Western Cherokees pushing hard for federal recognition
11/6/2009 7:19:49 AM
 By Mandy Carter
McAlester News-Capital, Okla.

The Western Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri is building steam in its quest for reinstatement as a federally recognized tribe.

According to tribal council member Harold Aldridge, descendants of the original "Old Settlers," Cherokees who lived in Arkansas Territory, now Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, have been fighting a long and difficult battle to regain official recognition their tribe lost nearly 200 years ago when government intervention caused a split in the original tribe.

Efforts to regain recognition through the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs have been slowly rolling through time for the past 10 years. While tribal members have continued to register through the Western Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri offices in Arkansas, and records have continued to be maintained, the tribe has been scattered and confused.

No longer confused, and much less scattered, the tribe is becoming more organized and unified as members gather on a regular basis, according to Shelia Duff, head of the fundraising committee that has been instrumental in gathering support and money to fund reinstatement efforts.

''We've raised $12,000," Duff said. "Our attorneys, the Washington legal firm Patton Boggs, told us we would need between $10,000 and $15,000 for them to get started reading the petition. We sent them the first check Saturday. They're reading the petition, and they've said they would give us a response by the end of the year as to whether or not our case is a good one."

This is not the first time attorneys, specifically those from Patton Boggs, have had to make such a determination. Fallout from the original split of the Cherokees in the 1800s resulted in splintered bands scattering all over the nation. Today, countless groups are making claims and filing petitions for recognition and reinstatement. The attorneys must decide whether or not they can prove legitimacy, and whether they have a strong enough case to warrant representation and moving forward through the legal system.

''Patton Boggs is the largest legal firm in the nation," Duff said. "They have 600 attorneys, and 14 of them do nothing but this. They've been representing the Lumbee Tribe out of North Carolina, and their petition just went to the Senate. We've been watching them very closely, they're just about one step ahead of us."

Meanwhile, descendants of those tribes that retained federal status as recognized tribes continue to lobby against reinstatement for those who petition.

According to Duff, the Western Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri has learned the hard way that unity and communication are the most likely keys to success, so they continue to plan and hold organizational and informational meetings for their tribe.

''We've never had a tribe that's been kept informed until now," Duff said. "But these meetings that update everyone have been instrumental, so we're going to keep having them."

The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. at Kiamichi Technology Center in the auditorium.

''We have board members and council members there to give updates and answer questions," Duff said. "We just need to keep everyone informed."

For more information on the Western Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri, log on to www.legalrecognition.com.
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