Published On: Mon, Mar 14th, 2011
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Kentucky eyeing State Recognition of Tribes

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

                There are several bills on the table of the Kentucky State House of Representatives now that, if passed, would allow the state to start the process of granting state recognition to groups as American Indian Tribes. 

                Introduced by Kentucky Rep. Reginald Meeks (D-42nd District), the three bills (HB 44, HB 50 and HB 51) serve to define who is an American Indian, recognize tribes within the state and deal with how human remains and burial objects are to be dealt with in the future. 

                 “The Eastern Band of Cherokee is one of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks.  “The process to become federally recognized is a merit based and arduous process that ensures that only legitimate and historical tribes are recognized.  States have the prerogative to set up their own recognition process for tribes, which is oftentimes less complex and lacks merit based standards. Additionally, these tribes do not receive the federal benefits that are reserved for federally recognized tribes.”

                Cherokee Nation District 5 Councilwoman Cara Cowan Watts is staunchly against states recognizing tribes. 

                 “These fake Cherokee groups are dangerous and a direct affront to our Tribal Elders and culture keepers,” she said.   “All Cherokees should call, write and email Kentucky representatives to stop these bills. Recognizing fake Cherokee groups in any way diminishes our Tribal sovereignty. Please pick up your phone and call Kentucky, today!”

                HB 44 defines an American Indian as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America, including Central America, and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment to the tribe of origin or to the community of original peoples.” 

                HB50 gives outlines criteria that groups must meet before being recognized by the state including “Documentation that demonstrates a population of at least two hundred fifty (250) individuals who have continued as a tribe, group, or organization for at least two hundred (200) years.” 

                Each group petitioning for state recognition would be required to meet at least five of the criteria which also include:

–          Demonstrating relationship with other recognized American Indian tribes

–          Providing vital records of members of the group

–          Document a historic government-to-government relationship with the state or federal governments

–          Documents showing identification as a tribe by other state or federally-recognized tribes

–          Provide evidence that the group has received or participated in state or federally-funded grants

–          Document historical, anthropological or genealogical information identifying the group as an American Indian tribe

–          Document culture and traditions that are unique and identify the group as American Indian. 

            All petitions would be subject to review and approval by the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission.  If recommended for approval by the Commission, the petition would go to the Governor for approval. 

           The Cherokee Nation’s official website (www.cherokee.org) has an entire section dedicated to the opposition of the state recognition of tribes.  “The Federal Recognition Process requires extensive documentation, including verification of continuous existence as an Indian tribe since 1900, and generally takes time to complete,” states information on the site.  “States do not have such a relationship.  Historically and legally, states have been excluded from dealing with Indian nations.  The foundation for state exclusion is rooted in the Constitution of the United States, effectively making state recognition unconstitutional.” 

          The Cherokee Nation keeps a compiled list of what is considers fraudulent groups claiming American Indian heritage.  Four groups from Kentucky appear on the list including:  Black Wolf Clan of SE Cherokee Council, Inc.; Cherokee Tribe of Kentucky; Kentucky Cherokee Heritage Group; and the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky. 

          A message to the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky went unanswered by press time.

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