Published On: Tue, Jun 29th, 2010
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Tennessee recognizes Six Groups as Tribes

EBCI opposes Recognition

 

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 A few weeks before the Tennessee Commission on Indian Affairs (TCIA) closes its doors, the organization decided to grant state recognition to six groups on Saturday, June 19.  The TCIA is being sunshined out by the state legislature on July 1. 

 “This is a historic action,” Tammera Hicks of Chattanooga, TCIA chairwoman told the News Sentinel (Knoxville). “We have done what the commission was mandated to do more than 20 years ago.”

 According to information from TCIA, the following groups were granted recognition as of Saturday:

– The Remnant Yuchi Tribe

– United Eastern Lenape Nation of Winfield Tennessee

– Chikamaka Band

– Central Band of Cherokee

– Cherokee Wolf Clan

– Tanasi Council 

“I am deeply concerned about the action to recognize six groups as tribes taken by the Tennessee Commission on Indian Affairs,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks.  “As one of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes, we have had no interaction with any of these groups and I absolutely do not support them in this endeavor.  I will work to ensure this legislation is invalidated due to the concern of Cherokee blood and the circumstances under which it was approved by the Commission.”

Chief Hicks is not alone in his opposition to the measure. 

In a letter to Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. and Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, ten former TCIA commissioners voiced their strong opposition as well. 

“We, the undersigned founders and former Commissioners of Indian Affairs, denounce, repudiate, and reject the actions of the current Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs on June 19, 2010 to recognize six groups (often called culture clubs) as State Recognized Tribes,” the letter stated. 

The letter was signed by the following:  Ray Emanuel, John Hedgecoth, John Anderson, Evangeline Lynch, Doris Tate Trevino, Niles Aseret, Jeanie Walkingstick King, David Teat, Tom Kunesh, and Bill Wells. 

“Such illegitimate tribal recognition is an intentional fraud perpetrated on Cherokee, Lenape, and Yuchi people to steal their political identities,” the letter went on to state.  “Groups pretending to be Indian when a majority of them have no cultural or family affiliation with the tribes they claim as kin is a deception played on all the citizens of the State of Tennessee.” 

Joe Sitting Owl White, Principal Chief of the Central Band of Cherokee, commented on his group’s recognition, “We were thrilled.  Our petition for state recognition has been on file since September 2000.  We’ve been working on this for 10 years so it’s about time.” 

White said the Central Band of Cherokee, based in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., has over 1,000 members with most living in an area he referred to as the 1806 Congressional Reservation.  

He said that tribes outside of Tennessee such as the Cherokee Nation have been instrumental in keeping groups such as his from receiving recognition.  “They (Cherokee Nation) act like a bunch of lying, greedy white men.  We’re the same blood.  Why would we want to fight each other?  That’s crazy.  That’s not Cherokee.” 

White said it’s important for all people of Cherokee blood, over six million in his estimate, to come together.  “If we don’t save our heritage, then it’s going to be gone.” 

Mike Miller, Cherokee Nation spokesperson, related, “The State of Tennessee has to decide whether or not these organizations are truly recognized.  I think that legally, they are not recognized.  Once that issue is resolved, we’ll have a better idea what course of action might be needed.”

Cara Cowan Watts is the Deputy Speaker for the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council and is a vocal opponent of the state recognition of Tribes. 

“The Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs acted improperly as the Commission was dissolved and failed to issue proper public notice and more which makes their actions invalid,” she said.  “The recognition of so-called Cherokee Tribal governments by states such as Tennessee who were instrumental in our Tribe’s forced removal almost 200 years earlier is a tragic irony and thus wrong to say the least.  I would like to focus on building a positive relationship with the State of Tennessee to partner on shared cultural and tourism sites instead of debating issues which are reserved for the Federal government.” 

Watts went on to say, “The Indian Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution reserves the exclusive power to deal with Tribal governments to the federal government.  Congress has directed Tribal governments to be recognized through an administrative process in the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Social groups and non-profits do not make sovereign Tribal governments with the ability to tax or create and enforce laws.” 

Russell Townsend, EBCI Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, related, “I believe that federal recognition of Indian Tribes is political recognition outlined in the U.S. Constitution.  Only the United States Congress has the authority to recognize and treat with Indian tribes.  State recognition is unconstitutional and is disruptive to our Government-to-Government relationship with the U.S.  I am disappointed that Tennessee was more concerned with satisfying a few voters than doing the right thing and leaving recognition in the hands of the federal government.”

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