By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
For several years, the Citizens for a Constitution group has met and has developed a document they hope will guide generations of members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). Res. No. 489 (2019), which would add a question regarding passage of the Constitution on September’s General Election ballot, was tabled during the February Tribal Council session.
A work session was held on the Constitution on Thursday, Feb. 28.
“You all know that there have been several attempts to get a Constitution passed in the past,” said Peggy Hill, an EBCI tribal member from the Yellowhill Community who is a member of Citizens for a Constitution. “For whatever reasons, it wasn’t done. I believe, strongly, that this is a time in our history that we can make our stand and become a nation with the Constitution. I think it’s important that we look at the generations that follow us.”
During the work session, she discussed the Preamble in the proposed Constitution and added, “This is for everybody and those who are to come just like we’re here now because of the Lloyd Welch Constitution. They set that foundation. We’re building on that foundation, and we want to become the best nation that we can be.”
Several individual parts of the document were discussed during the work session including the age requirement to file for Tribal Council seats and the role of the Grand Council, but most of the meeting was to provide a general overview of the work done and the document itself.
Lloyd Arneach Jr., an EBCI tribal member from the Yellowhill Community who is a member of Citizens for a Constitution, said, “We’ve gone to the community clubs. We’ve asked anyone and everyone we’ve come across to look this over, to read it over because we’ve been too close to this – we’re going to miss stuff. We’re just needing more people to look at it to point out things that we assumed was there that isn’t or that we’ve turned a blind eye to because we’re so close to this document. We welcome anything that you spot. Please let us know.”
He said community input on the document is encouraged, “We want to get this, I don’t want to say perfect document, but as good as it can be before we close it and put it out for a vote.”
Arneach then went into a broad document overview. In going through the document, he gave a brief description of each Article as follows:
* ” Article I establishes the branches of government and their separation of power and distinguishes the rule of Grand Council.
* Article II is about establishing the territory and jurisdiction of the Tribe.
* Article III is about citizenship – being citizens of a government rather than just members of a group.
* Articles IV, V, and VI define the framework for the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches and their authority.
* Article VII defines the Grand Council and what authority has.
* Article VIII talks about elected and appointed officials who will agree to act ethically and the oath that they will take for their office.
* Article IX establishes and defines the function of impeachment.
* Article X establishes how voter recall works.
* Article XI defines what our civil rights are and our protections that are guaranteed by this Constitution.
* Article XII establishes the management of lands.
* Article XIII declares our sovereignty and limited waiver.
* Article XIV protects previous legislations – what they call a savings clause, those that are serving office, and starts the timer for doing terms of office. So, any previous years of service will not count against you with this new Constitution. Everyone will start fresh. If there are term limits, the counter will start at adoption.
* Article XV is about how changes are made to the Constitution through amendments.
* Article XVI is how the Constitution will be adopted.”
Arneach said the Committee didn’t go into great detail in the document stating that the Cherokee Code will fill in any details. “We didn’t go into a lot of detail into how things work. We wanted to keep this as a framework, a foundation for how the government will operate. The details can change as time goes on and we didn’t want to do that inside the Constitution…”
The entire document, dubbed the EBCI Community-Based Constitution, can be viewed online at: https://sgadugi.org/.
Bo Lossiah, an EBCI tribal member from the Yellowhill Community who is a member of Citizens for a Constitution, encouraged all tribal members to visit the site, read the document, and comment. “We listen to all people. We invite that. It’s a document by the people, for the people. We want that input by enrolled members…”
Wolftown Rep. Jeremy Wilson commented during the work session, “I don’t think there’s ever going to be a perfect document. I think the idea of that is just unrealistic…but, at the end of the day, it’s to create a foundation for our enrolled members to be a part of and follow but also us (Tribal Council) as well. Over the course of the years, we’ve always struggled with that separation of power. That’s one of the main reasons why we haven’t had a Constitution over the course of time. It’s something we’ve talked about time and time and time again but we never really took seriously.”
Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah commended the Committee and said, “I know you’ve all worked hard. I know it’s not a perfect document; neither is the Charter and Governing Document, we always question that. When things happen in these chambers, there’s nothing to fall back on…I think the Constitution is needed. I know it’s a living, working document that will be changed and amended to the benefit of our people. That’s what it’s all about.”
Big Cove Rep. Richard French also thanked the Committee for their hard work. He brought up the age requirement for Tribal Council seats stating his opinion that the minimum age to file for office should be 18, not 25 as is included in the document. “That’s just my personal feeling, and I look at it two ways. Maybe they’re immature, but it states in here several times that you want to put this on a ballot to vote and you’re expecting that 18-year-old to vote for this Constitution. To me, give them that right if they want to run for office at 18. Give them that right, but that’s up to the community, every registered voter in that community, to think when that person goes out and talks to people to think if that person is capable of representing them.”
He added, “I look at it that you’re not only taking that right from the 18-year-old. You’re taking that right from every member in that community who is registered to vote.”
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke said, “All of us have different opinions, but at the end of the day, this document must be for the people, by the people.”
The amended question included in Res. No. 489 (2019) reads, “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians shall adopt the document attached to Res. No. 489 (2019) as the official Constitution of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. For/Against.” The legislation was submitted by Citizens for a Constitution, Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose, Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle, Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell, Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah, Wolftown Rep. Jeremy Wilson, Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe, and Cherokee Co./Snowbird Rep. Bucky Brown.
If Res. No. 489 is passed in an upcoming Tribal Council session, the above question will appear on the September General Election ballot.