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April 2021

New Path for Native Americans in the Game

By Steve Eubanks

When it comes to diversity in hiring, some golf shops are well ahead of the game. But in a few cases, minority representation in the shop comes because of a special carveout in the equal-opportunity statutes.

“Our golf course has been around for 10 years as of September,” said Curtis Wildcatt, a native Cherokee and a member of the tribal council that owns and operates Sequoia National Golf Club in North Carolina. “Prior to that, our high school got its first golf team in 1988. I was on that golf team. We used the neighboring course. Most of the courses were upscale resorts and they didn’t want to see us running around.

“But now, almost all the people working in our golf shop and being trained in the golf industry here are (tribal) members. Currently, we have an assistant pro who is a member and much of the support staff are members. Because of that, we’ve had two of our (tribal) members go on to receive golf scholarships and several of our members go on to receive higher education in the golf industry.”

That minority representation is possible not only because the course (and the Harrah’s Hotel and Casino that go with it) sit on Cherokee land, but also because of a special exemption Native Americans have in hiring.

“We operate under a special law called Indian Preference,” Wildcatt said. “That means, we aren’t bound by some EEOC regulations. We can be biased in favor of tribal members. And we’ve always maintained that we have to provide employment for our tribal members. That has opened a lot of opportunities for these young people that they otherwise might not have.”

For years, most tribal employment at Sequoia National was in course maintenance. Several Native American employees went on to study agronomy in college and become superintendents in other parts of the country.

But while golf shop operations are relatively new for these young Cherokees, according to Wildcatt, “It’s very rewarding to see the number of kids who are coming through here and to see where they’re going. Very rewarding.”

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