Archived News

Chief candidate Lambert lays out platform

fr patricklambertIf Patrick Lambert wins his bid for principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, he expects to be looking a monstrous political version of a honey-do list when Election Day is over.

“I have people come up to me all the time and say, ‘First thing you need to do Patrick, is —’” he says jokingly from his campaign headquarters at the Cherokee Grand Hotel, which he owns. 

But Lambert, who in January retired from 22 years at his post as executive director of the Tribal Gaming Commission, says that if elected he’ll stay focused on what he sees as the mainstay of the chief’s job. 

“Really what it boils down to for me is helping tribal families and protecting tribal employees,” Lambert said. 


Focus on tribal employees

One of his first goals, Lambert said, would be to establish an office of employee rights. The office would provide a resource for employees who feel they’ve been treated unfairly, allowing them to file a complaint while providing a buffer from those with hire-fire power. 

Related Items

“I think that the office of employee rights is very important to protect tribal employees from the impact of tribal policies,” Lambert said. 

Currently, the principal chief has ultimate hiring and firing power over any tribal employee, something Lambert, 52, had suggested at a debate between chief candidates this month that he might like to change. Because the principal chief doesn’t work directly with each and every employee and doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of their strengths and shortcomings, Lambert had argued, it’s probably not appropriate for the chief to make those decisions.

He’d want to give the personnel policy a close review, he said, looking for ways to ensure fairness when it comes to hiring, firing, promotions and other such decisions. He’s also made it clear that he wants to boost the 401k match from 3 to 5 percent. 

“Government is really servants to the people, and that’s what we need to have a refocus on,” Lambert said. 


Combating drugs

Combating the drug epidemic — present in many places, including Cherokee — is one important way for the government to do that, Lambert said. 

“First thing we need to do is look out here and think about what other models exist,” Lambert said. “Are there communities that have figured out some of this already?”

Cherokee’s unique in that it’s not constrained to work within the framework of state law — the Eastern Band can craft its own legislation. That represents a tremendous opportunity, Lambert said, because it means that legislation can be written to support the tribe’s strategy for combating drugs, rather requiring a strategy conformed to existing legislation. 

“We can create our own way of doing it,” he said. 

Lambert, whose first professional job was as a drug and alcohol counselor at Cherokee Indian Hospital, sees that way as involving three separate prongs — prevention, treatment and prosecution. Basically, get to kids when they’re young with education about the dangers of drug abuse, have a full range of treatment options available for people who find themselves in trouble and work with the court system to make sure that offenders are charged, convicted and punished. 

“We have to look at what kind of models are out there, but we have that opportunity to fashion the laws too,” Lambert said. “That’s what I get excited about.”


Launching the social services division 

Another arena in which laws and services will go hand-in-hand is that of social services. Cherokee is in the midst of trading reliance on county social services programs to having its own — the EBCI Public Health and Human Services Division. 

“It’s going to be a big job,” Lambert said. “It’s overwhelming in some aspects, but we’re going to make it work, and I have full confidence in the people that are set up to be operating this program.”

In keeping with Lambert’s campaign focus of improving life for Cherokee families, the program is “exciting,” he said, because it will allow the tribe to use a “well-rounded” model that addresses children and families together. There’s a lot of responsibility, organization and administration that goes along with that, but again Lambert cites the opportunity the tribe has in controlling its own laws as well as its own programs. 

“We’re going to make it work,” he said. “It’s going to have to work.” 


Forming a free press

Sometimes, though, fixing the law doesn’t necessarily translate into fixing the practice. That’s been the case with Cherokee’s newspaper, The Cherokee One Feather, which operates under a government whose laws include a free press act and public records act. The free press act, among other things, asserts that “press shall be independent from any undue influence and free of any particular political interest.” However, that has not been the case. 

According to Lambert, that’s largely because of the chain of command under which the government-owned newspaper falls. 

“We need structural changes for The One Feather,” Lambert said. 

He suggested that the newspaper be reorganized to operate the same way as tribal entities such as The Museum of the Cherokee Indian or the Cherokee Boys Club — these organizations receive money from the tribe but don’t report directly to its executive branch. 

“I think it’s possible,” Lambert said when asked if it’s even feasible to have a truly independent press when that news organization is government-owned. 

“We want a hometown paper, but we need a way to make it structurally work,” he said. 


Defining sovereignty 

If elected chief, Lambert said, he’d also be on the lookout to protect Cherokee’s sovereignty. Cherokee is its own nation, and it’s important to ensure that the rights of its people and government reflect that. But, Lambert said, his perception of sovereignty is different than that of the outgoing administration. 

“Sovereignty is a protection for us,” he explained. “It’s not something for us to fight with — it’s something for us to defend ourselves with.” 

Sovereignty, he said, “is who we are,” which is a people that have existed on that land for thousands of years, long before the first boat came over from Europe. It’s a reality that Cherokee leaders can use to prevent their rights from being infringed upon but, Lambert said, shouldn’t be used as a weapon to strike up discord. 


Jumpstarting Cherokee 

Economic revitalization would be a significant component of a Lambert administration, he said. 

“For all of Western North Carolina, our industry is tourism,” Lambert said. “We need to be capitalizing on that.”

 In an approach mirroring his ideas on drug programs and social services, Lambert said Cherokee should look to its neighbors, see what they’re doing well, and mesh those ideas with its own concepts.

“I think we can really focus our model away from one cookie-cutter craft shop ideal,” he said.

In a recently released campaign video, Lambert proposed this could be accomplished through a plan he calls “Jumpstart Cherokee,” a three-pronged initiative to clean up Cherokee and invest in infrastructure; create incentives for entrepreneurs; and beautify the downtown. Lambert said he wants to see crumbling sidewalks fixed, cigarette butts picked up, trees planted, parking improved, streetlights added and walking areas built. He suggested business incentives such as offering free water and sewer and exemption from the tribal levy for a finite period after the business opens. 

“With these types of improvements, we can begin to have street fairs throughout downtown and all of us — locals included — can begin to enjoy our own downtown,” he said. 

With Election Day drawing closer, Lambert said, he’s hoping to see voters pull for him at the ballot box. 

“I’ve got a very clean background, a very clean record and I believe in operating in a high-integrity environment, high accountability and so I think those things people need to evaluate,” Lambert said.


Opposing candidate declined interview

The September ballot will feature two candidates for principal chief — Gene “Tunney” Crowe and Patrick Lambert — with Mary Crowe as a write-in candidate. 

The Smoky Mountain News repeatedly provided Tunney Crowe opportunity — via voicemail, text and in-person requests — to schedule an interview to talk about his campaign, but Crowe did not answer these requests. 

In the primary election in June, five people ran for the office, with Lambert taking 59 percent of the vote and Tunney Crowe, currently a Birdtown representative on Tribal Council, taking 16.8 percent. 

Though Crowe refused an interview, he did participate in a debate earlier this month. To see his answers to the questions posed there, read SMN’s coverage at or view the video at 10717024/events/4242701.

Leave a comment

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.