COMMENTARY: 2019 in the rear view mirror

by Jan 6, 2020OPINIONS





Every year is eventful. If it were not so, it would be a dull world and an even duller newspaper. After all, if there is no history to write about, your newspaper would be full of public service announcements and advertisements (maybe). Oh, we could make up a few stories for each edition, but you get plenty of that from the mainstream media. 

We began 2019 with community fractures. Our Principal Chief, who had been installed after a gut-wrenching impeachment process, and our Vice Chief, who had been installed when Chief Sneed vacated that seat, were setting and implementing their visions for the tribe. The Executive Office and Tribal Council were continuing to build trust and engage the community in building unity and refocusing on a sustainable future for the Tribe’s economic and cultural protection. 


In January, we were celebrating the election of two Native American women to the United States Congress. We also lamented the negative impact a federal government shutdown was having on Cherokee life. And the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians made an appearance in London, by invitation, walking in their New Year’s Day Parade. 

February began with our contemplation of the pros and cons of the hemp and cannabis businesses (and, yes, there is a difference). We continued to document our love-hate relationship with elk. Also in February, rain dominated one edition as a minor flooding included the Oconaluftee Island Park. We lost veteran reporter Joe Martin again in February. 

In March, the “discussion” about Nakwasi Mound ownership with the town of Franklin continued and concerns about Soco Road cracks and buckles were addressed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Tribal Council approved the purchase of Cherokee Cablevision, then later unapproved it. Shiny new needle drop-off kiosks were installed in multiple locations on the Qualla Boundary. The Catawba Indian Nation made it known that they are looking to build a casino in North Carolina. New signage for high school basketball and high school football championships were raised on the Qualla Boundary. 


Come April, we were again celebrating the Tribe’s commitment to protection and renewal of natural resources with the opening of a solar farm at the Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River. The One Feather also represented the Tribe at a state level, winning 14 North Carolina Press Association Awards for journalistic excellence in various categories at their annual competition. 

The Tribe and United States Park Service signed an agreement on the collection of sochan. We said farewell to Coach Kent Briggs at Cherokee Central Schools. A motorcycle accident took a life on the Foothills Parkway. The Environmental Protection Agency blessed the Tribe’s water quality standards. 

As April gave way to May, the Tribal Election Board gave way to Teresa McCoy as the Cherokee Supreme Court reversed their decision to disqualify the former Big Cove representative from running for Principal Chief. The Tribe broke ground on a new Crisis Stabilization Unit. Will Poolaw received honorary membership in the Tribe. 

We welcomed Jonah Lossiah as a reporter at the Cherokee One Feather in May. The Tribe and Cherokee Central Schools also welcomed a new head football coach, David Napert. Qualla Housing got its first clean audit in a decade and Cherokee High School and Cherokee youth from other schools were honored for graduating. 

In June, Harrah’s Cherokee won a bid to name the old Asheville Civic Center. The annual Remember the Removal ride commenced. The Oconaluftee Job Corp was scheduled to be closed. The closure announcement was later reversed. The Tribal Primary Election was held, narrowing the field of those vying for the seats of power. June also saw the passing of Mr. Ray Kinsland. A proposed Constitution was withdrawn during June Council. The Tribal Council did not feel that the document was ready to be presented to the community for referendum voting. Principal Chief Sneed responded to U.S. Senator Richard Burr’s Charlotte Observer opinion letter which accused the Tribe of profiteering. Chief Sneed called the letter “mean-spirited”. We reported on the Casino’s progress on the $250 million upgrade, which includes more hotel rooms, an event/convention center, and expanded parking. Also anticipated is a retail outlet that would be a draw to both gamers and non-gamers. 


In July, during Tri-Council, the councils of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Nation, and United Keetoowah Band declared a State of Emergency for the Cherokee Language, siting a recent study that revealed only .05 percent of the 400,000 citizens of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes are Cherokee speakers. The Cherokee Police Department announced that they seized over $2 million in illegal narcotics in 2018. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians hosted its annual July Pow Wow. The Tribe celebrated renovations and road improvements at Rough Branch. 

