Cherokee Trip Final Reflections – Belal Elrahal – Tribal Council

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I’d like to reflect briefly on the “special field trip” Judge Saunooke led a few of the students on to witness the Tribal Council meeting. After a morning of meeting with clients and working at the courthouse, a few of us were afforded the opportunity to accompany the Judge to the Tribal Council Meeting, where they were convened in their normal capacity. The Tribal Council acts as the single-body legislature of the reservation, with twelve members elected, two per district.

Belal says something insightful

On the outside, the government building was consistent in its appearance with the log cabin motif of the town, a noticeable improvement from the “gray concrete rectangle” style of most modern County official buildings in the State. The Tribal Council was in session when we arrived, and so we sat in the “pews” that faced the open horseshoe desk arrangement of the Council. The interior seemed to have either formerly been a church, or was arranged to remind someone of a church, with about 8 rows of pews facing the Council, who sat on an elevated stage, perhaps one or two feet higher than the “general population” level. Each councilman had a computer and tablet, and cameras surrounding the interior transmitted a live feed not only to video screens near the pews, but to public access cable across the entire reservation as well. The warm wood décor and traditional Cherokee art gave the impression more of a living room than legislative meeting, and quietly clashed with the policy debate we were witnessing concerning opening a line of credit to assist a struggling golf course. The Council otherwise functioned very much as a municipal council would, with a Chairperson moderating discussion and directing those making presentations. After introducing ourselves to the Council and being able to thank them for hosting our legal clinic, the Judge introduced us to Chief Hicks.

As the head executive, the Chief is elected at large for a term of four years. Currently in his third term, Chief Hicks is the 2nd longest serving Chief, and is a CPA by trade. After welcoming us into his truly impressive office, decorated with signed basketballs, autographed celebrity photos, and hunting trophies, he warmly greeted us in his conference room and thanked us for our work serving the indigent needs in his community. He was extremely congenial, and even recruited some Council members to stand with us and take a picture.

My lasting impression of this experience was that of a fiercely devoted legislature and a responsive, attentive chief executive to accompany them. As these are not career politicians, they embodied popular representation as our founding fathers intended, by the people. The Council members act not only as representatives but as genuine constituents of their districts, rather than members of a political class concerned with the detached representation. Reasons for this political responsiveness aside, it was truly a unique experience and one I am very thankful for.

Posted by Belal Elrahal on Wed. January 16, 2013 8:53 PM
Categories: Winter Break Trip 2013

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