Submitted by TERRI HENRY
The Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) serves a vital role in the overall employment rate of EBCI enrolled Tribal members by providing Indian preference in employment and contracting with the Tribe and its entities. Indian preference is a unique opportunity and exercise of EBCI inherent sovereignty to put Cherokee people first in Cherokee’s economy.
In the late 1970’s, many Native American Tribes across the nation adopted Tribal Employment Rights Ordinances that required employers on Indian reservations to give qualified Indians preference in employment and contracting from Tribal business. The primary goals of these ordinances was to eliminate discrimination against enrolled members while enhancing employment opportunities. By developing strong enforcement agencies, TERO can help alleviate patterns of poverty and unemployment and ensure Indian people receive their rightful entitlements under both Federal and Tribal employment law.
The EBCI established its Tribal Employment Rights Office in 1997, which included the establishment of the Tribal Employment Rights Commission (TERC). The mission of TERO is to ensure EBCI enrolled members receive preference in hiring while Native American owned businesses are given priority for Tribal contracts distributed by EBCI entities. By providing a hiring and contracting preference, TERO can increase the employment on the Qualla Boundary by promoting growth of Indian owned businesses while reducing employment discrimination.
TERO maintains a listing of Indian-owned businesses that receive preferential treatment in the bidding process. Certified TERO vendors are Tribal member owned businesses that are vetted by the TERO office, having met the qualification requirements as an Indian-owned business, and certified by the Commission. These vendors often hire and provide employment for Tribal members. When contracts are awarded to these Native-owned businesses, it helps promote the growth of the EBCI economy by providing economic stability to EBCI families.
When a non-TERO vendor receives a Tribal contract in excess of $10,000, a 1.75% employee rights fee is assessed. This fee provides an alternative revenue stream that has a return on investment in supporting opportunities to Tribal members through workforce development initiatives such as vocational training, trade certification programs, community and employment outreach initiatives, and the esteemed Mother Town Healing Program and more. The TERO fee allows TERO to generate its own revenue, and, any fee revenue in excess of TERO’s annual operational costs is required to be deposited into the Tribe’s general fund per Cherokee Code chapter 92-7A(b).
In 2017, Tribal Council adopted the Cherokee Code chapter 92-28B. Per Tribal Employment Rights Office, Cherokee Code Sec. 92-28B. – TERO fees are stated as:
An employee rights fee is necessary to raise revenue for the operations of the TERO. Every economic entity, with the exception of TERO-certified vendors, that obtains a Tribal contract where section 92-3 applies, shall pay a fee of 1.75% for all contracts in excess of $10,000.00.
The collection of TERO fees is practiced among other tribal nations, such as the Yakama Nation and Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, with fee percentages ranging from 1 percent to 5 percent.
The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation TERO is aggressively implementing the use of TERO fees on their lands during the oil boom. They currently assess a 5 percent fee on all present contracts and require all commercial vehicles conducting business on their reservation to have a special sticker supplied by their TERO office. The purpose of added fee is to help offset the added pressure to their infrastructure so the overall way of life of Native residents is not negatively impacted while business is being conducted.
Just as the commercial vehicle sticker program enacted by the MHA Nation TERO protects the infrastructure for MHA residents, the EBCI Employment Rights fee is designed to help protect the economic stability of EBCI families by reinvesting funds back to Tribal employment training and opportunities.
Henry is the executive director of the TERO Office of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.