COMMENTARY: The next chapter

by Sep 19, 2019OPINIONS





“Dike, Chelsea, I want to congratulate you on your victories. I want you to know that there is not a group of people that I would wish to work with than this one. You have a very fine group of people here that have a very open mind. They have great leadership skills, and we have worked very well together. And that is very rare for a tribal government; for a government to function as well as we have for the past two years. I have full confidence in this Council, and I have full confidence in you two. I look forward to working with you on the other side. Whatever you guys need help with, feel free to reach out to me, and I will be happy to help you in any way that I can.”

– Wolfetown Rep. Jeremy Wilson during the Sept. 12, 2019 session of Tribal Council

“Tribal Council, I don’t know if you realize it, but in 18 days, we will have shared 730 days together. That’s 104 Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and 104 ‘Thank God It’s Friday’s.’ Two years of productive times, of challenging times, and fun times, and everything in between. In 18 days, my term will officially end. I realize I have been very fortunate to be Painttown’s Council Representative. But, not only that, fortunate to serve with this Tribal Council. All of you mean so much to me, like a family. Two years ago, you all welcomed me in and seen me through some difficult times. The English writer. G.B. Stern said, ‘Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.’ I agree with her. So today, I shout my thanks aloud. I want everyone to know and hear how much support this Tribal Council and the Executive Branch, the TOP ladies, Carolyn, and Painttown community have given me and what they mean to me. Thank you, Painttown, for your belief in me, your support and, most of all, your friendship. Tribal Council, none of us achieve in isolation, and the successes we have enjoyed together have been the result of our mutual cooperation and collaboration. It is a pleasure to have worked alongside all of you, including the Executive Branch. Tommye, I thank you for helping me to learn along the way. I was overwhelmed in the beginning, which is an understatement. At first, I kept Tommye on speed dial and burned up her phone almost daily. So, that is probably why no one has been able to fix her phone. Tommye has shared her knowledge with me over the past two years. She was the first to be there for me during the most devastating day during my term. With so much to be grateful for, outstanding colleagues, Painttown community, and Tribe, it seems perverse to leave. However, I am. I plan to enjoy retirement and live life to the fullest. I will miss all of you. You have been part of my journey. I have packed many memories to take with me; working hard for our people, making difficult decisions, fun times, and most of all, everlasting friendship. My wish for all of you around this horseshoe is never forget God, who you are, and the people you serve. I look forward to continuing to see great things happen for our Tribe and our people. Us Cherokees never say ‘goodbye.’ We say ‘donadagohvi’ (until we meet again). Also, per courtesy of an email, text, or phone call, I will never be far away. God bless the Eastern Band. Sgi.”

– Painttown Rep. Lisa Taylor during the Sept. 12, 2019, Tribal Council session.

I thought you might like to read the comments of our two outgoing Tribal Council members Jeremy Wilson and Lisa Taylor. They will be relinquishing their seats on Council at the beginning of October to newcomers Dike Sneed and Chelsea Saunooke. Reps. Wilson and Taylor have been legislators for two years on Tribal Council, dealing with the needs of our approximately 16,000-member Tribe and tracking the income and expenses of a multi-hundred-million-dollar budget.

I have never been a Tribal Council representative, but I sure do get to watch them work. It is part of the job. What they do is serious business, regardless of how it may look. They are the “buck stops here” point for all things Eastern Band. The Charter and Governing Document is ambiguous on many things, but the power of Tribal Council is not one of them. As the “purse string” holders of the tribal government, they approve everything from land purchase and use to governmental services. As the makers and editors of law, they are responsible for crafting our society and how we will live on the Boundary. Much of what we are as a people reflects the work of Tribal Council down through the years.

If you realize that, I imagine it can be a heavy burden to take on as a new Council member. There are heart-wrenching meetings and phone calls outlining very personal needs; people who are hurting and turning to you for solace. There will be those who look to you to be their method of retribution for a perceived wrong, or possibly a constituent’s way of getting something they feel entitled to; a job, a home, some money. You, as a new Council member, are seen by some as a new chance to get what they want.

Sometimes, they are deserving, and you try to meet the need. Sometimes, they are less deserving, and you still try to address that need. All who seek your power likely mention some threat to your seat if you don’t get them what they want.

As other Council members have mentioned, the texts, phone calls, and visits do not stop at 4:30 p.m. for a Tribal Council member. And, while I have had my challenges with getting responses from those in high office, I also imagine that Council members are bombarded relentlessly with requests for their time. So, I can imagine Council representatives get into a “take a number, and I will get to you as quick as I can” mode.

We don’t get to hear much of the day-to-day work of the representatives. Other than the televised sessions, we see them here and there; ribbon cuttings, dedications, benefits, funerals. I imagine some of their work is enormously fun and gratifying, while at other times, their work is heartbreaking and crushing. And, no matter what you do, you will be wrong in someone’s eyes. It’s kind of like being an editor. Relax, I am kidding, maybe.

Reps. Taylor and Wilson got to experience all of this and now will take a break from the seats of power. As they mentioned in their announcement time during the Sept. 12 session, they have operated in a time of great collaboration and unity as a body. And, as Rep. Wilson pointed out, this air of agreement has not been the norm in quite some time. We can only hope that we are in a period of a long-running trend.

Representatives-in-waiting Sneed and Saunooke are about to approach the bench. They will have fresh perspectives and ideas. They bring unique abilities and histories that will play into their decisions about the issues they will face in the next two years. They will have “friends” that they never knew they had, and maybe a few more relatives. They will be put in awkward positions and be asked to choose to do the right thing over friendship or even kinship. They may have to select answers that are good for the tribal community as a whole, but that may not be popular with the community that elected them. Their Tribal Council seats will likely test their characters as nothing has before.

Tribal elections are like chapter breaks in our history book, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians history book. As we look at our leadership, new and not so new, we are looking at the people we chose to move us into a new time, and hopefully, a new mentality. We selected these individuals to guide our Tribe into security and prosperity. We want them to take care of our elders, our children, and us. We need servant leaders who understand that, while they have been elected to high power, that is power on loan from the people and for the good of the people. We ask our Principal Chief, Vice Chief, and Tribal Council to make good future and history for our people. We want our children when they are old, to look back and say, “those leaders did the best they could for us.”