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.

Cherokee council makes more than state reps, less than congressmen

Members of the Cherokee Tribal Council are hands-down the highest-paid local representatives in Western North Carolina, with other commissioner stipends paling in comparison to the $80,000-plus per year councilmembers receive as salary. 

However, it’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, as being a Cherokee councilmember is a different job description than being a county commissioner or town board member. The Qualla Boundary isn’t a county. It’s a sovereign nation. Councilmembers could perhaps be more aptly compared to General Assembly representatives than to county commissioners. 

Members of Tribal Council receive an annual salary of $80,600, with the chairman receiving $86,400 and the vice chair $83,500. The current salaries are about $10,000 higher than they were in 2014, when council voted to give itself a raise, effective immediately. The decision was the subject of vocal criticism and of a lawsuit, which wound up being dismissed in Tribal Court this summer due to lack of standing. 

Councilmembers make substantially more than North Carolina legislators, who on most years take home between $30,000 and $40,000. However, they make substantially less than U.S. congressmen — the base salary for that position is $174,000.

Councilmembers are covered on the tribe’s health insurance plan. Representatives who serve two or more two-year terms are also eligible for a pension, which is paid out on a sliding scale depending on how long the person has served. The tribe also provides any technological resources, such as a phone or a laptop, that the councilmember needs. 

In addition to two all-day meetings each month, councilmembers participate in a variety of work sessions as well as committee meetings — each councilmember serves on anywhere from six to nine committees. They also attend community club meetings, travel to conferences, represent the tribe’s interests in Washington, D.C., and participate in a variety of community events and ceremonies. 

As members of a small community, councilmembers are also in contact with their constituents whenever they leave their homes. Their cell phone numbers are published in The Cherokee One Feather and they often receive calls from tribal members to talk about everything from ideas for legislation to potholes in need of filling.

— by Holly Kays, staff writer

Go to top