Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

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

FIND THE LATEST COVID-19 CASE COUNT IN NORTH CAROLINA HERE.  FOR ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS CLICK HERE.

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

FIND THE LATEST COVID-19 CASE COUNT IN NORTH CAROLINA HERE.  FOR ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS CLICK HERE.

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. 

 

Matt Bush

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.  

 

Two weeks from today, the primary election for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will take place.  Early voting is already underway on the Qualla Boundary as prinicipal chief, vice chief, all 12 seats on the tribal council, and three seats on the Cherokee school board are on the ballot.  The general election will take place in September.  

Lilly Knoepp

The Franklin Town Council has voted to transfer the deed to the ancient Nikwasi Mound to a nonprofit.   

The hall broke out into applause after the town council voted unanimously in favor of transferring the property to the Nikwasi Initiative - a nonprofit made up of representatives from Franklin, Macon County, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Mainspring Conservation Trust.

Hope Huskey is on the board of the Nikwasi Initiative and a member of the Eastern Band.  

 

Lilly Knoepp

  As the controversy over the ownership of the Nikwasi Mound in Franklin lingers on, Macon County officials are highlighting their working relationship with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.

 

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

With no discussion and little opposition the North Carolina Senate quickly passed S.B 154 that would allow sports and off-track betting at the Cherokee and Murphy casinos owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  

Lilly Knoepp

The Franklin Town Council delayed its decision until next month on transferring the deed of the Nikwasi Mound to nonprofit The Nikwasi Initiative.

It was standing room only for the public session on the transfer of the Nikwasi Mound, as 19 different people spoke before town council for and against the deal. 

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

  At its March meeting, the Franklin Town Council moved forward with a motion to transfer ownership of the Nikwasi Mound to a nonprofit.

 

The origin of the ancient mound has been called into question. BPR spoke with historians and archeologists about the mound and what makes it a sacred space.

 

Lilly Knoepp

  On the 200 year anniversary of territory being taken from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in Macon County, the Franklin town council is moving toward a compromise to give that land back.  

 

The Franklin Town Council took an historic step Monday night to give the sacred Nikwasi Mound to a nonprofit organization run in part by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee -The Nikwasi Initiative.

 

Lilly Knoepp

Both nationally and locally, candidates are beginning to startup their campaigns for 2020. But one important election is taking place this year in Western North Carolina.

 

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians are a sovereign nation with their own governmental structure. All 12 spots for the members of the tribal council as well as the principal chief and the vice chief  are open since their 2 year terms are ending.

Lilly Knoepp

The first piece of a project connecting historical sites of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee is complete.  When the full project is finished, a cultural corridor will run over 60 miles along the Little Tennessee River from Rabun County in Georgia to the town of Cherokee on the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina. The effort has been a long time coming.

Leaders for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are moving forward with a voter referendum on whether to allow expanded alcohol sales on the Qualla Boundary.  When it might happen is still unclear.  Smoky Mountain News reporter Holly Kays joined BPR’s Matt Bush to discuss the latest, as well as the history of the ban on alcohol sales in Cherokee - which had been totally dry until 2009, when alcohol sales were finally permitted at the Harrah's Casino there, which first op

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