Invoking tribal health and cultural survival, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has declared a ban on fracking on its sovereign land in what is today North Carolina.
“The Eastern Band of Cherokees will not permit or authorize any person, corporation or other legal entity to engage in hydraulic fracturing on Tribal trust lands,” reads part of the text of a resolution passed unanimously by the Tribal Council last month and signed into law by Principal Chief Mitchell Hicks on September 10. “The State of North Carolina is without legal authority to permit hydraulic fracturing on Tribal trust lands.”
Tribal officials cited the importance to preservation of the woodland habitats that are the underpinning of tribal health and culture.
“Our tribe has taken a strong stand with the resolution against hydraulic fracturing commonly known as fracking,” said Chief Hicks in a statement from the band. “I signed the resolution because I believe our environmental protection is paramount to the survival of our people.”
The health effects of fracking that could stem from environmental damage are among the main concerns, according to tribal leaders. Fracking, a nickname for hydraulic fracturing, involves the injection of toxic chemicals mixed with water deep underground to loosen hard-to-extract crude oil and natural gas from between layers of shale. Opponents fear it can damage drinking water, and some evidence has surfaced to indicate that the practice can cause earthquakes.
“Of importance to the tribe is the impact on the health of our people who utilize many of the products of the forests and habitat surrounding our Trust Lands,” said Tribal Council Chairperson Terri Henry in the Eastern Cherokee statement.
The tribe is one of many local governments that have adopted resolutions to ban fracking within their boundaries, but given its sovereign status, its measure is the only one with teeth. Until June, there was a statewide moratorium on the controversial practice, according to the Smoky Mountain News, but the state legislature lifted that and added a clause that forbid local governments from outlawing the extraction method. The Eastern Band of Cherokee also supports a statewide ban on fracking, the resolution stated.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee also join several other tribes across the U.S. that have taken a stand against fracking. For example the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians passed a ban in 2011.
“I think it’s important that we be good stewards of our natural resources,” Eastern Band of Cherokee Councilmember Perry Shell told the Smoky Mountain News after the North Carolina vote. “I think we live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and I would hate to see that environmental damage.”