Published On: Thu, Jun 2nd, 2011

Committee: The Tribe needs a Constitution

Governing Documents Review Committee reports Findings to Council

 

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

                The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians needs a Constitution.  That was the major finding reported by the Governing Documents Review Committee to the Tribal Council on Thursday, June 2. 

                The Committee, having finished a formal 10-week review of various governing documents of the Tribe, gave a report listing its findings and recommendations.   The Committee, consisting of tribal members from various communities, was formed following the passage of Resolution No. 271 (2010).

                “It was the firm belief of the members of the Committee that the Tribe needs a Constitution and that the Charter is not,” said Sarah Sneed, J.D., an EBCI tribal member and Harvard Law School graduate who served as facilitator during the review process.  “Under a constitutional system, the Tribe needs to be re-organized so that there is an independent judicial branch and so that the rights of the people are elevated.” 

                “Many of us feel that this project was just a beginning for a lot of work to be done,” Sneed added.

                A grant from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation funded the project, and the Qualla Boundary Public Library served as the fiscal agent for the grant.  Digital copies of all of the documents reviewed during the process are available at the Library. 

                “I have enjoyed working with the EBCI Document Review Committee with this project,” said Robin Swayney, Qualla Library manager.  “I have felt that having this information all together in one place will be very beneficial not only to develop a Constitution, but as an educational tool as well.”

                “The history behind these documents is fascinating and interesting. My main goal was to educate the public on our history. I think the Committee has done a great job in working together. I thank everyone who is involved in helping make this project a reality. I feel we need to know more about our history and our culture.”

                 The Committee issued several recommendations in its report including:

* Assembling, compiling and preserving historical documents relating to the Tribe in a place easily accessible for tribal members

* EBCI government should be “restructured pursuant to a constitutional system that includes independent branches of government, separation of powers and protection of individual members’ rights”

* Tribal Council should fund the development of a governing document that is “consistent with constitutional standards as the Committee finds to be necessary”

* Tribal Council should adopt an approval percentage for Tribal referendums “based on the number of members voting, rather than on the total number of registered voters to avoid the problem that arose with respect to the 1986 referendum.” 

                The 1986 referendum vote ratified the currently used governing document known as the Charter and Governing Document of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  An Investigating Committee, in 1993, found that the adoption and ratification of the 1986 document was invalid “because the approval requirement in place under Chapter 207 had not been fulfilled.” 

                Chapter 207 is the business charter issued to the Tribe by the State of North Carolina in 1889.  According to the report, “Chapter 207 was upheld as the governing document of the Eastern Band in 1931 and on February 19, 1934, over the signatures of nine Council members, the Tribal Council Chairman, the Principal Chief and the Agency Superintendent submitted the provisions of Chapter 207 as the Tribe’s constitution in response to federal inquiry as to whether the Eastern Band wished to accept the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act.” 

                The Committee stated in the report that it does not agree with the 1993 Investigating Committee’s findings that the referendum vote was invalid.  “The Committee does conclude, however, that the number of registered voters cast to approve the 1986 changes to the EBCI governing document did not meet the 25 percent approval requirement set by Tribal Council for that election.” 

                Following the report, Chairman Jim Owle commented, “I want you guys to continue to work on getting a Constitution for this Tribe.  Hopefully, this is the first step.”

 Governing Documents Review Committee Report 6-2-11

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