Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

Courtesy of EBCI Tribal Council

The Eastern Band of Cherokee will not officially recognize same-sex marriages on the Qualla Boundary.  BPR was at Thursday’s tribal council meeting when the vote was taken…

“Still determined. Resolve is still there.”


A section of U.S. 441 through the Qualla Boundary was renamed in Beloved Man Dr. Jerry Wolfe’s honor this month.

“Jerry personified what it meant to be Cherokee, the core values of what it means to be Cherokee,” said Principal Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee at the event according to a press release.

Lilly Knoepp

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. 

Courtesy of Dakota Brown

 Over a year ago, the borders of some local counties and regions were shut to the public to help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

As part of BPR and Foxfire Museum's oral history project,  Dakota Brown, education director at the Museum of the Cherokee shares what it was like when the Qualla Boundary closed during her interview with Foxfire curator Kami Ahrens.  

Lilly Knoepp/BPR News

It’s been six years since the U.S. Supreme Court made its landmark ruling, making same-sex marriage legal.  But that ruling doesn’t apply to sovereign nations in the U.S. – including the Eastern Band of the Cherokee on the Qualla Boundary.  

A year before the Obergefell decision, the Eastern Band Tribal Council passed a resolution codifying the tribe would only recognize marriage between a man and woman. 

Photo courtesy of New Kituwah Academy

Long before the world had ever heard of COVID-19, the Cherokee language was in trouble.

Last year, the three tribes in the U.S. declared a state of emergency because there are now so few fluent speakers.  That includes the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in Western North Carolina.  Here’s how the pandemic has impacted the teaching of the language:

The New Kituwah Academy started in 2004 to teach a new generation of fluent Cherokee speakers. Like other schools, the pandemic caused educators to go to virtual instruction.

Courtesy of Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University has established a Cherokee Studies Scholarship in honor of an Eastern Band leader and scholar.

Matt Bush

The Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians says both major party presidential candidates are pandering to another tribe in North Carolina in the final days of the election.

Courtesy of Principal Chief Richard Sneed

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. 

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The Buncombe County board of commissioners is now the largest local government body to support the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in its legal fight with the Catawba Indian Nation over a proposed casino in the Charlotte suburbs.   

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The Cherokee Cultural Corridor in rural Western North Carolina took a major step forward this week.

Through the rain, officials from the Town of Franklin and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians gathered with others together at the Nikwasi Mound. 

“We’re going to have the actual groundbreaking so get your cameras ready!”

Lilly Knoepp

Graham County is one of the most rural counties in North Carolina, with just around 9,000 residents.  It’s isolation led county leaders to put in place some of the most restrictive measures in the state in hopes of keeping the Coronavirus away - but it still came anyway.

BPR spoke with Graham County’s first confirmed COVID-19 case about the responsibility she felt when she learned the news: 

Courtesy of Harrah's Cherokee Casinos

(Update 5/28) The Eastern Band announced updated COVID-19 protection measures including a requirement that everyone at Harrah's Cheroke Casino Resort and Harrah's Valley River Casino will be required to wear a face covering at all times.


(Update 5/27): Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos announced that it will open to the public at 30% capacity  on Thursday, May 28 starting at 6 a.m. 


Courtesy of Cherokee Indian Hopsital Authority

  As a sovereign nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have been able to respond to COVID-19 differently than its neighbors in Western North Carolina. BPR spoke with tribal members and officials about how they are handling the health crisis:


When Jade Teesateskie got tested for COVID-19 she had no symptoms of the virus.  


“I volunteered to go get tested showing no symptoms at all and still have not had any symptoms to this day,” says Teesateskie, who is 26 years old. 


Lilly Knoepp


The Public Health Department for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians announced Saturday that three Swain County residents and one Graham County resident have tested positive for COVID-19.

Courtesy of the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority


On Sunday, it was announced that two Cherokee County residents tested positive for COVID-19 through The Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority(CIHA). 

