COMMENTARY: Political Theatre

by Mar 7, 2022OPINIONS0 comments



One Feather Editor


You know, it has been an often mentioned thought in people’s minds (and sometimes admitted out loud) that they go to the racetrack in morbid anticipation of a spectacular wreck. Some will recoil from the suggestion but will admit is hard to look away when a mistake is made and that once controlled power suddenly goes out of control and results in flying molten metal, spectacular flames, and speculation of who and if anyone survived it.

It is not the intended purpose of the sport. It is not even the presumed selling point to the audience of car races. Your rational mind would never hope for a crash that severely cripples or takes life from another human being. But subconsciously, you dare to hope for a thrilling crash that will entertain you. Race car crashes and train wrecks are part of the reason that the phrase, “if it bleeds, it leads” came to be. The big news is never “things are going as normal”. It is always the abnormal that catches the public eye and therefore is the focus of many of our media. It is a desirous thing for many of us to watch dramatic suffering.

“All the world’s a stage, and we are merely players They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts.”-William Shakespeare

As we watched the Thursday, March 3 session of Tribal Council, we were treated to a bit of political theatre. On the table was legislation submitted by the Lands Acquisition Committee, chaired by the Principal Chief. The legislation was a land purchase transaction in the Painttown Community, something that Tribal Council debates and decides upon many times during a two-year term. The legislation was eventually withdrawn after discussion about the challenges of buildable property and the condition of the land in question. One Council member indicated a familiarity with the condition of the property and felt that the price for the piece of property needed to be negotiated down. That is a normal part of the race.

But a crash or train wreck occurred during this discussion. It began with Big Cove Council Representative Teresa McCoy making her points about why she was not in support of the legislation. Soon accusations, vocal escalation, and insults took over the narratives of both Council Representative McCoy and Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed.

In fairness to the members of our government, community, and those involved in the discussion, I have transcribed the interaction. Roughly 10 minutes of the 30 minutes of discussion (approximately a third of the entire debate) was this interaction between the Chief and the Representative from Big Cove. The purpose of this commentary is not to take sides on either the resolution or the two opposing people or their viewpoints. I just want the community to decide if this is how we want our government to conduct business. I have not injected any opinion within the transcription. You will see a bit of narration in parenthesis to help with the overall context of the words spoken.

The interaction between Chief Sneed and Big Cove Representative McCoy is transcribed as follows:

Rep. McCoy: You came in here and handed us this, right? I don’t have that other information attached to it.

Chief Sneed: I emailed it to everybody.

Rep. McCoy: So, was I singled out Chief?

Chief Sneed: No, I said I emailed it to everybody.

Rep. McCoy:  I read that. I would prefer to have it in here in my hand today as a hard copy so that I could look at it like TW did. The other thing I’m gonna tell you is this, I am not going to sit here and give anybody money paying for a four lane, floodplain, or anything else. We can’t use it; we’re not paying for it. #2: If I sit here and decided I’m going to spend money to build housing for people it’ll be for Big Cove people and Snowbird people and Painttown people and our people. We got hundreds of families without housing. The TCGE…

Chief Sneed: Why are you talking to me that way?

Rep. McCoy:  I am talking to you. I can talk to you that way…

Chief Sneed: No, you may not. No, you may not.

(Gavel can be heard in the background and Chairman French says “Teresa”)

Rep. McCoy: …because you are in Council today and if you can’t take it go to your office.

(Voices are overlapping each other, Rep. McCoy says, “I am sorry Council”)

Chief Sneed: No, you may not. You will speak with respect to everybody in this chamber.

Rep. McCoy: I am being respectful.

Chief Sneed: No, you’re not. You’re never respectful.

Rep. McCoy: Chief. I’m also not in here selling or buying property with tribal funds for a friend, am I?

(Gavel can be heard in the background)

Chief Sneed (holding up a copy of the resolution):  I’m a representative of Lands Acquisition Committee. This is a this is from the Lands Acquisition Committee. This isn’t from me. I chair the committee. That’s it.

Rep. McCoy:  Well, it’s changed since. Now according to this it says something about commercial property. We can’t use part of it. Why would a chief of any tribe come in here and ask this council to purchase land with the tribe’s money when they can’t use it? Why would we do that? The TCGE has money in their budget and they can buy land…

Chief Sneed: No, they don’t.

Rep. McCoy:  and they can buy houses.

Chief Sneed:  No, they don’t.

Rep. McCoy: Well then if they don’t, we can’t put houses over there Chief and if we do put houses over there, it has to be for tribal members.

Chief Sneed:  Why are you yelling?

Rep. McCoy: I am not yelling I’m making my point.

Chief Sneed: Well then speak. Make your point. Loud doesn’t mean right.

Rep. McCoy: Well, you know that buying land with our money for your friends ain’t right either. How about that?

