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‘Maybe we can start over’: Desire for change drives Cherokee voters

‘Maybe we can start over’: Desire for change drives Cherokee voters

If Election Day interviews conducted with Cherokee voters swinging by Food Lion the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 7, are any indication, anti-incumbent sentiment had a big part to play in the outcomes of the 12 Tribal Council races on the ballot that day.

Of 12 enrolled members approached, half were more than willing to give their names and opinions, with one opting not to give her name, three stating that they didn’t plan to vote and two declining to talk at all. However, all seven of those who agreed to interview were clear about their intentions — they were voting to get the incumbents out.

“I want The Nine gone,” said Onita Crowe, 38, of Big Y. “Maybe we can start over and get the tribe on the right track to what we need to be doing for our people. Not for the certain few, but for everybody.”

“The Nine” refers to the nine councilmembers who championed the impeachment of former Principal Chief Patrick Lambert, who was removed from office in May. Many believe that his impeachment was unjust and say that those responsible for his removal had ulterior motives for doing so.

Crowe wasn’t the only one hoping for some change.

“I hope we get some new councilmembers in there that’s for the people and can stop some of this conflict and bickering that’s going on,” said Arlene Husky, 65, of Big Cove.

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Others interviewed expressed a feeling of powerlessness in the face of the current slate of councilmembers, saying that it seems the people don’t really have a voice outside of the ballot box.

“The council’s got all the power,” said Lloyd Ledford, 59, of Birdtown. “The only time our voice counts is at election time, and that’s it.”

Crowe agreed with that sentiment, referencing the limited sale of alcohol now starting on the Qualla Boundary as proof.

“It just makes me sick to my stomach for the council to go against our wishes, what we voted for, the people, like we don’t matter,” she said. “And we pretty much don’t matter. They’re doing what they want to do anyway.”

Some voters also mentioned misuse of money and corruption as reasons to vote for new representation.

“It’s all about themselves, you know,” said Terri Welch, 47, of Birdtown. “I wish we’d go back to the way it was a long time ago.”

Currently, councilmembers get paid more than $80,000 per year with a host of other benefits besides. Welch would like to see compensation revert back to the pre-casino system, when councilmembers earned a modest stipend for each meeting they attended.

On a similar note, Jacob Cabe, 26, of Painttown, said he was troubled by “people putting money that wasn’t theirs into their pockets,” referencing the FBI’s investigation into alleged corruption at the Qualla Housing Authority, on whose board six councilmembers sit. Cabe said he was happy to be able to vote for his cousin, Terri Henry.

At 1 p.m. on Election Day, the polls wouldn’t close for another five hours, so voters stopping by for a loaf of bread or gallon of milk couldn’t do much but hope and pray for the results they were hoping for. However, the end of the night would see all but two of the pro-impeachment incumbents out of a job.

“I’m anxious to see what the result turns out to be, hopefully for the better,” Husky said. “We need a united tribe once more.”

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