Lilly Knoepp

  Both the Qualla Boundary and Graham County have put in place restricted travel for non-residents.  Residents in another rural county are calling for similar measures. 

On Monday, Whittier resident Kellie Marr started a petition to ask Swain County commissioners to shut the county’s borders. The petition has already garnered almost 700 signatures. 

Lilly Knoepp

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. 

Matt Bush

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are hoping to expand their gaming operations outside North Carolina. 


Eastern Band Principal Chief Richard Sneed says the tribe is looking to build a casino in Virginia. The Bristol-based facility would be part of a new development already in the works on the property. 


Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Officials from the city of Asheville and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians celebrated the renaming of the Asheville Civic Center as the Harrah’s Cherokee Center - Asheville at an event Friday afternoon.  The name change officially took place ten days prior on January 1st.  

Matt Bush

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians(EBCI) are still working to fix their network after a cyber attack says Principal Chief Richard Sneed. This month, “ransomware," a virus which encrypts files,was put on their network. Usually, the encrypter will then offer to sell back the files for a ransom, thus the name, explains Sneed. 

Lilly Knoepp

Earlier this year, the three Cherokee tribes in the U.S. – which includes the Eastern Band of Cherokee in Western North Carolina - announced their language is in a state of emergency because of a shortage of fluent speakers.  Efforts to reverse that have taken on many forms – such as at a summer camp in Graham County.   

 That’s where campers learned to sing this summer’s #1 song - in Cherokee.

“Old Town Road” by Lil NasX was undeniably the song of summer 2019.

But you probably haven’t heard it like this: 

Lilly Knoepp

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians held their general election last night for all 12 tribal council seats, vice chief and principal Chief. 


In the unofficial tally, Principal Chief Richard Sneed held onto his seat with about 400 votes more than veteran politician Teresa McCoy. At her campaign headquarters last night, McCoy thanks Sneed for running a pretty clean campaign.    


Lilly Knoepp

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. 

Lilly Knoepp

An ancient Cherokee mound in Franklin has now officially been turned over to a local nonprofit.  BPR attended the commemoration of the transfer. 

Locals gathered in a pavilion on the Greenway near the Nikwasi Mound to mark the sacred site’s handover to the Nikwasi Initiative. Bob McCollum is on its board.

“Good morning,” says McCullom. The crowd responds: “Good morning!”

“What a great day that has been a long time in coming,” he says. 

Lilly Knoepp

Western Carolina University has been breaking enrollment records for years but as they expand they need to continue to remember their history. BPR digs into their recent archaeological finds. 


Under a hot sun, students wield tiny trowels and dust pans to unearth ancient artifacts under the supervision of their archaeology professor. 


Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's governor has signed legislation allowing an American Indian tribe to offer sports and horse wagering at its two casinos.

The measure letting the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians offer the betting passed by a wide margin in both legislative chambers earlier in the year.

Gov. Roy Cooper's office announced Friday that the gaming measure was among more than a dozen pieces of legislation he signed. The law takes effect with Cooper's signature.

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's only federally recognized American Indian tribe could soon offer sports and horse wagering to patrons at its two casinos.

The General Assembly on Monday gave final approval to a measure that would give the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians the authority to offer the additional types of betting. The House voted 90-27 for the measure that had already cleared the Senate three months ago.

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

North Carolina lawmakers could give the final okay to sports betting in the state as early as Monday.  A bill that would allow sports books and off-track horse betting at casinos on tribal lands cleared a key House committee Wednesday in Raleigh, and is on the agenda for a floor vote Monday evening.  The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians operate the only two casinos in North Carolina.  The casinos are located in Cherokee and Murphy on the Qualla Boundary.  

Lilly Knoepp

  The Cherokee language is officially in a state of emergency according to the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. Blue Ridge Public Radio sat down with an Eastern Band native speaker at the new Kituwah Academy to learn more. 


Myrtle Driver Johnson is 75 years old. She’s an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a Beloved Woman. 


Johnson introduces herself in Cherokee before switching to English.