The Eastern Band of the Cherokee’s Tribal Council has lifted its ban on outside media covering its meetings after more than a year.
At the Cherokee Tribal Council building, everyone waiting to be seen by the council sits outside the chambers in a plush waiting room with coffee and a live television feed. This is where outside media have been reporting from for the last year since all nontribal media were banned from the council.
On Wednesday, Smoky Mountain News reporter Holly Kays and publisher Scott McLeod went into the chamber to ask that the ban be lifted.This audio comes from the TV in the building’s lobby - the only audio available to those not inside the chamber.
“ ...as members of the media we also carry a weight and responsibility to our readers that includes those on the Qualla Boundary,” says McLeod.
The Smoky Mountain News brought 6 letters in support of their request from local and statewide newspapers as well as Blue Ridge Public Radio.
After discussion between all tribal council members and McLeod, council chair Adam Wachacha explained the ban was never passed as a formal resolution – meaning the policy can be changed. He says outside media can follow a previous procedure to request entry to the chambers before each meeting.
“ I think that was a respectful method- coming in and requesting,” says Wachacha.
Kays, who has been reporting on the Eastern Band of Cherokee for the Smoky Mountain News for almost 6 years was excited:
“We’ll be allowed back in as long as we ask each time so I’m looking forward to being able to do that and continuing to foster those relationships and build that trust,” says Kays.
Robert Jumper, editor of the Cherokee One Feather, has long been a supporter of the ban being lifted. The tribally-owned paper has been the only media allowed in the chambers.
“This won’t be a huge difference for us. But I hope it makes a huge impact for our community and their understanding of free press,” says Jumper.
If they request, outside media can again cover tribal council starting with Thursday morning’s meeting. The council said they also will be working on a new free press resolution.