Chief’s Report for A-nv-yi (ᎠᏅᏱ)

by Apr 5, 2024NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments



March proved to be another busy month as we reached the six-month milestone of our new administration. March kicked off with a Community Town Hall meeting, hosted by Taline Ugvwiyu (Vice Chief) Alan B. Ensley, as we aspire to ensure that transparency and feedback from our tribal members guide our decision -making processes. This gathering, led by Taline Ugvwiyu (Vice Chief) Ensley with Dinilawigi (Tribal Council) participation, was held at the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Center at Cherokee Central Schools and served as a platform for public engagement, focusing on projects and initiatives under consideration across tribal divisions and programs.

During this meeting, I was able to address the recent attacks on Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) sovereignty by Senator Tillis and Senator Budd, particularly regarding the opening of medical cannabis. These attacks, which are concerning, and a shameful diversion tactic aimed at deflecting attention from their primary agenda. Not only are Senator Tillis and Budd withholding the progress of vital legislation, but they are also doing so contingent upon support for granting federal recognition to the Lumbee, a self-identified group seeking this status by bypassing OFA. This group unfairly holds in their hands the passing of the Wounded Knee Memorial Bill, Truth & Healing Bill regarding Residential Boarding Schools, and the Historic Lands Requisition Act.

Ugvwiyuhi (Principal Chief) Michell Hicks speaks at the opening of the Cherokee Town Hall Meeting held at the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center in Cherokee, N.C. on the evening of March 4. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photo)

Dinilawigi (Tribal Council) approved a resolution designating March as Indigenous Language Month, a momentous decision that has sparked enthusiasm among our tribal members. We are witnessing a resurgence of our language, with children, adults, and elders greeting one another and sharing their language with pride. It’s a time when we hear the echoes of our ancestors in our language, a precious inheritance nearly lost amidst the assimilation efforts of residential boarding schools. It is an important reminder that the passing of the U.S. Truth & Healing Commission Bill is imperative as it offers a promising avenue for advancing truth, justice, and healing as it aims to address the deep-rooted injustices and systemic inequalities faced by Indigenous peoples throughout U.S. history, specifically the generational trauma from residential boarding schools.

On March 12, I participated in the 2024 Reservation Economic Summit in Las Vegas, organized by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED). This prominent annual gathering brings together tribal leaders from across the United States, alongside members of Congress, federal agency representatives, state and local officials, and esteemed CEOs, providing a national platform for collaboration and discussion. Additionally, I had the opportunity to meet with Caesars Entertainment to discuss the financial position of our Danville property as well.

During this event, I had the privilege of joining a panel of esteemed Tribal leaders, including Mo Brings Plenty, an advocate, actor, producer, and American Indian storyline consultant in film and television, Stephanie A. Bryan, Tribal Chair & CEO of Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Aaron Leggett, President and Chair of Native Village of Eklutna, Governor Stephen Lewis of Gila River Indian Community, Dr. Buu Nygren, President of Navajo Nation, and Crystal Williams, Vice-Chair of Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana. Our panel, titled “Guiding Voices: Tribal Leadership in a Changing World,” provided an opportunity to address significant issues affecting Indian Country and shed light on the ongoing challenges faced by the EBCI, particularly regarding the recent attacks from Senators Tillis and Budd.

I recently attended the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma (UINO) Quarterly meeting on March 19 with the goal of speaking to Tribal Nations about the complexities of state recognition for groups falsely claiming Indigenous identity. During the gathering, I shared insights into the benefits that are available to state-recognized groups while addressing the mounting threat posed to our sovereign abilities in managing Tribal resources.

The United Indian Nations of Oklahoma is a great organization dedicated to Tribal Nations and enhancing the sovereignty of the Tribal Nations in Oklahoma. With one Washington State and 19 Oklahoma federally recognized tribes present, I had the privilege to share our advocacy efforts as issues surrounding state recognition has impacts not just on the EBCI but to all federally recognized tribes across the country.

Ugvwiyuhi (Principal Chief) Michell Hicks, standing, speaks at the recent United Indian Nations of Oklahoma gathering.

The Vice Chief, Tribal Secretaries Anthony Sequoyah, Sky Sampson, Sonya Wachacha, and I dedicated time on March 21 to visiting various programs, aiming to deepen our understanding of the needs within our Snowbird community. This visit provided us with valuable insights into the dynamics of these programs and identify avenues through which we can offer our support. We regret that we couldn’t visit every program during our time, but rest assured, we will reach out to the programs we missed to ensure we connect with them soon. A heartfelt thank you to the dedicated staff at Kanvwotiyi, the Snowbird Youth Center, Graham County Indian Education and Jacob Cornsilk Complex that included the Library, H.E.L.P/Housing, Housekeeping, Administration, Family Support, Building Maintenance and Recreation. We sincerely appreciate your hospitality and the opportunity to engage with your teams—special gratitude to the Senior Center for extending an invitation for lunch and a visit.

I had the privilege of meeting with the Western Carolina University (WCU) Athletic Director Alex Gary and Chancellor Dr. Kelly Brown to explore ongoing collaboration between the EBCI and Western Carolina University. Our discussions encompassed potential enhancements to the curriculum, alignment with workforce development initiatives, and opportunities for academic and athletic pursuits for our enrolled students.

Capital Projects work sessions continued with Tribal Councill to work on prioritizing projects that needed immediate addressing. We understand that there are projects that our community members would like to see completed, however, our goal is to phase out projects over an extended period, to allow us to focus on the immediate and long-term needs of our Tribe. These needs include much needed renovations to Cherokee Central Schools infrastructure, continuation of the water/sewer groundwork that is already in progress, reopening a newer and better Cherokee fairground, and expanding much needed infrastructure of the Old High School and Elementary sites.

On April 4, the Dinilawigi (Tribal Council) gave its approval for the Five-Year Strategic Plan, outlining the years 2024-2028. A strategic plan provides a roadmap for success, guiding us with clarity and purpose towards our goals. It forwards our focus, alignment, and informed decision-making. I want to thank the Vice Chief, Tribal Council, EBCI Secretaries, and Directors/Managers for their dedication during the past few months, working through numerous work sessions and meetings to ensure our efforts are directed effectively for long-term growth and sustainability.