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Cherokee to conduct census

Cherokee to conduct census

A census of people living on the Qualla Boundary will soon begin following a unanimous vote from Tribal Council to approve $273,000 for the project.

The expenditure would cover a $187,000 contract with the U.S. Census Bureau to manage the census and $86,000 to pay local workers to carry it out.

Principal Chief Richard Sneed had originally presented the census proposal during May’s Tribal Council meeting, when he was still vice chief. However, the numbers hadn’t come back soon enough to make it onto the official agenda for that month and it wasn’t heard as an emergency resolution. This time around, the resolution to fund the census appeared on the regular agenda and passed unanimously.

Contracting with the Census Bureau will allow the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to cite the resulting numbers as official census data and reference them in grant applications.

“Right now we’re using generic data for Native Americans in general,” Sneed told Tribal Council in May. “With this data it will be specific to the EBCI.”

Once a memorandum of agreement is signed and funding approved, Sneed told Council, the census will begin within 90 days.

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While the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Charter and Governing Document mandates that a census be conducted once every 10 years, the last one was in 2001 — 16 years ago.

Current numbers are important not only as references for grant applications and various reports, but also for determining representation on the Tribal Council. Council votes are tallied according to a weighted vote count. Each of the 12 members’ votes is worth a different number of points out of 100, with that number dependent on the population of the township represented.

These point values range from six for representatives of Painttown and Snowbird/Cherokee County to 12 for representatives of Birdtown and Wolfetown. When the census is complete, it’s possible those values could change.

The lack of current census data came into the spotlight this May during the legal battle surrounding the impeachment of former Principal Chief Patrick Lambert. Attorney General Danny Davis had argued that the Cherokee Supreme Court should order a halt to impeachment proceedings until a new census could be completed.

“Because the Appellee Tribal Council has failed to conduct a census and properly allocate a weighted vote, which are required by Section 19 of the Charter and Governing Document, and because Section 22 of the Charter requires a two-thirds vote by Council for impeachment, it is impossible, at this time, for any impeachment vote or proceeding to be accurately ‘weighted,’” Davis’ trial brief read.

The three-judge panel constituting the Cherokee Supreme Court did not agree, however, ruling that impeachment proceedings could continue. Lambert was eventually removed from office.

During the May Tribal Council session, tribal member Becky Walker addressed Council to ask that they do something to ensure that the EBCI wouldn’t go another 16 years without a new census.

“This census will have to be conducted again, so I would like to ask that when you guys start setting this up, set up some procedures and parameters so the next time we’re not just sitting here at ground zero again,” she said. “It’s a commitment we should be making every 10 years to our Charter, to our people.”

Though no such plan has yet been presented, Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor, of Wolfetown agreed with Walker’s assessment.

“I know it’s 10 years down the road, but we need to have a plan set in place and budgeted,” he said.

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