COMMENTARY: Wish lists

by Jun 13, 2022OPINIONS0 comments



One Feather Editor


There is so much potential in the Tribe. We hear it all the time. From our kids to our land, we realize that the future could hold great things for the generations to come.

I once, actually more than once, heard our representatives talk about how we “plan ourselves to death”. It was specifically said whenever a program would bring in a request to do a feasibility study on a project that might have had two or three feasibility studies done over several years.

As important as having a good financial story is for a project, a key element to getting that project from the drawing board to the first golden shovel full of implementation, is political support. Yes, politics may be a dirty word to some, but it is an essential element in project planning on the Qualla Boundary.

You may have the best, most logical case for a plan in the world and it will fail if it does not have a majority of support within the Tribal Council. And, with the weighted vote, that doesn’t always mean seven of the 12 representatives around the “horseshoe”. Each Wolftown representative has 12 percent of the Tribal Council vote. Each Snowbird/Cherokee County representative has six percent. The two Yellowhill representatives have seven percent a-piece. Each Painttown representative has six percent. And each Birdtown representative has 12 percent. Each Big Cove representative has seven percent.

That is the breakdown of the power pie that has guided things for over a decade, even though a census, one prescribed by the Charter and Governing Document, has not taken place to ensure the legitimacy of the elections. That too, is a political decision to supersede the foundational law of our government. And it does impact the projects for both community and economic development.

The weighted vote brings the total number of Tribal Council representatives needed to either move a project forward or kill it to just five of the twelve. If the Birdtown and Wolftown representatives are in agreement on an issue, it only takes one more representative to pass or fail anything that goes before Tribal Council.

Then there is the issue of ratification. All laws passed through the Tribal Council go before the Executive Branch, particularly the Principal Chief to either be ratified into law, or vetoed, in which case, it would go back to Tribal Council to see if an override vote would take place. To override the veto of a Principal Chief, the Tribal Council would need to muster a super-majority, or two-thirds of the weighted vote (66 percent). That would require at least seven council members (a simple majority of the Tribal Council head count).

I know that may be a little confusing to some, but the bottom line of it is that weighted vote makes a huge difference in the way we are governed. It puts more power into the hands of the demographically bigger communities. It was designed to provide fair and equal representation. But when our governors choose to negate the foundation of the weighted vote, the periodic census that is prescribed by our foundational law, the Charter, they also negated the legitimacy of the weighted vote.

Since no official count has been made per the Charter, how do we know that a representative from Wolftown should represent 12 percent of the total vote? Maybe it should be 14 or maybe it should be eight. Who knows? How can any of these voting percentages be correct if they are decades old? People are not being born, dying, or relocating at a static rate. It is possible for the number of people in a community not to change, but it is highly improbable. People move from one community to another, they pass away, and they are born, all at varying rates within communities. It is highly unlikely that those percentages of community representation are the same as they were in the year 2000.

The way of life on the Boundary is dictated in many ways by the decisions of our Tribal Council. Our Charter gives the Tribal Council sweeping power to govern the affairs of the Tribe, from the largest decisions of financial and jurisdictional sovereignty down to settling two-party land disputes. Every area of life on the Boundary is impacted by the decisions of Tribal Council.

You and I spend a lot of time wishing for better. For some of us, we feel like the only times we have any say in what goes on in our lives is the two times every two years that we select those who represent us in the halls of government. Others spend hour to hour, day to day, trying to effect change in government practice for the good (acknowledging that everyone’s idea of “good” may differ).

Typically, discussions regarding changes like limiting terms and replacing the Charter get a pretty lethargic response. I am never sure that it is because we are all comfortable with the status quo, or we don’t want to rock the boat, or if we are simply too naïve’ to care. What I do know is that lethargy will not bring change. It is not okay for the rights of the people to be subverted or ignored. And if a law has outlived its function; it should be done away with. But if it has not, then is it ethical for our leaders to continue to ignore the responsibility for executing that law?

We should not be lulled into inaction by a full belly and pockets full of cash and material things. Many of the decisions we are making today, generations of Cherokee people will live with. It is popular to say that we are thinking seven generations out into the future with our governmental decisions. Are we? Or are we just fulfilling our latest wish lists?