Leon Jones, former Cherokee chief, dies
By Derek Hodges
http://www.thesylvaherald.com/html/leon_jones__former_cherokee_ch.htmlLeon Jones, who held several offices with the Eastern Band of
Cherokee Indians including principal chief, died Friday (Dec. 30) at
his home in Cherokee's Big Y community.
Jones, 69, battled illness, including cancer, for several years.
Throughout that time, however, he still played a leadership role in
the tribe, and was recently recognized for his contributions to the
tribe's emergency services. The Tribal EMS building, which was begun
during Jones' time as chief, was named for him during a ceremony in
Jones served as chief from 1999 to 2003, which was a period of
continuous progress for the tribe. In addition to his work with
Tribal EMS, Jones' tenure was also marked by:
? Completion of negotiations with the state on a 30-year tribal
gaming compact that sets forth the parameters for the tribe's casino
operation. "That compact ensures our people financial gains from the
gaming industry that have allowed us to improve our schools and run
our government," Jones told The Herald in July.
? A land swap with the National Park Service that secured the 143-
acre Ravensford tract for the tribe. The tribe's schools will be
located on that property. "That will have a lasting impact on this
tribe. The acquisition of that property is one of my proudest
accomplishments as chief," Jones said.
? The establishment of a retirement plan for tribal employees.
? Adoption of a hospital compact and securing $5 million each year
for the hospital. Jones led the tribe in taking over operations of
Cherokee Indian Hospital from the Indian Health Service.
Jones's achievements left a lasting impact on the tribe, current
Principal Chief Michell Hicks said.
"He was definitely an honorable man and his contributions to the
tribe will be long-serving for our members," said Hicks, who worked
directly with Jones for four years. "I learned a lot from him. I'm
very appreciative of the time I got to spend with him."
Jones, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, was the son of an
enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. While he
wasn't a native of Cherokee, he said his family always considered the
He served in the U.S. Marines and Air Force for 26 years, including
two tours in Vietnam. After retiring from the military, he moved to
Cherokee in January 1980 and became the first chief magistrate of the
After his term as magistrate; he worked for the U.S. Postal Service,
including two years as postmaster; managed Cherokee Tribal Bingo,
which is the world's largest bingo operation; and was a tribal
council member from Wolfetown from 1985-1987.
During a July 2005 interview with The Herald, Jones stressed the
importance of preserving the past of the Cherokee people, while
working to better the tribe's future. One way to do that is to build
stronger relationships with other governments, Jones said.
"I think (regional governmental bodies) should all get to know each
other better. We're all striving for the betterment of Western North
Carolina, not just what's good for the county or the tribe," he
said. "The way to do that is to work together to preserve our past
and live together in peace and harmony. We live in one of the most
beautiful parts of the world, and we need to protect it."
Funeral services for Jones were held at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 3, in
the auditorium of Cherokee High School. Jones' body lay in state in
the auditorium for three hours prior to the service.