Issues Affecting American Indians in Tennessee
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American Indians in Tennessee government volunteer service
TN Archaeological Advisory Council
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
    of Native American ancestry

  • Brent A. Cox (2008-2012)
    444 Cades Atwood Road
    Milan, Tennessee 38358

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    Website of the (defunct) TCIA * History of the 1st & 2nd TNCIA

    Greene (CNO) v. TCIA   filed 30 June 2010
    Commission terminated     30 June 2010

    Issues Affecting American Indians in Tennessee

    Issues Affecting American Indians in Tennessee
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    Trouble Caused by False “tribes”

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 P.O. Box 948 Tahlequah, OK 74465 (918) 453-5000 / Contact Us
    VII. Trouble Caused by False “tribes”
    Sovereignty at Risk:
    Identity Theft, Revisionism, and the Creation of False Tribes

    I. Introduction | II. True of False? | III. Federal Laws affecting state recognized tribes | IV. Examples of State Law "recognizing tribes" | V. Examples of False "tribes" | VI. Funding diverted by False "tribes" | VII. Trouble Caused by False "tribes" | VIII. Conclusion | Exhibit Collection

    VII. Trouble Caused by False “tribes”

    A. TRADEMARKS. False tribes use elements of the names of real tribes in order to confuse the public and bolster their legitimacy. Consider the “Northern Cherokee Nation of Missouri and Arkansas.” In trademark law this similarity of name with Cherokee Nation is called dilution. Confusion between the true tribe and the imposters causes the public to think less of the true tribe. In fact, when the public sees these false tribes simply organize ex nihilo (out of nothing) and receive Indian benefits, the image of all real tribes is diluted.

    The “Southern Cherokee Nation” recently filed an application for a trademark, Serial No.: 78758494. Cherokee Nation opposed the application, see Exhibit 6. Recognizing the obvious confusion caused by the similarity of names the application was withdrawn. However getting a federal trademark is another basis that groups use to claim federal recognition. True tribes must watch trademark applications to oppose those claiming rights to similar named true tribes. Fortunately the Trademark office has created an “Indian Desk” that watches for infringement on tribal names and insignia. Unfortunately the USPTO also accepts state recognized tribes’ insignia, giving another apparent instance of federal recognition. See

    B. INDIAN ARTS. Another significant problem is created by a loophole in the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, 25 U.S.C. § 305(e), 18 U.S.C. § 1159(c)(3). This act makes it a federal crime to falsely claim that goods are of Indian origin. The loophole is in the definition of Indian, which hinges on the definition of “Indian tribe” because an Indian is simply a member of an Indian tribe. The statute, 25 U.S.C. § 305e (d) reads:

    (3) the term "Indian tribe" means--

    (A) any Indian tribe, band, nation, Alaska Native village, or other organized group or community which is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians; or

    (B) any Indian group that has been formally recognized as an Indian tribe by a State legislature or by a State commission or similar organization legislatively vested with State tribal recognition authority; and

    The loophole arises because there are no minimum standards for what a state must require in order to recognize a tribe or for how these tribes can enroll members. Some states only require a letter from the governor. Some have given legislative resolutions. Membership in these groups is even easier. Typically an application form and a few dollars will qualify a person for membership and allow them to claim that their arts and crafts are Indian. So in order to sell “Indian Art,” a person only has to find a state recognized tribe with loose enrollment requirements, and there are many, and become a member.

    In contrast the BIA strictly oversees the membership of federally recognized Indian tribes. Treaties, rolls, tribal law, and genealogy documents all must be in order for a person to be a member of a federally recognized tribe. Enrollment disputes are common in Indian country today. But no federally recognized tribe would seriously consider opening membership to applicants without regard to genealogy as most state recognized tribes are allowed to do. This loophole makes the act so easy to comply with that it offers no real protection to true Indian artists.

    C. ILLEGAL ACTS. Also important is the shame brought upon Indian country when false tribes abuse the public and violate laws. Real tribes have treaties and compacts with the states and federal government which keep their actions in check. Government to government relationships are built upon trust and cooperation. Federally recognized tribes also have extensive federal supervision that is not applicable to false tribes.

    But false tribes have little or no government relationships to worry about jeopardizing. Even if they are disgraced and dissolve, the organizers can simply form a new tribe. The complexities of Indian law often confuse outsiders and allows false tribes free reign. The only accountability for false tribes is possible violation of Internal Revenue Service non-profit regulations or grant compliance. Both of these have notoriously lax accountability standards and we know of no enforcement of these rules against a false tribe.

    The most typical abuse is charging a fee for membership and then giving people the false belief that they are somehow transformed into real Indians. Sometimes there are promises of land or monetary rewards for membership, allegedly once some treaty is enforced.

    One tribe enrolled people with promises of school money. Lost Cherokee Nation received Indian Education Act Program funds, Title VII, and passed on 95% of the money to schools for Indian students. They kept 5% as overhead and charged fees to enroll as tribal members. They helped schools enroll families in their group and thus allegedly increased the Indian enrollment and related funding. However they required no proof of Indian descent for membership in their group. Exhibit 7. The Dept of Education, Office of Inspector General, is currently investigating all schools involved but we have no report of the result at the time of this writing. Exhibit 8.

    This same group confused an elderly person into changing her will from designating “Native American Indians” as beneficiaries to naming the “Lost Cherokee Nation” that claimed to be Indian. A Lost Cherokee Nation member was advising her as her lawyer and caused the will to benefit his group. Cherokee Nation assisted some relatives who asserted that the deceased intended the beneficiaries to be true Native Americans. However, the probate court had to follow the plain language of the will and awarded land and cash to the Lost Cherokee. Exhibit 9. Knowing their enrollment practices from the school funding scheme, it is hard to qualify the Lost Cherokee as Native American as the woman was led to believe.

    An Alabama group, the “Cherokee River Indian Community” deceived enough people to kidnap a child in a Arizona custody battle. A “judge” for the group signed a letter granting custody under the Indian Child Welfare Act to someone other than the parents. Exhibit 10. A sheriff’s deputy was led to believe it was a real court order and was present at the exchange to keep the peace. However this just added to the deception of the child’s older sibling who turned over the child to two women working for the group. The Maricopa County Court finally resolved the matter, the child is back home, and two people are facing kidnaping charges. See Exhibit 11.

    This “Indian tribe” made the newspapers and evening news several days in a row as they were looking for the child. The uncertainty caused by the proliferation of false tribes enabled this travesty to happen. The foster parents and others were no doubt misled into thinking this was a legitimate Indian Child Welfare Act case but they are now in serious trouble. No true tribe would attempt such a stunt, but it reflects poorly upon us

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