Manataka American Indian Council




Near Defunct Commission Grants

State Recognition to Six Indian Tribes



The Tennessee Commission on Indian Affairs, which will cease to exist on July 1, has granted state recognition to six Indian tribes in a move that the federally-recognized Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma may try to void.


"This is a historic action," said Tammera Hicks of Chattanooga, chairman of the commission. "We have done what the commission was mandated to do more than 20 years ago."


But Mark Greene, retained as a lobbyist by the Cherokee Nation, to oppose state recognition efforts by members of Tennessee groups, said he believes the move could have violated state laws. Cherokee representatives will be consulting with attorneys today on possible legal action, he said.

Bills to grant state recognition to Indian tribes have failed in the Legislature, but Hicks said the statute creating the commission specifically gives the panel authority to act on recognition on its own.


All six members of the seven-member panel present at a meeting in Bartlett on Friday voted to declare six groups of Native American descendants as officially recognized as valid Indian tribes, Hicks said. They are:

The Commission had earlier promulgated rules specifically granting recognition to the tribes, but state legislators in May took action to postpone the effective date of those rules until after the commission ceases to exist on July 1. Lawmakers had also killed a bill that would have granted another year of life to the commission.


But Hicks said that the commission used an alternative procedure involving "standing rules," as opposed to the special and specific rules that were the subject of legislative action, to grant recognition.


Greene, who attended the meeting, said the move bypassed legislative intent and appears to have violated the state's "Sunshine law," mandating that meetings be open and adequate notice be given of pending actions.


Greene said there was no notice of the pending move and that members of the commission had "obviously worked everything out in advance." He also said that some members of the commission may have inherent conflicts of interest because they are members of the newly-recognized tribes.


State recognition of Indian tribes, which has occurred in several states, makes members of the tribes eligible for various grants, scholarships and assistance programs available under federal law. State-recognized tribes may also market crafts and other goods as made by Native Americans.


The Cherokees and other federally-recognized tribes have questioned the legitimacy of the state groups' claims of significant Indian heritage.