By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Editor
We are painfully aware of our appearance. Well, most of us are. Okay, some of us are. Our appearance makes a statement about us. Many of us take a significant portion of our day washing, shaving, combing, deodorizing, accessorizing ourselves in some fashion. It is a matter of course every day. To different degrees and levels, we groom. A person may have the motivation of making a good impression on others; another may be making a personal lifestyle statement; and another may be mandated to look a certain way by their supervisor or the dictates of their profession. Looking good is in the eye of the beholder, each of us with our own idea of what “looking good” is. And we are all very humble about our look. We may have worked hours on ourselves to get our representative look. When someone pays us a compliment, we say “Oh, I just grabbed the first thing, threw it on and ran out, but thank you for saying so.” I think some of us think that adding humility enhances the look we are trying to achieve.
The same is true of our homes. We all have different levels of interest in the way our homes look. Some are meticulous in their houses and yards. Men and women who take offense and wage war on dust and bugs on the inside of the home and bugs and weeds on the outside. Most folks don’t like clutter in their home or yards, and even if some of us have a little bit of hoarder syndrome, we will try to keep the clutter in sheds or somewhere out of site, especially when company is coming. People will buy crazy numbers of supplies and equipment to maintain a good-looking yard, for example. I know some folks who invest more money in their lawnmowers than they do in their automobiles; homeowners will buy bag after bag of fertilizer, mulch, bug killer, weed and seed; bushels of hay; just the right yard fixture and just the perfect exotic plants for their yard surrounding their home.
Early during the COVID-19 outbreak, many of us were homebound, so-to-speak. At least, we were making sure we didn’t come in direct contact with many people or go to unfamiliar places where unfamiliar people might frequent. But the wife and I did drive around western North Carolina and the Qualla Boundary to take in the sights and sounds of nature (mostly because all the theatres were closed, which was a Saturday ritual that we had to give up for a time). One of the things that was very clear during our travels was that people in our neck of the woods love our decks and porches. It seemed like every other house we drove by had either a brand-new deck or had a porch in progress. It was like families, for the lack of anything better to do said, “Hey, let’s build a porch!” Most of the work looked amazing, but all those new porches on some of those run-down houses just made everything look a little worse.
So, what does this have to do with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Qualla Boundary? Take a look around. When you have a minute, take a drive around the Boundary. We have talked a bit about the burned out and abandoned buildings, the dilapidated signs, etc., and the need for clean up and replacement. There is also the matter of unkept, unmaintained sidewalks and walkways. Grass and weeds pushing through and breaking up concrete walks, landscaping left without maintenance growing out of control with green areas around the tribal buildings looking like forests or uncut hay fields, and tree limbs going into greenway paths that have to be dodged like the walkers are on an obstacle course.
We have billed ourselves as a tourist destination for decades, dating back to the early 1950s. The Qualla Boundary, our home, is also our business. Our buildings, our walkways, our greenways, our river are our storefront. It is also our living room.
We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new building projects on the Qualla Boundary. A big beautiful new high-rise hotel, parking decks galore (on the casino property), youth center, school addition, and others. There is nothing wrong with these expansions, but the resulting highlighting of the unkept areas of our land is hard to swallow. As we bring these new structures online, it has the effect of building a shiny new deck on a run-down shack. The new accentuates the lack of care on the existing.
Some of it, for now, is out of the government’s hands, legally. As a government, we can’t or don’t want to tell landowners what to do with their property, even if it is an eyesore to our community.
Our leadership structure mirrors federal government in that we are a nation. Therefore, our Chief and Vice Chief equate to a president and vice president in the federal structure. But they also act as a mayor or county manager would in a town or county structure. The same is true for our Tribal Council, who equate to the federal Congress in stature, but they also act as county board of commissioners or board of town aldermen would in county or town government structures. So, the tribal government handles things of national import for our nation, as well as items of individual and community import as a municipality. The Tribal Council has the ability and flexibility to make enforceable law on the Boundary and the Executive Office can execute law here.
Why are we still dealing with decades long issues like dilapidated and burned-out buildings, poor municipal landscaping maintenance and deteriorating structures and walkways? We have great financial resources; the ability to augment workforce at-will; the ability to obtain and retain supplies, materials, and equipment far beyond most municipalities in the region, plus the ability to create any law that we need to clean up and upkeep our facilities, the grounds around them, and the roadside and riverside areas of the Boundary. We can keep up with and hold accountable multiple contractors spending sizeable amounts of our resources for new buildings, but we don’t have the labor and resources needed to keep our sidewalks in repair and to keep our landscaping maintained? Isn’t it just as important to take care of what you already have as it is to build new? Why have we not seen legislation mandating provisions to either insist on landowners correcting issues with curb appeal or create remedies in law for billing and doing government cleanup of some sort?
We, as a community, need to ask our leaders to apply more time and resources to the problem of aging infrastructure, including maintenance of our river and roadsides as well as around where the community and the tourists do business with us. We need to examine the impact of building while not planning for ongoing infrastructure needs. As much attention needs to be paid to what we have as is to what we are building.
Many of those people who were building those “corona-decks” also bought deck wash, a pressure washer, and some wood sealant, to protect what they just built. And they will need to plan on buying more supplies year after year because that is the way they secure the structural integrity of the deck and it is how they continue to impress the neighbors and visitors with their deck. All I am saying is that, as a Tribe, we need to apply that logic to our day to day here on the Boundary. Let’s care about our community like we do our bodies and our properties. A little grooming wouldn’t hurt.