By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed appeared on an 11th Congressional District candidate’s live virtual town hall meeting on the evening of Thursday, July 9. “Moe Talks” is a twice-weekly internet talk show hosted by Moe Davis, the Democratic nominee for the 11th District seat.
Prior to the show, Davis said in a statement the impetus behind inviting Chief Sneed to participate. “I have a lot to learn about the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and what a member of Congress can do to be an effective advocate for their interests, so I’m grateful to Principal Chief Sneed for taking time to talk with me. He and I are both military veterans and former educators, so we share a common commitment to our country and our communities.”
The talk show was held via Zoom so COVID-19 safety protocols could be upheld.
Chief Sneed and Davis started the show by discussing their commonalities including military service (Davis is a retired Air Force colonel) and both being educators. Chief Sneed then gave a brief history and basic understanding of who the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are and what sovereignty means to the Tribe and western North Carolina.
Davis began a discussion on the coronavirus (COVID-19) stating, “Folks across the country have been impacted by COVID-19 from business to education to just normal day-to-day life. What has the impact been for folks in the western part of the district there in Cherokee?”
Chief Sneed answered, “We’re very unique in that we have the ability to look at best practices, not only from around the country but from around the world, and then be able to implement those. One of the things that we made a decision early on was to do mass-testing, and the reason we did that was because we looked at the Korean model. They were one of the countries that were able to get ahold on COVID and actually stop it from spreading very rapidly across the country. And, one of the mechanisms they used was mass-testing so that you could identify who was positive and isolate them in quarantine.”
He added, “We are actually testing at four to six times the rate that the counties are doing.” Chief Sneed then discussed the Tribe’s seven-week lockdown and the current procedures surrounding the re-opening.
“Our mission was always to flatten the curve and not have our health care system overrun,” said Chief Sneed. “Short of a vaccine, we are going to have to learn to live with it. We can’t have our economies shut down indefinitely. So, we implemented very strict protocols at our casino properties where everybody is masked, guests and employees alike, and enhanced sanitizing protocols.”
Davis then asked, “How about education-wise, do you foresee schools opening? What do you think is going to happen going forward with education?”
Chief Sneed replied, “I think it’s going to be a real challenge. Obviously, we want our young people to be back in school. The plans that are being put forward right now are for a staggered plan – half of the student body comes one day, the other half comes the next day. And, you have sort of a hybrid of online and classroom.”
He said that internet access in western North Carolina is a huge challenge to online instruction. “We’re dealing with that issue now. We’re looking at acquiring assets in the region to actually be able to provide affordable, high-speed connectivity to our citizens.”
Davis commented on that issue. “That’s certainly one of the issues that is high on the list of things I would like to work on in Congress. Across the country, about 92 percent of folks in the country have access to broadband. North Carolina, as a whole, is a little ahead of the curve. We’re at about 94 percent. But, a lot of the counties in the western part of the state are at 50 percent or less.”
Following the internet discussion, Davis asked Chief Sneed what he could do to help the Tribe if elected. Chief Sneed gave a brief synopsis of his experiences and observations while visiting Washington, D.C.
“For anybody representing this District, it would behoove them to really educate themselves on Native issues – especially when you have a tribe like the Eastern Band who is literally the economic driver for the western part of the state.”
Davis then brought up the issue of the Catawba Indian Nation’s plan to open a casino in the Kings Mountain area of the state and asked Chief Sneed to speak on why it is an important issue for the Tribe.
Chief Sneed answered, “The Catawba Nation are a South Carolina tribe who sought to put a casino in South Carolina which was rejected by the State of South Carolina, and then they sought to move into North Carolina.”
He added, “Folks need to understand that what happens to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians happens to western North Carolina. We are absolutely, inextricably connected…if we are impacted in a negative way fiscally, it will impact western North Carolina.”
Davis then stated, “You’re in a unique position where you’re having to deal with the federal government, the state government, the county government. How do you juggle all of those balls?”
Chief Sneed replied, “One meeting you’re in you’re talking to someone at the federal level, the next meeting you’re in it’s a constituent, and the meeting after that I’m talking with the CDC down in Atlanta, the meeting after that I’m talking with somebody down in Raleigh. So, it’s a lot. It’s a very steep learning curve when you first get in. But, then again, I think being an educator really helped me because I’m constantly a student. So, it doesn’t embarrass me to ask questions when I don’t know.”
The two discussed several other issues including natural resources, historic sites, and tourism.
Davis stated at the end of the broadcast that whether elected or not, he will continue to be an advocate for western North Carolina and the Tribe.