By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
CHEROKEE, N.C. – Voters of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) have approved a referendum authorizing mixed beverage permits to be issued on tribal lands by the TABCC (Tribal Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission). During the General Election on Thursday, Sept. 7, voters approved the referendum by a margin of 2,389 to 1,113.
The question offered was, “Do you support allowing the Tribal ABC Commission to issue mixed beverages permits for the sale of mixed beverages on tribal lands to qualified establishments including, but not limited to, restaurants, hotels, convention centers, and nonprofit organizations.”
Mara Nelson, TABCCC chair, said, “As our Qualla Boundary’s economy relies on tourism, we have to keep up with surrounding communities to be competitive. It’s evident from most tribal members that supported this referendum that tribal members appreciate this and support the growth of Cherokee by giving tourists what they want.”
Mitch Littlejohn, TABCC vice chair, noted, “This will help recruit popular restaurants and provide other businesses that will keep people in town for longer than just one day?”
Shannon Ross, TABCC commissioner, agrees, “It opens the door for economic growth on the Qualla Boundary. It will help our ABC store grow and allow it to be open for longer hours.”
Voter turnout for the election was good with 53.93 percent of the 6,716 registered EBCI voters casting a ballot. This meets the criteria for the referendum question to be deemed official under Cherokee Code Sec. 161-9(c)(8) which states that at least 30 percent of the registered voters must cast a ballot for a referendum changing ordinances and/or resolutions.
Mikael R. Gross, TABCC attorney, spoke to the business end of retail sales of mixed beverages on EBCI tribal lands. “The availability of mixed beverage permits for these retail establishments will help generate revenue for both the business and the tribe. The businesses will be able to offer a wide variety of beverages that previously were not available for patrons and the tribe will benefit from the additional levy on the sale of the beverages as well as any economic development which may occur in the future to include the building of new restaurants, hotels, or other venues.”
“In addition to the revenues generated by the sale of the beverages, the tribe also will benefit from the revenues generated from the sale of the alcohol to the retailer, which has an additional mandated tax since the beverages are being sold as mixed beverages.”
Gross said it also creates a fairer environment for businesses. “Within the scope of economic development, the availability of all of the ABC permits on tribal land which are available to those business owners off of tribal land will create parity and help tribal businesses grow their customer base since they can now offer comparable food and beverage services.”
He added, “It is also important to note that mixed beverages have been available on tribal lands for quite some time, but we’re limited to those business establishments located downtown and at the casino. With a passage of the referendum, alcoholic beverages will now be available on all tribal lands to business owners who wish to participate in the alcoholic beverage industry.”
Referendum results still have to be certified by Tribal Council later this month before they become official.