By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
Section 19 of the EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) Charter & Governing Document states that a tribal census must be completed every 10 years, but the last one was conducted in 2001. To fix this dilemma, Tribal Council passed Res. No. 470 (2022), submitted by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, during its regular session on Thursday, Dec. 8 which approves an electronic census for the Tribe.
Chief Sneed commented during discussion on the legislation, “The bottom line is we want to get the census completed. We think the most efficient way to do this is going to be electronically, and we are looking for some guidance and support from Council for us to carry it out in this manner.”
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, who made the motion to pass the legislation, agreed on the importance of a tribal census. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is important for your Tribe. It is important for your children, for your grandchildren and their children…this is 2022, and is time for us to know exactly how many members of this Tribe are alive and well. We need to know certain things about those tribal members – their age groups, the type of housing they live in, who is in those houses. We have to have very simplistic financial information. We’re not asking for anything specific or your bank account.”
She added, “It’s imperative for this Tribe from a counting standpoint and helping us get ahold of available funding that may be out there for Indian tribes. We have to have as close to exact as we can get. I think we can get exact.”
The legislation also approves a $100 incentive for tribal members completing the census with the money coming out of the Tribe’s General Fund. Along with basic information, the census will survey tribal members to garner demographic data on the EBCI.
A work session was held on the legislation on Tuesday, Dec. 6., and the issue of the weighted vote in Tribal Council came up.
Section 19 of the Charter & Governing Document states, “A tribal census, for the purposes of determining the weight of the votes to be cast by each Tribal Council member, shall be conducted prior to the 1981 tribal election and prior to the election each ten years thereafter to determine the number of enrolled tribal members residing in each township.”
Cherokee Code Section 117-12 states, “The individual voting weight shall be determined by computing the mathematical ratio, fraction, or proportion that exists between the number of enrolled tribal members residing in each township and the total number of enrolled members.”
Res. No. 20 (2001), passed on Oct. 10, 2001, and ratified by the late Principal Chief Leon Jones, set the weighted vote as follows: Big Cove 7, Birdtown 12, Painttown 6, Cherokee County – Snowbird 6, Wolftown 12, and Yellowhill 7. That same weighted vote is used today.
Yellowhill Rep. T.W. Saunooke stated during the work session, “You can reallocate electoral votes based on a census and where they live. That still doesn’t mean you’re going to get a correct representation because of where they’re actually registered to vote.”
Chief Sneed responded, “So, therein lies an issue that exists with our current process is that you don’t have to reside in a particular community to vote in that community. For example, when I was living in Swain Co. when I first came back after getting out of the military, I was registered in Wolftown because that’s where I was also registered because that’s where I lived with my Dad. But, I didn’t live in Wolftown…that’s just the reality of our situation. Not everybody lives on Boundary, but everybody who is an enrolled member who is over the age of 18 has the right to register to vote. And, they can vote in whatever community they chose to register in.”
He added, “Right now, people ask all the time, ‘how many people live on Boundary?’ We don’t know; no idea. None of us know.”
Rep. Saunooke said, “I still think that electoral votes should be based on voter registration per community…that’s the only way that you’re going to be able to get an equivalent number for the actual weighted votes.”
After discussion, Chief Sneed said a question would added for to help clarify the matter asking ‘where do you reside and in which community are you registered to vote?’.
The idea of having at-large representation for EBCI tribal members not living on the Qualla Boundary was also discussed during the work session. Rep. McCoy said, “At-large should be able to run for Council too. They get to vote. They should get to run.”
Chief Sneed added, “At some point, we are going to have to come to terms with the fact that we, without a doubt, have more people who are tribal citizens who reside off-Boundary. And, the number residing off-Boundary is greater than the number of any given community on-Boundary. So, that if there were two at-large Council members, they would have the two heaviest weighted votes on the Tribal Council.”
“Until the Charter is amended – We have what we have, and we have to try to navigate it in the current framework that we have.”
The One Feather will continue to follow this story as it develops and as the EBCI Tribal Electronic Census is rolled out.