COMMENTARY: Enrollment records could be used for census

by Mar 5, 2019OPINIONS





The last official census of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians was conducted in 2001.  The next one was supposed to have been conducted ten years later in 2011, but it wasn’t which puts the Tribe eight years out of compliance with Section 19 of the Charter and Governing Document.

Section 19 states, “A tribal census, for the purposes of determining the weight of the votes to be cast by each Tribal Council member, shall be conducted prior to the 1981 tribal election and prior to the election each ten years thereafter to determine the number of enrolled tribal members residing in each township.”

Cherokee Code Section 117.12 – Council representation, states the above plus, “The individual voting weight shall be determined by computing the mathematical ratio, fraction, or proportion that exists between the number of enrolled tribal members residing in each township and the total number of enrolled members.”

Res. No. 20 (2001), passed on Oct. 10, 2001 and ratified by the late Principal Chief Leon Jones, set the weighted vote as follows:  Big Cove 7, Birdtown 12, Painttown 6, Cherokee County – Snowbird 6, Wolftown (including Big Y) 12, and Yellowhill 7.  That is the same weighted vote that is used today – 18 years later.

That resolution states, “Pursuant to the 2001 tribal census data, the weight of each council representative’s vote until the 2011 census shall be as follows…”

The key phrase there is “until the 2011 census”.  So, what about now?  If those figures were deemed appropriate until the 2011 census, what about now in 2019?

There was talk last year about having a census, but it didn’t happen.  The reason given was that there weren’t enough people who showed interest in conducting the census.  Ok, fair enough.

But, I ask why can’t enrollment records be used to greatly simplify the process?

Census is defined as “an official count or survey of a population, typically recording various details of individuals”.  Nowhere in tribal law, that I could find, does it state how the census is to be conducted.

The Tribal Enrollment Office has a record of each enrolled member, and those records include addresses.  So, it seems to me that a much more accurate tribal census could be conducted by reviewing the current enrollment records and cross-referencing the addresses with the appropriate township.  For those who only have a post office box on file with enrollment, they’d be required to provide a current physical address.

Then, several people could go over the enrollment list and determine how many people reside in each community based on the addresses.  It would eliminate people having to go door-to-door and do an actual count.  Censuses are taken this way elsewhere because there isn’t a ‘master list’ of residents, but the enrollment list is that master list.  It literally lists every man, woman, and child in the Tribe.

And, there isn’t a more accurate way to conduct a census.  Using the door-to-door method, you’re sure to miss some.  Using the enrollment list, you won’t miss anyone.  Not only that, but using the list would make the job much quicker and cheaper.

One thing I thought of while researching this commentary was the issue of those tribal members who do not reside on tribal lands.  But, according to the way the law reads, the census is “to determine the number of enrolled tribal members residing in each township”.  Residing is the key phrase.  If you live in another county, state, or even country you can still vote, but you don’t reside in a township.  Cherokee Code Chapter 160-1 (c) deals with vagrancy, but it does define ‘reside’ as follows, “Reside on the Reservation shall mean to actually occupy a home or residence within the Reservation.”  Seems pretty clear to me.

This is just a thought and a possible solution to the census dilemma.  It just seems a lot more efficient than having people go out, clip boards in hand, counting tribal members – and ultimately missing some.