DATE: Monday, November 10, 1997             TAG: 9711100040



DATELINE: CHEROKEE                          LENGTH:   74 lines


Joyce Dugan is the last person anybody expected to end up chief of the Eastern Cherokee Indians, especially at such a pivotal time in the tribe's history.

On Thursday, an $82 million resort casino will open its doors on the reservation, bringing with it the promise of 1,100 full-time jobs and annual tribal profits exceeding $50 million. Every member of the tribe will get a check for a share of the annual profits.

One of the poorest Indian tribes in the country is about to get rich.

And leading the tribe during this time of great change is Dugan, the daughter of a Cherokee housemaid and a white man from Tennessee. Dugan, 49, couldn't pass for Cherokee if someone stuck her in a feathered headdress and stood her in front of a souvenir shop.

``I was the `white Indian.' Shunned,'' recalls Dugan. ``They called me `white trash.' ''

Before she was elected in 1995, Dugan was a political nobody: A wife, mother and teacher with a squeaky-clean reputation who had been appointed in 1991 to head the Cherokee school system.

It would have been tough to find a more startling contrast to Jonathan ``Ed'' Taylor, a two-term incumbent bent on re-election whether or not the tribal council made good its threat to impeach him for misuse of power. It did.

Taylor appeared unbeatable, which is exactly why Dugan gave in to the pleas of friends and co-workers and entered the primary.

Dugan won the primary, then went on to beat Taylor 2-to-1 in a runoff. Seventy-two percent of eligible voters went to the polls.

``Joyce was so far out of the norm,'' said Hilary Osborn, vice chairman of the tribe's gaming commission. ``She was nonpolitical, and she faced someone who had been in politics for 30 years and had helped people all along the way. It would seem impossible that he could be defeated, yet he was. The tribe had truly given a mandate: Change.''

Since Dugan took office, the budget has tripled to $40 million and the number of tribal employees has increased from 401 to 542, including a building inspector and a human resources manager.

Tribal council members want to know if all the increases are justified. They wonder if that's the best way to use the millions generated by a temporary casino built on the reservation in 1995.

Dugan said the changes are long overdue. Using skills honed while heading the school system, she has completely restructured the tribal government, set tougher standards for financial accountability and begun work on a tribal constitution.

The chief says she has done it without making deals.

``She has done a professional job of reorganizing, and there is no question about her honesty,'' said tribal council member Bob Blankenship, who ran against Dugan for chief.

There's about to be even more money. On Thursday, the Harrah's Cherokee Casino opens, with 1,800 video gambling machines, three restaurants, an entertainment arena and 1,100 year-round jobs, many held by Cherokees.

Only half the annual profits from gaming will be divided among members, who are so numerous that no one expects annual checks for individuals to exceed $5,000. (Last year, they were $1,600.)

The rest of the money is going into tribal government and investments in such projects as a tribal bank and a water bottling facility.

Dugan knows she's being watched, and she doesn't care. From the beginning, she has felt at odds with her people: Not because she was poor, but because she was the fair-skinned daughter of a tour bus driver who stopped just long enough to conceive a child.

``The prejudice is no longer there, but I still feel the inferiority: that feeling with my own people that I don't look Indian enough,'' Dugan said. ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


Joyce Dugan, principal chief of the Eastern Cherokees, will open an

$82 million resort casino Thursday that promises unprecedented jobs

and profits.

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