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Mary Crowe hopes for chief’s job with write-in campaign

fr marycroweMary Crowe isn’t a councilmember, but when a Tribal Council session starts up in Cherokee, hers is one face you might expect to see — whether in the audience, at the podium or back in the TV room watching the proceedings from a distance.

And while her name won’t be on the ballot in this year’s tribal elections, Crowe has launched a vigorous write-in campaign for the position of principal chief. 

“We are needing to come together and start working toward building our nation up,” Crowe said. “We got a lot of work to do.” 

Since registering as a write-in candidate in June, Crowe, 53, has been making the rounds at community meetings, setting up appointments with department heads and participating in a debate with principal chief candidates Patrick Lambert and Gene “Tunney” Crowe. She’s nothing if not passionate about the campaign. At a debate earlier this month, she told voters to “get up, get out, get God and write in Mary Crowe for principal chief.” 

Unlike the other two candidates, whose resumes include time in the military and high-level positions within the tribe, Crowe has a less traditional background. In the 1980s and ‘90s, she worked in computer operations for Central Carolina Bank, was coordinator of the Cherokee Challenge Program and served as a resident counselor at Cherokee Children’s Home. A breast cancer survivor and widowed mother of three, she has been a contract coordinator with the Indigenous Environmental Network — an organization of indigenous people that works on environmental and economic justice issues — since 1986. In January she opened a craft business, Peavine Studios.

“You can have all the qualifications in the world,” Crowe said, but she feels that her life experience and long-term involvement and advocacy in tribal government make her the right person for the job of principal chief. 

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This is not Crowe’s first time running for tribal office. In 2003 she ran for one of Yellowhill’s seats on Tribal Council, and in 2011 she ran for principal chief. 

“I have goals, I have plans, I have ideas,” Crowe said. 

Foremost among them is a revision to the recall process for elected officials. Crowe had pushed for such a revision over the past year, sparking a long discussion at the December 2014 council meeting that resulted in the resolution being tabled. Currently, impeaching an elected official from office requires a two-thirds vote of the Tribal Council, but Crowe believes that the people should have the right to get rid of unscrupulous representatives through a referendum vote. 

“That’s one of the things I will push for the first 100 days,” she said. 

Crowe said she’d also be looking to put more money toward law enforcement and health services. The Cherokee Indian Police Department’s budget has been stagnant since 2009, Crowe said, so a bigger budget will be imperative to improving law enforcement. 

Social services will also be a priority, with the tribe now in the final stages of taking over health and human services functions from the counties. It’s a big job that will require a steady hand and a piece of the budget, Crowe said. Doing it right will be no easy trick. 

“I have my deep, deep concerns on if we’re really, really ready to take it over,” she said. 

And as a long-time member of the Indigenous Environmental Network — Crowe even participated in the 2014 Move Forward Climate March in Washington, D.C. — it shouldn’t come as any surprise that environmental issues are high on her list of priorities. 

“Our land, our water and our air — that comes first,” she said. 

Crowe would push to get a regional recycling center built in Cherokee and wants to see an increase in alternative building materials on the Qualla Boundary. 

Along with environment, for Crowe, comes culture. She’d want to increase fine arts instruction at Cherokee Central Schools, training children to become the best at producing native crafts, and see a revival of cultural attractions like Oconaluftee Indian Village. 

Because one thing, Crowe said, would always guide her decisions as principal chief. 

“I’m all Cherokee,” she said.

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