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Eastern Band of Cherokee places members in key judicial, police positions

ANADARKO, Okla. - For the first time in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Supreme Court's short history, one of its own tribal members is now chief justice.

On Dec. 18, 2006, William Boyum was sworn in as chief justice of the seven-year-old ECN Supreme Court. A former U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina and a district attorney for Buncombe County, N.C., for the past eight years, Boyum's background also includes a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a law degree from UNC Law School in 1986. Boyum's resume also includes four years with an Asheville, N.C., law firm; four years as an Asheville, N.C., assistant district attorney; and four years with the Western District of North Carolina's Organized Crime Drug Task Force.

In a recent phone interview, Boyum stressed the importance of having a tribal member serve as chief justice.

''The importance of having tribal members adds to the integrity and credibility of the court,'' said Boyum. ''This is a small reservation. Everybody knows everybody. This adds to the integrity when you have tribal members dealing with tribal members and their problems.''

Before the establishment of the ECN Supreme Court, the ECN was a part of the federal government's Court of Federal Regulations judicial system.

The ECN has approximately 13,000 enrolled tribal members, more than 8,000 of whom live within the jurisdiction of Quallah Boundary, the name for the nation's tribal land. Quallah Boundary consists of the areas of Jackson and Swain counties in western North Carolina, with parts extending into North Carolina's Cherokee and Graham counties.

According to Boyum, the jurisdiction of the ECN Supreme Court is based on tribal standing and whether defendants and plaintiffs are tribal members. It also depends on where the crime occurs, since there is deed land mixed within the boundaries of the ECN Supreme Court jurisdiction. On Quallah Boundary, there is unlimited civil jurisdiction, with some concurrent jurisdiction with both state and federal governments.

''There's a lot of different players involved in prosecution,'' Boyum said.

One improvement on which Boyum is collaborating is the establishment of a tribal justice center that will house not only the Supreme Court, but also such offices as the tribe's attorney general, prosecutor, juvenile justice and law enforcement. Although in the planning stages, the center is scheduled to be completed in two to four years.

''The debate is whether or not we will have a jail,'' said Boyum, who said that prisoners are currently housed in neighboring jails.

Serving on that committee is another Eastern Cherokee member new to office - Chief of Police Ben Reed. After serving as interim chief of police, Reed applied for and was hired for the position. The chief of police before Reed was not a member of the ECN.

Reed's experience includes more than 10 years in law enforcement, serving as a lieutenant in the juvenile division for the last three years. A lifelong resident of Cherokee, N.C., Reed graduated from Cherokee High School in 1989 and is currently working toward a bachelor's in business administration from Montreat Business College.

''It's important to understand the community here, being on the Quallah

Boundary,'' Reed said. ''It's a unique place. The counties around it are a lot different. We have the same problems as the counties, but the people are much different. I think this helps to have the heritage, to be able to understand why we're having the problems we're having.''

Reed is in charge of a police force that includes 43 full-time officers and four reserve deputies over this roughly four-county area. His officers have both state and federal jurisdiction, being certified through the state of North Carolina and federally deputized through the BIA.

Some of the problems that Reed said his officers face in their duties include methamphetamines, child abuse and neglect, alcoholism, domestic violence and lack of activities for youth.

Reed's approaches and goals for his department include expansion in manpower and technology. Reed's goals also include community policing - getting his officers involved in the events and day-to-day life of the Eastern Cherokee communities.

''I'm a firm believer in community policing,'' Reed said. ''It starts with the community. Without the community, we're not going to get much done. I want the police department to be community-oriented. We need to get our police officers involved in community activities as much as we can, but we also need to get the community involved with the police department. We've got to earn their trust.''