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Sexual Assault Allegations Against Tribal Council Candidate Resurface

Matt Bush
General Elections for the Tribal Council, Vice Chief and Principal Chief will take place on September 5.

The general election is months away on the Qualla Boundary, but sexual assault allegations are resurfacing against a candidate for tribal council for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  



A recent Wall Street Journal investigation uncovered alleged sexual abuse by doctors and workers employed by the federally-run Indian Health Services.  That report included a 2016 allegation of sexual abuse against a minor by maintenance worker Nathanial “Bunsey” Crowe at the Unity Healing Center in Cherokee.  The allegation wasn’t reported to Eastern Band police or the tribal protective services agency Cherokee Family Safety for seven months. Crowe worked at Unity until March of this year, and advanced in this month’s primary election for an Eastern Band tribal council seat representing Big Y-Wolftown. 


Cherokee Family Safety referred BPR to Principal Chief Richard Sneed for comment. Sneed, himself up for re-election this year, says that the 7 months it took for the IHS incident to be reported to the Eastern Band is unacceptable.


“The bigger issue is the way that IHS handled this and that is reminiscent of the Catholic Church. This pattern where IHS is not protecting the most vulnerable - these children who are in their care,” says Sneed. 


Sneed would not comment on how these allegations could impact the upcoming tribal general election on September 5th.


Dr. Beverly Cotton became the new IHS director for the Southeastern region in February. She explains a new CEO was named at Unity this year and that they have updated sexual abuse protocols.


“I’m committed to making the necessary reforms at Unity and ensuring transparency and communications with our tribal nations in an effort to restore their trust in the services that we provide native youth at Unity Healing Center,” says Cotton. 


The Federal Office of the Inspector General is currently looking into all of the allegations against the IHS.


Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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