What's in a name? A lot, Indians say
4 groups battle to be deemed authentic descendants of Georgia Cherokees
For 14 years, various factions have wrangled to claim the legislatively blessed name.
Alliances form and then fall out. Sometimes they re-form. People question one another's Native American pedigrees, which draws howls of indignation and counterattacks. They have sued each other, threatened protests, slammed each other in print and insulted each other on the Internet.
Tribes that qualify for federal recognition have generally met a stringent set of criteria based on having a continuous history and culture. "Continuous" generally means since first contact with Euro-Americans, which is usually hundreds of years ago.
Needless to say, no Indian group formed in the last 100 years, or formed to build a casino, qualifies as a tribe. A tribe such as the Mashantucket Pequots must show a continuous history and culture since the 1600s--unless it qualifies through a special act of Congress.
For tribes recognized by a state government but not the federal government, and other alleged tribes, the burden of proof is tougher. If they can't prove something akin to a continuous history and culture, we have every reason to doubt their authenticity.
State-recognized tribes such as the Lumbee and Chickahominy are close to meeting the federal criteria for recognition, so I have no problem calling them tribes. The battling Cherokee groups in this article haven't proved anything yet, so I wouldn't call them anything except "tribes" (in quotation marks).
All clear? If anyone needs a primer in Indian History 101, just let me know.