Did You Know Nepotism is Now Legal in the Cherokee Nation?

Councilors Don Garvin and Janelle Fullbright. Garvin voted against the amendment and Fullbright voted for it. PHOTO: WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Councilors Don Garvin and Janelle Fullbright. Garvin voted against the amendment and Fullbright voted for it. PHOTO: WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX


Somehow, the law against nepotism was changed without many Cherokees really knowing about it. It was passed without any controversy or public discussion. And oddly, this revised version permitting nepotism was passed by the council and signed into law over two years ago. What is strange is that many Cherokees are just finding out about it now.

Nepotism means Cherokee officials can hire their family members. By definition in the prior law, it means “the hiring of immediate family members by a hiring authority,” whereas the ‘hiring authority’ are those officials in charge of making the hiring decisions. Immediate family members are children, parents, siblings and spouses. The new law does restrict officials from supervising immediate family members, but it does not prevent those family members from being hired and working under others in the Nation. Because jobs are so valued and because the idea people should be hired on their qualifications and not who they are related to, this hiring practice has been illegal in the Cherokee Nation since 1981, that is until two years ago when it was made legal.

From the PDF copy of the old law on 6–28–12, here is the section prohibiting nepotism:

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Here is the same section signed into law on 10–15–12 that makes nepotism legal:


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It seems strange this issue was never really talked about in a public forum. Maybe nepotism is a good thing. The block of councilors who voted for it seem to think so. A case could be made that the practice is no longer useful in a large organization like the Cherokee Nation. Why should qualified people be barred from employment because their family members are Cherokee officials?

Maybe nepotism is not so good. Maybe it allows those in power to take advantage of their position. Or maybe it puts those people who are not related to officials at a disadvantage. Either way, it would appear, well, a good thing to inform the Cherokee people of the discussion and maybe let them have some say in the matter.

Overall, something about the whole matter seems secretive. If it were really a positive change, wouldn’t we be hearing some good PR about it from the Nation? Can you imagine the councilors who voted for it telling their constituents, “I am helping you by making nepotism legal?”

The new law called “The Cherokee Nation Ethics Act Of 2012” was sponsored by Tina Glory Jordan, Jodie Fishinghawk, and Chuck Hoskin Jr. It was passed along the familiar council division line with the “Majority block” voting for it and the “Minority block” against it with 2 abstentions.

Also, the new law appears to rewrite some language about an entirely separate issue concerning Cherokee officials hiring outside contractors, where the big money seems to come into play. But this specific section about nepotism deals only with the direct hiring practices of the Cherokee Nation.

In the sidebar are links to the Cherokee Phoenix article and documents of the two laws.

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