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Cherokee council votes to keep vans gifted from Washington Redskins

Cherokee council votes to keep vans gifted from Washington Redskins

A pair of Mercedes-Benz vans that The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation once bestowed upon the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will remain with the tribe, Tribal Council decided earlier this month — almost exactly one year after it originally voted to cut ties with the organization and send the vans back from whence they came. 

On Sept. 10, 2015, Council passed a resolution declaring the term “redskins” to be “offensive and hurtful” to Native American people and causing “direct harmful effects” to their “public health and well-being.” Therefore, the resolution said, it would immediately cut ties with the football team, the Foundation and all representatives of those organizations, and also join Native American tribes across the country in calling on the team to change its mascot. Following passage of the resolution, the vans — which had been given to senior centers in Snowbird and Cherokee County — were taken back to Cherokee with the intent of returning them to D.C. 

But the vans weren’t sent back, and in the meantime other groups of tribal members were using them. That didn’t sit well with the senior citizens from outlying areas of the Qualla Boundary to whom they’d originally been gifted, spurring Snowbird/Cherokee County Council representatives Adam Wachacha and Brandon Jones to introduce the resolution passed Sept. 8. 

“The senior citizens didn’t take too kindly to knowing they were being used when the intent was that they be taken back to D.C.,” Wachacha told council. “When I had discussions about the vans at first, it was, ‘If you’re going to take them, please replace them with something,’ and that never happened.”

“It’s not a matter of where they came from to our seniors — it’s a matter of them not being able to have them,” Jones agreed. “They just want to be made whole and have their vans back.”

The resolution faced fierce opposition from Councilmember Teresa McCoy, of Big Cove. 

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“Tribes across the country have sent stuff back — refused playgrounds, refused assistance, refused help,” she told council. “I think Mr. Snyder (Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins) needs to get a message clearly back from this tribe that we don’t want to have anything to do with that name.” 

McCoy said that she certainly doesn’t want to begrudge the seniors their vans and would hope council would fund some new ones if the request were brought up during the budget process. Or, she said, what if the tribe sold the Mercedes vans and used the money to purchase different vehicles for the seniors? 

“I think they would probably feel better knowing we gave them a gift rather than having to take something that represents scalping,” McCoy said. 

Chairman Bill Taylor, of Wolfetown, disagreed.

“Whether you trade them or sell them, you’re still benefitting from them,” he told McCoy. “It doesn’t matter which way you go about it. You’re still benefitting from them.”

Most of the councilmembers seemed to feel that if the vans were going to sit in a tribal parking lot anyway, the seniors might as well get some use out of them — regardless of where they came from. 

“I agree with what Teresa (McCoy) is saying, but a free van is as free van to me,” said Councilmember Alan “B” Ensley, of Yellowhill. 

Principal Chief Patrick Lambert, meanwhile, told council that from his point of view the issue had been mostly resolved. Snowbird had already been given another van, he said, and it was questionable whether Cherokee County needed its own. 

“After having had that van in their possession for two years, it only had 5,000 miles on it, so they were not utilizing that van anyways,” Lambert said of the Cherokee County seniors. “I’d say a lot of that mileage was bringing it from where it came from to here. There’s two vans down there (in Snowbird) and I guess if Cherokee County needs one we can give them one of the ones in Snowbird or find one somewhere else.”

However, Wachacha said, comparing the Mercedes vans to the ones currently in Snowbird isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. The Mercedes vans had large cabs, step outs and other features that made them more accessible to seniors.

“The 15-passanger vans that Snowbird also has, there’s lots of complaints on them,” he said. 

As far as returning the Mercedes vans, though, Lambert said it might not be as simple a proposition as councilmembers imagined. They’re titled in the tribe’s name, so a formal transfer of ownership would need to be involved. 

“I’m willing to figure out who we could return ownership of those to,” he said. “I’m not sure we can. We can’t just go there and park it in a parking lot.”

Leading up to the vote, McCoy again voiced the opinion that keeping the vans would be the wrong decision. 

“Leaders across the country that accepted gifts from Dan Snyder were impeached by their tribes,” she said. 

Nevertheless, the majority of council voted in favor of keeping the vans, with Councilmember Anita Lossiah, of Yellowhill, the sole nay vote — McCoy abstained. 

“The intent is just to make the community whole until we do bring something down,” Wachacha said following the vote. “They get tired of hearing something’s coming and never making it down. Like my dad used to say, we get tired of just getting the crumbs from the tribe.”

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