Chief Sneed: How is it that they’re my friends?

Rep. McCoy; Come on Chief. Come on.

Chief Sneed: Come on Teresa. Come on Teresa. This is what you do and this is the innuendo thing you do. You’ve made a career out of doing that.

Rep. McCoy: Mr. Chairman. Call him to order.

Chief Sneed: Really? So, you direct the Chairman now. Is that how this works?

Rep. McCoy: No, I am asking him to. Mr. Chairman.

Chief Sneed: You just directed him.

Rep. McCoy: This is Council Chief and…

Chief Sneed: I’m very aware of that and it is not the Teresa McCoy meeting either. it seems to me that you run the meeting from the end of the horseshoe here.

Rep. McCoy: Chief. Mr. French, Mr. Chairman, I’m…

Chairperson French (gavel in background): You both need to be professional. (then briefly off mic-not audible).

Rep. McCoy: I will second the move to kill. I was in favor to table it till we could go out there and look at it, but now I will move to kill it. I will not sit here as a council member of this tribe and raise my hand to support housing for anybody but our people, our members.

Chief Sneed: We do both.

Rep. McCoy: And as far as the expansion at the casino, we voted on that here and if housing is a problem, hey it’s a problem for our people. I’m not going to sit here in front of our people and give housing to somebody just so they can have a job here and you got…the problem may not be with our people not having jobs it might be the way they get treated in those jobs or the pay that they don’t get for those jobs or that they get treated like second class citizens on their own homeland.

Chief Sneed: I don’t know what any of that has to do with what’s before us today. What’s before us today was voted on by the Lands Acquisition Committee.

Rep. McCoy: Mr. Chairman, we could table this to the end of the day. Maybe he’ll calm down by then. But I’m gonna tell you I need the maps; I need the appraisal; I need everything else…

Chief Sneed: So, all of this was sent to everybody and everybody on Council was invited to go look at the property…

Rep. McCoy: I’ve seen the property. I went and looked at it, Chief.

Chief Sneed: Well…

Rep. McCoy: And I have to agree with Mister, Mister Saunooke at the end of the table…

Chief Sneed: And that is your prerogative to do so. That’s your prerogative to do so.

Rep. McCoy: Mr. Chairman, I’m talking. Whose got the floor, me or the Chief?

(Chairman French, off mic, affirms that Rep. McCoy has the floor)

Rep. McCoy: Thank you. Having said that, Mr. Saunooke suggested that I go out there and I look at this property. And I am very familiar with this property and the people who live around it. You want us to pay for the four-lane…

Chief Sneed: Stop. Stop with the “you”, okay? This is a resolution from Lands Acquisition. I’m not going to stand here and be accused of corruption. Why do you do that?

Rep. McCoy: Because it says Richard G. Sneed, Principal Chief on it…

Chief Sneed: On behalf of Lands Acquisition here (pointing to the resolution). I am the chair of the committee…

Rep. McCoy: Mr. Chairman. I give up. I give up…I am not going to support it. He’s…

Chief Sneed: …I am presenting on behalf of the committee. Then make your move. There’s been a move to kill. You made a move to second. Fine. 

Rep. McCoy: But I am going to have my say.

Chief Sneed; This innuendo that you do…

Rep. McCoy: Chief, I am going to have my say.

Chief Sneed: This innuendo that you do…completely disrespectful.

Rep. McCoy: Well, you are too.

Chief Sneed: No. No.

Rep. McCoy: You’re very disrespectful. Childish. Roll your lips and roll them eyes one more time. 

(Sound of gavel in the background, off mic)

Chief Sneed:  This is…this is how…this is how…chairmen…those of you who chair committees…when you come to present on the behalf of a committee, that is not a personal…I’m not presenting this personally. I’m presenting on behalf of the committee. The committee voted unanimously. This body, you have the choice to vote it up or down. I sent all the information for you to be able to review for your due diligence. If you don’t support it, don’t support it. But this innuendo thing that’s somehow I’m doing something on behalf of my friends, it’s it’s garbage. It’s absolute garbage.

Rep. McCoy: Mr. Chairman, I’m not finished. This interruption from him is just ridiculous. But having said that, I’m not opposed to looking at the buildable property; the property that we can use for something. I’m not opposed to that. We’re not gonna get a lot of housing or hotels or anything else in the middle of that four-lane spur out there. Nothing. I don’t understand why it would even be included. We’re buying land not a highway. We’re buying usable land not floodplain land. There is land out there that is usable. Correct TW?. Am I correct? See? There is some. The issue…I don’t have…He should have walked in here and handed us every piece of document that we need. I want…I want to see the plan. I want to see your appraisal. I want it attached to a hard copy. I’m getting ready to make a decision here that’s going to have a financial impact on Big Cove and when I go home tonight there’s gonna be 150 families up there that don’t have a home. I don’t understand this. I think we’ve got a lot of land around the Boundary that we can put employees in.  But on Indian land, I will not build housing for anybody but a tribal member. This, look, we moved out of here in our land was taken. Now this Chief comes and he wants to build housing for ‘em? No!

