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Wednesday, 24 October 2007 00:00

Free press and tribal politics

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The decision by Michell Hicks, chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, to do away with a column in The Cherokee One Feather was a mistake.

The column, Rants and Raves, allowed readers to comment anonymously on issues on the Qualla Boundary. Hicks, after winning re-election by a mere 14 votes, made the order to ban the column from the tribal-owned newspaper the first decision of his new term.

It’s within Hicks’ rights to make the decision, and he cited the column’s criticism of a high school athlete as evidence that some of the comments were more personal than practical. And the Tribal Council upheld the resolution.

After a hard-fought election in which many readers of the paper used the column to diss the chief, however, the appearance was of a power play aimed at silencing critics.

All leaders in this country — along with the citizenry — must embrace a free press. Without it democracy and representative government can’t exist. You can’t have one without the other.

•••

At 7:10 a.m. it’s still more dark than light, so their cigarettes ends glowed a bright orange, dancing around in exaggerated gesticulations. I hit them with my bright lights as I pulled out of the lot, causing the small crowd to turn and look my way. I wanted to see their faces.

A drive-by of the middle school smokers — who stand across the street off school property — is a part of our morning ritual. All the anti-smoking slogans aren’t working on these teen-agers. As long as we have adolescence, there will be rebellion, destructive behavior and the craving to fit into a crowd of some sort. Smoking fits the bill when it comes to thumbing society. That’s probably true today more than ever as the anti-smoking bandwagon continues to gather steam.

Seeing those reckless youths brings back memories of my school mornings. In those days, high schools had a smoking ramp. It was a concrete pad surrounded by a gray metal railing at hip level, and it was somewhat daring for those who didn’t smoke to hangout there. Smoking cigarettes was legal if you were over 16, so the daring and dumb had to go even further.

Circles would form around the pot smokers as they passed thick doobies around. Just one joint, so when the principals made their rounds it was easy enough to snuff and put in a pocket, perhaps eat if it was too close a call. The pungent smoke would linger, but there was no real evidence. The most the principals got was a few glassy-eyed grins and giggles as another cigarette was fired up.

It’s true, you know, that bit about cigarettes and pot leading to other drugs. The pot smokers would move along to a new high as they became familiar with each experience. From pot to mom’s prescription pills and stolen liquor, from pills to acid or speed, from acid to cocaine or heroin. I watched friends slide down that path, some coming back and others gone forever.

I’m a dime store psychologist who hypothesizes from experience rather than research. Those rebels, though they are more like children than adults, won’t ever be stopped. It’s a rite of passage that some have to go through, have to experience. It’s destructive and dangerous for them, and just damn irritating to watch. The hope is that it’s a short-lived bravado, one they live to laugh about later.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at info@smokymountainnewscom.)

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