By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
What began as a routine piece of legislation turned into a discussion on the future of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ (EBCI) association with USET (United South and Eastern Tribes). During its Annual Council session on Monday, Oct. 11, Council passed Res. No. 6 (2021) which approved the Tribe’s official delegates to USET including Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed and Tribal Council Chairman Richard French as delegates and Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley and Vice Chairman Albert Rose as alternates.
No one on Council had any issue with the selections or the legislation itself, and it passed 11-0.
Following its passage. Painttown Rep. Dike Sneed, who abstained from voting on Res. No. 6, commented, “I’m going to request that we pull out of USET. As long as they’re recognizing state tribes, they’re not in our best interest.”
USET is a 33-member organization formed on Oct. 4, 1968 by the original name of Intertribal Council Southeastern Tribes by the EBCI, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. In 1978, the organization adopted its current name.
Its official mission statement is, “United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. is dedicated to enhancing the development of federally recognized Indian Tribes, to improving the capabilities of Tribal governments, and assisting the USET Members and their governments in dealing effectively with public policy issues and in serving the broad needs of Indian people.”
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy commented during the discussion, “USET is defunct. It does not serve the purpose of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians anymore, and it has not in probably the last 10 years. USET, to me, is nothing more than a bunch of tribes east of the Mississippi gathering in Washington, D.C. for a week of whatever…to me, it doesn’t accomplish a whole lot.”
She added, “We have lobbyists. We have federal lobbyists. We have state lobbyists. We have people on payroll who can go in there and talk our business all day long.”
Wolftown Rep. Bill Taylor is the son of former Principal Chief Jonathan “Ed” Taylor who was one of the founders of USET. “I, too, am sort of upset at the direction that USET is taking in recent years.”
But, he did recommend not leaving the organization hastily. “I think before we make any type of decision like that, we need to once and for all have a sit-down with all four founding tribes and come up with a plan. Are we going to stay in? Are we going to try to make it work?”
“As a founding member of USET, we need to try to find a way for us four tribes to take it back over.”
He said that legislation was submitted eight years ago for USET regarding state-recognized tribes. “It passed by a large margin that USET was only for federally recognized tribes and state-recognized tribes could not take part anymore.”
Prior to that, he said state-recognized tribes were included in various aspects of the organization including being allowed to use USET to receive federal pass-over grants.
Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle said he agreed with Rep. Taylor about speaking with the other founding tribes and said it could be a possibility to start a new group with them. About USET he noted, “They’re not helping us now, but look at what they could do if we don’t have representation at least for us to speak up.”
Cherokee Co. – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha said, “We need to have a discussion with the other three founding members because I know we’ve been kicking this can down the road for awhile.”
He further noted, “There are some strong tribes within USET outside of the founding four, but we need to make sure and ensure that everybody is going by what the rules are.”
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke commented, “I think it’d be hard to influence the organization without a seat at the table.”
Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe spoke to possible missed grant opportunities if the Tribe were to leave USET. “I know by sitting on Health Board, we get numerous grant opportunities, and USET is a pass-through for a lot of health grants…and, I’d like to know how many millions we get through USET.”
Rep. McCoy spoke again and said, “USET is an archaic, ancient organization that was necessary at one time. Today, you can get grant information on your computer. USET failed us. They have not defended us on the Catawba issue at all. I say let them go. This is 2021. We have the tools and the people and the knowledge right here at home to take care of these things.”
Rep. Sneed made a motion to re-consider Res. No. 6 which was seconded by Rep. McCoy. That motion failed by a vote of 10-2 with Reps. Sneed and McCoy being the two voting for.