Cedric Sunray has an interesting (and long, there is more after the jump) piece on tribes that are not federally recognized. We recently published on the Juaneno's that are having a problem with recognition. Recognition can take 20 years. And disenrollments? 43 Federally recognized tribes have disenrolled their own tribal members within the last 10 years. All run gaming enterprises And don't you think tribes don't want MORE tribes to be recognized, so they can't open competing casinos?
From Cedric Sunray:
Here is brief narrative for those who do not have time to visit the site. I thank you for supporting social justice and integrity.
Let us start it with a quote that guides my life. The quote comes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
At the last two National Congress of American Indians gatherings members of historic tribes such as the Lumbee and MOWA Choctaw, amongst others, told the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma clearly that their days of running around the country acting like Indian Identity Police are over.
In an article entitled, “Reconciling moral outrage with self-determination” in Indian Country Today on March 9, 2007, Keweenaw Bay Ojibwe Sheryl Lightfoot (Chair of the American Indian Policy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota) went directly at the moral injustice being perpetrated by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. She expressed a way that we all can deal with this. “
Another tactic which can be employed by other indigenous nations or the private citizens of other nations is the art of moral persuasion, or ‘moral suasion,’ as it has also been termed. This involves a campaign of exposure and embarrassment. This tactic has most often been employed in international human rights campaigns, with the purpose being to expose the immoral government action in the media and open up international discussion in order to embarrass the target government into changing its policy to better conform to international norms. This was done in the early days of the campaign against apartheid in South Africa and has been used often by groups like Amnesty International to urge governments to stop human rights abuses. Finally, follow the money. Those of us who find the actions of the sovereign Cherokee Nation disturbing or morally questionable also have some economic options…”
Certain members of the leadership of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma have made it their duty to play God to the identity of others with the belief that they will never be “found out” themselves. But now they are crumbling, falling back on their heels, and looking to once again change their words to sound good to a new audience who have not encountered them in the near past. There is nothing worse than people who create monsters and then attempt to walk away or act like they were never present when things go bad. A few years back the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma developed a “Task Force” to combat the validity of anyone or any tribe which is not federally-recognized. They simply went too far when instead of producing civil dialogue, they attempted to belittle and make fun of “non-federal” or “unrecognized” tribal people and communities. In an article entitled, “Indian identity remains in question”, which addressed issues at the 2008 State of Sequoyah Commission’s annual conference, members of the Task Farce’s actions (as I more appropriately renamed them; read on and find out why) where relayed, “Poteete and other panelists jokingly adopted such ‘wannabe’ names as ‘Chief flies High and Eats Pie’, ‘Chief Talks Trash’, ‘Princess Dream Catcher’, and ‘Princess Buffalo Wings”. One of the Cherokee council members Cara Cowan-Watts stated, “We would like to make impersonation of a tribe, or a tribal citizen, a felony”.
And now for the real laugh. Over 90% of those involved in the Task Farce are white phenotype, low blood quantum “Cherokee citizens”. There is a sociological aspect to this, which shows how people with little Indian ancestry attempt to find others who they believe they can oppress in order to feel more “Indian” or more powerful than others. It is clearly illustrated in the book Beyond White Ethnicity: Developing a Sociological Understanding of Native American Identity Reclamation (p.220), when the author writes about a member of a tribe which she is interviewing, “Brayboy concurs that this ‘policy’ of Indian authenticity also stems from feelings about his own authentic Indianness: ‘My sense of not feeling ‘Indian enough’ in certain contexts, however, led me to my being critical of others who might be labeled ‘wann-bes’. As you will see from the coming descriptions, most of those responsible for attacking others fall directly in this category. The sad part is that they truly believe what they are saying to be real. They are the reincarnation of the Virginia registrar Plecker who committed what Pamunkey tribal member Rose Powhatan termed Document Genocide 1. the deliberate extermination of a race of people through changing information about hem in an official paper in the book, The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing After The Removal, when he eliminated “Indian” as a race within the state and created an exclusively “Black and White” racial world.
Attacks against historic tribes is a serious issue whether we choose to downplay it or not. It negatively impacts our people in social, cultural, and economic ways. So while our communities live the realities of being Indian, racially white tribal leaders from large corporate tribal groups such as the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma are able to exercise their white privilege to further subjugate our marginalized communities. So who are the key players? Let us start from the top and work our way down.
