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Tribal Council Refuses To Hear Same-Sex Marriage Resolution Again

Lilly Knoepp
Almost 20 Eastern Band of Cherokee members gave out to tribal council to support the resolution.

Supporters say they will keep showing up until the tribal council for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians hears their call to recognize same-sex marriage. 

Just like last month, tribal council members voted for a second time not to read a resolution that would change the Cherokee code to recognize same-sex marriage.  

But at Thursday’s meeting, almost 20 Eastern Band members turned out to show their support for the measure. 

They included Big Cove resident Tamara Thompson, who submitted the resolution.  She spoke first after the council voted 7-5 against it.

Credit Courtesy of Tribal Council
This is the second time Big Cove resident Tamara Thompson has submitted the resolution to Tribal Council.

“The culture against LGBTQ people is hurtful, it's physically hurtful. I'm Cherokee. If you read my shirt it says, 'We are family,'” said Thompson.

Tribal Council member Chelsea Saunooke voted for the resolution. She shared that she has known since 2nd grade that she is a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

“And I even told my granny about everything and she says, “I love you no matter what. Only you know your heart. And I said, ‘Yes. I do know my heart and I know where it belongs,” said Saunooke.

Seven others spoke in support including  Mary Crowe from the Yellowhill community. She asked each council member if they agree that all Qualla Boundary citizens have equal rights. They all agreed– though some added “under the law.” Then she asked why are there exceptions for people who are not heterosexual. 

“That’s what you legislators are here for to create that law to give us those rights and protection. That fair and equal rights and protection,” said Crowe.

Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha thanked everyone for speaking their minds.  He said he respects everyone who spoke and then compared them to his brother-in-law whose “choices” he also doesn’t agree with.

“I’ve got a brother-in-law who is addicted to drugs and I don’t agree with those choices but those are the choices that he makes. And I hope he straightens up. But all I can do is pray for him,” said Wachacha, who voted against the resolution.

From the crowd someone responded: “Being LGBTQ isn’t a choice, my guy.”

“I’m not saying that, ma'am,” said Wachacha.

“Well it’s coming off that way so change your words,please,” replied a woman in the audience.

“Alright, I will,” said Wachacha.

Members of the Eastern Band LBGTQ+ group Nudale Adantedi were part of the crowd to support the resolution.

Astei Cooper, lead organizer of the group, shared after the meeting that it will focus on the upcoming Tribal Council election. She says the group will ask all candidates for their stances on LGBTQ+ rights.

“We are definitely going to be doing more community outreach because there is a big voting population here that just doesn’t vote. We want to draw on our younger population here to come out and vote,” said Cooper.

Tribal Council election will be held September 2nd.

Of the more than 500 federally recognized tribes in the United States, about 40 recognize same-sex marriage. Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma overturned its own ban on same-sex marriage in 2016.

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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