Issues Affecting American Indians in Tennessee
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American Indians in Tennessee government volunteer service
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mandated 3 Native American representatives
  • Michael Lynch, West Tennessee (2008-12)
         member, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
  • Pat Cummins, Middle Tennessee (2004-08)
         descendant, Cherokee
  • Mark Cantrell, Middle Tennessee (2010-14)
         unknown tribal affiliation
  •   TN Historical Commission
    mandated inclusion of person/s
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  • Brent A. Cox (2008-2012)
    444 Cades Atwood Road
    Milan, Tennessee 38358
    731-723-9994

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    Issues Affecting American Indians in Tennessee


    Issues Affecting American Indians in Tennessee
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    Interior head says he'll review tribal recognition process

    http://www.greatfallstribune.com/article/20090213/NEWS01/902130318

    Interior head says he'll review tribal recognition process
    By LEDYARD KING • Tribune Washington Bureau • February 13, 2009

    WASHINGTON — Newly installed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pledged Thursday to examine the federal process for recognizing Indian tribes after hearing about the decades-long struggle of Montana's Little Shell Chippewa.

    At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., criticized the federal agency for constantly delaying a decision and asked Salazar if he could help. The tribe — with about 4,300 members, who mostly live in the Great Falls area — has sought recognition since 1978, Tester said.

    "I'd like to see the process work," Tester told Salazar. "I don't really want to see Congress have to intervene for recognition of tribes, but the truth is it should not take 31 years for a tribe to get recognition."

    Salazar agreed that three decades is "too long."

    "There is no reason why we should have a process that essentially ends in an endless road year after year after year," he said. "We will take a look at the process and see if there are ways we can improve upon it."

    Little Shell tribal Chairman John Sinclair said Thursday that he has not had a chance to become familiar with Salazar and his positions, but from what he has heard he believes the new secretary will help the tribe.

    "From what I have heard, (he) should be good for the Little Shell," Sinclair said.

    He added that he has been in touch with Tester's office regarding the tribe's recognition application and wasn't surprised Tester raised the issue during the hearing.

    "Jon Tester is a very good friend of the Little Shell," Sinclair said. "Jon has gone the extra mile for us and we really appreciate his help."

    The discussion on the Little Shell's plight was one exchange during an hour-long, friendly session in which Salazar pledged to improve rocky federal relations with Native Americans. Salazar said one of his first priorities would be naming an assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, a job that was vacant during most of President George W. Bush's second term.

    "We have to look at what we inherited and try to make changes to make it work better," Salazar said after senators criticized the agency for dragging its feet on water settlements and oil-drilling permits. "Without an assistant secretary of Indian Affairs in place three of the last four years, these issues have simply not been addressed."

    It was the first hearing for Salazar, a former senator from Colorado, since the Senate confirmed him last month to run the 67,000-employee agency that oversees federal lands.

    During the hearing, Salazar spotlighted four areas where the Obama administration wants to target resources: energy development, education, public safety and economic development.

    Senators also expressed their concerns. Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., called the lack of adequate health care in Indian Country "scandalous," and Vice Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said law enforcement on reservations is woefully underfunded.

    The Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming is nearly the size of Connecticut, yet crime victims wait up to a day for assistance because only two police officers typically are on patrol, Barrasso said.

    "Non-Indian communities would not tolerate such a low level of protection," he told Salazar.

    The National Congress of American Indians is asking for billions of dollars in the federal budget, which is expected to be released later this month, including an increase of $120 million to fix dilapidated schools, a $908 million increase in health care funding and $200 million in loans to help finance energy projects.

    Salazar made no firm commitments Thursday, but he assured senators he wants to extend a hand to Native Americans.

    "There's lots of work to be done," he said. "We all know that you can't wave a magic wand and all of a sudden the issues will be resolved. It's going to take a steady hand and a long-term sustainable commitment to address these issues."

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