By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Tribal Council approved three resolutions during Annual Council on Monday, Oct. 15, 2018 that called for work sessions on three separate issues including political appointments of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), administrative leave for tribal employees, and the organization of tribal cultural programs. A work session was held to discuss those issues, per the resolutions submitted by Mary Wachacha, an EBCI tribal member from the Yellowhill Community, on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019.
The first topic tackled during Monday’s work session was Res. No. 378 (2018) that established a work group, comprised of the Tribe’s cultural program leaders and experts, tasked with looking into a centralizing those programs, developing accurate Cherokee history books, and working on getting the Tribal Archives facility built.
“I’m saying you’re doing your job, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done,” Wachacha commented.”
In discussing her idea for a centralized program, she noted, “I’m not talking about a museum. I’m not talking about just an archive, I’m talking about one central place, here on the Boundary, where we can go and anything and everything that we have would be located there, and we’d have a whole staff to complement the building and the programs.”
Wachacha, who works with various committees and organizations such as the Qualla Boundary Historical Society, said, “It’s a true love of mine, and I just wish that we were doing more to preserve our culture and our history.”
She stressed that her idea is not to eliminate any jobs, just to centralize the operations. “We need to have one central location and one central person. I am a firm believer than when you have limited government and when you have fewer employees, less work gets done.”
Micah Swimmer, New Kituwah Academy adult language and education coordinator, commented, “We don’t have a way to keep the flow of the language alive. We need a Cherokee Language and Culture Center and History, all of that stuff, in one central location.”
He said that, as of the day of the work session, there are 217 fluent Cherokee Language speakers in the Tribe. “If we were to lose our last fluent speaker today, we wouldn’t have enough (material) to save our language. Everybody’s going to have bits and pieces of language.”
Swimmer said that having such a cultural center with the archive element attached would be very helpful for language survival. “We need to do what we can now while we can…we can have basic language classes here and there, but we need to be producing as close to fluent speakers as possible.”
TJ Holland, EBCI cultural resources supervisor, said, “We’re all in favor of having a work group that would come in, keep us all within our offices up-to-date on where we need to collaborate where our projects overlap and to help one another.”
He did voice one concern, “The way the Tribe’s finance policy works, it’s programs can only carry so many grants at one time. Funders will only provide so many grant opportunities for a program. That way, down the road, if this is a centralized project, it would put us all in a position to have to fight one another for resources which are already hard to get as it is which would create a new obstacle for us.”
Vice Chairman David Wolfe thanked Wachacha for bringing the issue forward and said, “I think everybody is working really hard doing all they can, but we can always still do more in letting our story be told…we look forward to working with you on this.”
Wachacha thanked the cultural program representatives for their time at the work session and said, “The Cherokees were one of the greatest tribes on this Earth, and I want to say that I still think that the Eastern Band is the greatest tribe that we have in America, and we need to be a leader in all things.”
Up next for discussion during the meeting was Res. No. 376 (2018) dealing with political appointments.
Wachacha said, “In the past, the Chief had a Chief’s advisor and they didn’t get paid. It was free advice if you will. The Chief chose someone they felt he or she could trust and they went to them for advice, but that was not a paid position. We can’t go on appointing these positions from Council member who don’t get back in Council.”
She added, “I don’t know what the answer is. I just know that a lot of people out there are talking that it seems like when Tribal Council members lose their position or chose not to run, whatever it might be, they get these political appointments and jobs that didn’t exist before. Now, it’d be different if it existed.”
Although not established as policies yet, Res. No. 376 includes five points Wachacha wanted to be considered in establishing guidelines for political appointments including , “(2) Tribal Council representatives who chose not to run for office and defeated Tribal Council representatives are prohibited from applying for tribal positions for two years after they leave office as they possess knowledge that amounts to ‘insider trading’ and may exhibit ‘undue influence’ in their tribal jobs…”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed said he doesn’t understand why it would be considered insider trading. “That’s a financial term. We’re not trading anything. Certainly, if you’ve been on Tribal Council, you have an understanding of the structure of tribal government and how the government operates, how the budgets work, how the organizational chart is created and so forth. I don’t really understand why there should be a prohibition.”
He went on to say, “You all know that it’s a high-risk position that you’re in because there’s no guarantees. There’s no safety net. Now, what you’re saying is you served in a public office and now we’re going to punish you for serving in that public office by saying you can’t work for the Tribe or one of its entities for two years – based on what?”
“It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle agreed, “If you went to school and got an education, there should be a job in the Tribe for you somewhere…a lot of us around here are educated and I think you’re taking away the benefit that we could serve the Tribe with that experience and with that education.”
Painttown Rep. Lisa Taylor said there is a poor perception in the community surrounding political appointments. “I know I’m probably not the only one who’s heard it, they’ll say, ‘well, if they don’t get re-elected, they’ll get some big job in the Tribe.’ And, it has happened a lot.”
Wachacha clarified her intentions with the resolution and said she was speaking solely about political appointments – not tribal jobs and that she doesn’t want a new position created for someone. “I’m not trying to punish anybody. I want to wipe that word out of our vocabulary in this discussion. I clarified in number two that no Council member could step into a political appointment. I didn’t say that you couldn’t work for the Tribe. This whole resolution is about political appointments. I’m not against political appointments and that’s not what this is saying. It’s saying that they need to be established prior and be in the budget.”
Chief Sneed said he has actually decreased the amount of political appointments during his term. “There were four director positions that were appointed. So, we converted those to regular positions and we put them out there, we advertised it, had people apply for them and they were filled that way. So, we’ve actually reduced the number of appointments and we haven’t added any new appointees. I haven’t created any new appointments at all. I’ve actually reduced the number of appointments that there were.”
He added that political appointees have no rights when it comes to employment as they’re considered at-will and serve at the pleasure of the Executive Office. “If you’re an employee, you have a whole list of rights that go along with being an employee of the Tribe. If you’re an appointee, you have none.”
Res. No. 377 (2018) dealing with administrative leave for tribal employees was the last discussed during Monday’s work session. “This gets down to the budget,” said Wachacha who spoke of the number of days tribal employees received during the past Christmas season. “There should be set amounts of time with each holiday and that would be up to the Chief’s office to decide. There’s just so many people that need the services of the government.”
She spoke of the problems created by the recent federal government shutdown and said, “You’re the government, and it creates problems on a smaller scale here when the staff is not there.”
I’m not against giving them some admin leave around a holiday, but giving them two or three days or a week or five days, whatever, that just amazes me. You’re getting paid to a job, and I want you to do that job.”
Cory Blankenship, EBCI Secretary of Treasury, said there are 14 paid holidays per the current EBCI personnel policy, “It’s all budgeted; we’ve budgeted for the full 80 hours of work so it doesn’t add any costs to the tribal government. There is some lost productivity because those offices are closed, but we do have a number of services that are on-call.”
Chief Sneed added, “I appreciate her concerns, and I’m happy to sit down with her and we can work through some things.”