By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Staff
The Cherokee Speakers Council met on Thursday, July 28 to address several issues on the Qualla Boundary and the Cherokee language.
A major part of the meeting was a report offered by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed. He began by telling the Council that the new date for the groundbreaking of the speakers building was set for Aug. 16 at 11:30 a.m.
The rest of Chief Sneed’s report focused on tribal sovereignty and some of the ongoing legal cases that have been highlighted nationally. He brought up Brackeen v. Haaland and McGirt v. Oklahoma in the conversation. The case he specifically warned about was Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta.
“This was the really dangerous one. Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that tribal reservations are not, in fact, sovereign land. But that states have jurisdiction and their sovereignty. And that they have sovereignty over all territory, even Indian Country,” said Chief Sneed.
“It remains to be seen how that is all going to play out or what laws will come into play to try to correct it. There seems to be a belief that there could be a congressional fix if we could get a federal law that actually says ‘no, tribal lands are in fact sovereign and the state does not have jurisdiction.’”
Chief Sneed followed this with information he brought from his time at USET just prior. He wanted to alert everyone to the happenings of the Seneca Nation in New York.
“Seneca, they’re a gaming tribe just like the Eastern Band and just like many other tribes. As you are all aware, we have to negotiate a compact with the state if we’re going to do class-three gaming. Some tribes, like Seminole, they negotiated exclusivity…where they have exclusivity across the state for class-three and then they pay a percentage to the state every year, which is usually in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Seneca did the same thing Seminole did. Their president was [at USET], and he was sharing that they had done the compact,” said Sneed.
“What they did was when the time came that they didn’t have to pay that percentage to the state, acting in good faith they still continued to put those payments into an ESCROW account. Because they were going to fight it, they were going to negotiate. They agreed to go to arbitration in the courts and they lost. At the time there was a half a billion dollars in that account.”
Chief Sneed used this as a call to action to those watching and those sitting in the Council Chambers that day. He wanted everyone to consider the consequences of state relationships and how quickly legal battles can swing.
“I share all this with you because I think it’s imperative that as leaders, that we begin to get the message out to our younger generation, to our families, that sovereignty is not just a buzzword. We have what we have, and we do what we do, and we have the ability to do what we do, because of sovereignty. But sovereignty is something that must be acted on.”
Before hearing from the Principal Chief, the Speakers Council offered time to Gary Teesateskie to come speak. Teesateskie was adopted into a Cherokee family and was raised in Snowbird. He has a long relationship with many of the Speakers and is a Cherokee speaker himself. Because of this, the Speakers Council passed a motion to support Teesateskie as an honorary member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. This is an honor that can be bestowed by Tribal Council, and the Speakers Council will be supporting a resolution to have this done for Teesateskie.
During the meeting, Lavita Hill was granted time to speak on her initiative to rename Clingman’s Dome, a renowned hike and outlook located near Cherokee. Hill previously presented her case to Tribal Council and gained their support via resolution during the July Council session.
“Once we have gained all of our documentation to support our application, we will bring our application back to Tribal Council and they will approve that application. Then we will be submitting it to the US Board of Geographic Names,” said Hill.
The Speakers Council unanimously supported the initiative. However, the Speakers Council continued to discuss the history of the name at the speakers gathering lunch the next day and decided to recommend the title of Kuwohi instead of the presented Kuwahi. The difference of the ‘o’ is particularly important in this situation in the designation of assigning a place. Kuwohi, in this example, designating ‘mulberry place’.
The Speakers Council also recommended that Hill investigate other areas that have traditional Cherokee names, with Soco Gap being brought up as an example.
“We have been discussing the idea of plenty of other places that have their non-native names such as Mingo Falls…I’m sure there are a lot. We are wanting to do this one step at a time. Our first initiative is to change Clingman’s Dome. Based on the history and the work that we’ve already done. Then, locally, we plan to come back and ask for new name changes in all of these other places,” said Hill. Tommy Cabe, forest resource specialist for the EBCI, also provided a report to the Speakers Council. He was focused on offering a space to some of the protected plants that they and the National Park Service monitor and work with.
“What I would like to propose. Our department is facing a tidal wave of interest from the Park and the National Forest. We retain rights as the first people allow and tell how we would like to see National Forest managed from our perspective. What we would like to have, as a department, is a central location where these plants can be discussed, where the management of these plants can be discussed, and access of these plants can be discussed. I’d like to propose a Cherokee Plant Consortium and ask for support,” said Cabe.
There was some discussion on where and how such a consortium would operate, but the Speakers Council was in support of Cabe’s idea.
“It will allow us a central body like the speaker’s consortium today. To get that information, and not only about the plants. But about the sites and how important these sites are. How we wish to retain exclusive rights to these places and to these resources,” said Cabe.
The Cherokee Speakers Council was called to order with Chairperson Roger Smoker; Treasurer Elenora Nations; Secretary Marie Junaluska; Administrator Bo Lossiah; Language Administrator Garfield Axe-Long; and Council members JC Wachacha, Myrtle Johnson, Charlie Bigwitch, Maddie Wildcatt, Lucille Lossiah, Rachel Littlejohn, Mose Oocumma, Louise Brown, Lou Jackson, Laura Pinnix, Stacy West, Stacy Rogers, John Long, and Rose Sneed all in attendance. Vice Chair Wiggins Blackfox was absent for the meeting.
The next meeting of the Cherokee Speakers Council is set for Wednesday, Aug. 24 in Snowbird. The Speakers Council typically meets on the fourth Thursday of every month, but Aug. 25 is Cherokee Elders Day and a tribal holiday.