By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Citizens for a Constitution group has been an entirely voluntary committee and the members have been funding efforts out of their own pockets for more than two years. However, a resolution that was passed Thursday, Oct. 17 at Annual Council has granted them a budget to help with their cause.
Tribal Council Vice Chairman David Wolfe proposed a resolution that would grant funding to the group up to $40,000.
“We’ve got several volunteers that really participate and really work hard on the Constitution Committee,” said Vice Chair Wolfe.
“I told them that we’ve just passed one for the Census, and that was 40,000 to help with the Census and get that information out and that campaign. So, I said I’d submit a resolution to that effect of 40,000 to get started with.”
However, after an open discussion between Tribal Council and representatives from the committee, it was decided to raise the total to $70,000. Peggy Hill and Carmaleta Monteith were there on behalf of the Citizens for a Constitution.
Earlier this year, the group made a push for the Constitution to be added as a referendum for the general election. There are two ways for this to be done: either through petition or by Tribal Council passing a resolution. The committee decided to go through Council, but they were unable to get a resolution passed.
“There was disagreement, and that wasn’t the purpose of our being there,” said Monteith. “However, I think some of them felt that we were asking them to approve what was in it, but that wasn’t the case.”
After numerous work sessions, it became apparent that Council was not going to let this go up for a vote. Monteith says that this most recent funding resolution has been a confidence booster and an acknowledgment of support from Council.
“It was refreshing to know that Council, as a whole, supported the work on the Constitution. Not that they totally agree with what’s in the draft, but to me, the message was that they felt they we do need a Constitution,” said Monteith.
The group will not use the money for personal stipends, and there will be strict parameters for how it is used.
She noted, “One of the questions that was asked was, ‘is there going to be any reimbursement for previous expenses?’ And, definitely no. But, the majority of it will be for producing materials, mailings to educate the people and get them involved.”
Even with the compensation from the general fund, Monteith says they will not allow for Council to dictate the document.
“Since the Constitution is the voice of the people, it’s essential that we keep that separation.”
The group has had to regroup since the summer and now has monetary means of spreading their message. Monteith says that the plan is to aim for the next election in 2021 as a goal for the Constitution. That means they plan to gather as much input as possible to shape the document next year.
“Education and community outreach, that’s the focus. We’re working on the final draft of the budget, and we’re looking at ways to involve people that are already doing things in the community, and we can just piggyback,” said Monteith.
The Citizens for a Constitution has also been building its representation of more communities across the Tribe. The group has always been a voluntary group that visits all the community clubs on the Qualla Boundary. However, there are a couple of communities that are still not represented.
“The Constitution represents the voice of the people and how we want to be governed. And so, it’s important that people express their feelings and their opinions and their advice about this,” said Monteith.
“We just have a lot of work to do to convince, I guess, people that their voice does matter when it comes to our government.”
The Citizens for a Constitution have an open meeting at 6 p.m. every Monday at the EOC. To view the current draft of the Constitution, you can visit https://sgadugi.org/.