Archived News

2023 A Look Back: Marty McFly Award

2023 A Look Back: Marty McFly Award

This one goes to Cherokee voters, who decided in this year’s election to look back to build their future. 

The 2023 election  was a big one for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, with the principal chief and vice chief seats both up for election, as well as all 12 Tribal Council seats, three School Board seats and a pair of referendum questions asking voters to approve recreational cannabis for people over 21 and permits for mixed drink sales.

A total of 43 candidates with varying backgrounds and levels of experience in tribal government filed to run, but in the end voters picked familiar faces to occupy the horseshoe and executive office. That’s not to say voters didn’t ask for change. Financial issues facing the tribe deeply concerned many voters, and three Tribal Council representatives — Albert Rose, Andrew Oocumma and T.W. Saunooke — lost their bids for re-election, as did Principal Chief Richard Sneed.

But the candidates elected in their stead were no strangers to tribal government. Most notably, 65% of voters chose Michell Hicks, who had served as principal chief 2003-2015, to oust Sneed. Rose was replaced by Jim Owle, who had previously spent more than a decade on Tribal Council. Oocumma was replaced by five-term Council member Bo Crowe, who ran for his old seat after resigning it in January. Saunooke lost to Tom Wahnetah, who had sat on Tribal Council 2017-2021. Meanwhile, former nine-term Tribal Council member Perry Shell won the seat previously occupied by Teresa McCoy, who had filed to run for the office of vice chief instead but lost to incumbent Alan “B” Ensley.

With the term just beginning, the tribe’s newly elected leaders have a difficult task ahead of them — bringing the tribe back to stable financial footing in the face of faltering casino revenues while also balancing risk and reward in directing multiple high-investment business ventures. Like the namesake of their award, Cherokee voters are left hoping they’ve made the right choices to get their future back on track. 

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.