And we shared the low voter participation numbers in tribal elections. The One Feather held its candidate debates for all elected offices of the Tribe. Those debates were broadcast and streamed live and were repeated on both sporadically from July until the election in September. A Council-approved hemp feasibility was presented to Council. The EBCI Public Health and Human Services Division released it’s five-year health assessment. During the report, Secretary Vickie Bradley addressed concerns about a media report on Tsali Care Center, stating “We have quality of care at Tsali. Without a doubt, your folks are receiving quality of care.”  

We interviewed the Kituwah LLC leadership who told us they were doing much for the economy of Cherokee but could not provide any specific details about projects. Governor Roy Cooper ratified the Tribe’s sports betting bill. 

The Talking Trees Children’s Trout Derby kicked off the first weekend of August. The EBCI Tribal Employment Rights Office received the Governor’s NCWorks Award of Distinction and the Division of Housing provides donations to two community support organizations. The Seneca Nation of New York repatriated two Cherokee Booger masks to the Tribe. Cherokee athlete Miranda Stamper was featured in August. Some of the candidates for elected office provided statements published in the One Feather and EBCI held a Comicon at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds.  A development in Snowbird was named after former Council member Diamond Brown Jr. and a Snowbird youth center was named after former Council member Abe Wachacha. 

September saw the re-election of most of the Tribal Council and the election of both Chief Richard Sneed and Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley. 


October was Fall Festival (a.k.a. Cherokee Indian Fair) time. The Miss Cherokees were crowned; mass quantities of food were consumed; and family and friendships were rekindled and enjoyed by all. After a tied vote on the first try, the Cherokee Central Schools Board of Education appointed a new chairperson. 

In November, we honored our military veterans and fallen heroes in heartfelt services and in participation in the Blue Ridge Honor Flight program. The Atlanta Braves baseball organization held a closed meeting with the Principal Chief, a meeting sparked by a comment from a St. Louis Cardinals pitcher. There has been no publicly announced outcome from the meeting to date. A 5 percent cost of living increase was approved by Council, later vetoed by the Principal Chief, and then later upped to 7 percent. The employees had not seen a cost of living increase since 2013. 

In November, Keyonah Lambert was featured on a One Feather cover for her reception of a prestigious “White Coat” at the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine. It signified her completion of doctorate and that she was “ready to see patients”.  The Cherokee One Feather dropped the retail price and became a free newspaper, charging only for subscription mailing. The United States Attorney General launched a national Missing and Murdered Indigenous Person Strategy. The Ray Kinsland Leadership Institute relocates and the United States Senate passes a bill to repeal “obsolete” Indian laws. 

In November, we said farewell to our valued colleague and Advertising Sales Coordinator Philenia Walkingstick. 

On Dec. 7, 2019, the tribal government experienced a ransomware attack affecting a large majority of tribal programs and shut down the tribal network. Even the 9-1-1 system was compromised, causing some great concern for hours on that Saturday morning. For the first time in its known history, the Cherokee One Feather staff could not physically prepare and execute a print edition (the week of Dec. 11). Tribal programs are still being effected as of this writing. Many are finding “work arounds” to continue the functions of their community services. Chief Sneed stated, “This attack is being treated as an act of domestic terrorism.” 

Meona Feather is featured on the Dec. 4 edition front cover for her efforts as a member of the Lake Forest College basketball team. EBCI Destination Marketing held its annual Cherokee Christmas Parade. Western Carolina University dedicated its archaeological facility to a Cherokee township. And we once again celebrated a season of great performances by the music and theatre students at Cherokee Central Schools. 

That is just a nutshell view of the many diary events at the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in 2019. There were so many legislative, judicial, executive, and community events during the year, it would take a book-sized newspaper to print them all. Yes, it has been an eventful year. And if you happened to have missed any of the things that went on last year, there is a complete archive of the One Feather coverage of 2019 at our website, 2020? Well, it is already looking pretty interesting as well. Let’s get to it.