In Last Weeks General Election, the Cherokee community looked to reshape its future by decisively voting to remove the incumbent Principal Chief, Richard Sneed, and reinstate former Chief Michell Hicks for a fourth term. On the Tribal Council front, voters ushered in change by replacing four incumbent members with candidates who had previously served multiple terms on the Council.
Beyond selecting new leaders, tribal members also overwhelmingly endorsed the use of recreational marijuana on the Qualla Boundary and approved the issuance of mixed drink permits for establishments such as hotels and restaurants.
Hicks, who previously held the position of Principal Chief from 2003 to 2015, secured a commanding victory with 65% of the vote in this election. He enjoyed a substantial lead over Sneed in all six of the tribe’s townships. His strongest support came from Big Cove, where he garnered 71% of the 314 votes cast, while his lowest percentage of support was in Snowbird/Cherokee County, where he received 56% of the 369 votes.
The 2023 election carried significant implications for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, as it faces challenges to its longstanding dominance in the regional casino market. New competitors have emerged in nearby cities, and the possibility of additional casinos in neighboring states looms large. Sneed had focused on economic diversification during his tenure, establishing several LLCs to pursue various business ventures aimed at safeguarding the tribe’s financial future. However, these investments incurred substantial costs, and Sneed faced harsh criticism for their impact on tribal finances. Tribal finances were at the forefront of the 2023 campaign.
Sneed, who had been in office since 2017, conceded the election with a statement on Facebook at 8:10 p.m., just over two hours after the polls closed at 6 p.m., reflecting on his time in office as “the honor of a lifetime.”