Archived Opinion

Tribal Council media ban a mistake

Tribal Council media ban a mistake

Symbolism is often just as important as reality. The decision by the Cherokee Tribal Council to ban all media from council chambers except the tribally owned Cherokee One Feather is rife with symbolism about values and open government, and the picture it paints is not very positive. 

Specifically, the Tribal Council took direct aim at The Smoky Mountain News and our reporter Holly Kays. The Council member who made the motion to ban media asserted incorrectly that this newspaper had misquoted her. We did not misquote her, and a video of the meeting clearly shows that to be the truth. Despite that, the motion passed with just one Tribal Council member voting against it.

As has been pointed out by The Cherokee One Feather in editorials since the vote on April 5, the banning of media from council chambers is somewhat symbolic. Anyone, including news reporters, can watch the live stream of Tribal Council meetings and report what takes place. Those recordings are also archived. But most people can understand the significance of not being there and how that stymies journalists trying to report on the nuanced events and emotions at a government meeting.

The One Feather has been a shining light for Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian tribal members since this ban was enacted. It is, after all, tribal members who will suffer from this move to limit access to open government and full reporting on Council decisions. The One Feather has supported withdrawing the ban via a resolution to the Council and has written eloquently in defense of open Tribal Council meetings and press freedoms. 

Editor Robert Jumper, speaking on the National Public Radio show “The State of Things,” had this to say about the ban: “Personally, I think it can be very potentially chilling for media of any type, whether it was the One Feather or any other organization, to be told ‘no, you can’t be here’ while we’re making those decisions. It certainly has a chilling effect on a journalist.”

We understand the concerns of some within the Tribe and some on Tribal Council that those from the outside just can’t understand what it means to be Cherokee. I agree. There is a shameful legacy of barbaric treatment of Native Americans by outsiders that tribal members live with. We certainly know the history.

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That said, professionally trained journalists can report accurately on events taking place within the tribe and put them in context in ways those who work for the tribally owned newspaper may have difficulty doing. We are definitely on the outside looking in, but Kays has been covering Cherokee for five years now and has been there through the administrations of chiefs Michelle Hicks, Patrick Lambert and now Richard Sneed. She has covered several Tribal Council elections and many important issues. She is experienced and smart.

The Tribe’s management of casino profits to improve access to health care, educate their young, and preserve language and customs is the envy of other tribes throughout the Americas. And the per cap payments help local families and set up Cherokee youth to go out on their own with the means to accomplish great things.

In addition to helping its own people, the renaissance of Cherokee has also turned it into a major player in the economic development of southwestern North Carolina. Its role in the region’s tourism industry is unsurpassed. Thousands of non-members depend on the Tribe for employment, whether that is at the casinos or in the dozens of motels and restaurants and other tourism entities and ancillary businesses that are flourishing because of Cherokee’s successes.

This newspaper is almost 20 years old, and it has been nothing short of remarkable to have witnessed this economic and cultural resurgence. We have reported on almost all of these triumphs, and we have tried to do so while paying respect to the Tribe’s history and culture.

 The fact of the matter is that The Eastern Band is a major player in this region. That means its politics and its decisions are important to both Tribal members and others in the region. People want to know what’s going on and why decisions are made.

The Council’s ban prevents tribal members and others in this region from getting the full story about what’s happening. At a time when Cherokee is asserting itself as a leader in this region, it’s a disappointing move that we hope will be overturned. 

(Contact Scott McLeod at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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