By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
The idea of term limits and staggered terms for Tribal Council representatives of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) has been discussed for decades, and now tribal voters will get the chance to decide on the issue in an upcoming referendum. Council approved Res. No. 11 (2021) unanimously during an Annual Council session on Monday, Oct. 11 that calls for three questions regarding term limits to be posed to the voters which would result in a change to the EBCI Charter and Governing Document.
The legislation was submitted by Robert Jumper, an EBCI tribal member voting in the Cherokee Co. – Snowbird township. The three questions posed in the resolution are:
- Do you agree to change the terms of office prescribed in the Charter and Governing Document for Tribal Council members from 2 years to 4 years?
- If you agree with Question 1, do you agree to amending the law to hold Tribal Council member terms of office to “staggered” with one Representative seat from each township being up for election every two years?
- If you agree with Question 1, do you agree to limit the number of consecutive terms a Tribal Council member may serve to two terms?
“My reason for asking for this vote of the people is that our governing document is no longer sufficient to provide for the civil rights of our people,” Jumper wrote in a letter to tribal leadership following Monday’s vote. “We have outgrown it and it is important that we begin to make meaningful progress toward replacing it with a more substantive guiding document. And, if that cannot be done through a full replacement with a constitution in the near future, we should not wait to make enhancements to current law to provide those civil rights.”
Jumper is the editor of the Cherokee One Feather and took time off to submit and present the legislation on Monday simply as a tribal member. “It is the first time in my life that I have brought legislation in on my own, so I am especially grateful for Tribal Council’s willingness to hear it. I feel that you have shown that you want the people to have a say in this, for my resolution was not to enact a law, but to allow the people an opportunity to make law for themselves through the referendum vote. Now it will be up to the people, as it should be in cases of their civil rights. I believe you have done a good thing and I hope to see more action like this as your terms move forward. Members of the Tribe should be comfortable in submitting and discussing solutions with you, and my experience was that you are willing to be helpful and find solutions.”
Since the legislation was submitted without a petition as required in Cherokee Code Sec. 161-9(c), Jumper asked Council at the outset of discussion on the issue on Monday if any representatives wished to sign on as a sponsor. Three decided to do so including Vice Chairman Albert Rose, Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, and Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe. Their names were added to the ‘submitted by’ section along with Jumper’s.
During discussion, Cherokee Co. – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha noted, “I like the approach here because I know when we had the discussion on the constitution, one of the main things that was being pushed back was everything being pushed into one document. I think this provides the public an opportunity to create an avenue for a smaller leaping off point whenever it pertains to the Charter and Governing Document and maybe even going into the discussion of a constitution.”
He added, “If you do have four-year terms and one seat changes over every two years, it will provide stability and continuity. But, I’ve also heard from others that two-year terms are basically term limits based on how well do in the community and if they continue re-electing you.”
Following passage, Rep. McCoy stated, “I would just like to remind Council that back during the summer, during this campaign that we just came through, I believe that the majority of the candidates questioned did agree that term limits were necessary.”
She then thanked Jumper for bringing the resolution forward and said, “Thank you so much for this because it’s something that we’ve kicked around at this table, and it’s political. Sometimes, we need to pull the politics out of it and allow the community to step up and handle their business and I appreciate this.”
Yellowhill Rep. T.W. (Price) Saunooke said he is in favor of the referendum but brought up the following points. “I’ve heard term limits for several years now, but I just kind of want to throw some numbers out here. If you have about a thousand voters in your community, 500 of them live off-Boundary and 500 of them live on-Boundary. You’ve got 25 percent, 125, that are elderly, retired, not looking to run. You have 25 percent of them that are 18 to 25 that are in school or starting families…so, now you’re down to about 250 eligible people to run for the Council seats inside of your community.”
He went on to say, “I understand the term limit piece, but we’re not the State of North Carolina and we’re not the federal government. We don’t have millions of people who are eligible to actually run for these capacities. So, whenever you start doing the term limits, of which I am definitely in agreeance, just know that pool of your candidates is going to dwindle…”
A referendum that would result in a change to the Charter and Governing Document requires 51 percent of the tribal voters to cast a ballot according to Cherokee Code Sec. 161.9(c)(9). Other referendums only required 30 percent.
As of this printing, a date has not been officially set for this referendum.