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Catawbas to hold summer elections

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All executive committee seats to be filled

CATAWBA INDIAN RESERVATION, S.C. - Members of the Catawba Indian Nation were notified recently about the upcoming elections to fill all seats on the tribe's governing body, the Executive Committee.

Tribal members will go to the voting booths on July 21. Current leaders will hold a general council meeting at the tribal headquarters on March 17 to provide information and to receive recommendations about the elections and the proposed tribal constitution.

Huey Canty, chairman of the election committee, explained that there are seven seats on the Catawba Executive Committee and that all positions - for chief, assistant chief, secretary/treasurer and four committee members - will be filled.

Jay Bender, University of South Carolina law professor and lawyer for the tribe, said he did not remember when the tribe had its last full election. ''I think they may have just decided, it's time to do it,'' Bender said, explaining why the tribe decided to hold elections for tribal leadership now.

The current leadership withheld the elections because it wanted the new tribal constitution passed before holding any elections, Bender said. But the new constitution was put to a vote several times and never passed.

Bender said, ''I think the position that the executive committee had taken previously and consistently was that under the federal settlement legislation, there was a need for a new constitution before elections. You would have elections under the new constitution, but given the difficulty in getting a new constitution ratified, I think the executive committee said, 'Let's try something different.'

''If you read the statute, and I always read the statute this way, the first step was to get a tribal roll. And that took a lot longer than any of us thought it would have, because of the BIA. And then have a constitution submitted for ratification. The law requires a 30 percent participation in that referendum.

''We got it one time. I think the constitution failed by five votes. I am not sure if we got 30 percent participation in subsequent votes. It did not look like that was going to happen anytime soon, so I guess the executive committee decided they would change tactics here and see if they can get elections and then get a constitution.''

Fred Sanders, member of a group that is critical of the current leadership, remembers a tribal election that replaced him in 1993. He had resigned as assistant chief then. Evans ''Buck'' George was elected as assistant chief. The tribal secretary/treasurer, who had passed away, was replaced by Carson Blue.

''That was a real election that was held in accordance with the [current] constitution,'' Sanders said. Later there was an election to replace two people who were members of ''the land claim committee.'' Sanders said they were never elected previously, but were appointed to help settle the land claim.

Sanders said Chief Gilbert Blue, the current chief, was elected in 1975 before the 1993 Catawba land settlement. Sanders was then elected as assistant chief to Blue.

''Because we initiated the lawsuit against the state of South Carolina for a treaty violation under the Non-Intercourse Act, which was the treaty of 1840, Treaty of the Nation Ford. When that lawsuit was filed, people of Catawba thought rather than holding new elections and bringing new members into the executive branch while this lawsuit was going on, it might be better to just keep the people in office,'' Sanders said.

''They granted the people in office an extension until the lawsuit was settled. But the lawsuit was settled in 1993. Those grants of extension expired on October 27, 1993, for the chief and every person on that executive committee. ...

''They kept on some of those people from the land claim negotiating committee. Gilbert continued to act as the chief and the members, other than the two elected in 1993, remained in that position. They did not hold elections for them.

''The theory was that that committee would remain in office for two years. That was the language that U.S. Congress did by federal statute, saying that the tribe needed to adopt a new constitution within 24 months and then hold new elections. Well, they never did adopt a new constitution, so they did not hold any new elections. They asked for an extension in office for two more years. It was granted by the BIA, not by the people. ...

''The sad part of it is the settlement act says that the constitution that the tribe is under now would remain in place until the new constitution was adopted. The constitution calls for elections every four years. That did not happen.''