‘Trafficking Tribal Membership’ hot topic at annual symposium
By S.E. Ruckman
“This fight is all over the place. We’ve had people building an entire career based on being Indian and they’re not Indian.”
Williams said posing as an American Indian happens in academia, arts and politics. The tribe sees several solutions to those who pass themselves off as Indian. Of the scores of Cherokee-based groups, three, the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina and two Oklahoma groups, the United Keetoowah Band and the Cherokee Nation are the only legitimately recognized Cherokee tribes.
The Cherokees support federal legislation that would make it a felony to knowingly and for gain pass as Native American. The tribe also favors cutting off federal funds to any non-recognized groups as well as stricter scrutiny of “wanna-bes,” Williams said.
But Chief Ken Adams of the Virginia-based Mattaponi was outraged by Williams’ points. He said generalizing those who don’t have federal recognition as phony hurts the identity of innocent groups, including his. The 600-member Mattaponi recently received state recognition and are currently vying for federal recognition.
“I think we’re legitimate. Painting everyone with a broad brush is inaccurate. It’s like saying every Indian lives on a reservation.”
For more on the subject, see More Than 200 "Cherokee Tribes" and Too Many Indians, or Not Enough?