2023 A Look Back: Chumbawamba Award

2023 A Look Back: Chumbawamba Award

This award goes to Cherokee’s Sgadugi Constitution Committee, which, as the namesake band sang in its 1997 classic “Tubthumping,” keeps getting knocked down — but just gets up again. 

The group has been working since 2017 to see the tribe adopt its first constitution in more than 150 years. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is currently governed by a charter, a document intended to govern organizations and corporations. Constitutions, by contrast, define the relationship between a government and its people.

The effort goes back even further than 2017. One Sgadugi member, Beloved Woman Carmaleta Monteith, was active in a constitution adoption effort in the 1990s, and the group’s chairman, Lloyd Arneach, said his father and his great-uncle were both involved in constitution efforts dating back to the 1960s.

The group had tried to get a constitution adoption referendum on the ballot in 2019, but Tribal Council members said they didn’t think the document was ready. After years of community meetings and public outreach, Sgadugi tried again, aiming to get the constitution on the ballot as a referendum question in the September election. For a brief moment it seemed they’d gotten their wish. In April, Tribal Council voted unanimously to add the referendum question to the ballot, eliciting cheers and joyful embraces in the Council chambers.

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But in the following weeks, Attorney General Michael McConnell expressed concerns with the document, saying that certain aspects of it would have “very troublesome” unintended consequences. This led to Tribal Council re-examining its April decision and ultimately rescinding the referendum resolution. They adopted a new resolution in its place that directed additional constitution conventions to be held to keep working on the draft.

Sgadugi members were disappointed to see years of work toward a 2023 decision crumble, especially when success had seemed so close within reach. But they’re also glad that a path forward remains. Not to be kept down, they’ll get up again — and keep on working toward a constitution that is both by and for the Cherokee people.

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