Lee Fleming is an enrolled tribal citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. That is his tag line. Lee, is a blonde haired, white phenotype individual raised in affluence in Maryland. During his college years he came to Oklahoma to “find out his roots” and eventually ended up working for the CNO. Of course he was an enrollment guy and became a strong advocate against others. In June of 1995, while attending a genealogy conference hosted by Samford University in Alabama, he exposed his clear hostility towards state-recognized tribes. In letters written to MOWA Choctaw tribal leaders and signed by professionals in attendance, they clearly stated Lee’s hostility towards “non-federal” tribes. Within months of his comments, he left his employment as a registrar at the CNO to become an OFA, formerly BAR (Bureau of Acknowledgment and Research) employee. He later became the head of the organization which determines ‘Who is Indian and Who is Not’. In 2005, while being practically forced by an Alabama Congressional member to attend a community discussion on the MOWA Choctaw Indian Reservation in Alabama, Lee responded to a question regarding the former attendance of non-federal tribes at federal Indian boarding schools, “sometimes the federal government makes mistakes.” His office, the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Office of Federal Acknowledgement, is currently staffed by 15 full-time and 8 contractual employees. Of these, four are enrolled members of American Indian tribes, though one is an administrative assistant (Navajo) and has no say in decisions reached by OFA. The other three tribes are Narragansett, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and Ojibwa/Chippewa. All the rest are non-Indians, primarily white.
Since the revised OFA guidelines (guidelines for recognition with no consistent application or oversight), only two tribes from the South and East have been recognized through the process. Both were directly opposed by OFA and it took over 20 million dollars with gaming backers, the hiring of numerous lobbyists, and in the case of the Shinnecock (New York State), a federal lawsuit to finally move through the process. The Shinnecock petition took 32 years to actualize and the Mashpee Wampanoag (Massachussetts) took over twenty. Both tribes are of mixed Indian and Black ancestry, which has proven to be a huge impediment for the racially white federal tribal leaders who inhabit the BIA.
OFA terminated two tribes from Connecticut more recently after having recognized them two years prior. A contingent of Connecticut politicians, as well as federally recognized tribes in the area, petitioned the BIA to have them terminated in order to protect their gaming and jurisdictional monopolies within the area. In 2006, one of the most outspoken federal recognition activists and an enrolled member of one of the terminated tribes (Eastern Pequot) was murdered on the federally-recognized Mashantucket Pequot reservation in Connecticut.
Currently, OFA and the BIA will not recognize twenty tribes whose family members attended federal and mission Indian boarding schools exclusive to American Indians. Lee Fleming, as previously mentioned, stated that the attendance of these tribes over the past five generations was simply a “federal government mistake.” These same comments have also been made by Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma citizens Dr. Richard Allen and the white phenotype David Cornsilk. A former director of the Bureau of Indian Education Stephanie Birdwell, another white Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma citizen, has recently denied the admittance of these tribes to Haskell even though they have attended generationally.
The former Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Gover (Pawnee Nation citizen), who was Lee Fleming’s boss and the one responsible for signing off on his decisions had much to say about the federal recognition process on April 21, 2004 before the Committee on Indian Affairs United States Senate; “What I found was a deeply problematic and fundamentally flawed program…” (the entire transcript can be googled on line. Please do so for a full picture. He went on to state that his decision to uphold OFA findings (OFA was called the BAR at this time) against the MOWA Choctaw and others were wrong and he regrets signing off on them. The MOWA Choctaw petition was rejected by him after he had only been on the job three days. He simply took the advice of Lee Fleming. So that is enough about Lee for now.
Let us turn our attention to Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma Chief Chad “Corntassel” Smith. While personal attacks can be viewed as political, etc. I am no politician. For me, the way your treat your family is the foundational piece of one’s life, morality, and ethics. In the Muskogee Phoenix Newspaper on November 4, 2007, in an article titled, “Cherokee attorney will run for Chief again”, reporter Donna Hales cornered Chief Smith about his infidelities. “In addition to his wife and three children ages 5, 11, and 18, Smith confirmed Wednesday he has a second family of three children, ages 6, 10, and 11. He said he loves all his children and financially supports all of them. ‘I’ve made everybody aware and visited with a number of Cherokee elders,’ Smith said.” If he has made everyone aware, it is interesting that most I talk with have not heard about it. It was the one and only article ever written about the situation. In most American political campaigns it would not only signal the end of a campaign, but also a career. This is the man who leads the charge against ‘non-federal’ Indians. What kind of character or integrity could such a man like this possibly carry? Enough on him.
