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Tribal Council candidates race through the home stretch

cherokeeNearly 30 people have put their names in the hat for election to Cherokee’s 12-member Tribal Council this fall, and depending who you ask, a lot is at stake.

The tribe needs a constitution, a strong document outlining separation of powers, rights of the people and rights of their government, some say. According to others, Cherokee needs to take control of its sovereignty, keeping tribal information and resources out of the hands of non-Cherokee people and governments. Or does tribal government need more openness and dialogue?  Should the boundary develop more major attractions — perhaps a water park — to draw tourists in? And how should council address drug-related issues on Cherokee land? 

Opinions are all over the place.

But as the Sept. 3 election draws nearer, it will be the task of Cherokee voters to decide which of the candidates to represent their district is most likely to make a positive difference. 

Some of the talk surrounding the Tribal Council election centers on a controversy that’s played out over the past year after councilmembers voted themselves and the chiefs five-digit raises — a move that sparked anger among many tribal members and led to a group calling itself the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for Justice & Equality to threaten council with a lawsuit. The group claimed the raises were illegal, as the tribe’s Charter and Governing Document states that an election must occur between a vote to give council a raise and those raises taking effect. Supporters, meanwhile, argued that the pay increases were not actually raises but rather technical corrections to councilmembers’ compensation, in keeping with previous legislation. 

Some candidates have mentioned these raises prominently in their campaigns, vowing to push for greater transparency and communication with voters on future votes that could prove controversial. 

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But disagreements of the past two years won’t be the only issues the new tribal council will have to deal with. Candidates also spoke of their perceptions of the future needs of Cherokee. The tribe should make an effort to go through its code of ordinances with a fine-tooth comb, said Yellowhill candidate Arizona Jane Blankenship, getting rid of outdated laws and replacing sections referring to North Carolina law with the tribe’s own legislation. Council should make drug issues a priority, said Wolfetown candidate Polly Jo Castorena, developing a long-term rehabilitation program and preventing drug charges from being dropped or reduced to lesser charges as often as they are now. Economic development must be addressed, said Big Cove incumbent Teresa McCoy, but also balanced with environmental stewardship. 

So, voters will have plenty to think about as they head to the polls in two weeks. And so will the candidates. 

“A great honor for any tribal member is to have the trust of the people,” McCoy said, “to be allowed to be honored to represent them.”


Who’s running?

In the primary election, nearly all of the incumbent candidates for Tribal Council — no incumbents opted to sit the election out — were one of the top two vote-getters for their communities. 

However, Yellowhill challenger Anita Welch Lossiah came in nearly 5 percent ahead of incumbent Alan “B” Ensley. Birdtown will get at least one new representative, as incumbent Gene “Tunney” Crowe is running for principal chief. Yellowhill incumbent David Wolfe had raced against Crowe in the primary election but signed up as a write-in candidate after he lost. 

Write-in candidates do not appear on the ballot but have been approved by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Board of Elections as eligible for office. The top two candidates in each community will earn a seat on the council. Voters vote only for the representative from their own community.

Candidates are listed in alphabetical order. 

Big Cove

• Richard French

• Consie Girty

• Teresa McCoy (I)

• Perry Shell (I)


• Gilbert Crowe

• Albert Rose (I)

• Travis K. Smith

• Terri Lee Taylor


• Terri Henry (I)

• Lula Jackson (write-in)

• Marie Junaluska

• Tommye Saunooke (I)

• Pete Taylor (write-in)


• Bucky Brown

• Brandon Jones (I)

• Janell Rattler

• Adam Wachacha (I)


• Polly Jo Castorena

• Bo Crowe (I) 

• Albert Martin Jr.

• Dennis Edward “Bill” Taylor (I)


• Arizona Jane Blankenship

• Alan “B” Ensley (I)

• Anita Welch Lossiah

• Tom Wahneta

• David Wolfe (write-in)

* “I” denotes incumbent

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