Cherokee lobby to have 5 tribes deleted from bill
By Tom Humphrey
The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After retaining two prominent lobbyists, the Cherokee Nation won a tentative victory in the Tennessee Legislature on Tuesday.
A bill by House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey was amended in House committee to delete five of the six American Indian tribes that would have been granted official state recognition under the original version.
The only tribe to be granted recognition under the revised bill -- HB1692 -- is the Remnant Yuchi Nation in Sullivan, Carter, Greene, Hawkins, Unicoi, Johnson and Washington counties.
''We don't have a dog in that fight (over the Yuchi)," said Chad "Corntassel" Smith, principal chief of the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation.
Four of the five groups proposed for recognition under the original bill claimed Cherokee ties that were questioned by the federally recognized Cherokee of Oklahoma and North Carolina.
Smith said the Cherokee Nation, in general, opposes state recognition of Indian tribes, believing that is best left to the federal government.
Bob Tuke, Nashville attorney and former state Democratic chairman, and Mark Greene, a veteran contract lobbyists, were both retained to represent the Cherokee Nation in opposing the legislation as originally introduced.
Although a 2007 state attorney general's opinion states that Tennessee has a right to recognize Indian tribes, Tuke said attorneys general in two Western states have issued opinions saying states do not have legal authority to recognize Indian tribes. He said a lawsuit over the issue is likely in Arizona.
Mumpower endorsed the amendment approved by the House State and Local Government Committee. The bill itself was then approved on an 11-2 vote.
Some members of the panel, including Rep. Ulysses Jones, D-Memphis, said it was unfair to exclude the other tribes from recognition.
Mumpower, however, said the result was a compromise that was "opening the door and beginning the work" that may lead to recognition of other tribes in the future.
Tuke said the Remnant Yuchi, unlike the other tribes, has reasonable documentation that members in upper East Tennessee are descended from the Yuchi tribe.
In the Senate State and Local Government Committee, the bill and amendment were discussed at length, but a vote was postponed until today.