By AMBLE SMOKER
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Junaluska Leadership Council (JLC) hosted the EBCI Principal Vice Chief candidate forum in the Tribal Council Chambers on Monday, May 18. Both forums allowed each candidate the opportunity to introduce themselves and present their platform to the community. Afterwards, the candidates were given four standard questions with a five-minute time limit, followed by randomly selected candidate who was asked a random question by a member of the JLC.
Candidate Richard Sneed said if elected, he will serve as the bridge between the Executive Branch and the Tribe. Sneed said, “I bring my experience of working with young people to the table. My history has been working with the youth for the past 22 years. My heart has always been for young people because you guys (referring to the JLC) are the future and it’s very encouraging to see all of you sitting here. My goal has always been to equip our young people and be involved in the community. I think we have a tremendous opportunity this election cycle because we will have a new Chief and it’s time for some fresh leadership and fresh ideas. The greatest asset I think I have is I work great with everybody.”
Candidate James “Bud” Smith said he believes the Executive Office needs to become more involved. “I think the Executive Office needs to support and be more involved in what you’re doing (referring to the initiatives of the JLC). As a teacher and Vice Chief, I would really enjoy working you guys in getting this legislation handled. I think if you put the weight of the Executive Office behind some of these issues, we can get some results. That’s probably what it’s going to take.
Incumbent Larry Blythe shared a short story about a young man who approached his office regarding the advice he would give to young people. He said, “You have to get an education. Use your resources wisely and hold on to your values that are instilled by your parents and grandparents. Develop a strong work ethic.”
Blythe has served in Tribal office for 26 years, eight in the Painttown community, six in the Wolfetown community and 12 in the office of Vice Chief. He said, “I’ve served 12 years in the office of the Vice Chief, and I believe I have displayed the dedication and commitment that’s necessary to do the job as your Vice Chief. I have the experience to continue to do the job as your Vice Chief.”
He also mentioned his office policy. “I’ve worked 12 years with an open door policy. That means, you don’t have to have an appointment to come see me. I try to meet with each person who comes, and I deal with people with dignity and respect by hearing their issues and giving the best answer I can.”
Candidate Dan McCoy has served 27 years on Tribal Council, 18 of which as Chairman. McCoy said, “I have a lot of pride in my leadership role and have got a lot of problems resolved. I have the ability to work with the Executive Branch and Legislative Branch of all the people around this table, to get all the projects resolved and questions answered by having the ability to work with other people.”
He continued, “The Tribe has been faced with many critical issues including: the drug epidemic, quality care for our senior citizens, education, and being good stewards of our Tribal assets. Education is very important for our young people, and that program is going well now, but it’s subject to falter at any time. Being good stewards of Tribal assets, that means the Tribal funds that belong to all the people, being good stewards and extending those funds. There has been a lot of questions asked about the expenditure of all Tribal funds. Something to remember, our Cherokee people have always been tougher than the tough times we went through. These troubled times have not changed our character and hasn’t changed in what we believe in or the basic notion that everyone should get a fair shot in the future. I believe there should be equality and all abide by our laws.”
Each candidate was given a specific time limit for all four questions.
What are your thoughts on staggered payments of the Minor’s Fund Distribution?
Sneed: He believes in financial training for the youth. “I think financial literacy training has to begin at the elementary level.” Sneed also advocates for there being a choice that the parents can be involved in. “I think the Tribal government has a responsibility to implement some kind of change just because of all the damage we’ve seen done. Financial literacy training has to be first and foremost; it begins at the elementary level.”
Smith: “I not sure that’s the answer.” Smith said he believes the answer lies with the youth themselves. “This is an issue for you guys and so that’s where I think the solution should come from. When I mentioned before the Executive Office supporting this council (JLC), if we were to provide you with the legal support, the financial guidance, and to make some decisions on that, then I think the answer should come from you guys. It’s your issue.”
Blythe: “I think it would be a good idea. I think the bigger issue is education on money management…we have to ensure that the child that is receiving the money gets the benefit of the money, but I think there are going to have to be some internal controls put into place to ensure the check goes to you, as minors for your use.”
McCoy: “I personally think it needs to be done. I’ve seen a lot of wasteful spending of a lot of our young people. I think this group needs to be a part of the planning, along with the Tribal Council because it’s got to be put in law for staggered payments. They must have a plan to go by.”
What are your thoughts about a Tribal Constitution?
Sneed: He said public education on the need for a Constitution is needed. “We’ve been operating off a charter since 1981, but what a charter doesn’t do that a constitution will do is a constitution outlines and enumerates the rights of the people. It then enumerates the privileges granted to the government.” He added, “Rights cannot be taken from you. Privileges can be taken away.” Sneed said the rights of the people must be written “very concise and very specific”. “I also believe in that Bill of Rights, there needs to be some provision for a free press. We don’t have that right now and what I mean by that is the Cherokee One Feather is owned by the Tribe. So, there can be influence from political officials if the paper begins to print things that are investigative type journalism and things that are happening. You have to recognize, that it has been called the 4th branch of government as a free press.”
