Police and federal officials provided security Saturday as thousands gathered for the Cherokee Nation’s annual holiday celebration amid high tension between tribal leaders.
“It’s just heartbreaking that this controversy has cast a shadow, a pallor, over the holiday,” said Nora Teague, who was selling leather merchandise.
About 50,000 were expected for the 45th Cherokee National Holiday, a celebration of the tribe’s culture and traditions. Attendance was smaller than in previous years, when 70,000 attended.
Spectators blamed the low attendance on six months of turmoil that has paralyzed the Cherokee legal system and caused a constitutional crisis in the 182,000-member tribe, America’s second largest.
Police were on hand to ensure there was no repeat of violence like the melee that broke out at the Cherokee courthouse Aug. 13, causing arrests and injuries.
The turmoil began in February, when Principal Chief Joe Byrd fired marshals who served a search warrant for financial documents tied to a criminal investigation of his office. Lawsuits, arrests, an FBI investigation and officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs soon followed.
Eight of 15 members of the Tribal Council voted to impeach three appeals judges in May. Byrd’s guards took control of the tribal courthouse and locked out the three judges in June. A group of fired marshals tried to storm the 130-year-old courthouse Aug. 13 on behalf of the justices, leading to the brawl.
A three-member panel investigating the turmoil issued a final report Friday in which it agreed Byrd had the right to hire and fire the marshals. The impeachment of the justices also was deemed void.
“This is a beginning. There has to be some healing taking place,” Byrd said.