By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The communities of Cherokee County and Snowbird are divided by almost 40 miles and encompass two distinct town areas in western North Carolina. The two communities are considered one township of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and share two Tribal Council representatives that are elected by tribal members from both communities.
Janell Rattler, an EBCI tribal member from the Snowbird Community, submitted legislation recently calling for a referendum asking that the township remain intact but that each community vote on and elect its own Council representative separately.
She referenced several previous attempts in 2006 and 2008 to split the voting in the two communities and noted that many tribal members now want that change. “They (Snowbird) want to vote for their own Council member and for Cherokee County to vote for their own Council member but still remain as one township so that will not change nothing as far as that aspect.”
After much debate, Rattler’s legislation was tabled for further review.
During the debate, Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy stated, “I think, at this time, that the request does not separate the townships. I just got done looking at the Charter. It doesn’t say they both have to be from Snowbird or both from Cherokee County. It just says that there will be two representatives. It also stated that they will represent a township. She’s not requesting that we separate the two communities. She’s simply requesting that we separate and give each side better representation, and I can agree with that.”
Rep. McCoy referenced several sub-community divisions which already exist within the Tribe including Big Y within the Wolfetown Community – which she said currently works well. “But, in this situation, they are miles apart and in two different towns – Robbinsville and Murphy.”
Louise Reed, an EBCI tribal member from Snowbird, commented, “Cherokee County and Snowbird is very day-and-night. Their (Cherokee County) and Snowbird’s needs are very different.”
She added, “We need someone that’s going to get in there and take care of the business at hand…what’s right for that community and not have to decide what the other community needs. I’ve got family members in Cherokee County, and they’re all for this too. They understand why.”
Former Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Brenda Norville stated, “I would just highly encourage and ask you guys to give us a referendum. I’m not ever going to run for Council again so it’s nothing pertaining to me individually.”
Both of the current Cherokee County – Snowbird Representatives talked about the divisive nature of the proposed legislation. Vice Chairman Brandon Jones noted, “When I ran for Council, I knew good and well that I was going to have to represent Cherokee County evenly, openly, without bias, without discrimination. I know the blood quantum down there is less than it is Snowbird.”
He said he feels a lot of times this issue is brought about post-election. “The only time this has come in in the past is when someone can’t win the full election. You win in Snowbird, but you can’t win in Cherokee County so you come in and try to change the Code to serve your purpose. If you can’t represent the good people of Cherokee County evenly, openly, without bias, without prejudice, you don’t need to run.”
Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha said, “I’ve talked to a lot of people in the communities of Snowbird and Cherokee County, and I do remember in 2008 when this issue came up, and the reason the issue came up in 2008 was the Snowbird Community was afraid that Cherokee County would hold both seats. Well, for the past four elections, Snowbird has held both seats.”
He said the constituents he’s spoken with are happy with the current system. “They consider us family in Snowbird just as I consider those in Cherokee County family, and there shouldn’t be a divide. The resolution is written, in my mind, to divide the communities.”
Rep. Wachacha closed by saying that the Tribal Constitution which is currently being worked on would be a prime time to address this issue.
EBCI Attorney General Danny Davis agreed and added, “There’s also a census issue coming up that you might want to consider.”
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke pleaded for all to stop animosity and divisiveness. “Legally, let’s do the census. Let’s get a Constitution. Don’t put the cart before the horse.”