To My Tribe,
With the passing of the 4th of July, I am reminded of what the 4th is supposed to mean. It is supposed to be a day that symbolizes independence, but this is complicated in Indian Country, because it really represents the freedom of the US from Britain, and the United States has not always been good to us. The upcoming vote on the proposed Constitution directly impacts our freedom as Cherokee people. I implore both the Tribal Council and the people of this Tribe to carefully consider the consequences of adopting this document, which fundamentally undermines the rights and well-being of its citizens.
I support tribal sovereignty, which is why I urge our elected officials to remove the constitution as proposed from September’s ballot. If the Constitution as presented does appear on the ballot in September, I will be voting no because it is simply not ready. Here are three reasons why.
In its current form, the Constitution threatens our individual liberties as tribal members. First, tribal members are losing their right to pass a life estate to their non-enrolled spouse or first descendant children. The proposed constitution’s Article XII reads “…no person shall be entitled to own a possessory holding in any lands belonging to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians unless such person shall be a citizen of the Tribe.” This provision changes our long-held practices and leads me to wonder where this land would go if these groups of people could no longer hold it. Would the Tribe reclaim it? Who will decide?
Second, the proposed Constitution weakens tribal sovereignty. This is disappointing considering the lengths the U.S. government has gone to erase and eradicate our people and our culture. Our nation should be built on respect for this rich cultural heritage and protect the inherent rights of all its citizens rather than eroding tribal sovereignty. Article VIII, Section 2 of the proposed Constitution requires all elected officials to take an oath of office that includes their vow to “…protect and defend the Constitution of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Constitution of the United States…” (emphasis added). How can a nation be sovereign if its leaders and judges swear to protect another country’s Constitution? When read legally, it would mean that we must follow all of the laws of the United States, which means we are then not sovereign.
Another troubling aspect of the Constitution is its treatment of community clubs. The proposed constitution’s Article IV, Section 2 requires tribal council candidates: “… must be an active member as described in the bylaws of the relevant community club…” The transformation of community clubs into political entities raises concerning implications for their efficacy as private organizations dedicated to community welfare. By introducing politics into their framework, their ability to function as efficient private clubs is fundamentally hindered. Additionally, this political involvement opens doors to potential corruption at the community club level. This means that the leaders of community clubs get to decide who is an active member and could permanently prevent someone from getting on the ballot by changing their community club’s membership requirements. Our community clubs have an incredibly important role in our tribal community, but they have never been intended to be political in nature. Upholding the principles of free and fair elections is crucial in preserving the integrity of democracy and ensuring that community clubs can fulfill their essential role as pillars of community engagement.
These are only three major problems with the Constitution as presented. I implore every one of you to educate yourselves on the true implications of the proposed Constitution and its impact on our lives. Exercise your right to vote and stand against this document that threatens our tribal government’s ability to govern properly.
Let us unite in our commitment to safeguarding the Cherokee values that have made our nation great. Let our voices be heard as we reject a constitution that erodes our rights, hampers our sovereignty, and undermines the values of our society.
In the spirit of democracy and justice,