Thanks to huge casino profits, the youth of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians receive a payment they call “The Big Money” at age 18 after graduating from high school. Payments — which were as small as $600 when the program started in 1996 — are now into six figures. At Topic, Sheyahshe Littledave reports on the opportunities and problems that come with large lump-sum payments and what the kids do with their windfall.
Tyra Maney, 22
Received $109,000 in 2016
Purchased a Ford Focus for $42,500; season tickets to the Georgia Swarm, a professional lacrosse team, for $1,600; a Prada bag for $1,100; and a traditional costume for the Miss Cherokee pageant for $1,000. She put $35,000 in savings.
Tyra paid for her dream car—a Ford Focus—in full, along with a year’s worth of car insurance. Then she bought a small Prada bag, bright white with a tassel, and clothing for the Miss Cherokee pageant. “I didn’t have any traditional clothes,” she explains, “so I used maybe about $1,000 or so and I bought moccasins and a basket, and I got my wool set [of traditional Cherokee clothing].”
Standing alongside the banks of the Oconaluftee River, which runs through the Smoky Mountains and ends at Fontana Lake, some 30-plus miles from Cherokee, Tyra reflects on conversations she had with her peers over what they would do when they got their big money. “A lot of people in my friend group were like, ‘I’m gonna be smart, and I’m gonna maybe buy this and then put the rest up,’ ” says the 22-year-old, who works as a retail associate at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, in downtown Cherokee. “Maybe 20 percent of us actually did that, and the rest were like, ‘Oh, I have money, so I’m gonna use it.’ And they blew it.”