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Tribal Council candidates speak: General Election is two weeks away

Tribal Council candidates speak: General Election is two weeks away

The 2017 General Election will choose the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ next slate of Tribal Council representatives following Election Day on Thursday, Sept. 7.

The Smoky Mountain News reached out to each of the 24 candidates running for one of the 12 Tribal Council seats, asking why they decided to run and what they’d hope to bring to the tribe’s legislative body if elected. The first installment of responses ran in SMN’s Aug. 16 issue and is online at


Richard French, 55

Big Cove Tribal Council

Reason to run: “In 2015, I ran for Tribal Council because I wanted to put government back on the side of the people, and I still believe that today. Over the past two years, I have kept myself busy fighting for Big Cove families and voting for a better future for all of us.”

Background: Before winning election to Tribal Council in 2015, French spent 15 years working for the N.C. Department of Transportation before beginning an 18-year career as a tribal employee. His most recent position was as a supervisor for Tribal Transit.

Top priorities if re-elected: Combat the opioid epidemic. Reduce the cost of childcare services. Create a tribal constitution. Build homes for people. Highlights of the last two years were creation of the per capita loan program, progress toward constructing a drug addiction rehabilitation center and reinvesting cuts from unnecessary spending to tribal programs.

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Opinion on 2015-2017 Tribal Council: “This past council we started out really well. We secured some major accomplishments that help Cherokee people and use the full weight of tribal government for the betterment of our tribal membership. Moving forward, I would like to see Tribal Council come together, focus less on politics, and get back to why the people sent us here in the first place: To make tribal government work for all people and make their lives a little better and a little easier.”


Yona Wade, 36

Painttown Tribal Council

Reason to run: “While ever appreciative of those who have come before us, it’s time Cherokee moves beyond a simple tourist destination and takes its place as a leader of change and innovation for Western North Carolina.”

Background: Wade holds a master’s in performing arts management from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and has served on a variety of boards and committees. He is a member of the Arts N.C. Board and chaired its Arts Day effort, is on the Sequoyah Fund’s board of directors and has chaired the Painttown Community Club. He works as director of cultural arts center and public relations at Cherokee Central Schools.

Top priorities if elected: Create a strategic plan outlining goals and direction for Tribal Council and the tribe as a whole, particularly regarding the opioid issue, efforts to create a more diverse financial portfolio, affordable childcare for working families and renewable/sustainable energy.

Opinion on 2015-2017 Tribal Council: “While Tribal Council has worked to do what they feel is in the best interest of our tribe, I don’t feel we are where we need to be. If we were, we wouldn’t be seeking the same answers to the same questions that are presented every election.”


Boyd Owle, 62

Birdtown Tribal Council

Reason to run: “I’m running for Tribal Council to bring back unity and collaboration between the legislative and executive branches for the betterment of the tribe and its people. My campaign strategy is simple: being open minded, honest and fair at all times.”

Background: Owle will retire from a 43-year career with the tribe in September, having worked for the Cherokee Boys Club, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and the EBCI Sanitation Department in frontline and upper management positions. He holds a master’s degree in leadership and management from Montreat College and is currently a supervisor in the sanitation department.

Top priorities if elected: Improve housing opportunities. Improve health care. Boost employee rights and security. Diversify business activities.

Opinion on 2015-2017 Tribal Council: “The current Tribal Council has made both positive decisions as well as questionable decisions within the past two years but we must keep in mind any decision made will not be popular amongst everyone. Tribal Council members are elected to make decisions they feel are right for the people and the tribe and at times, and as the past has shown, some decisions can be the foundation of unity or division of its people.”


Bucky Brown, 52

Snowbird/Cherokee County Tribal Council

Reason to run: “We have two communities over here, and I just wanted to help both communities and saw a great need to help both communities. It’s just to get this thing back to the unity part between the people and the councilmembers.”

Background: Brown is a resident of Snowbird and has worked for the Snowbird Recreation Department for 15 years, currently as a recreation aide. The position puts him in regular contact with a diversity of people in the community, and he currently serves as vice chairman of the Snowbird Community Club.

Top priorities if elected: Improve unity between community members and councilmembers. Increase transparency and communication. Increase services to elders and youth.

Opinion on 2015-2017 Tribal Council: “I think overall performance was pretty poor. I think it’s because Tribal Council didn’t listen to the people. They took things upon themselves and they acted upon it and didn’t include the people at all. That’s where it’s left us in the state we’re in right now.”


Also on the ballot

In each community, voters will elect two of four General Election candidates to serve a two-year term on Tribal Council. The following list of candidates is ordered based on the number of votes received in June’s Primary Election.

Big Cove

• Richard French*

• Perry Shell**

• Lori Taylor

• Fred Penick


• Albert Rose*

• Travis Smith*

• Boyd Owle

• Ashley Sessions


• Tommye Saunooke*

• Terri Henry**

• Lisa Taylor

• Yona Wade

Snowbird/Cherokee County

• Janell Rattler

• Bucky Brown

• Adam Wachacha*

• Larry Blythe***

Wolfetown/Big Y

• Bo Crowe*

• Jeremy Wilson

• Sam “Frell” Reed

• Bill Taylor*


• David Wolfe**

• Tom Wahnetah

• Charles Penick

• Anita Welch Lossiah*

*denotes incumbent

**denotes former Tribal Council member

***denotes former vice chief


Save the date

The General Election will be held Thursday, Sept. 7, with several important dates coming up beforehand.

• Early voting will be open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 23-26 and 28 in the Commerce Conference Room next to the EBCI Election Board office in the Ginger Lynn Welch Complex on Acquoni Road.

• Voters can apply for absentee ballots in person through Friday, Sept. 1, provided they meet one of six criteria for needing such a ballot.

• The last day to register to vote for the General Election is Friday, Sept. 1.


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