July 01, 2009

More than 200 "Cherokee tribes"

Not legitimately Cherokee

By Chad Smith
Principal chief, Cherokee Nation
Fraudulent groups and individuals passing themselves off as Native Americans have become big business, with more than 200 groups that claim to be some sort of Cherokee tribe. There also are hundreds of individuals who claim to be Cherokee or from the Cherokee Nation and offer services ranging from teaching culture to spiritual advice. The Cherokee Nation does not question anyone's claims of heritage or ancestry, but points out the significant difference between claiming heritage and having citizenship in a federally recognized tribe.

There are only three federally recognized Cherokee tribes: the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, both located in Oklahoma, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. No group outside of North Carolina and Oklahoma has been recognized as a legitimate Cherokee sovereign.

The "Eastern Cherokee Nation" and "Western Cherokee Nation," including the "old settlers" and "late immigrants," joined in an Act of Union on July 12, 1839. There were no "lost" Cherokee tribes or splinter groups that hid out or dropped off the Trail of Tears. Those who have Native American ancestry but are not eligible for citizenship in a federally recognized Indian tribe should participate in the culture through heritage groups and associations, not groups that call themselves "tribes" or "nations."

Fake tribes and individuals with unverifiable ties to Native American citizenship often claim to be passing on Cherokee cultural knowledge and traditional arts. But these groups and individuals dilute true Indian culture and identity. Many of them pass along cultural information that is incorrect or that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.
Tribal culture and identity deserve protection

By Cara Cowan Watts
Tribal Councilor
Since I became involved with Cherokee identity and cultural theft, I have witnessed individuals fraudulently claiming to be Cherokee teach Indian children about being Indian in institutions of higher learning. Allowing non-Indians to teach misleading and false history and culture to our children is dangerous. Other frauds have kidnapped children using fake tribal court orders posing as actions under the Indian Child Welfare Act. At least one is now a convicted felon for selling illegal immigrants “citizenship.” One group decided at Arby’s to form a tribe and begin asserting its “sovereignty” by suing local governments. This fake group was actually winning until someone stood up and told the truth.

Tribal use of funds, preservation of language and protecting artisans and crafts people are only one aspect of a huge battle being waged on our culture and identity as a distinct tribal people.

In addition to the stories about cases of fraud and identity theft, I have endured personal attacks by some individuals trying to reinvent themselves as tribal citizens. After six years of fighting fake Cherokees, I understand that conflict is necessary to bring about change and rid ourselves of such fools.
Comment:  For more on who's a Cherokee, see:

Cherokees battle identity theft
Hoklotubbe on who's a Cherokee
Hillbilly "Indian" vs. 1/256th Cherokee
How Cherokees are assimilated
Which Cherokees are legit?
AhNiYvWiYa Inc.
Cherokee vs. Cherokee vs. Cherokee vs. Cherokee
Cherokees 'r' us
Real Cherokees tackle wannabes

For more on the broader question of who's an Indian, see:

Determining Indians = waste of time?
"Actual Indian" defined
Lots of possible Indians
Who's an Indian again?
Are you a reeeeeeal part "Injun"?
Indian wannabes


Anonymous said...

Pun intended when I say this--but seriously, I think it really sucks being "Cherokee" these days. Don't get me wrong, since I am an American Indian myself. I cannot count the endless confrontation of individuals during my 30 years of life on this planet, who have claimed to be Cherokee indian to some degree. Most of these folks are white people, a few are African-American. But as a Native, its really trite and tiresome to hear the same claims that I no longer bother striking up conversations with these wannabes who are making such claims. Its just the same old boring story we hear over and over again. Which is why I say it kinda sucks being "Cherokee". If the 3 federally recognized tribes/nations would do more to denounce fraudulent tribes and individuals. In a much heated debate about illegal immigration, we too as Natives should be tough on those who want to be indian.

Being indian isn't for everybody. Its a special and unique privledge that flows in the bloodline of more than 1/4th and better. Also only a few can indian by generous longtime association such as being adopted by a tribal family et cetera.....


dmarks said...

" Its a special and unique privledge that flows in the bloodline of more than 1/4th and better"

I thought that the actual, legitimate Cherokee Nation did not require this actual percentage, but instead required actual Indian ancestry?

Stephen said...

"Pun intended when I say this--but seriously, I think it really sucks being "Cherokee" these days."

No doubt, having people who are either pure white or pure black come up to you and start yammering about an 'authentic indian ritual' that their cherokee princess great great great great great great grandma taught them in a dream must a be reaaaaal drag. I kinda have a morbid fascination with these wannabe Indian losers, morons with identity issues can be oddly interesting....

dmarks said...

Stephen: But "Dreaming Eagle" or "Peace Wolf" must be an authentic Indian. Because he learned his "true heritage" in a vision he had after reading a book he bought in a New Age bookstore.