changes was unanimous. Every Council member affirmed the need for strengthening of the law to distance political influence from the press.
Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell stated, “This is very important for the Tribe. They have taken the One Feather to a level beyond what the creators of this weekly newspaper envisioned.”
Please join us as we endeavor to fulfill the role that you have crafted for us and that you deserve.
On a side note, we have talked about how dangerous traffic is in our downtown area regarding pedestrian travel. I don’t usually advocate for you reading other newspapers, but, if you have the opportunity, peek at this week’s edition of the Sylva Herald & Ruralite. Quintin Ellison has an excellent photo essay and story about the issues the town is having with both vehicular traffic ignoring pedestrians in crosswalks and pedestrians jaywalking at their peril throughout main street. The town police did a multi-day sting operation to catch drivers being too free with the gas pedal with walkers were in front of them. In a few hours on one day, they wrote 20 citations and over the course of the sting, over 100 citations. Sounds like stats from the movie “Death Race 2000”.