COMMENTARY: Don’t let yourself be silenced.

by May 7, 2022OPINIONS0 comments



One Feather Editor


At the end of the Tribal Council session on May 5, time they typically reserve for banishments, a representative requested additional legislation to address a temporary banishment of an individual from tribal lands. As the situation is apparently still under investigation, the incident report from the Cherokee Indian Police Dept. (CIPD) was referenced but not released to the community. So, it is impossible for me or anyone who doesn’t have inside information to know what this individual is alleged to have done to raise this response from our leadership.

What we do know, based on the language of the resolution is that the actions of the individual being temporarily banished were documented and, as the resolution stated that this person is not a tribal member, the documentation was presented to the authorities in the jurisdiction that this person would have been accountable, and that authority declined to take up the matter.

We, you and I, don’t know the details of what transpired to bring us to the place of an emergency banishment. There are, certainly, those in our community who do. And there are those who will certainly speculate. And some versions of what happened will spread around our community with varying degrees of accuracy until the facts are revealed. We made the attempt to access the Cherokee Police Department incident report referred in the resolution, but were told that due to the ongoing investigation, the incident report is not available to the community.

One of the issues that recurs when we, the public, are informed about banishments, is that we do not receive much more than a name and a birth date when it comes to banished individuals. There is little on record or in law on how the community goes about identifying someone who violates a banishment order. With out an image or description of the banished person, it would be difficult to report anyone who is on the banishment list. Granted, we have received and published a few photos that have been made available, but for the vast majority of those banished, ID can only be made if the banished person must present identification with a name on it. For example, someone who is banished comes to the Boundary and pays for a meal at a restaurant with a bank card. In that case, the name on the card would give someone the ability to identify the trespasser.

The problem with that scenario is that there is no requirement in law for businesses and utilities to maintain a current copy of the banishment list. It is extremely unlikely that anyone who had been banished either temporarily or permanently would be identified by anyone other than police, and even our officers are unlikely to have a photo of the perpetrator because those banished are exclusively not EBCI tribal members and therefore if they were booted off the Boundary for crimes, their mugshots are in other municipalities, if they were taken at all. Currently, the only public facing listing of banished individuals that I am aware of is the one that the One Feather maintains.

Every single banishment resolution has a form of the following language in it; “Tribal Council has good reason to believe that (name) is a threat to the integrity, law, and order of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians land and the welfare of the members of the Tribe.”

Forgive me for being a little dramatic, but if someone were identified as being a threat to the welfare of me or my family, I would want to know every identifying detail of that individual. And I would be spreading that information around my family and telling them to be on the lookout for this person and to take appropriate precautions so that they could be caught before the threat became a tragic reality. And I would be pestering the authorities to provide me with the information that I need to defend my family, even if it irritated them a bit.

This is an even more critical need because there is very little our law enforcement and government may do to protect us if the perpetrator is not a tribal member when they commit some crimes.

Here is an excerpt from remarks made by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed at Tribal Council while making a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women proclamation.

“It’s important. It’s actually imperative that people understand how and why native women are victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence at a much higher rate. Perpetrators, predators, know that it they are on tribal land if it’s not a tribal nation that has adopted the Violence Against Women Act, and we are one of only 14 tribes that have done so, that tribe has no jurisdiction to arrest, to prosecute, or to incarcerate. Men who are predators know that and they make that their hunting ground if you will. Further if you’re a state where the county has jurisdiction…I think that’s PL138 that states where you don’t have a BIA police force or you don’t have your own local police force like we do…but the county has jurisdiction, County Sheriff and county courts, rest assured those cases do not get the same attention as crimes that happened off the reservation. It is imperative that we as tribal nations continue to advocate for our sovereignty to be able to prosecute. For the expansion of VAWA but more importantly that at some point I would hope that the Oliphant case is overturned because essentially the meat of that decision basically says that a non-Indian cannot get a fair trial on Indian land; which then begs the question ‘Can an Indian get a fair trial on non-Indian land?’ I just want to put that out there so that people understand how and why it happens and more importantly what we need to do as tribal leaders to advocate for our sovereignty to protect our women and our children.”

Currently, there are some crimes that are prosecutable which are committed by non-Indian perpetrators and there are still many crimes that are not. And while the Chief was mentioning tribes who have not adopted VAWA or do not have their own tribal police force, for those crimes that are committed on our Boundary by non-Indians that are not covered under VAWA, we are dependent on the federal authorities and other municipalities to enforce, prosecute, and hold accountable those who violate our land and our people.

So how does it change? It changes when you refuse to remain silent. It changes when you engage in the processes that put sympathetic ears in positions of power off the Boundary. It is getting your stories of injustice into the halls of the U.S. Congress. It is by participating in elections, like the one that is taking place now, the North Carolina Primary, that we change the landscape and get those sympathetic ears in place. Federally, tribes are in a good position to have their voices heard on issues like this. The current administration has shown that it is receptive to hearing the needs of indigenous people and is willing to act through laws and mandates to help tribes.

Remaining silent during this critical time is not an option. Sitting on our lands and shaking our fists at the powers that be in America will do nothing to alleviate the suffering of those tribal citizens affected by non-tribal member injustice. There is no better time than now to effect change and, as the Chief said, to reverse harmful decisions like Oliphant. But it will take voices and action, from me and you.