Chief Sneed: Then vote no.

Rep. McCoy: Chief, if you would please…respect! Having said that, Mr. Chairman, Counsel, I apologize for my behavior but I’m not backing down on this issue.

Chairperson French: Your time is up Teresa.

Rep. McCoy: Thank you Mr. Chairman.

(At this point, Chairperson French asked Rep. Mccoy if she wanted to leave her second on the floor to kill. She affirms that she did. The Chairman recognized Vice Chairman and Birdtown Representative Albert Rose who also serves on the Lands Committee. The Lands Committee had unanimously voted to recommend the purchase to Tribal Council. Rep. Rose, based on the comments of Representative T.W. Saunooke stated he also felt like further negotiation was warranted before a purchase is made.)

Chief Sneed: If I may Mr. Chairman and Vice Chairman I appreciate your comments and you know if if it’s at the point where we can negotiate that’s fine. I do wanna say the issue that I have with how all of this has unfolded here today is that we voted on this. I said, we collectively…the Lands Acquisition Committee. Being the chair of that committee I sent all of the relevant information to all of the Council members We set up a time for everybody to go out and walk the property look at the property, and Environmental (program representatives) and Natural Resources (representatives) were out there. I had Kituwah Homes out there. Nobody showed up. So I just wanted it clear for the record, everybody watching, this idea that somehow this is my project? It’s not the truth and so I take offense to that when you start…

(Inaudible comment from Rep. McCoy)

Chief Sneed: Well, that’s alright. Well, you offend everybody all the time Teresa.

(Inaudible comment from Rep. McCoy)

 Chief Sneed: You should…

(inaudible comment from Rep. McCoy)

Chief Sneed: So again so again so currently for the record we have put 70 families in homes through our down payment assistance in 2021. We put 80 new apartments on tribal land. We purchased the property across the street from the Painttown property to put more apartments over there in a senior living, like a HIP community, over there. We purchased the property that adjoins that on the same side of the road in Paintttown. The idea that Miss McCoy keeps putting forward that we’re not putting our people in homes is completely false. I take great offense to that. Our Housing and Community Development, our housing department works very hard and we’re putting people in homes. This is not an either/or. If we don’t buy this fine but we’re gonna have to do something to support the one enterprise that’s paying all the bills.

(Chief Sneed went on to discuss the number of vacant positions that impact customer service. He withdrew the legislation to take it back to Land Acquisition Committee to further negotiate pricing with the landowner.)

This ends the segment of transcription.

We have always thought of the Tribal Council chamber as a “horseshoe” because the seats of the representatives are configured that way. It is most definitely not a horseshoe. It is an oval. What we would consider the missing south turn of that oval comprises of a podium. We need to remember that as we take our turns at that podium. It represents the conduit by which the people can communicate their will. Stepping to the podium is part of getting in the game when it comes to the governance of the Tribe, the thirteenth seat, if you will.

The way we conduct ourselves as public servants matters. More than in anytime in history, when we place ourselves on a dais or step up to a live microphone in front of a podium, we are truly on a world stage. Our words carry to places we could never conceive. From that 10-minute segment of a meeting of our top leaders, what do our community, our municipal, state, national, international partners surmise about the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians? Our competitors?

Tribal member, which of the seven core values of the Cherokee people was exhibited in these diatribes?

Tribal leaders are the image of our Tribe. They are playing to a worldwide audience each time the cable cast starts, and the online streaming begins. There words and actions may be seen and reseen by the entire community and anyone in the world who might be interested in us. Only a very small portion of our community comes into the Council Chambers for each session, and there is seating in the room for only a small portion of the 16,000 tribal members. But technology has opened the world to our meetings and allowing our community members to see these workings of our government, as it should be.

My kneejerk reaction to these 10 minutes of the workings of our government was that I wished that the Chairperson had a media panic button or kill switch to disable the cameras and audio. I was embarrassed for our Tribe. But, having given thought to it, the better idea might be to let the community see and voice their opinion. And so that is what I have done now. I am not talking about the resolution, our leaders, or access by media. As you know, I don’t condone, and we don’t allow personal attacks as a matter of policy in the One Feather. I want to know how you feel about the 10 minutes of debate between two of our elected officials. No online memes or personal criticism. In fact, I think we will turn off the comment section on social media and ask you to send your comments in via email or letter to the editor. What we don’t need to do is become players in the political theatre. Reach out to your community’s Tribal Council member, your Principal Chief, and your Vice Chief. Make your thoughts known about how want to be represented in public by our tribal leaders. More needs to be done to ensure that we are honoring our values, particularly those who hold high tribal office.