Freedom Rings at Catawba Nation

By Cynthia Walsh,

August 4, 2002

The last thirty days at the Catawba Nation is a major turning point in Catawba history that has been marred by many unpleasantries during the past decade since Catawba was re-recognized as a federal tribal. There have been many areas of concern not the least of which has been the lack of holding Catawba Constitutional (1975) semi-annual General Council meetings to permit The People to govern themselves and Catawba. Not only have these meetings not been called as required under the Catawba Constitution, but every effort by The People to request such critical governmental meetings have been denied and efforts made to block them. This year the General Council meetings were again not held as mandated by the Catawba Constitution of 1975. The People clearly decided to exercise their Catawba Constitutional rights and held valid constitutional meetings on the Catawba Nation on Saturday, July 6, 2002; and again on Saturday, August 3, 2002. The People have reclaimed their voice from those who wished to deny these rights to assemble and direct the action of their tribal government. The People have united and together they formed a quorum of eligible voting tribal members to hold General Council meetings exercise to their Catawba Constitutional rights and give voice to The People.

The People have asked repeatedly that the Executive Committee Members, and in particular to Chief Gilbert Blue, to hold the Catawba Constitutionally required elections. Clearly, the actions of The People on July 6 were united in wanting their rights acknowledged to elect individuals who can and will represent their interests within the limits of their duties as members of the Executive Committee. At this meeting, The People voted to call for elections on September 7, 2002.

Several other significant resolutions were passed by the General Council meeting held on July 6 which included requiring certain individuals to provide the General Council with financial accounting records, and removing from office named individuals.

In another dramatic blow to the Executive Committee efforts to control The People, a proposed new Catawba Constitution was soundly defeated by the voting members of the Catawba Nation in late July. The proposed new constitution was severely flawed as a constitutional document and would provide blanket approval of all past agreements entered into by the Executive Committee members in which the General Council had no voice nor knowledge of such transactions. The proposed new constitution was repeatedly brought to The People for voting during the past year in a futile effort of Chief Gilbert Blue to obtain passage of the new constitution which was against the wishes of The People.

Most recently, on August 3, 2002 the Catawba People held a second General Council meeting stemming from the July 6, 2002 meeting. There are declared vacancies announced by resolution on July 6 which will allow The People to elect new individuals to the positions of chief, assistant chief, councilman, and secretary/treasurer. A list of outstanding members of the Catawba Nation have been submitted and approved to run for these positions.

The road to this process has been long and fraught with difficulties. This has included the interference of the Bureau of Indian Affairs [BIA] into matters that are clearly matters of Catawba tribal sovereignty issues. One such individual that the BIA who has routinely inserted himself into Catawba sovereignty issues has been Franklin Keel, Eastern Area/ Regional BIA Director. [See other links on this site for a more complete history of his interfering activities which are in violation of BIA policy.] According to newspaper accounts and reports from individuals at Catawba, Franklin Keel at the request of Chief Gilbert Blue issued a letter declaring that The People had no right to access their own Long House in order to conduct tribal business. [A Freedom of Information Act request will be submitted in order to obtain a copy of this letter written by Franklin Keel in his capacity as a BIA official.] This letter was posted on the main doors to the Catawba Long House (the governmental office building) informing The People that they were not allowed to use the Long House to hold a General Council meeting and that Franklin Keel supported the denial of access by Chief Gilbert Blue. Accessing tribally owned property and how tribal government is conducted is not to be interfered with by the BIA as it has a mandated to respect tribal sovereignty. Tribal sovereignty is a fundamental right that pre-dates any treaties, laws, and statutes upon a people as sovereignty is a core right of any distinct peoples to govern themselves. As an acknowledged nation, Catawba has a sovereign right to hold lawful governmental meetings and BIA officials are barred from interrupting that process. This did not stop Franklin Keel in his capacity as a BIA employee from interfering in a tribal governmental process. And, in a shocking action one Catawba tribal member who attempted to access the Long House with this posted BIA ban on accessing the Catawba Long House was arrested by the local York county sheriff's office.

On September 7, 2002 Catawba people will at long last be allowed to give voice to whom they wish to fill vacant governmental positions with people from their midst they believe will work honorably, ethically, and with the best interests of The People and the Nation's future at heart.

Congratulations to all those at Catawba who have dedicated themselves, their time, and financial resources to see that The People can exercise their right to vote, to be heard again in governing themselves, and to present a united people which has always been an attribute of the Catawba People for eons of time.

What an amazing process that on the July 4, 2002 weekend that freedom returned to the Catawba People.