COMMENTARY: So, we will not decide.

by Jul 14, 2023OPINIONS0 comments


One Feather Editor


The Tribal Council has spoken. Even if the Chief were to veto proposed Resolution 627, which was initiated by the Office of the Attorney General to rescind Resolution 559 (2023), the margin of the weighted vote needed to override is there. For good measure, the Attorney General included Resolutions 11 (2021) and 150 (2022), because he stated in his proposed resolution, “this combination of resolutions create (sic) the possibility of confusion at the ballot box and could produce conflicting results.” He based his assumption, I’m assuming, on the fact that Res. 11 and 150 were authorizing referendum questions about Tribal Council term limits, staggered terms, and extended terms, which are also addressed in the now-defunct constitution.

The Tribal Council did that which is perfectly within their rights to do under the Charter and Cherokee Code. Actually, it is what they are charged to do, which is analyze and make decisions. It is literally what we elected them to do. They met to discuss the faults and merits of the legislation and acted accordingly. I, and you, have a right to be happy, sad, glad, or angry at the decision itself, but you can’t fault the representatives for basically doing their jobs. It is easy to play armchair quarterback when you ain’t on the field facing the defensive line (I am now imagining the shock of my colleagues that I made a sports analogy-inside joke). Of course, it has taken me a good 24 hours of reflection to move away from “sad, angry” and I am working my way back toward “happy, glad”.

Unlike some, I can only speak for one Indian. I did not act on behalf of the One Feather, just a Snowbird voter and enrolled member. Until I retire or am relieved of my duties, I will be editor, but I did not submit the legislation under my authority with the paper. Surely, I was the one who brought in Resolution 11, which required the support of at least one Tribal Council member for me to not have to go through the lengthy process of petitioning to have a Charter change considered.  Yes, that is legal. You can look it up in the Code. Chairman French was kind enough to allow me to go into the Chambers with the resolution to see if anyone would like to put their name on it. Representatives Teresa McCoy and Albert Rose initially signed on as presenting Council members with the resolution. More representatives added their names to the proposed resolution as the discussion when on, and at the end of the discussion, no one was in descension regarding taking the questions of extended terms, staggered terms, and term limits to the people for a decision.

Even my friend and late Painttown Council Representative Tommye Saunooke, who was very open with her opposition to the concept of term limits for her seat, voted yes, and said, as I stood at the podium, “I am against term limits, but I support the right of the people to make that decision on a referendum question.” Friendly or not, Tommye had no problem telling you when she disagreed with you and voting against you when she thought it was appropriate. In the case of Resolution 11, she decided that even though she didn’t agree with the concept of term limits, she did agree that the people she represented had the right to speak and choose on that option.

And as bright as I like to think I am (just kidding), I was not the originator of the idea of asking for term questions on behalf of the tribal government. In fact, many years prior, several Tribal Council members had mentioned that they thought changes to the term structure were a good idea, as did many community members. Some proposed legislation had been discussed and tabled over the years. I thought, as a tribal member, it was a good idea with benefits for both the representatives and the community. Longer terms would give representatives time to see more projects and initiatives to a conclusion. Staggered terms would assist with the continuity of government. And term limits would provide an avenue for new and fresh ideas to enter the system. During the Lambert administration, Tribal Council passed changes to the Code effectively setting term limits for the Executive Branch of our government. It seemed a natural progression to do so at the Legislative level.

That day, Resolution 11 passed unanimously and was signed into law. Later, the Election Board worked on the language of the referendum questions to make them clearer, and more well-defined to the voters. This was done by a member of the Attorney General’s office who is assigned to the Election Board. Represented at Resolution 150, again the questions were unanimously approved by the Tribal Council and ratified by the Principal Chief.

You can’t help but get a little excited at the prospect of changing tribal history for the good. Even though it wasn’t my original idea, I felt like I was taking part in an incredible process and contributing to the tribal community in a way that I had not before. I started trying to promote and educate on the benefits of these term changes, spending over a year after the resolution was ratified creating public service announcements and writing explanatory commentary.

The questions on a ballot are necessarily simple, basically yes/no questions. And the term questions boiled down to; are you, tribal member, in favor of extending the terms of tribal council member from two to four years, staggering those terms so that both council members from a community won’t be up for election at the same time, and do you want terms to be limited to four consecutive four-year terms? Even for those who believe we are undereducated and have a lack of discernment, these are simple questions with really big benefits.

I noted as the discussion went on in the Chambers concerning 627, folks were watching the proceeding via a Facebook page and commenting on the process. One person posted, “Why the rush on the term questions? We will be taking up a constitution in a couple of years. It can wait till then.” I guess I need to refresh my memory on what a “rush” is since this had been approved for the ballot, legally, since 2021. The origin of the quote is widely disputed, but not its meaning- “The definition of folly is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So, I guess if one is happy with the status quo, there really is no rush at all.

My concern is not whether one side or the other on the issue of a constitution or term changes is right or wrong. My issue is with the fact that during the process, voters were characterized as un or undereducated and not smart enough to decipher either the implications or the language of a referendum question. And so, instead of making a case for or against it at the ballot box, the right to choose was removed from the people. Would we have voted, yes? We will never know. Would we have voted, no? Who knows. But at the least, we should have been able to decide. Based on the “not smart enough to choose” theory, should we even be allowed to choose our elected officials?

Thank you, Constitution Committee and Community Club Council, for attempting to take us from a business charter with no civil rights built-in, one that identifies us as enrolled members and does not recognize us as citizens, to a document that replaces privileges with rights and establishes a foundation for citizen governance. Whoever takes up the challenge of creating a constitution for our tribe that provides those things that should be inalienable rights, will have big shoes to fill. They will find that in the four years of work ahead of them, they will face the challenge of educating a public and a legal system that is sometimes not very attentive or responsive, even to “the most important document in the history of our tribe.” There may be unintended consequences if the ball is dropped again.

So, community, I still have faith in our election process and elected leadership. While you will not be addressing any governance questions on the ballot, you do have one implied right in the existing Charter and that is your ability to vote. Whether you are an enrolled member in downtown Cherokee or Timbuktu, you have the right to vote. Register if you haven’t already and exercise that right. Get an absentee ballot if you can’t be here. There will be early voting dates with at least one poll open for weeks of in-person voting.  For specific questions on how to register and vote visit or contact the Election Board at 828-359-6361 and 6362. Remember, no matter where you are in this world, if you are enrolled in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, you are member of this community. Use your existing right, your responsibility, to vote in the 2023 elections.