“In everything that has happened over the past several months, I think everyone has had some anxiety, everyone has done or heard or said some things they wish they could take back, and now is the time to forgive,” Sneed told the crowd gathered in the Cherokee Central Schools auditorium that morning.
He promised that as principal chief a Cherokee concept that translates to “the right way,” would guide his actions.
“That is our core value as a people. It’s what has set us apart from time immemorial as Cherokee people, is that we do things the right way,” Sneed said.
He pledged to follow the tribe’s human resources policies — Lambert’s alleged violation of these policies was a cornerstone of efforts to impeach him — noting that “for years and years we have seen it happen where people were handed positions and immediately other people say, ‘That’s not fair,’ and they’re right because there’s a process.”
Sneed told employees that his administration would instead be marked by what he termed “the three Cs of success” — communication, collaboration and community.
“My commitment to you is my door is always open,” Sneed said. “I have met with several people who disagree with me on several issues, and I have told them my door is always open, take a seat … If we disagree on something, you know something I don’t and I want to hear what that is.”
Sneed was candid in discussing opportunities and challenges facing the tribe. With widespread drug use and the ever-present worry that the casino might one day cease to be the money-making machine it is now, there’s plenty of work to do. But the tribe’s opportunity, Sneed said, lies in its resources — financial, environmental and human.
“We will invest, we will preserve and we will develop those resources to ensure that our culture endures for millennia to come,” he said.
However, doing so will require collaboration with agencies outside the Qualla Boundary. Sneed pointed out the recent tourism success of Bryson City, saying that — minus gaming revenues — “Swain County kicks our butt in tourism every year.” With the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at its border, Cherokee has an opportunity to do better — right now, he said, the 2 million vehicles that enter the park through Cherokee each year mostly just pass through rather than stopping to spend some of their tourism dollars.
“We have got to learn to collaborate and partner with other cities, towns and counties in our region,” he said. “We can no longer stand alone. If the region succeeds, we succeed. If the region prospers, we prosper.”
Sneed also spoke to some of the challenges inherent in tribal government — in particular, housing. The issue of finding buildable, accessible land where tribal members can build homes, and navigating the red tape surrounding making that land available, has long been problematic in Cherokee.
“We spend a lot of money every year on housing — millions of dollars — and we put very few homes on the ground,” Sneed said.
Housing issues are managed by the Department of Housing and Community Development, which uses tribal funds, and the Qualla Housing Authority, which uses a combination of federal and tribal funds. Qualla Housing is currently under investigation by the FBI for potential misuse of those federal dollars.
Sneed intends to gather key stakeholders in the housing issue together for a housing summit, an all-day work session to receive input and develop a strategic plan to correct the housing issues that exist. The road forward, he said, will likely look a lot different than how things are done now. Access is difficult, with some driveways costing as much as $100,000, and buildable land is just scarce compared to the number of people who need it.
“The days of every individual having a 1- or 2- or 3-acre parcel — folks, those days are gone,” Sneed said. “We don’t have a buildable land base for that.”
Sneed’s words met a favorable response from many in attendance.
“He said exactly what needed to be said and nothing more,” said Joey Owle, who Sneed named secretary of agriculture and natural resources. “As the secretary of agriculture and natural resources, I’m humbled and I’m honored to be put in this position to lead that effort to take our tribe where we need to go.”
“I thought it was very, very positive,” said Councilmember Anita Lossiah, of Yellowhill. “It was an attempt to bring everybody together. One of the first elements of his video was to forgive. We have to be able to forgive and move forward and unify.”
While Sneed’s address included issue-specific direction and vision, the crux of it was that desire to see the tribe come together following the division that ran rampant as the impeachment issue heated up.
“We are Cherokee. That’s what sets us apart,” Sneed said. “When we communicate and we collaborate, that yields community, because real community is based on relationship.”
Cherokee’s new leadership team
After his swearing-in as Principal Chief May 25, Richie Sneed sent out an email to tribal employees assuring them that they needn’t fear for their jobs as a result of the change in administration and promising that, while higher-level political appointments are intended to end with the term of the chief who appointed them, many of Lambert’s appointments would remain in place.
Sneed introduced his new leadership team during an address to tribal employees Tuesday, June 6, at the Cherokee Central Schools auditorium.
“There was very little change that took place in the structure as far as the leadership team goes,” he said.
Of the 10 leadership team members Sneed introduced, five were continuing in positions they had held during the Lambert administration. Of the remaining five, some had served in similar positions during the Michell Hicks administration while some were new to tribal leadership.
Sneed said the leadership team would soon hold a weekend retreat, during which they would come up with a strategic plan — complete with measurable goals — to present to tribal employees.
Sneed’s new leadership team is:
• Cory Blankenship, secretary of treasury
• James Bradley, secretary of education
• Vickie Bradley, secretary of public health and human services*
• Albert Crowe, director of tribal realty*
• Mickey Duvall, secretary of commerce*
• Jeremy Hyatt, secretary of administration*
• Chris McCoy, director of communications*
• Paxton Myers, chief of staff
• Joey Owle, secretary of agriculture and natural resources
• Tara Reed, secretary of human resources
• Celia Smith, administrative assistant* (starting June 26)
• Sarah Teesateski, executive assistant
• Juanita Wilson, director of Snowbird/ Cherokee County services*
*Continuing in this position following appointment under the Patrick Lambert administration