Cherokee Nation leaders ponder emergency management code
TAHLEQUAH – Tribal Councilors debated the merits of adopting an official emergency management code during their meetings in late May, but ultimately tabled the issue.
Cherokee Nation officials said an emergency management policy exists within the CN Marshal Service, but lacks authority, when needed, to secure assistance from other tribal agencies or departments.
“We have an emergency management group already in place, but the code is very limited in what it points out,” Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd said during the May Rules Committee meeting. “Right now, we’ve got something really good in place. We’re just trying to make it better.”
An official code could potentially expand authorization of the CNMS, officials said.
“That’s so essential to be able to contact other entities or other tribes for help,” Tribal Councilor Mike Shambaugh said. “I think that would be the best-case scenario. That would help us immensely, and help others tribes, too.”
Still taking precautions due to the pandemic conditions, councilors held three shorter-than-normal meetings in May, compared to the typical eight-plus meetings in an average month.
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. suggested the tribe “work off the statute that we have” and revisit the issue at a later date.
“I think it’s difficult to have the discussion in the environment where we’re compressed for time,” he said. “We really need to have, I think, a more extensive dialogue.”
Tribal Councilor Wes Nofire said he was in favor of giving the CNMS the “proper authority to act.”
“I don’t think it’s necessary to say that we need to put a hold on anything just because of the time we’re in,” he said. “In fact, it’s more of a reason for us to expand time if necessary and remote call-in if necessary so things like this don’t get held up because we’re afraid of time restraint.”
Attorney General Sara Hill said she “was not concerned” about the way emergency management currently operates.
“It’s sort of grown up organically inside Cherokee Nation, inside the departments that already exist,” she said. “The marshal uses his authority and the authority of the Cherokee Nation to do the work that they do.”
Marshal Shannon Buhl was not in attendance to address the matter. When asked later for comment, he deferred to the CN administration.
“Cherokee Nation’s emergency management has done extraordinary work through the COVID-19 pandemic, as they do in any crisis,” Hoskin said. “I’m committed to improving emergency management, as warranted, going forward. Given the high level at which we are already operating, it makes sense to avoid a rush to approve an entirely new statutory scheme and instead carefully deliberate about the best approach.”
Hoskin added that the draft legislation “appears to borrow heavily from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ code, a tribe with vastly different legal, jurisdictional and constitutional considerations” related to emergency management.
“As I said at committee, the draft legislation raises legal concerns and it makes sense for our emergency management leadership and Attorney General Hill to weigh in,” he said. “I favor an approach that compliments our current emergency management effort and one consistent with our laws and constitution. That is why I committed to Speaker Byrd that our respective staffs would work on a code that will make our very respected emergency management department even more effective. I expect that work will conclude before the end of the fiscal year.”
The council ultimately tabled the issue for further discussion at the next Rules Committee meeting, tentatively scheduled for June 25.
“I don’t feel like we have to do something in 30 days,” Byrd said. “I just feel like it’s something that’s needed. All we’re trying to do from the council’s standpoint is we want to make sure (the Marshal Service has) unlimited resources.”