Cherokee alcohol vote tailored to give communities more say so

Cherokee tribal council last week decided to change the format for an upcoming vote on alcohol sales, a move that will give individual communities more autonomy on the controversial issue.

When members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians go to the polls in April, each of the six communities that make up the reservation will decided independently  whether alcohol sales are legalized in their own particular community. This means that parts of the reservation could remain dry even if other communities vote to lift the alcohol ban.

The Rev. Noah Crowe, of Snowbird, brought the idea before tribal council last month, pushing for an amendment that would offer more flexibility than an across-the-board vote that would apply throughout the reservation.

“I would just encourage all the Cherokee voters to really consider it,” Crowe said. “We know what’s best for us.”

Tribal council approved the amendment last week.

Tribal Council Member Perry Shell said the people of Birdtown he represents are in favor of having their own voice.

“They wanted to have a say … so I voted to let them have that say,” Shell said.

Michell Hicks, the principal chief of the Eastern Band, has yet to sign off on the council-approved change. However, Hicks backed the resolution at a previous tribal council meeting, saying that alcohol should not be forced on a community. Hicks has also expressed concerns over the implication of a “yes” vote that could lead to package stores selling booze making their way into every corner of the reservation.

The reservation is comprised of six communities: Birdtown, Wolftown, Big Cove, Painttown, Snowbird/Cherokee County and Yellowhill.

Crowe hails from Snowbird, a remote and isolated satellite portion of the reservation in the Graham County, has an older population and is known for being more traditional. Snowbird is the only community that voted against allowing the casino to sell alcohol in another ballot measure two years ago.

The reservation is currently dry, with the sale of beer, wine and mixed drinks outlawed, except for at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort. The outcome of the referendum would not affect alcohol sales that are already allowed in the casino or any future gambling sites, however.

Cherokee’s business community is campaigning in support of the alcohol vote, saying it will boost tourism and economic development. Their primary focus now will likely be securing support among voters in the communities that encompass the primary commercial districts. While those communities have taken on heightened importance, they no longer have to worry about more conservative and traditional voters in outlying communities tipping the scales.

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