By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
With the process ongoing for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to take over realty functions of the Tribe from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), tribal leaders sent a message to BIA officials that they do not want records moved. During its regular session on Thursday, March 5, Tribal Council passed unanimously legislation, submitted by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, that states the Tribe’s position on records in possession of the Cherokee Agency.
“This resolution is simply giving them formal notice that we do not want our records removed from our tribal lands and taken to Lenaxa, Kansas,” Chief Sneed said on Thursday. “It is our position that those records belong to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians – that they are not BIA property – and we are giving them a formal notice that we would like for those documents to remain on Eastern Band of Cherokee’s tribal trust lands.”
The resolution states, “For over a century, the Cherokee Agency and the Tribe have, individually or in concert, created or managed records pertaining to the conduct of tribal and federal business, including but not limited to leases, maps, surveys, letters, notes, easements, transfers of possessory holdings and other things. Some of these records are ancient, historical and irreplaceable; and, these records are stored in the Cherokee Agency building in the ‘vault’, and in filing cabinets located in other offices in the building, including in the Superintendent’s suite of offices…”
It goes on to state, “The Tribe is on the cusp of entering a ‘638’ contract with the BIA for the performance of realty functions in Cherokee, and is about to obtain the Cherokee Agency building by transfer from the BIA. In the course of preparing for the transfer of the building, all federal property within the building is being inventoried, and this includes all of the records – including the Tribe’s ancient and historical records…”
Chief Sneed noted, “Many things with the Bureau of Indian Affairs moves along at a snail’s pace. This is actually moving along rather nicely as far as the 638 process goes.”
The resolution states that the BIA could move the records – a point tribal leaders addressed with the legislation which states, “There is a potential that records that are important to the Tribe will be removed from the Cherokee Agency building and into federal archives in Lenaxa, Kansas. Although the Tribe may thereafter obtain copies (and some originals) from the archives, the Tribe’s history and ability to manage its own affairs will be severely compromised if the records are removed from Cherokee.”
Brandon Stephens, Tribal Realty Services director, said on Thursday, “We have received ownership of our possessory holding files which are our land records. That is huge. That is something to be proud of in our history that we have possession of our land records, and we now have the destiny of what is recorded and how those things are cared for and how they are managed and taken care of.”
He added, “This has sped along some other records that will be passed to us, in addition to the leasing records, surveying and issues records, maps, historical documents. So, this is huge for us. This part of us that really tells our story, who we were, where we are, where we’re going.”
Calling it a “huge moment” for the Tribe, Stephens noted, “It also adds to the strength of our sovereignty when you have that ability.”
He spoke of the transfer of several structures, “We are making strides now to assume the ownership and control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Building #1, Building #5 which is the Forestry Building behind the BIA Agency, and the school property so that all advanced. And, we hope in the next 90 days that the Eastern Regional Office (BIA) will give us word about the transfer of Building #1.”
The legislation concluded by stating, “The Tribe should make every effort to keep the records important to the Tribe in Cherokee, and in the Cherokee Agency building, unless and until the Tribe builds a better, more suitable facility…the Tribe asks the Cherokee Agency to provide 30 days written notice in advance of any decision to move any records from the Cherokee Agency to any other location, and to give the Tribe a meaningful opportunity to engage with the Agency or the Department of the Interior on the subject of classification and removal of records.”