By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Reporter
CHEROKEE, N.C. – A large portion of the Tribal Council session that was held on Thursday, March 2 was spent discussing a resolution put forward by the Cherokee Beloved Women Committee.
Resolution No. 535 (2023) was the item in question, and it was requesting that Tribal Council approve the nomination and title removal policies crafted by the Beloved Women Committee, which was established in 2018. The conversation immediately started with an air of protest from Beloved Woman Myrtle Driver Johnson, who was the first to fully share their thoughts on the matter.
“From the way that looks, someone has got to be monitoring my every move. If I was to pass gas over there and don’t say ‘excuse me’, they’re going to report me to the committee. If this is what we’re going to have to go by, and I think I can speak on behalf of Miss [Ella] Bird too, you can have it,” said Beloved Woman Johnson.
“If that’s what I’m going to have to go by and follow, you can have the title back. You can have it back. Because I will not tolerate somebody monitoring every move I make.”
Her issues continued through to the Committee itself. Johnson said that another aspect of the resolution she felt was disrespectful was that neither she nor fellow Beloved Woman Ella Bird were consulted when drafting the policies. She continued her disagreement with values that the Committee was presenting.
“It says we’re to follow the seven core values. The one I like the most is the one that I will use, and that is to find humor in things that upset you. That is what I will use. I would ask while you’re thinking about it, think about killing it. Give that back to Tribal Council. What I read is ridiculous.”
Tribal Council initially made a move to table this resolution. However, it was brought back to the floor for further debate following comments made in the chamber. The primary debate shifted towards killing the resolution or allowing the Committee to withdraw.
Next to comment on the issue was Renissa McLaughlin, the daughter of Beloved Woman Johnson and the director of education for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI).
“This happens to be something I’ve looked at, and having run Miss Cherokee pageants, that’s what this reads like. You have to show up at events and ‘oh are they going to wave?’ Are they Miss Cherokee? Because that’s what it looks look. A committee to tell, especially mom and Ella, who are matriarchs of their family, clan mothers by blood and lineage, and Cherokee speakers. Of a very small group. To tell them ‘you gotta go here and you gotta wear a traditional dress’. Well, they don’t get paid to do that. And they shouldn’t be paid to do that. But we’ll have more comments and family members here when you do the work session,” said McLaughlin.
The first Tribal Council member to formally stand against the potential legislation was Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, who initially directed her comments to Johnson.
“I feel the same way. These are not children. I do not think they are given this role by a committee; I think it’s done by the Council. I read some of the restrictions on that and even more than Myrtle, my concern went out to Ella. I don’t even know if she has seen this or been included in it, probably not. These women, these are women. To have earned the respect of Tribal government and to have been given a title by government, there are no restrictions. There is no job application. There is nothing there to hold them to. I just appreciate that the women we have now who are deemed beloved by this Council are still here to help us get through these things. I am not going to support this. Because this, to me, is not something. A Beloved Woman should never have a board to begin with,” said Rep. McCoy.
Following Rep. McCoy, Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle made a move to kill the resolution on the floor.
“I had my hand raised before it got tabled. I was going to make the move to kill. This is an honor for men and women. When you give them this, you might as well put a prison outfit on them. Because they’re going to be monitored, on probation so to speak. That’s not the way it should be. It’s an honor for them. They should be living their lives as usual. They got it because they were living their life the way they were living it,” said Rep. Owle.
Snowbird/Cherokee Co. Rep. Adam Wachacha said that part of the issue with this legislation was how it came to the floor.
“I knew this one was going to be emotional, due to the fact that we need to have a way to discuss these things before they hit the main Council floor. I don’t know what committee it would’ve went through, but it would’ve been good to have a discussion on that before it hit. The resolution that’s in front of us would be conflicting to the current resolutions that recognize,” said Rep. Wachacha.
The last Council member to state their issues with the resolution was Chairperson and Big Cove Rep. Richard French.
“I talked to [Beloved Woman Myrtle Driver Johnson] about it. I could only imagine what my Aunt Mandy (Beloved Woman Amanda Swimmer) would’ve said to me when she seen that. She would’ve crawled up one side and down the other of me. Even letting it hit the floor. I know how she was. When I brought that in to make her the Beloved Woman, she didn’t want to. She said ‘I don’t need to be the Beloved Woman, that was my job. That’s what I was supposed to do, is give back to my people,’” said Chairperson French.
Chairperson French then recognized a move by Rep. Owle to kill, which was seconded by Rep. McCoy. However, before the vote took place, Rep. Wachacha wished to give the Committee a chance to speak on the issue.
“I want to ask the committee if they’ll withdraw it. I wanted to look for a diplomatic approach. I know the move’s probably going to carry. But I think they put time and effort into wanting to present this. So, if the Board wishes to withdraw, I would hope that that opportunity would be there for just a second before we take the vote,” said Rep. Wachacha.
Two members from the Beloved Women Committee were given the floor to speak, with the first being Peggy Hill.
“As a member of the Beloved Committee I understand and recognize all of the opposition to the policy and all that. Let me say this, we were given a project. To set up a way that nominees for Beloved Women could come through and for people to look at what it is they are doing, what have they done. Set up some criteria for that. It was difficult. Believe me, it was difficult. As far as including the Beloved Women for their input, I believe – and I don’t say this in an ugly way, Myrtle – that in the beginning there was an adverse attitude towards the Committee. We talked about that. We also discussed whether or not to include the present ones under the policy, back and forth. I did not agree that we should include them under these policies, because it wasn’t in place. To grandfather them in would put that policy on them,” said Hill.
Kimberly Smith, chairperson for the Committee, defended the resolution and her team.
“The work that we’ve been doing in this committee has been intentional from the start. We’ve done tons of hours of conversations in the community, tons of discussions with our community members. Asking them how they want this process to work. How do they want to be involved in this process. Because a lot of our community members don’t know about a nomination until it’s already before this body. That’s something that was frequently brought up. If this is something that will represent our community, we would have liked to have been a part of that. Uplift that celebration. So, our committee has come together to create a way in which our community can have a voice in the process and can have some involvement throughout that,” said Smith.
“This has been a pet project of mine for over eight years. I’ve done ample research, read every book I can find, every Google document that has the word beloved I’ve got it set up to ping to me. So that I can find any information about this and start creating a place where future kids can come and just learn.”
Smith continued to sell her point, stating that the Committee was trying to establish a platform for Beloved Women and Men in Cherokee.
“Part of this is also to establish active Beloved so that they can go out. And that burden to go out and be an ambassador for our Tribe isn’t on a few. It’s shared among our Beloved. That way we can have a stronger voice going out in the future. The nomination process isn’t exclusive, it’s not a checkbox system. It’s individually assessed,” said Smith.
“Our committee hasn’t denied a nomination to come before this body. The only ones we have not brought before you are ones that have passed away. In the resolution that was originally created to establish this committee, it was said to create living Beloved that can go out and actively represent.”
After addressing the Tribal Council, Smith accepted the option of withdrawing the proposed resolution on the condition that a work session be set up to discuss the Beloved Women Committee.