One week from today, voters on the Qualla Boundary will head to the polls to elect all positions in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal government. BPR has this look at the principal chief race.
Neither candidate for principal chief is new to politics. Current Chief Richard Sneed has been in this office since 2017. Teresa McCoy has been a tribal council member on and off for close to 20 of the last 30 years.
Their first of many disagreements stems from Sneed’s appointment to chief from his position as vice chief following the 2017 impeachment of Patrick Lambert. McCoy voted against the impeachment at the time.
“Our tribe came through a really hard time a couple of years ago. There's a lot of healing that needs to happen. I feel it in the community,” says McCoy. “I'd like to say that the impeachment itself, I still have an opinion about that, but we've had to pick it up and we have to move forward now.”
Sneed maintains his administration is not corrupt and that impeachment was the right decision.
“I’m not saying that there hasn’t been corruption in the past - there certainly has been but if she wants to alleged corruption, then she needs to bring forth evidence,” says Sneed. “You don't just to just get to say corruption, corruption, corruption with no evidence that's meaningless. It's a straw man argument.”
McCoy meanwhile almost didn’t get this far in the race after the election board denied certification but she won her appeal on the decision.
Both candidates agree that one of the biggest issues for the Eastern Band is that its time for the tribe to diversify its revenues beyond its two casinos. That diversification has a new urgency as gaming gets legalized in more states while another tribe is lobbying to build a casino outside of Charlotte. The Catawaba tribe is based in South Carolina but a bill in Congress would grant them the right to build a casino in North Carolina. Both candidates are skeptical that the bill will pass but McCoy supports the Catawaba’s plan.
“I would hope that tribal nations would partner with each other or at least seek each other's advice and remain friendly because we have many more issues that we have many more issues that could be coming down from Washington or the states so we need to band together instead of being divisive and fighting with each other,” says McCoy.
Sneed ardently disagrees. He says the fact that casino built nearby will mean less money for the Eastern Band is not the only reason he doesn’t agree with the deal.
“I’ll fight this bill to with my dying breath. You probably saw Senator burrs, op-ed - he called us, ‘bullies.’ Well, the fact of the matter is all we ever do is call these federal officials on the fact that there's federal law in place already that we are subject to. And we're simply saying, if we're going to be held to that standard, then everybody else should be held to that standard as well,” says Sneed.
Both candidates also support more transparency in the tribal government but McCoy wants to take transparency a step further.
“For the 20 years that I represented the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, I have never believed that we've ever been transparent with our public. I think that placing the budgets into the public, taking them into the community buildings, allowing each member of the tribe to see exactly where their money is being spent, how much was appropriated for those projects is transparency,” says McCoy.
The current budget has been finalized by the administration. Sneed says that the budget will be made public after the council approves it.
Both candidates also say that the tribal council’s media ban should be lifted. Sneed says the ban is the tribal council’s decision while McCoy says one of her first acts will be to ask the council to rescind the ban.
Despite their disagreements, both candidates agree that this election has been less eventful than previous years. Sneed says:
“This is the most non-contentious election cycle that anyone has ever seen for this office,” says Sneed. “That's a fact because it has gotten really, really nasty in years past.”
The 12 tribal council seats are also up for election as well as three school board seats. Turnout is always important in any election, and only about 40% of the nearly 7,000 eligible voters turned out in the primary.