By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Tribal Council voted down a move to hear the formal protest put forth by Attorney Robert Saunooke, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, during the regular session of Tribal Council on Thursday, Jan. 14.
Saunooke’s protest was of Res. No. 363 (2020), a decision passed by Tribal Council on Dec. 17, 2020 that approved the purchase of the Caesars Southern Indiana casino for a reported $250 million. He received a response from Tribal Council Attorney Carolyn West saying that his protest did not meet the requirements to be heard and therefore would not be added to the session’s agenda.
The protest was also reviewed by the EBCI Attorney General’s office and they came to the same verdict.
The protest still gained enough attention that it was addressed to begin Thursday’s session. Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah made a move for the protest to be heard anyway, and that move received a second from Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe. This led to more than an hour of debate before eventually being voted down 56-44.
Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley was one of the first to step to the podium in support of hearing Saunooke’s protest.
“I think when an enrolled member wants to come to the podium, and in this case here it was drafted up through a hearing, to me any enrolled member is an ‘interested party’. And they’re going to have financial gain or loss in any decision this Council makes. I agree with Tom and Bo. Whether it changes anybody’s mind, you’ve got to listen to the people of this Tribe,” said Vice Chief Ensley.
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, who submitted the original resolution, was the primary defender of the decision made in December.
“This decision was thoroughly vetted and every decision we make is in the best interest of the Tribe…if anyone wants to sit down and go over the numbers, we’re happy to do that. The assertions made in Mr. Saunooke’s resolution, they’re all patently false,” said Chief Sneed.
Rep. Wahnetah offered a portion of his time for Saunooke to speak before Council. Saunooke said that his biggest issue with the purchase is the way in which the deal has been constructed.
“What’s clear is that in October of last year you passed a resolution that adopted some blank form as an operating agreement for this cooperation. And what else is clear is that in December, at the last minute, the last hour – Mr. McConnell [Interim Attorney General] and the Chief brought in a totally different operating agreement that changed the management, changed the appointment, and put people together into this board that will run this company. And, that operating agreement said unequivocally that this Tribe, the member of the company, will have voice, no vote, no say on this company that’s been created,” said Saunooke.
Another visitor who spoke in front of Council was former Principal Chief Michell Hicks. He took time to run through the projected numbers for the potential purchase. He believed that the return on investment was extremely low, and the numbers did not seem to match what was initially offered.
“I’m not here fighting diversity. I’m not here fighting the Chief or the Council. But, I’ve got a ton of questions that people have asked me and I’m just trying to clarify. I want this deal to go. I want the Tribe to diversify. But, the numbers have got to make sense, and that’s where I’m having a little difficulty,” said Chief Hicks
He also took issue with the idea that the people had ample opportunity to visit the work sessions and become educated on this major purchase.
“COVID’s kind of been in the way guys,” said Chief Hicks. “I didn’t know this decision was this far along. That’s why I came into the December Council. I didn’t know we were making a final decision. Hey, maybe I could’ve done a better job of keeping up, but you know what? I had a lot of questions coming to me. Rightfully so. You can see why there’s questions.”
After continued discussion, Chairman Adam Wachacha brought forward the vote on whether to hear the protest. The 56-44 decision was against. Voting went as follows: accept the protest – Big Cove Rep. Richard French, Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah, Painttown Rep. Dike Sneed, Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe, and Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose; deny the protest – Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke, Wolftown Rep. Chelsea Saunooke, Chairman Adam Wachacha, Vice Chairman David Wolfe, Cherokee Co. – Snowbird Rep. Bucky Brown, Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle, and Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell.