Opinions among members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians remain mixed leading up to a vote that could lift a historic ban on alcohol sales on the reservation or continue the longtime moratorium.
In the days leading up to the monumental vote, those polled on the street in Cherokee offered up the full range of views — along with those for and against it, some have yet to form an opinion or just don’t care — making it difficult to predict which side will prevail in the alcohol referendum. There are currently 6,717 enrolled members registered to vote.
Some businesses and churches are open about their dislike for a beverage that has caused so much heartache for families affected by alcoholism. Opponents have posted yard signs throughout the reservation telling people to vote “no to greed,” accusing supporters of putting economic tourism interests ahead of what’s best for local people.
“I kind of totally agree with the signs they have out,” said Regina Rosario, a former tribal council member and Painttown resident. Alcohol has never done anyone any good, Rosario added as she shopped in Food Lion in Cherokee last week.
However, Rosario wagers that she is probably in the minority.
“I think it’s going to pass because of the younger generation,” Rosario said.
Supporters of the referendum have said that alcohol will lead to an increases in tourism, which will lead to an increase in casino patrons, and in turn increase income for enrolled members.
“I think the main part of it is money,” said Megan Stanford, an 18-year-old enrolled member from Painttown.
Stanford, who is against selling alcohol on the reservation, said that people should listen to their elders who have more life experience.
However, for supporters, a ‘yes’ vote is a vote for the freedom to choose as well as additional prosperity for Cherokee.
“I think it’s people’s personal choices,” said Adrianne Petrilli, an enrolled member as she sat with her husband in Tribal Grounds Coffee. “I’d just like to have the option.”
Proponents have said that people need to look at the bigger picture, which is more revenue for the tribe.
Plus, if people want alcohol, all they need to do is drive to Bryson City or Sylva to find it, supporters of the referendum have said.
“They are going to get it anyway,” Petrilli said.
But opponents have said the easier access will only lead to higher rates of drinking problems among enrolled members.
“I am voting ‘no,’” said Owens Walkingstick, a member of the Yellowhill community. “If it’s harder to get it, it will be less people getting it.”
Even if the referendum is voted down, the reservation may still find gas stations selling beer cropping up at its doorstep.
Jackson County is voting on a similar measure during the May primary, and if approved, places selling alcohol could settle along the border of the reservation, which lies partly in Jackson County.
A few opponents have said that that fact will not influence their vote, however.
“I would rather just let Jackson County handle that,” Walkingstick said.
A couple of enrolled members indicated that they plan to stay out of the argument and will likely not vote Thursday.
Charles Tchakeirides, a 28-year-old resident of Birdtown, said he is undecided about whether alcohol should be sold on the reservation.
“People are going to get it regardless,” Tchakeirides said. “I think a lot of young people will vote for it.”
Nadine Tramper was blasé about the matter, though she could save gas money if alcohol was available in Cherokee, she said.
“It doesn’t bother me. I really don’t care,” said Tramper, of Big Cove.
Day of reckoning
Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will head to the polls Thursday, April 12, to vote on whether the reservation should remain dry. They can approve all, none, or some of the following:
• To permit the sale of beer, wine and mixed-drinks drinks to consume on-premise in restaurants.
• To permit the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores and convenience stores.
• To permit a tribal ABC store to sell liquor to the public.
The vote will be decided on a community-by-community basis for each of Cherokee’s six townships. One community can open the door for alcohol sales while another can keep the ban.
However, the referendum must garner an overall majority of votes reservation-wide for any one community to enact alcohol sales.