By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Have you read the draft constitution? You know, the latest version that has had the eye of government for the past couple of years? The one that, when it was presented to Tribal Council this year, was deemed incomplete and potentially hazardous by some?
Several of the candidates, incumbents included, said they had read all to some to none of the constitution. You all will have the same range of responses when I ask you, I bet. For those of you who have read none or some of the constitution, my question is, why are you waiting? You don’t have a copy? You will find it at www.sgadugi.org. Have you read the current governing document, the “Charter”? It is at www.municode.com. When you get there, click on “Code Library”; next “Tribes and Tribal Nations”; next “Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians”; then “Part I-Charter and Governing Document of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians”. On the other hand, you could simply go to www.sgadugi.org where the committee has kindly provided a copy of the document.
We go through life, looking for better deals. If you are in a lease or making payments for the place you live, you are always looking for a better deal, whether it is a better rate of a loan or more amenities for your comfort. You will review that lease or loan document carefully before you sign and even after you endorse, you make sure you know what your rights are. You educate yourself. And, if someone offers you an opportunity to get a better deal, even if you are in a pretty good lease, you will find out the detail before you dismiss the possibility. You don’t let other people talk you out of it; you check it out for yourself. If someone tries to talk you out of it, you are even more likely to read, because the one trying to talk you out of it might have his interests in mind and not yours.
Because we did not get behind the effort to draft and put a constitution before the people for a referendum vote in 2019, it is likely it will be another two years at a minimum before a constitution is considered again. Why? Because current leadership’s assessment (and probably an accurate one) is that there would not be enough voter turn-out in an off-election year to get the majority needed to get a community decision on a constitution referendum.
I am not saying that the current draft of the proposed constitution is the way to go, although an impressive amount of research has gone into it. Many educated and experienced tribal members worked diligently on it. I am not saying that we should adopt it without changes, although the committee has asked month after month for input from the community. They wanted to include any voice that would like to be heard. In fact, at www.sgadugi.org, the draft was made available for any tribal member to propose edits so that the committee could immediately consider it for inclusion.
Much has been made of the idea that the current draft was coming from members of one community on the Qualla Boundary. The committee has tried and is trying to engage other communities to serve on the committee. Some progress is being made, but getting community members to help looks like the adage about pulling teeth – it hurts and nobody wants to have it done. If you had an opportunity to have input on a document that could potentially make life better for you, and also your children, wouldn’t you jump over hurdles to have your say? Well, a constitution has the potential to make life better; not just for you and your children, but for the entire community. Why do we not make time for something that important? Or, are we complacent because we are not hurting now? If we wait for pain to motivate us to do something to improve ourselves, we may act too late. At least, that is what my doctor tells me at my biannual physicals.
I wonder where all those special interest groups are within the Tribe who railed at the government for poorly-crafted laws that did not address things like Grand Council? They would spend hours at the podium during Tribal Council sessions demanding changes and wanting better-governing laws. But, they have been as silent as the rest of the community during the months that the latest draft of the constitution hit the streets. No rallies, no petitions, no anything. Silence.
Lloyd Arneach Jr. tried to explain to us that the constitution draft is a framework for government, not a code of laws. Similarly, to the Charter, a constitution would not replace the Cherokee Code, but the Cherokee Code would conform to a new governing document, the constitution. The proposed draft constitution would solidify the people’s position as the head of government, with specific inalienable rights, something that the current Charter does not do. The majority, if not all, of the Charter, talks about the rights of elected officials. Read it for yourself, but that is my takeaway from reading it.
The constitution draft talks about citizenship in our nation, the nation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The constitution draft talks about a list of civil rights for tribal members. Go to the site and read pages 21 and 22. Then go back to the Charter and try to find your rights there.
You might say that those are covered in the Cherokee Code of Ordinances and, for some things, you would be right. But most, if not all, of the people’s protections in the Code are at the discretion of the Tribal Council. They do not have to have your “okay” if they want to change one or all your rights in the Code (except for referendum items). They simply vote among themselves. The Executive Office would have some say with the use of veto power, but even that may be overridden by a super-majority vote of the Council. Even the quasi-third branch of government, the Judiciary, is only established in Code and by a contractual agreement that Tribal Council has the power to dissolve with its voting power. And the only say you have in it currently is your vote at the polls to decide to elect a representative. Again, this is something that the draft constitution addresses.
I don’t know what you want as a tribal member. For me to understand, we must share and discuss. It has been suggested to me that the reason folks have been so quiet is that they are content and are afraid of rocking the boat. Rocking the boat might cost them something. Let me suggest to you that doing nothing is a potentially harmful option too.
When it comes to driving, I am a bit of a control freak. It makes me uncomfortable to let someone else drive because I know that I am putting my life in their hands, and if they mess up, there is little that I can do about it. I release that control only when I must and only with the understanding that the one I am trusting has the education and experience to get me to my destination.
Let’s at least get motivated to check out the option of a constitution. Once we are informed, we may decide that we want things to stay the way they are. Or, we may determine that there is a better way. But, at least we will be in the driver’s seat.