Smith: “We’ve outgrown the Compact, thirty years ago, that was fine. We need to throw the weight of the Executive Office. If you don’t have an Executive Branch of government who believes in a constitution, you’re not going to get one. First of all, we need to have an Executive Branch that supports it. I know Tribal Council supports it and you guys (JLC) have worked long and hard on it. I think collectively, we can get it done. I think the missing element is the organizational and logistical skill to make it happen.”
Blythe: “I’ve always supported a constitution. I think it’s very difficult to get a constitution passed as a whole. Let’s look at parts of a constitution that would be voted on by members and that may be a better way to pass a whole document.”
McCoy: “I think that needs to be done. I have two resolutions in my packet that establish the committee of 2014 when resolution was passed for this group be a part of that constitution. We definitely need one to separate this government.”
What do you think the role of the Principal Vice Chief is?
Smith: “The Vice Chief has got to be informed about everything that’s happening in our government. On a moment’s notice, the Vice Chief could have to step into that role. What I see happening in the Vice Chief’s office now is not what I would like to see happening in that office. I don’t think the Vice Chief’s office should be running programs. I think the Vice Chief’s office is a good place to become more involved in our communities and get more of our people’s voice into our government through councils like this (JLC), elder’s council, and things like that.”
Blythe: “It’s a tough job. You’re like a CEO of the Tribe. The Chief and Vice Chief are day to day operation. We have 170 programs with over 1,200 employees that we deal with daily to put the services out to our people.”
McCoy: “The role of what the Vice Chief is what they did in the past. My role is going to be different. You heard the comment made, open door policy, well, I’ll have a truly open-door policy and will seek the input of the people to work with the issues that come before the Executive Branch. I will have a voice in those negotiations.
How will you deal with criticism from others?
Smith: “You need to understand that not everyone’s going to agree with you and they have that right to disagree. I think any criticism, like any other judgement, if you evaluate it for it’s merits, if there’s any truth to it, you may need to change what you’re doing or change your plans. That’s how you grow as an individual.”
Blythe: “I think very well. From the political side of it, you have to have a really thick skin. You’re not going to please everyone. There’s just no possible way. I go into each day with prayer. Criticism, sometimes, are people who are angry about something that affected their life or family. You have to respond to that in a positive and encouraging way and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You have to have empathy for what the issues are and once you get to that understanding of where the anger is coming from and criticism of me and what I’ve done, then you’re able to deal with the issue. I think I deal with it pretty well.”
McCoy: “If it’s favorable criticism or constructive criticism, I can deal with it good. If it’s negative and unjustified criticism, I’ll just ignore it.”
- What are your thoughts on enrolled members electing the Chief of Police?
Smith: “I think that could be an elected position. I don’t think that could work in our present system. For that to be an elected position, we’d have to do a couple of things. First of all, we would have to put some qualifications on the Police Commission and give them some authority to manage that position. The Chief of Police can’t be managed from this room (Council Chambers) or those rooms over there (Chief and Vice Chief Offices). We would have to have a true Police Commission with authority to manage that position. Then it would be effective and it could work.”
- Do you believe there’s enough being done about Domestic Violence?
McCoy: “No. I don’t know how to handle that because I don’t have access to private homes where domestic violence takes place. But, there’s definitely not enough being done about domestic violence. We don’t never know where it’s going to happen. We don’t never have control of individuals, and I don’t want no control over individuals in their own home. But, I do want something done about domestic violence.”
- How would you get away from the casino as the Tribe’s main source of revenue and look up the alternative sources for economic growth opportunities?
Bylthe: “That’s a broad question, but let me try to answer it fairly quickly. With the casino, we have our eggs in one basket, so to speak. So, diversity is the word I use.” He said it is important for the Tribe to look at many opportunities beyond just retail. “The Tribe could create an enterprise such as we did with the casino and we could ask those enterprises to look into 8a opportunities. The Tribe owns property in pretty close proximity, and we have opportunities through our tax incentives that we can recruit businesses that can come and not only locate on Tribal land, but we have opportunities to look at different types we don’t have available to us at the moment.”
- Give three examples of youth-based initiatives you’d like to implement near here.
Sneed: “The most imperative is the financial literacy training, but it has to start at the elementary level. There has to be a mindset shift where little kids are saying, I’m rich. I’m going to have all this money. A second, there has to be a different take on what it means to be Cherokee. Implement some sort of servant leadership program. I’d like to see this at the high school level. We’re the only school system in the state of North Carolina still using the senior project. What I’d like to see is a quarterly project where students would go into the communities, just like the Cherokee Day of Caring, but do that every quarter. We could partner with another Tribe who is not as well off and begin to build relationships like email pen pals with students on other reservations and at the end of the school year, we could take the senior class and go do a project and partner with the other Tribe. The third is drugs and alcohol. I really look at that as a symptom of a bigger problem. We have to look at greater education when it comes to prevention with drugs and alcohol. Those are three areas I would focus on immediately.”