The next individual is the primary architect behind the removal of the Cherokee Freedmen, attacks on “non-federal” tribes, etc. Her name is Cara Cowan-Watts and she is 1/256 Cherokee by blood. I know what you are thinking. What?! Cara has changed her own identity numerous times on her own website as each time she was caught lying. She has claimed to be both Choctaw and Cherokee on her father’s side, but has now deleted that information. She also claimed to be much more Cherokee on her mom’s side than she could substantiate. She has since deleted this information. I have copies of all of these changes as they went along. She even forwarded an email around the internet that accused the leader of the Cherokee Freedmen organization of being a terrorist. Got a copy of that as well. What you notice is the infighting within this “Task Farce” group. They fall apart and splinter quickly. There is Troy Poteete (1/32 Cherokee), John Parris (another white “Cherokee”, Gayle Ross ( a “traditional storyteller” from Texas who is an enrolled CNO member), Dr. Richard Allen (the big Indian in the bunch who I have too many stories about), Julia Coates Foster (from California or is it Texas?) Lee Fleming attacks Troy back in the 90’s, Cornsilk attacks Gayle Ross, Cowan-Watts goes after David and vice versa. It is a circus. You have predominantly white Terri Ellen-Rhodes who used to be an enrolled member of a state recognized Cherokee tribe and who now, somehow, someway became a CNO member and is attacking the identities of the people in her former tribe and other state tribes. Then of course there is Mike Miller the spokesman for the CNO. Another white guy who is enrolled and who said Jack Abramoff had not been hired by the tribe.
Please read below: Cherokee Nation denies working with Abramoff
Wednesday, January 4, 2006 Native American Times
“The Cherokee Nation never hired disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a spokesperson told The Native American Times. Spokesperson Mike Miller said Abramoff solicited the tribe as a client. "You get sales pitches all the time," he told The Times.” A week later it came out that the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma had already paid him over $100,000. You can pull all the docs from the internet or email me and I can get them too you. Non-federal tribes are frequently harassed by Eastern Oklahoma tribes regarding the sale of their artwork as Indian. The head of the Indian Arts & Craft Board, which protects the rights of state tribes to sell their art, is non-Indian and her right hand is a Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma citizen of minimal Indian ancestry who told me directly, “The only reason you state groups are a part of the Act is because some Governor or Senator from North Carolina showed up in the 11th hour and demanded your inclusion. Your art is still not Indian.” The one with the comment is Ashley Fry. Another white phenotype Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma citizen. There are many more issues to talk about, but most are in the book at the website. What all of these Indian identity police want others to think is that our people are not in agreement on these issues. They want you to believe that they can divide our house. They want to take obviously crazy individuals who are out there exploiting Indian Country and attempt to use them as examples of why “being from a federal tribe is what makes one Indian.” This issue matters. It matters as they hurt our families and disgrace the sacrifices made by our community elders. Attacking tribes such as the MOWA Choctaw, Pamunkey, Chickahominy, Houma, Nanticoke, and many others is the work of nameless individuals who live their lives on the web and who hold no accountability for the bullying they push upon others. It is also the work of people of predominantly non-Indian ancestry who inhabit the governing bodies of their massive tribal corporations. Let it be known that our historic communities have spent the last six years building the capacity with one another to collectively engage and stop these actions against our people. This journey has taken myself and others multiple times across the US to council meetings, cultural events, and other venues to speak about the need for solidarity on this issue. The solidarity is now there and nothing will diminish it. Nothing. Here are a couple more “food for thought” items.
43 Federally recognized tribes have disenrolled their own tribal members within the last 10 years. All run gaming enterprises. Another primary group opposed to the federal recognition of historic “non-federal” tribes are USET (United South and Eastern Tribes, or better yet Undermining South and Eastern Tribes, which represents 25 federal tribes in the South and East) and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. USET developed a resolution which states that they object to tribes going through Congress to achieve recognition, though over half of their member tribes were granted recognition through the Congress. I will end this with a quote. It comes from a non-Indian resident of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. It appeared in the Tahlequah Daily Press in response to CNO officials belittling the identities of others. Who’s appropriating?“There is some appropriation going on, and it’s more perverse than “new-agey” white people taking Indian names and wearing feathers. It is the Cherokee Nation appropriating discredited 18th- and 19th-century ideologies of “citizenship by blood.” These concepts, retrieved from the ash heap of history, were learned from the white man. Nowhere do they exist in the traditional Cherokee worldview. Now, they have returned under the guise of “sovereignty.” These ideologies were learned from white colonialists, but the “white” Cherokee “elite” have learned these lessons well. White Indians, like Cowan and Poteete, mistake race for culture, blood for community, and exclusion for strength.James MurrayTahlequah