By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
We are a strong nation of Cherokee people. Our Chiefs and Tribal Council members are the custodians of the people, controlling the purse strings and the function of our government and communities. From Cherokee to Snowbird, we consider ourselves sovereign, even though we are a nation within a nation, a “domestically-dependent nation” within the boundaries and exist as wards of the United States. We do have our government and, for the most part, operate free from the control of any other jurisdiction.
We are not required to gain approval for our elections or election process from any other entity, and our Tribal Council makes law as it sees fit about the way we operate as a government. They are the duly elected legislators of our community. They, along with the Executive Office swear to uphold the following vow: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of (Tribal Council member or Executive Branch member) of the Eastern Band of Cherokees and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the charter and governing document and laws confirmed and ratified by the enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I have not obtained my election or appointment to Tribal office by bribery or any undue or unlawful means or fraud, and that in all measures which may come before me I will so conduct myself as in my judgment shall appear most conducive to the interest and prosperity of the Eastern Band of Cherokees.”
Our community, along with other communities across the nation and world, is battling a foe greater than drugs, disease, and corruption. This foe facilitates all three of those challenges to the welfare of our people and more. The foe we face as a people is apathy. Apathy is defined as “lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern”. While apathy in modern cultures is not an unusual thing, it is much more impactful in relatively small communities like ours.
When, for example, a referendum comes up in the state of North Carolina, there are currently 6,955,135 registered voters in the state, eligible to cast votes (total population of the state is approximately 10,390,000). The minimum percentage of voters needed to qualify our referendum was 30. If those numbers were applied to North Carolina, the voter turnout would have to be 2,086,540. And, while that would only be a representation of less than 25 percent of the total population and it would show a spirit of apathy among the constituency, it would be challenging for a particular interest or politician to sway the vote in any direction.
But, the Qualla Boundary does not have voter registration in the millions. Our voter rolls are in the thousands; 6,779, according to the latest Election Board tally. And, out of 6,779, 1,733, or just 24.71 percent, came to decide on if a tribal ABC/package store would be permitted on the Qualla Boundary. The final vote count was 912 voters against the package store and 821 in favor.
So, the “nays” won by a 91-vote advantage. But, that didn’t matter. Because, in our law, we prescribe that at least 30 percent, or 2,034 voters, would have to turn out and vote, so the measure suffered death due to lack of interest.
It will stay dead based on the language of the Code for another two years.
The outcome of the referendum is more telling than just if tribal members are for or against the retail availability of alcohol. The fact that we, as a community, did not feel it necessary enough to go to the polls on this issue speaks to the more significant aspect of how we think about our role in decision making for the Tribe. How can we claim to love our community and care about the future of our children if we sit idle during the one process that gives us a true voice on those two issues? Voting is what affords us the power of our sovereignty.
It is foolishness to think that our vote doesn’t count or it doesn’t matter, especially in a relatively small community like ours. Some of our elections have been decided by 10 votes or less. One, in recent memory, was decided by a single vote. Yes, there are still large voting blocks of special interests, but the younger generations of Cherokees who vote are showing more interest in who has the qualifications and are researching instead of going with the flow, voting more on substance than on popularity.
Apathy allows the opioid epidemic to grow. By not taking substantial and dramatic steps to change the societal obstacles that isolate individuals who seek a place in our society, we drive them to those in the drug culture, who welcome them with open arms. Apathy allows us to ignore critical needs and upgrades to our health care system, allowing disease and pain to grow in our community. And, apathy is the playground of the corrupt, giving those who would harm for personal gain the opening to take advantage of a sheep-like society.
Edmund Burke, an 18th-century political theorist, uttered a famous quote that still rings true today. He said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Another election cycle is approaching. We will soon be in the throes of political debate and the selection of candidates for office. Good men and women who currently sit in positions of authority and others will be attempting to convince you to vote their way. I don’t know what your criteria are for determining who and what values you think should lead the Tribe. I imagine my thoughts on that may vary significantly from yours. Your thoughts on a candidate or issue may even be opposite of mine. I would much rather see your candidate or position upheld by a majority vote of a fair representation of the people than to have my candidate or position win by default. That is the way it was with our ancestors. Things were done for the good of all, not the one.
We would do good to read and heed the oath that our leaders take. The promise is contained in the charter of our people, the governing document that binds us. All the laws of the Tribe were established either by the people or the leaders that the people elected; at least those who took the time and effort to cast votes.
We have a choice. We may allow apathy to be the rule of the day and it will eventually destroy us, or we can make the decision to take control of our destiny. But, one member of the Tribe cannot do that for us. We must decide for ourselves, as a community, what we will be. Let us not be whatever the wind blows in our direction or a minority of our population decides. The life and existence of the Tribe depend on what we do.