Earlier this month, the Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee voted 9-3 to begin the impeachment process for Principal Chief Patrick Lambert. The vote exposes divisions rippling through the tribe’s governing body.
In January, the tribe’s Office of Internal Audit completed an investigation into contracts and human resources proceedings within Lambert’s administration. Members of the Tribal Council who voted for impeachment have used the results of the investigation as support for impeachment.
“It’s hard to know what the basis for some of these items were,” Holly Kays, reporter for The Smoky Mountain News said when she spoke with The State of Things host Frank Stasio. “A redacted copy of the report was released publicly, but the redactions were multiple lines long and in some cases were completely blacked out.”
Lambert argues that the investigation is a retaliation by the Tribal Council for his efforts to uncover corruption left in place by the previous administration.
On the same day the Tribal Council voted to begin the impeachment process, 26 agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the Qualla Housing Authority in Cherokee, N.C. They collected several filing cabinets and computers with records and other documents. The raid stems from an investigation into the facility’s use of federal funds initially brought forth by Lambert last year.
The Qualla Housing Authority assists low-income tribal members with finding affordable housing. It receives $3.2 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development each year. There are six members of the Tribal Council who also sit on the board for the Qualla Housing Authority.
The director for the Qualla Housing Authority was notified of the investigation last October. According to Lambert, there were three reports of documents being shredded at the facility after it was notified of the investigation, which prompted the FBI raid.
Kays says the investigation stems from lingering distrust of the Tribal Council by tribal members. At the Tribal Council meeting, dozens of tribal members came to oppose the Tribal Council’s motion to start the impeachment process.
“It was a full house at that meeting. There was barely a place to sit,” Kays said. “The crowd was very vocal about what they thought of the proceedings. Some of them were supporting impeachment but the overwhelming majority seemed to be in support of Patrick Lambert.”
Lambert won the election for Principal Chief with 71 percent of the vote in 2015.
Now, the Tribal Council will vote to approve the articles for impeachment before a hearing can be scheduled. The next Tribal Council meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 2, 2017.