This year, 34 people — including all 12 incumbents — are running for Tribal Council. There is no election for chief and vice chief this year.
The matters weighing on voters’ minds are tribal debt, health care, and caring for the tribe’s youth and elders, according to candidates’ platforms.
A number of candidates who are challenging the current tribal leaders have called into question whether a new $110 million casino planned in Murphy is a wise idea.
Tribal Council recently approved plans to build the second, small scale casino in Murphy. However, critics have called for more diversification of its economy, saying the tribe needs to branch out beyond gambling to other sources of revenue. A couple of challengers have even gone as far as to call the current Tribal Council representatives financially irresponsible.
Throughout the debate about a second casino, enrolled members constantly questioned how the debt taken on by the tribe to build it would affect future generations. Some asked, isn’t the Eastern Band in enough debt already from the major expansion of its main casino in recent years?
Another key topic this election is health care. The Cherokee have a history of diabetes and substance abuse problems. Although plans for a new hospital with expanding services is in the works, tribal leadership must do more to help enrolled members get healthy, according to both Tribal Council incumbents and challengers.
One concrete idea is the construction of a substance abuse treatment facility and rehab center. Tribal Council has talked about building such a facility for years, with current Council Member Terri Henry driving the push for it, but the project has yet to take off. Given the high rates of alcohol and drug abuse on the reservation, enrolled members hope that by operating their own rehabilitation center, the tribe can help more of its people who have addiction problems.
In their platforms, many candidates have also talked about immersing the youth more in Cherokee culture and language, and ensuring that the elders of the tribe are well cared for.
Cherokee is divided into six voting districts — Birdtown, Big Cove, Yellowhill, Wolftown/Big Y, Painttown and Snowbird/Cherokee County — with two council members representing each community.
Next week, voters will narrow the list down to four finalists for each district who will then advance to the general election in September. Tribal council members serve two-year terms.
Here’s the list of those registered to run for office. The two incumbents are listed first:
• Birdtown: Gene “Tunney” Crowe Jr., Jim Owle, Albert Rose, Solomon “Slick” Saunooke and Terri Taylor.
• Big Cove: Perry Shell, Bo Taylor, Teresa McCoy, C. Rich Panther, Lori Taylor and Mary Welch Thompson.
• Yellowhill: Alan “B” Ensley, David Wolfe, Arizona Jane Blankenship, Jimmy Bradley and Rick Medford.
• Wolfetown/Big Y residents: Mike Parker, Dennis Edward • “Bill” Taylor, Bo Crowe, Chris McCoy, Marty Taylor, Berdie Toineeta and Jeremy Wilson.
• Painttown: Terri Henry, Tommye Saunooke, Cameron Cooper, Lucretia Hicks Dawkins and Lula “Lou” Jackson.
• Snowbird/Cherokee County: Diamond Brown Jr., Adam Wachacha, Tommy Chekelelee, Brandon Jones, Janell Rattler and Bobby Teesateskie.