Change and controversy on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians reservation following election

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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eastern_band_of_cherokee_indians_dec_2015The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is one of the most powerful entities in North Carolina, and it is currently a hotbed of controversy and change following the election of a new chief.

Located in the far western tip of the Tar Heel state, the reservation is a sovereign nation and operates by its own rules. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been on the rise over the past two decades, fed by a steady flow of gambling money. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino opened its first casino in Murphy and earlier this year opened a second casino in Cherokee.

I don’t know the political lay of the land, but it’s clear that some major upheaval has followed the election of a new tribal chief. Patrick Lambert, former head of the Tribal Gaming Commission, succeeded Michell Hicks in September.

The tribe goes largely uncovered by the mainstream media, though several media organizations offer occasional hits. Still, I’m waiting for someone to help me connect all the dots. Why is this happening? Is anyone corrupt? What does this all mean in the long run?

Here’s a quick look at some of what’s going on at the EBCI:

-The Smoky Mountain News in August laid out key issues in the run-up to Election Day, when tribal members cast their ballots on a new chief. Debt reduction and spending control were key issues.

-Lambert, the new chief, immediately demoted, fired or moved a number of tribal workers, according to an October report by WLOS. Workers who complained said the moves were politically motivated. The Smoky Mountain News was also keeping tabs on this issue.

Carolina Public Press reports today that the new chief kicked the old chief off the tribe’s gaming commission, according to a story by Jon Elliston, who details other significant changes, including the opening of a new casino and a new hospital.

-The Cherokee One Feather reported in October that the Miss Cherokee beauty pageant crown was awarded to one young woman, then taken away and awarded to the runner-up after an apparent “scoring error,” though the family of the original winner claimed that change was politically motivated.

-The new Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel opened in September in Murphy, but folks in North Carolina barely batted an eyelash. Folks in Tennessee noted the casino opening, though. reported last month that enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina will receive their second gaming per capita payment of the year in December. More:

The pre-tax amount comes to $5,595, Chief Patrick Lambert said on Facebook. That’s $370 more than the December 2014 payment, The Cherokee One Feather reported.

-Last month, Chief Lambert cut $30 million from the tribe’s fiscal 2016 operating budget, according to the Cherokee One Feather. More:

In his memo, Chief Lambert disputed that amount, “We also identified that the previous administration understated the actual number for the budget by over $22 million. There were a few key expenses left out of the previous budget including the loan repayments that are set to begin this yaer for the new Hospital and the new Waste Water Treatment Plant, and also, they did not include the cost for the new Drug Treatment Center. So, the reconciled budget number we began working from was $580.2 million. We have, therefore, captured those costs and included them in our new budget, and we are still able to have a positive balance of almost $8,000,000.”

-Lambert also recently weighed in on a debate about legalizing medical marijuana on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians reservation. Tribal Council had approved a study, but Lambert vetoed it. Yesterday, tribal council voted to uphold Lambert’s veto, the Cherokee One Feather reports.

Image link for Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. Andrew Weatherly December 16, 2015

    Go check out the FB group ‘Cherokee Rants and Raves’, and what happened with the lawsuit they were filing against Hicks and company?

  2. luther blissett December 13, 2015

    “Harrah’s Cherokee Casino opened its first casino in Murphy and earlier this year opened a second casino in Cherokee.”

    Or maybe it was the other way round? Basic fact checking and proofing, Jason.

    Anyway, a few possible reasons why this gets limited coverage: NC west of about Waynesville is culturally more like an extension of east Tennessee, from the Vols flags outwards, and Knoxville and Chattanooga pull more weight than Asheville as the nearest big cities. Raleigh-based state political media stops paying much attention west I-77 most of the time, and anything west of Asheville might as well not exist. Add to that the obvious reluctance of reporters on conventional political beats to cover ‘Indian stuff’.

    The question about corruption is more about the kind of nepotism and family-based influence that isn’t limited to tribal governments, especially not in rural/poorer parts of NC, but is complicated with the EBCI because family ties are what get you on the tribal roll and into the big shiny new hospital and deliver casino revenue checks twice a year.


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