Meeting held to discuss new Constitution Committee

by Oct 18, 2023NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments


One Feather Editor


CHEROKEE, N.C. – A public meeting was held at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 16 in the Cherokee Indian Hospital’s Welch Top Conference Room to discuss the future of the Constitution Committee for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). An email was sent out suggesting the meeting was called to “collect notes to be presented”.

The meeting format was informal with Lloyd Arneach Jr facilitating discussion. He created an online video chat room so that those who could not attend had access to the meeting, and four individuals, Avery Maples, Colby Taylor, Jonah Edwards, and Shannon Swimmer participated in the meeting that way.

Community members discuss steps to the Constitutional Convention during a meeting on Monday Oct. 16 at the Cherokee Indian Hospital. Shown, left to right, front row – Carmaleta Monteith, Lloyd Arneach Jr., Tari Arneach, Peggy Hill, Mary Crowe; back row Tammy Jackson, Virginia Shell, Hannah Smith, and Sunshine Parker. (ROBERT JUMPER/One Feather photo)

Those who came to the meeting included Tari Arneach, Peggy Hill, Virginia Johnson, Tammy Jackson, Hannah Smith, Sunshine Parker, Mary Crowe, Lloyd Arneach Jr., and Carmaleta Monteith.

Read the proposed constitution “referendum version” 

Read the “red-line” version from the Office of the Attorney General

Res. No. 13 (2023), heard by Tribal Council on Oct. 16, effectively reinstated Peggy Hill, Carmaleta Monteith, and Lloyd Arneach Jr., previously members of the Constitution Committee to the reconstituted Constitutional Convention. Once ratified by the Principal Chief, these would be the first appointments to that body.

Sunshine Parker and Tammy Jackson outlined the makeup of the Constitutional Convention as specified in Res. 627. Under the law, the makeup of the Constitutional Convention will be up to two delegates (and an alternate) selected by each of the following areas: EBCI Legislative Branch, EBCI Executive Branch, EBCI Judicial “Branch” (the tribal judiciary is not a branch of government under the Charter), Community Club Council, and from the enrolled member age group of 18-25 years.

When Lloyd Arneach Jr. opened the floor for questions, Hannah Smith was the first to speak. She wanted to know the purpose of the meeting.  Smith said that it was stated that the meeting was to talk about new ideas and moving forward to develop a new proposed constitution. She was likely referring to an email sent out by Arneach that said the meeting was for members of the community.

The stated purpose in the email was “to discuss items that should be brought up for discussion at the next Constitutional Convention. This will be everyone’s chance to express their ideas and suggestions on what should or should not be included in the Tribe’s new Constitution. This is NOT to update the current version of the constitution. It is a session to collect notes to be presented.”

The apparent source of Smith’s concern was that Monteith had brought and distributed copies of the previously discussed draft of the proposed constitution, the object of concern from the Legal Division’s standpoint.

A scheduled referendum vote, originally approved unanimously by Tribal Council on April 7, was rescinded by Tribal Council with Res. 627 dated July 13, 2023, and a new Constitution Committee was mandated to be formed and referred to as a “constitutional convention”, which was language previously used to describe a meeting of the Community Club Council as they vetted the previously proposed constitution.

The stated purpose of Res. 627 was as follows: “to rescind three resolutions authorizing referendums to amend or change the Tribal governing documents, establishing a constitutional convention, and designing delegates to revise the proposed Tribal Constitution as presented by the Community Club Council on April 7, 2023.”

There were several back-and-forth exchanges between Smith and Mary Crowe who questioned Smith directly about what issues she had with the existing constitutional draft. Crowe asked Smith to identify specifics. Both Crowe and Smith stated that they were not trying to be combative or confrontational but were only seeking information.

At one point, a “red line” copy of the proposed constitution was created by the Attorney General and his staff. This copy allegedly identified areas of serious consequence should the members of the tribe have had the opportunity and voted in the constitution through a referendum. During one exchange, Crowe asked Smith to share specifically what her issues were with the proposed constitution from April 2023.

Smith stated, “We (the Attorney General’s Office) turned over a red-line version to the Constitution Committee. So, you guys have that. I don’t love the idea of putting it in the newspaper or putting it online and making it (she did not finish the sentence). It was an internal document that we gave to you guys and really to the Tribal Council. But here’s the thing, I am not opposed to anything, and I don’t want to carry a flag of anyone’s today. I am just trying to understand what this committee is doing.”

Crowe continued to press for an understanding of what the issues were from the legal office. “I guess that would be my first question to the Constitution Convention, would be, what were the specific legal ramifications that you all (Attorney General’s Office) felt that the proposed constitution would be detrimental to our tribe? Then we could solidify everything around that legal question.”

Smith replied, “What I would prefer to do is not start off in combat over something that may or not be a basis for moving forward. What I would like to do is talk about big questions like things that we probably already know. ‘What should a tribal, EBCI, constitution consist of?’, ‘What’s the purpose of the constitution?’ ‘What should it consist of to ensure that our tribal government has ideas that we are all comfortable with?’ ‘Separation of powers.’ Going from a document like this (holding up a copy of the proposed constitution) is the constructive thing to do right now.”

Smith suggested that the Convention should look at all the materials and efforts over the years of tribal members attempting to set in language for a constitution. Crowe responded that is what the Constitution Committee had been doing for six years and recounted all the efforts to inform and educate the public and the various forms of communication that had been used. Crowe added that she isn’t being combative when she is passionate about this effort.

Jackson stated there had been a planned speaker from the Osage Nation (Okla.) that was being arranged through Brenda Pipestem to address the meeting attendees to share her part and their process in developing a constitution for their tribe. It was unclear why this did not occur. But, Jackson said, that was supposed to be the agenda for this meeting and that was not taking place. She said that without all the delegates appointed and in place, a meeting like this, the current discussion, might be “putting the cart before the horse”.

Monteith stated that one of her goals was to get clarity on the purpose and process of the Grand Council. She wanted to discuss how to make it functional if it were to remain. Virginia Shell, an EBCI tribal elder, expressed her concern with the removal of the preamble from the proposed constitution (she was referring to the suggested elimination of the preamble language in the red line version). She felt that removing it was like taking away tribal identity.

Lloyd Arneach Jr. communicated a message from Colby Taylor where he expressed his thoughts on the legal challenges of the proposed constitution. “First, enrolled members would be losing the right to provide life estates to their non-enrolled spouses or first descendant children. Second, the proposed constitution weakens tribal sovereignty by adding allegiance to the U.S. in the oaths of office.” He also stated that his opinion is that the proposed constitution politicizes the Community Club structure which would make the organization weaker and less effective for the community.

As the meeting ended, Parker recapped the two actionable items as they considered more meetings; securing the meeting with the individual from Osage to get that presentation in front of the Committee and the community and moving the delegate selection process forward with the stated goal of having all in place by year’s end.

Copies of the proposed constitution presented to the Tribal Council in April 2023 and the red line copy, which is the Attorney General Office’s markup of the proposed constitution are available at