By JOSEPH MARTIN
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Those behind the latest effort to bring a new constitution to a vote plan for that to coincide with the Principal Chief’s election next year. Ever since the Charter and Governing Document was adopted in 1986, it’s been a point of contention whether the tribe should be operating under it.
Anita Lossiah, a policy analyst for the tribe’s Legal Division and former Tribal Council representative for Yellowhill, said based on the low turnout for the last alcohol referendum held, which was outside of a general election year, more people would likely show up to cast a ballot to approve or reject a constitution. “You have a better turnout with the general election.”
Currently tribal council members, chiefs, judges and justices swear oaths to uphold it as the governing document. However there have been questions ever since it was adopted about its legality.
The Charter became law after a resolution was introduced to adopt it. Prior to that, the tribe operated under the Lloyd Welch Constitution, the governing document that was adopted in the late 1800s. The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) became federal law in 1934, but the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, while moving toward operation under the law, never finalized it. Lloyd Welch and the state charter of incorporation remained the tribe’s governing documents until the Charter was adopted by an act of Tribal Council in 1986.
Since then, a number of efforts to get a governing document adopted have happened, but only once has it gone to a vote. That was in 1999, and the constitution for that election failed.
The latest effort started with a community member in Yellowhill wanting to discuss the governing documents, and Lossiah said. “It just sort of grew.”
This constitution won’t have to be adopted through a secretarial election, according to constitution committee member Lloyd Arneach, Jr. Putting the vote for this document at the same time as the chief’s election could increase voter participation. “As long as a certain percentage of the tribe votes for the constitution, it is adopted by the tribe,” said Arneach.
Lossiah concurred. “We’re not an IRA tribe.” Secretarial elections would only be required for IRA tribes’ constitutions, she said. “We do our own thing under our own sovereignty.”
The proposed constitution keeps much of the elements of tribal government in place. However, there are some notable differences from the current Charter and tribal code:
- Term limits for council members – The document limits a representative to two consecutive two-year terms;
- Staggered terms for council members – In 2021, the first election after adoption, if that happens, the candidate with the second largest number of votes serves a two-year term then will run to serve for four years, which will stagger the terms of council members. In relation to term limits, such a representative will be limited to six consecutive years;
- Oaths would be sworn to protect and defend the newly adopted constitution as oppose to the Charter and Governing Document;
- Impeachment procedures – It spells out procedures for impeachment of elected officials;
- Voter recall procedures – Voters are given the right to recall election officials in special elections;
- A provision for civil rights is recognized.
“To me the most significant change is identifying individual rights,” Lossiah said. She also noted the strengthening of the balance of power. “That is vital also.”
Arneach said the communities have taken this issue upon themselves and come up with a document to be put before the voters. Now they’re going before the communities and educating. “This is an agreement by the people on how they’re going to be governed. It’s a document for the people, by the people. This isn’t coming out of politics. This is coming out of the communities.”
The document isn’t final yet. Tribal members still have a say in what will be final. “We’re still in the community input part of it,” said Lossiah. All tribal voters are encouraged to read the document. It’s available online at https://sgadugi.org, in small and large print.
Lossiah encourages everyone to read the document and look at it as a whole. If voters agree with most of it, they should vote to pass it she said, and that would be an improvement. “It’s for all the communities to look at and review, read, provide comments and concerns.”
For those without internet, or would otherwise like to obtain a printed copy, they’re available at the Qualla Boundary Public Library or Extension Office. They can also call Bo Lossiah 508-1781 or Lloyd Arneach Jr. 269-6498.