April 09, 2007

Cherokee vs. Cherokee vs. Cherokee vs. Cherokee

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/8/07:

What's in a name? A lot, Indians say

4 groups battle to be deemed authentic descendants of Georgia CherokeesThe four groups have battled for years, arguing they represent the Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee recognized by the state General Assembly in 1993. The largely honorary designation allows members to sell "authentic" crafts but does not grant governmental powers.

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.
Comment:  I'll say it again: The accepted standard for being Indian is enrollment in a federally recognized tribe. This is the standard used by the 560-plus tribes themselves and tribal organizations such as Haskell University when they hire Indians.

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.


Rob said...

I suppose some tribes opposed the concept of federal recognition when the US government first advanced it late in the 1800s. But since then they've embraced it. Your answer doesn't address why tribes support the system when they're free to reject it now.

Why do today's tribes acknowledge and respect the concept of recognition? Why do unrecognized tribes so avidly seek it? Read the following and learn:

Some Indian tribes still fighting for government recognition

The Wintu are a tribe in every sense of the word: They eat meals together, pray together, gather for ceremonies and business.

Their ancestors lived along the McCloud River in Northern California, and the river is still where the Wintu gather. They bring their children, swim in the still water, pray and visit their sacred sites. It is their purpose, they believe, to protect the McCloud.

But despite their history and traditions, the federal government says the Wintu tribe does not exist.

They are not a federally recognized tribe, and thus aren't entitled to land, grants, subsidized housing, sovereignty, or the benefit they want most--validation.

"We're a traditional, historic tribe. We still live and follow our traditions and culture that has been handed down generation by generation," said Caleen Sisk-Franco, the tribe's spiritual leader. "We're put here to protect the sacred places, for there to be snow on the mountain, fish in the river."

But they have no protection for their sacred land, no way of ensuring their survival.

"They still can't see us," she said.

Rob said...

So the US government won't recognize a tribe's sovereignty until it recognizes the tribe. Talk about an obvious incentive for seeking recognition.

By sovereignty, I mean the self-government that tribes have exercised since before the founding of America, of course. It's the same sovereignty that you erroneously claimed the US invented in the 20th century.

The US has tried to deny or suppress the tribes' age-old sovereignty until recently. Now it's willing to recognize this sovereignty if a tribe can document its historical and cultural continuity.

Again, you'd learn all this in an Indian History 101 class. I suggest you take such a class so I don't have to keep explaining it.

Rob said...

What part of "Why do today's tribes acknowledge and respect the concept of recognition?" and "But since then they've embraced it" didn't you understand?

The US government is forcing tribes to accept the recognition process at gunpoint? Is it also sending US marshals to each of the 560-plus tribes to oversee their decisions and curb their speech?

If you're right, what's to stop tribal leaders from saying, "We disagree with federal recognition but we accept it as a mandate"? Nothing, of course, which is why your claim is ludicrous.

I quoted a tribal leader who expressed a typical desire for recognition. You haven't quoted anything except your fervent imagination. As usual, the facts disprove your speculation.

Anonymous said...

One thing I vaguely recall reading, from a long time back, is that Indian blood, and I think Cherokee was the usual, was claimed as a protection against the racist anti-black laws of the Deep South, a way of being obviously non-white without being classed as black.

I don't have a horse in this race, but that may be an aspect of this case. It makes things messy. It sounds as though they're fellow-victims, whatever tribal status may be decided.