Chief Patrick Lambert talks with tribal members at Tuesday's Grand Council. Photo by TONY FORTIER-BENSEN

Grand Council gives mandate to Chief

    The people have spoken.
    And the people have voted to keep Principal Chief Patrick Lambert in office, despite Tribal Council’s attempts to remove and impeach Lambert.
    The true definition of democracy was displayed Tuesday afternoon during the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Grand Council, the first since 1995, as 1,355 enrolled members packed Cherokee High School to vote on four resolutions, which supersedes anything Lambert or Tribal Council decides.
    The two most important resolutions were regarding Tribal Council’s resolutions to draft articles of impeachment against Principal Chief Patrick Lambert and establishing an impeachment hearing date.
    By the end of Grand Council, EBCI members voted 958-182 against drafting the articles of impeachment and 959-183 against Tribal Council establishing an impeachment hearing.
    “It’s an overwhelming vote in favor of the resolution we presented tonight … that just shows the power of the people,” Lambert said.
    On Wednesday morning, Tribal Council met for a special session and set a new impeachment hearing date for Tuesday, May 2. Tribal Court put a 10-day restraining order to stop Tribal Council’s actions against impeachment that forced today’s scheduled impeachment hearing.
    The vote to pass the new hearing date was 9-2, which goes against the Grand Council’s decision.
    During Grand Council, a majority of those who spoke were in favor of Lambert.
    “This [Tribal] Council is trying to fork this chief’s accountability that he is striving for and we asked him to do, and council is doing everything they can to stop him and remove him from office,” said Terri Henry, who made the first motion to kill Tribal Council’s impeachment.
    “I think you’re doing a fantastic job, and I think council members should be held accountable for things they are doing and not doing,” one member said.
    Another tribal employee said she has seen the increased work ethic from tribal employees since Lambert came into office, and she believes the new chief was a big part of that.
    One did speak against Lambert and the Grand Council he announced.
    “I think this is put together not for the people, but for the chief,” said enrolled member Joey Owle. “This Grand Council is about the chief. It’s about his agenda. This is about power.”
    Owle added there are many people who are in support of Lambert’s impeachment, but they are afraid to speak out.  There was scattered applause after his statements.
    Throughout Grand Council, many enrolled members mentioned that no Tribal Council members were present at Grand Council, with the exception of Big Cove representative Richard French and Painttown representatives Tommye Saunooke.
    Lambert said that overall, Grand Council went well. While votes were being tallied, enrolled members commented on improvements for next Grand Council such as a stricter three minute speaking time, people staying on topic and demanding Tribal Council members appear.
    Some questioned the binding power of Grand Council, and Lambert referred to the Cherokee Charter and Governing Document that elected tribal officials must follow laws ratified by the people in Grand Council.
    In addition, Cherokee Tribal Court put a 10-day restraining order on Tribal Council to pursue any matters regarding impeachment, also canceling the impeachment hearing date that was supposed to be set for today.
    Two other resolutions were also brought up to Grand Council: designating the old high school as Maggie Wachacha Tribal Headquarters and offering free power bills for elders called “Power to the People.”
    The new headquarters will create “a one-stop for members to access all Tribal programs under one roof.”  It passed 1,029 in favor to 119 opposed.
    The Power to the People bill establishes a system and guidelines to let the Tribe pay electrical bills each month for those 59-and-a-half years or older in Swain, Cherokee, Jackson, Graham and Haywood counties.  
    Under Cherokee Code, 59 1/2 years old is the age where an enrolled member officially becomes an elder.  The vote passed 1,182 in favor to 60 opposed.
    In addition to the four resolutions, there was also a petition for EBCI members to sign that would force Council to put on the table of term limits.
    “The gravy train has stopped,” Lambert said. “Because you, the Cherokee people, tasked me with cleaning up our act and I began that work.”