By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Staff
EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) Tribal Council voted 70-30 during its regular session on Thursday, May 5 to move forward with a purchase of just over 85 acres of tribal trust land.
The land is located in the Lower Cherokee Community, Upper Cherokee Community, and in the Painttown Community according to Resolution No. 273 (2022) that was read into record on Thursday afternoon. Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed spoke to Council about these parcels, stating that the appraised value was 11.5 million dollars.
“That was an appraisal that was done, I believe, in 2018 or 2019. We can only assume that the value is more now, given the rate of inflation and the increase in the cost of real estate,” said Chief Sneed.
The EBCI Lands Acquisition Committee approved the $10 million purchase on April 21 of this year. The parcels also have several houses and the Pioneer Motel on the property. Chief Sneed said that one of the most valued parcels lays behind the motel.
“The parcel behind the Pioneer would be used for the medicinal cannabis grove,” said Chief Sneed.
He also clarified where this land is located.
“The land behind Pioneer Motel, the Pioneer Motel, and then there’s a parcel on Acquoni and there is a large parcel that’s behind the casino as well. And all the improvements. That does not include the roadway in though.”
The original legislation that was brought before Council stated that ‘the Tribe intends to use these parcels for work-force housing’. This was brought up by Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle, who mentioned that the Tribe is losing a lot of money because of the vacancies at the casino. This was something echoed by Principal Chief Sneed.
“We just got the numbers yesterday. Combined, Resort and Valley River, we’re now over 1,000 open positions with no relief in sight. The main driver is the same for the rest of Western North Carolina – there’s no affordable housing,” said Chief Sneed.
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy was quick to speak against this portion of the resolution, however.
“I do take issue with the workforce housing portion of it. I’ll tell you why. In every one of your communities tonight you’re going to have a homeless family and you’re going to have a hungry family. If we’re doing this for workforce, is it for permanent workforce or is it for temporary seasonal workforce?” questioned Rep. McCoy.
“We’ve been looking for a place to place people who are going through Analenisgi. People who need help out there. I want to strike that part out of the legislation,”
Chief Sneed agreed with McCoy, stating that workforce housing wasn’t the intent of the purchase. A move was made, and that portion of the resolution was struck.
“The intent, really, for the main parcel was for the cannabis grove. The workforce housing piece is just the Pioneer Motel. Which I don’t even know how many rooms that is, it’s not much,” said Chief Sneed.
Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe said that he wanted the resolution to be clearer about the ‘improvements’ that were located on the parcels.
“All the legal descriptions and pieces of property I have and everyone else has … it always says improvements too. I think that needs to be added to these. ‘With all improvements thereon’ or however it reads on possessory holdings documents. So, I’m going to move to hold this until we get all those added,” said Rep. Wolfe.
Fellow Yellowhill Rep. T.W. Saunooke then moved to add ‘together with all improvements located thereon’ to each of the parcels necessary as a floor amendment. This motion was passed, adding the language to all parcels except Parcel No. 58 and Parcel No. 724.
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke was the last to raise a concern with the resolution. She pointed out that one of the listed owners of the property was James David Cooper, who was banished by Tribal Council on Aug. 2, 2007. Council turned this question to Attorney General Michael McConnell and legislative counsel Carolyn West. They said there is nothing in the Cherokee Code that strips the privilege of land ownership and sale from first-generation descendants, which Cooper is. This issue was not discussed further.
The other listed owners were Dustina Cheryle Cooper (EBCI-enrolled), Debra Cooper MacCourtney, Susan Cooper Spees, and Janene Cooper Lancaster (all first-generation descendants).
The following is the full listing of parcels being acquired in the purchase:
- Lower Cherokee Community Parcel No. 18 – 10.3 acres, more or less.
- Lower Cherokee Community Parcel No. 57 (Part of Parcel No. 17) – 7.8 acres, more or less.
- Lower Cherokee Community Parcel No. 65 – 0.48 acres, more or less.
- Lower Cherokee Community Parcel No. 58 (Part of Parcel No. 17) – 1.1 acres, more or less.
- Lower Cherokee Community Parcel No. 11-A – 0.7 acres, more or less.
- Lower Cherokee Community Parcel No. 13 – 1.1 acres, more or less.
- Lower Cherokee Community Parcel No. 85 (Part of Parcel No. 11) – 12.11 acres, more or less.
- Lower Cherokee Community Parcel No. 23 – 5.86 acres, more or less.
- Upper Cherokee Community Parcel No. 21-A (Remainder of Parcel No. 21) – 0.513 acres, more or less.
- Upper Cherokee Community Parcel No. 286 (Par of Parcel No. 145)– 37.678 acres, more or less.
- Painttown Community Parcel No. 724 (Part of Parcel No. 89) – 37.678 acres, more or less.
The final vote came out 70-30 with Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe, Snowbird/Cherokee Co. Rep. Adam Wachacha, and Painttown Reps. Tommye Saunooke and Dike Sneed voting against.