Friday, April 11, 2008

Newest Tennessee State Recognition Scam

Bays Mountain in Kingsport, Tennessee, has a colorful history. The area was first colonized by European immigrants around 1750, with land patents from the King. This was 75 years after the first Europeans visited the location, and a full ten years before Daniel Boone entered the area. More families were given land grants from the American land office between 1775 and 1782, and the population of interlopers increased. Kingsport itself ( then known as Chrisatianville ) became called the “head of navigation” because of a boatyard built there. The timbers from the tall trees on the mountain were used to build the flatboats that carried European “pioneers” further West.

The following years saw a steady influx of European descendent immigrants into the Kingsport area, which displaced the existing American Indian population. A large number of Indian groups voluntarily (albeit under pressure) migrated further West in the early 1800’s to the land that became Indian Territory. Final removals were accomplished through the policies of Tennessee’s favorite son, Andrew Jackson’s policies. These policies were supported by the State’s U.S. Senator Hugh White and Representative John Bell, along with the force of the Tennessee Militia. It was clear that Tennessee had no stomach for allowing Indians on the lands claimed by the state.

Still, there were some individual Indians who remained, mostly married into the European population. They had given up their tribal affiliations and became state citizens. In this, they were no different than Europeans from other countries who became U.S. and state citizens.

A group of Kingsport businessmen began to purchase large tracts of land on Bays Mountain in 1907, with the ultimate goal of creating a dam, lake, and park. The lake was finally formed in 1916. In 1965, the City Planning Commission began to look into ways that the city owned land could be used. A three man committee was appointed on the 1st of June by Mayor Hugh Rule to study the feasibility of turning the land into a city park. A few years later, Bays Mountain Park became a reality.

Now, in 2008, a decision arises about another attraction that can be placed in the Park to draw tourism. What better attraction than an “Indian village”? To facilitate such an attraction, State Representative Nathan Vaughn of Kingsport has introduced a bill, H.B. No. 3229, for state recognition of “tribes” that can help run the village. Drafters of the bill say that recognition is needed so the folks can sell their wares as “Indian” under the Arts and Crafts Act. A similar senate bill, S.B. No. 32123, has been introduced by Tim Burchett, of Knoxville.

Taking a page from Alabama’s cookbook on how to make quick baked Indians, the bill automatically turns six known fabricated groups into state recognized “tribes”: (1) Remnant Yuchi Nation; (2) Upper Cumberland Cherokee (also known as the United Eastern Lenape Nation); (3) Chikamaka-Cherokee Band of the South Cumberland Plateau; (4) Central Band of Cherokee (also known as the Cherokee of Lawrence County); (5) Cherokee Wolf Clan; and (6) Tanasi Council of the Far Away Cherokee. These “tribes” then become the “Confederation of Tennessee Native Tribes”, and are given the power to review other newly fabricated groups and recommend them for state recognition.

Make no mistake about it, each one of the above mentioned groups can be shown as a fraudulent “tribe” with no historical background. Take the “Cherokee Wolf Clan” of Yuma, Tennessee for example. One of dozens of “Wolf Clans” nationwide, this group was first incorporated as the Cherokee Wolf Clan Universal Life Church. The 2000 U.S. Census grand total for self-identified “Native Americans” in Yuma was eight. This isn’t the first time that the “Cherokee Wolf Clan” has sought state recognition. With members using such “Indian” names as “Running Wind“, “Silver Feather”, “Rain In The Face”, and “Coyote Brother” the group attempted recognition through a state resolution in 2004. During the same year, the CWC attempted to gain recognition as a “Tribe” in several different counties. These attempts proved futile. In addition, the group snookered the Davidson County and Nashville city government to approve a resolution for the recognition of the Cherokee Wolf Clan on 6 January 2004. It was repealed five weeks later on 17 February.

The remainder of the bill lists flawed requirements for a group to become state recognized. When real Indians living in Tennessee pointed out that none of the six groups that are automatically tenured as “tribes” would meet the criteria given in the bill, Vaughn told them that the sponsors were “okay with that”. He also implied that any comments from federally recognized tribes or Indians from outside of Tennessee who actually were connected with the historical tribes that had been removed from the state were unwelcome and would not be considered. In essence, no tribe that has previously occupied a land area in Tennessee and has been removed has any right to oppose a new “tribe” taking their name and becoming recognized by the state.

Other than wanting to create “tribes” that it can control out of pretend Indians, and gaining monetary gain, how does Tennessee really view the indigenous peoples of this land? Let’s take just a short peek at a few examples. Tennessee U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander actively opposed the Akaka bill, which would allow Hawaiians to re-establish their national identity and independence - with sovereignty in par with mainland tribes. The state senate passed a bill in 2007 that prohibits state agencies from banning the Indian mascots of Tennessee schools. The State Attorney General’s Opinion No. 07-21 supporting the right of Tennessee to recognize tribes (in spite of being prohibited by the U.S. Constitution) relied completely on the malfeasance of federal agencies in their diversion of Indian grants and funds to state recognized “tribes”.

When one looks at almost every state and their recognition of fake tribes, the common denominator is to allow participation in the deeply flawed Indian Arts and Crafts Act. Remember that the Act was passed without debate on the hectic last day of the congressional session in 1990. The inclusion of state recognized “tribes” was at the demand of senators with such groups in their states. This has now become the primary justification for new state recognitions - not any historical validity of a organization. The only remedy, and perhaps one of the best oppositions, against more fake Indians being state recognized is for federally recognized Indians everywhere to work towards having the IACA amended to delete “state recognized tribes”.

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