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A voter guide for Big Cove Tribal Council

A voter guide for Big Cove Tribal Council

During the General Election Thursday, Sept. 7, Big Cove voters will weigh in on who they want to see represent them on Tribal Council for the first time this year.

With only four candidates, the field wasn’t large enough to warrant a primary contest in June. 

The seat currently occupied by Teresa McCoy is open, as McCoy is running for the office of vice chief instead of seeking re-election. Richard French, who is currently chairman of Tribal Council, is running for re-election. Perry Shell, who has served nine terms on Council but did not run for re-election in 2021, is hoping to return to the horseshoe.

The remaining two candidates are seeking their first elected office. Venita Wolfe, who serves as secretary of the Big Cove Community Club, is running, as is Carla Neadeau, current chief of the Cherokee Indian Police Department. She was sworn in September 2022, becoming the first female CIPD chief.

The Smoky Mountain News reached out to all four candidates with a series of questions about their qualifications for office, priorities if elected and stance on the issues. Wolfe, Shell and Neadeau all submitted responses. Information about French comes from SMN’s previous reporting and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians website.

Perry Shell

news perry shell

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Shell, 66, is currently retired after nine terms on Tribal Council. He chairs the Cherokee Historical Association Board of Directors and is a leader of Big Cove Free Labor. Shell is a retired U.S. Army soldier and previously worked as a purchasing manager for Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. He holds a master’s of business administration from Montreat College.

Top priorities if elected : Shell believes it is “imperative” to protect, maintain and preserve Cherokee sovereignty and culture, and to ensure an environment that allows families to raise their children to have a better life than their own. This goal “is and will be the basis of all governmental actions I take as a tribal representative,” he said. Shell also wants to prioritize and focus economic and business opportunities on the Qualla Boundary while working together to help the less fortunate and giving back to those that “provided the way that got us here.”

Opinion on the proposed constitution : “I support the actions taken by our current council and will contribute to crafting a better constitution,” Shell said.

Path to stabilize and grow tribal finances : Shell would review current investments and projects, perform audits and prioritize projects, cutting or adjusting those that aren’t producing while optimizing those that are. He supports more thorough due diligence on proposed projects.

Ideas to improve economic development and quality of life in Cherokee : Shell wants to focus on economic development at home to provide opportunities to entrepreneurs who are tribal members.

Venita Wolfe

news Venita Wolfe

Wolfe, 47, works as a training and development specialist within the tribe’s Human Resources Department. She completed a master’s in legal studies in indigenous peoples law from the University of Oklahoma in 2022 and previously earned a master’s degree in health education and bachelor’s in political science from the University of New Mexico. She worked as a medical researcher at the university before returning to Cherokee in 2018. Since then, she has taken active roles in the community, serving as secretary of the Big Cove Community Club 2020-present and Community Club Council in 2021. She completed the Remember the Removal Ride this year.

Top three priorities if elected : Wolfe aims to learn the complex tribal government structure, work on economic development and economic sustainability, and continue her own education in Cherokee language, culture and traditional teaching while also supporting programs in these areas.

Opinion on the proposed constitution : Wolfe supports the development of a constitution for the EBCI, which would “provide the political infrastructure that enhances the well-being and autonomy of tribal citizens” while providing a “framework of what tribal citizens value and want to protect coupled with individual rights and the role of the people within our society.” The constitution conversation has been happening for decades, and “it is time we come together and ratify a constitution that represents and protects our people and governmental structure.”

Path to stabilize and grow tribal finances : Wolfe believes that stabilizing tribal finances and continuing economic development efforts is “critical” to the tribe’s continued prosperity. In 2018, EBCI Tribal Council tasked a planning board to develop the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, and Wolfe would support returning to the comprehensive report for review and discussion on what needs to be implemented on the Qualla Boundary to improve economic development, sustainability and quality of life for Cherokee citizens and visitors.  

Ideas to improve economic development and quality of life in Cherokee : The development of cultural tourism ties into economic development, Wolfe said. She wants to explore opportunities to instill cultural education in visitors and local families and believes the Cultural District can be expanded on. She said that engaging artists, members and local businesses “would be the steppingstone needed to begin the cultural revolution that could be our niche in the Smokies.”

Carla Neadeau

Neadeau has been serving as chief of the CIPD since September 2022 and has been with the department since 2009, serving as a supervisor for three years and a manager for eight years. She holds a master’s degree in business administration and is working on a second master’s degree in criminal law. She also holds an associate’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Top three priorities if elected : The community, financial stability and language and culture.

Opinion on proposed constitution : Neadeau supports a tribal constitution but wants to take time to ensure it has the right legal language to create a strong grip on fairness and accountability.

Path to stabilize and grow tribal finances : Tight fiscal discipline is needed, and the tribe must look at avenues other than gaming to bring in tribal revenue. The EBCI also needs support from Raleigh and Washington, D.C., with strong lobbyists and strong tribal leadership to help compete with other gambling venues. Neadeau believes the tribe must work with the state to remain the “dominant and prominent gaming venue in North Carolina.” She said that Council members must have the mindset “that you’re here to do a job, put in the hours with legislation to help not only in Cherokee, but in Raleigh and Washington.”

Ideas to improve economic development and quality of life in Cherokee : Achieving this goal will require tight fiscal discipline to get tribal spending under control, ensure public expenditures are restructured to target priorities and encourage inward investment. However, the tribe also needs land, labor and industrial recruitment to support its local economy. Both economic development and gaming are important to help the tribe meet its goals because “we don’t meet other goals without the financial means that they bring us.” 

Richard French

French is currently serving his fourth term on Tribal Council and his first as chairman. Prior to being elected, French spent 15 years working for the N.C. Department of Transportation before returning to Cherokee, where he spent 17 years working in various positions with the tribe and its entities.

Opinion on proposed constitution : During Tribal Council discussions on the issue, French has been supportive of the proposed constitution and of letting the people vote on it in referendum. However, this week he voted in favor of a resolution that prevents the vote from happening this year so the draft can be further refined before being considered for adoption. Right now, he said, there doesn’t seem to be sufficient support in the community to pass it. “Let’s get this constitution right like they said so in two or four years, when it comes to that podium right there, you’re going to have over 51% that you need to pass this constitution,” he said during a July 12 discussion.

Hear the candidates

The Cherokee One Feather will host a debate between candidates for Big Cove Tribal Council at 5:30 p.m. Monday, July 24, in the multi-purpose room of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Birdtown candidates will follow.

The debates will continue with Cherokee County/Snowbird and Painttown candidates Tuesday, July 25, and Wolfetown and Yellowhill candidates Wednesday, July 26. Vice chief and principal chief candidates will be Thursday, July 27. All debates will start at 5:30 p.m. with the second scheduled debate starting immediately after the first.

Due to limited space, seating is reserved for enrolled members. To reserve a seat, bring an enrollment card to The Cherokee One Feather office. Anyone wishing to attend without a ticket may come at 5:15 p.m. the night of the debate, and entrance will be allowed until seats are filled. Contact The One Feather at 828.359.6261.

EBCI Communications will livestream debates.

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