By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The traditional role of grandparents in Cherokee culture and society is addressed in a new Grandparents Right ordinance (Ord. No. 25 – 2019) that was submitted to Tribal Council in an Annual Council session on Thursday, Oct. 17. An amendment to the Family Law (Chapter 50) part of the Cherokee Code, the ordinance was co-sponsored by the NAIWA (North American Indian Women’s Association) Cherokee Chapter and Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed.
“Please understand that we’re not trying to re-invent the wheel,” Betty Maney, a NAIWA member, said after the ordinance was deemed read and tabled for 25 days. “We’re not trying to step on any parental rights. Our focus is we’re trying to get every one of you to come in and everyone involved in the organizations to focus on the children because they are what’s important. We see too much of losing our children to domestic violence and being displaced and going through trauma that they don’t need to go through. And, the changes that we’re making are really about the child.”
Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha said he would schedule a work session on the ordinance for the month of November and will put the legislation on the agenda for the December regular session of Tribal Council.
“We exist to promote well-being in our community,” said Carmaleta Monteith, NAIWA member. “We focus on education, health, any way that we can be of help to the community. We adopt certain programs periodically, and several years ago we adopted the function of helping to serve maltreated children.”
She added, “We’ve noticed that there’s an absence of any traditional way of trying to resolve issues with families.”
The ordinance would amend Chapter 50, Article II, Section 50-12 and Section 50-14. Subsection (g) would be added under Section 50-12 to read, “There is a rebuttable presumption, consistent with Cherokee culture, that it is in the best interest of a child to have the love and support of grandparents through reasonable contact with a grandparent.”
Section 50-14 (Custody Mediation) would read, “The Cherokee Court shall administer a mediation program to resolve custody disputes and shall ensure that the program incorporates an alternative choice for culturally-specific and traditional practices such as the Peacemaking Circle model or other models that incorporate holistic, child-centered approaches to strengthening and restoring harmony in the family.”
Monteith commented, “We don’t mean to ignore the courts, but some of us felt that it’s just more trauma for families to have to go to court to resolve some of the issues.”
Mary Welch Thompson, a member of NAIWA and a former Big Cove Tribal Council representative, said in a statement to the One Feather, “Tribe, grandparents, parents, and tribal members, when are we going to step up and make a unified effort to protect the wellbeing of our children? It is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Let us include the children of domestic violence. We all know someone, or have nieces, nephews, and grandchildren affected by the tentacles of domestic violence.”
She concluded with, “The Cherokee are a matrilineal society. Our tribal laws should reflect this. Consistent with Cherokee culture, it is in the best interest of a child to have the love and support of grandparents – not to infringe on the rights of the biological parents but to work in agreement.”