By JOSEPH MARTIN
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The right to petition for a redress of grievances is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to American citizens, and it’s reaffirmed in the Indian Civil Rights Act and the tribal code of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The Tribe’s law referring to protests of actions of tribal government was the center of a discussion that got heated at times and resulted in the removal of an activist and principal chief candidate.
Becky Walker submitted a proposal to amend the current code section relating to protests and rehearing of council decisions. Current code allows protests to be filed by those who are determined to be interested parties. Walker claimed that to restrict protests to those who were impacted by the decision amounts to a violation of tribal members’ civil rights. She proposed striking the term “interested party” and replacing it with “enrolled member.” “There was no interested party definition but there was an enrolled member denied a protest based on that term.” Walker also is seeking to change the number of days one has to file a protest from ten calendar days to ten business days.
Acting Attorney General Mike McConnell said, “Despite 30 years of practicing as an attorney, I’m not a tribal member. I’m going to ask Hannah Smith from my office to address this. She is a tribal member. She is an attorney. All of the people in our offices are attorneys. You have an attorney here (Tribal Council Attorney Carolyn West). I would request you ask her opinion on what…, the fallacies that Becky has presented. What she has presented is not accurate at all.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed also took issue. “We have a redress for grievances.” He said there is a process outside of protests to address those. “If you remember where this came about was I had made an appointment to the (Tribal Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission), which Missy Crowe wanted to protest. It was brought to light that day that she’s not an interested party. The issue at hand was a personal issue between Missy Crowe (who has announced her candidacy for principal chief) and the person I appointed.”
Chief Sneed said that he knows of no other government where its citizens have the level of access and can play a part in the process that tribal members do. “There’s opportunity, ample opportunity on the front end for enrolled members to express their concerns. That process is wide open.” Chief Sneed said that keeping the “interested party” definition in defines who should be heard. “The other avenue for redress of grievances if somebody doesn’t like a decision that was made is they can take it to court. That’s part of the process. To try to include the Indian Civil Rights Act in this and saying that there’s no redress of grievances and the people’s voice is somehow being quashed in this is just completely false.”
Crowe responded that much of the change and actions to challenges resulted because of protest, and that she plans to keep protesting. She denied that any of it was personal. “I’ve been coming before this council for more than 25 years. I have to allow you to know, every time I come into this council it has nothing to do with personal issues.” Crowe continued to speak and vowed to continue protesting. “We’re going to protest. We’re going to bring it, whether we’re interested parties or not.” As Crowe continued to speak, after being told her time was up and after getting the gavel from Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha. Crowe was escorted out of the chambers by a Cherokee Indian Police Officer.
Tribal Council also heard from a member of the audience who urged them to kill the proposal. Michelle Stamper said it’s up to those protesting to give valid arguments. “I think council gives enough time to every member to redress their grievances.”