By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
Voters of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) will once again take to the polls to decide the extent of alcohol sales on tribal trust lands. Three referendum questions will be posed on the ballot of this September’s EBCI General Election including sale of malt beverages at retail establishments, development of a TABCC (Tribal Alcohol Beverage Control Commission) package store, and sale of malt beverages and wines at restaurants, hotels, and other type establishments.
It has been three years since the last alcohol referendum for the Tribe. Low voter turnout (25.56 percent) doomed a referendum, held on May 31, 2018, which would have established a tribally-owned package store. According to tribal code, a minimum voter turnout of 30 percent is required for a referendum to be deemed legitimate.
Resolutions No. 534 (2021), No. 535 (2021), and No. 536 (2021) were all submitted by Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle with all three passing and establishing the referendum vote as part of the General Election on Thursday, Sept. 2. Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose’s name was added to all three resolutions and Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed’s name was added to No. 534 as submitters.
The questions being posed are as follows:
- No. 534 – QUESTION No. 1: Do you support expanding the sales of malt beverages (beer) at retail establishments (grocery or convenience stores) within the Qualla Boundary?
- No. 535 – QUESTION No. 2: Do you support allowing the Tribal ABC Commission to operate an ABC package store to permit the sale of alcoholic beverages on tribal lands?
- No. 536 – QUESTION No. 3: Do you support expanding the sales of malt beverages and wines at restaurants, hotels, and other qualified establishments within the Qualla Boundary?
Each of the resolutions states, in part, “…expanding alcohol sales is a critical part of economic development. Without expanded sales, Cherokee cannot compete with surrounding communities that provide that amenity.”
Chief Sneed said during discussion on the three pieces of legislation, “As stated in the resolution, it is important for economic development – especially tourism. The Vice Chief and I meet with Community Club Council once a quarter, and multiple questions I dealt with the last time we met with them were related to tourism, economic development, and specifically to restaurants as far as having more restaurants in Cherokee.”
He added, “I related to the Community Club Council that in order to have the food and beverage anchors that we need for a sustainable tourism economy, that we have to have alcohol sales – if that’s going to be package sales, an ABC store run by the TABCC, or beverages sold at restaurants.”
Chief Sneed said that the town of Cherokee seems to “clear out” around dinnertime. “I think one of the contributing factors to that is that there are really very few food and beverage establishments in Cherokee. So, if we are going to look more towards a tourism economy, this is a very big part of it.”
Rep. Owle emphasized the economic development piece noting, “They’re looking for a revenue source here. If it did pass, it’d bring beer into the grocery stores and convenience stores. I think it’d be a great revenue-generator. They have it right off the Boundary.”
Rep. Rose supported the idea and made the motions for his name to be added to each. “Until we get this passed, our town will remain the way it is. You can go anywhere else, Bryson, Waynesville, and it’s a good atmosphere. Here, it’s like a drive-through ghost town to me.”
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke and Dike Sneed were the lone dissenting votes on Res. No. 534 and dissented, along with Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe, on Res. No. 536. Reps. Saunooke and Sneed both voted in favor of Res. No. 535 dealing with a tribally-owned package store.
Rep. Saunooke explained, “I wanted the Tribe to be able to get the revenue so that’s why Dike and I voted that way. We’ve already discussed it with our community, and they feel the same way. They just didn’t want every little store to have it. They wanted just one if we had to have it.”
Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah was absent for the session.
If any of the referendum questions fail to be affirmed by the voters, the measures could not be voted again in a referendum until the 2023 EBCI General Election. According to Cherokee Code Sec. 161-9(c)(10), “An issue that has been brought up before the eligible voters and voted upon by referendum/initiative may not be voted upon again until a period of two years has passed.”
During Wednesday’s session, there was some discussion as to the timing of the special session. Vice Chairman David Wolfe explained at the beginning of the session, “A referendum has to be done within 90 days. The Council sessions didn’t fall within that 90 days. So, just to let the public know, that’s why we’re here for this referendum request.”