Tribal Council work session leaves constitution referendum question unanswered

by Jun 5, 2019Front Page, NEWS ka-no-he-da





Lloyd Arneach got word on Monday, June 3 that the Citizens for a Constitution had until July 1 to get their document on the ballet for the September election.

This means that the last chance to get this version of the constitution as referendum for the September ballot is to get a resolution passed at Tribal Council’s June 13 session. This was the original plan, but after two work sessions in two weeks, the likelihood of that resolution passing seems to have dropped.

Many members of Council have voiced support for a constitution, but they are not happy with the current state of the document.

“This scares me to put it out like this,” said Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell.

“We can keep on reading this thing, but I don’t think it’s nearly ready to be taken before our people. It’s too scary for the future of our people.”

It’s a sentiment that was shared by other Council representatives.

“I agree with Perry, it’s not ready to go out,” said Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke.

Over these last two sessions there has been significant pushback on specific articles of the constitution. Two of the most disputed issues come in Article IV Section 2, qualifications for running for Tribal Council.

The most discussed issue at the May 21 meeting was the minimum age at which a tribal member would run for Tribal Council. The current EBCI Charter & Governing Document allows for those above the age of 18 to run, but the proposed constitution offered an age requirement of 25. Several members of Council, with primary advocates being Rep. Saunooke and Big Cove Rep. Richard French, opposed this change.

“I’ll never support that part of it…,” Rep. French said at the May 21 session.  “If an 18- to 24-year-old wants to run for Council in Big Cove, I’d encourage them. That’s their right.”

Rep. French’s comments were echoed by others, and the only voice on Council to oppose that viewpoint was Wolftown Rep. Jeremy Wilson, the youngest member of Tribal Council.

“I would tell you, it’s the worst thing you could possibly do,” Rep. Wilson said.  “In today’s age…having someone at the age of 18 take on something of this magnitude is unreal, and it’s unrealistic. Someone in here give me a solution as to how you’re going to groom someone to be able to take on this kind of level at the age of 18. Because you’re just now getting your first per cap check, you’re just now eligible to vote, you’re just now eligible to go to college.”

The other piece of this section that sparked debate was that a candidate must be an active member as of the candidate’s relevant community club. Arneach said that this was written in a way to involve those who associate with a community but are unable to live in that area.

Rep. Shell said that it was an unnecessary stipulation, and that it excludes people from running that do a lot for the community but aren’t active members of the community clubs.

“Well then how do we include, how do we not disenfranchise those people that can’t find tribal land?” asked Arneach.

“I wasn’t talking on that, I was talking about the community club,” answered Rep. Shell.  “To that point that’s relevant but…I think that that’s an unnecessary requirement.”

The disagreement regarding community clubs continued into Section 3 of Article IV. Clause 2b states that the order of succession for a vacancy on Tribal Council is as followed:

  1. Tribal Council candidate from the most recent election receiving the next highest number of votes of the Township where the vacancy exists;
  2. Community Club Chairperson for said Township at the time of vacancy

“It’s making them a political body more than a civic body…the last Community Club Council I went to half of the communities weren’t even there,” said Rep. Shell.

“Our reason for including communities, community club council is for the empowerment of the people,” said Carmelita Monteith, a member of the Citizens for a Constitution group.

“Perry, I know of your concern about how the communities work, the lack of attendance,” she noted, “But, I guess it’s like ‘Field of Dreams’, ‘Build it, they will come,’ so that could be what prompted you to spend millions of dollars for a few people in each community. So, there’s a message that was sent there. You value the communities, because you’re pouring the resources into the community.”

Another issue with disagreement came with the proposed realigning of Tribal Council’s terms. The proposed system would change Council terms from two years to four. The other difference is that it only allows for two consecutive terms. If a member had a seat for eight years, they would then have to sit out for two years before running again.

“If you stay out two years, you can forget it people. You can’t get caught up when you come back,” said Rep. Saunooke.

“I’d like to point out, David Wolfe’s done a really good job coming back after two years,” said Arneach.

“He’s an exception, he really is. He memorized the codebook. He’s one of the few here that memorized the codebook,” rebutted Rep. Saunooke.

The constitution also proposes to establish a judicial branch as its own branch of government. The current court system was put in place by Tribal Council, and therefore is not a separate entity. The problem that arose was that some Tribal Council members believe that the Chief Justice of the Tribal Supreme Court should be elected.

This idea was headed by Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe. He believes that the chief justice should be elected, and he cited a 2014 resolution that was passed that established an election for a chief justice.

The system that the Constitution would put into place is primarily based of the process for the U.S. Supreme Court. Under Article VI Section 3 of the proposed constitution, a pair of recommendations would be submitted to the Principal Chief by a panel consisting of the Cherokee Community Club Council Officers and active Justices and Judges of the Cherokee courts. The Principal Chief would then make their nomination, and that individual would either be confirmed or denied by Tribal Council.

“We didn’t want a politician as the Chief Justice, we wanted someone who was going to do their work,” said Arneach.

Arneach and the Citizens for a Constitution have taken notes on the feedback presented by Tribal Council and can make changes before they present the final document at the next Tribal Council session. The work session concluded with David Wolfe confirming that the resolution would be up for vote at the June 13 meeting.

The group meets every Monday between 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the EOC, and the full constitution can be viewed and downloaded at