Vice Chief candidates address a broad range of issues

Candidates for vice chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians shared their views on an array of issues facing the tribe during a debate last week.

The questions ranged from domestic issues like housing on the reservation to foreign relations issues like the tribe’s clout in Washington, D.C.

The election will be held on Thursday, Sept. 6. Voters will decide on chief, vice chief, tribal council representatives and school board members.

Teresa McCoy, a former tribal council member, is challenging current Vice Chief Larry Blythe. The two candidates emerged as the top vote-getters during the primary election. Blythe got 40 percent of the vote while McCoy got 28 percent. The remaining votes were split among four other contenders.

The debate was hosted by the Qualla Women’s Justice Alliance. Here’s a sample of how the candidates answered a few of the questions posed during the hour-long debate.

Is the federal government upholding its responsibilities under the trust arrangement for the tribe and tribal lands?

• McCoy — “I believe this tribe should consider hiring an attorney specifically for that purpose — to review treaties past and to force them and remind them on a daily basis that they have a responsibility, especially when it comes to health, education and welfare. There are so many things I think the government has failed native people on. I will speak vehemently on a daily basis to remind them what their responsibility is.”

• Blythe — “I had an opportunity to have dinner with Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful person in Congress. Those people need to hear from tribal leadership such as myself. When we get a chance to talk to them, my comments have always been the lack of carrying out their trust responsibility. I bring that issue loud and clear each and every time I’m up there.”

What can be done to create more and better housing opportunities on the Reservation?

• Blythe — The current construction of a new housing development was cited by Blythe as progress under his administration, but he said it has been hard to get funding for the issue.

“We are building houses daily,” Blythe said. “We are working diligently. It takes time to get to that point, but believe me we are working as hard as we can.”

• McCoy — “I would have already done that. That is what I would have done four years ago if I had been elected then,” said McCoy, citing her bid for vice chief against Blythe in the last election.

“Twice a year people receive a distribution. I have talked to many people who are more than glad to give up their distribution to have some type of housing. I don’t understand why we can’t have a thorough, open discussion on housing. I don’t understand why it hasn’t been done.”

• Blythe’s rebuttal — “I know McCoy sat on the housing authority board just like I did,” Blythe said, citing McCoy’s tenure as a tribal council member.

What are your views on the tribal court system?

• McCoy — “I believe that court system can be enhanced to be a court people are comfortable going to. Until the court comes out from under the executive branch there will always be an air of doubt.”

McCoy said the court should not report to the chief’s office, but should have equal but separate power.

“Working under this administration it has done the best it can. It is hard to do your job if someone is going to call you up and ask you to change a court case. I think another thing the public needs to know about is the court fees being paid and what they are being used for.”

• Blythe — “I have never called that court and asked them to change a court case. When people come for my advice, I give them advice. I don’t pick up the phone and ask them to change a decision. I am not going to try to influence that court on any decision.”

Blythe cited the fact that Cherokee people are now serving as judges and lawyers now, compared to year’s past when the judges in tribal court were white due to the lack of tribal members with law degrees.

“We have tribal members that are daily adjudicating justice and we haven’t had that before.”

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