Echo Hawk rules on Central Band of Cherokee
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk issued a final determination on March 23 regarding the Central Band of Cherokee’s petition for federal recognition as an Indian tribe.
According to the determination, Echo Hawk found that the group, located in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., did not meet mandatory criteria for acknowledgment under the Code of Federal Regulations.
The ruling is consistent with Echo Hawk’s previous finding, issued in August 2010, which recommended against acknowledging the CBC because it did not demonstrate that its members descend from a historical Indian tribe or historical Indian tribes that combined.
“The evidence shows the petitioner, with 407 members on its 2007 membership list, is a voluntary association formed of individuals who claim but have not documented Indian ancestry,” Echo Hawk’s March 23 determination states. “There is no evidence that Petitioner 227 existed under any name prior to its emergence in 2000 as the ‘Cherokees of Lawrence County, TN, Sugar Creek Band of the Southeastern Cherokee Confederacy, Inc.’”
Richard Allen, Cherokee Nation Strategy and Policy analyst, said the CBC is one of five groups in Tennessee claiming to be a Cherokee tribe that the CN has “vigorously opposed.”
“One reason the Cherokee Nation opposes such groups is that such groups appropriate and distort our culture and our history. For example, this group identifying as the Central Band of Cherokee claim that they are the descendants of ancient Israelites, which is by far one of the wildest claims made by any of these groups,” Allen said. “The Cherokee Nation has identified more than 200 such groups who claim to be new Cherokee bands, clans, tribes and nations. These groups cannot meet the requirements set forth by the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs Branch of Acknowledgement and Research.”
CBC Principal Chief Johnny Raven Corbin said the ruling was unnecessary because the band withdrew its petition in January. He said the BIA told the band it was obligated to follow through with the process because it had gone beyond six months.
“We requested to withdraw not because we are not Cherokee and not because we are not a tribe,” Corbin said.
He added that when he became chief, he told CBC members that if the BIA granted recognition, then half of the band’s members might no longer be eligible for membership because they could not trace their Cherokee ancestry.
“We felt it was better to be a tribe of people of like minds and like hearts than it was to be BIA-recognized,” Corbin said.
The CBC claims its members are descendants of Cherokee Indians who remained in Tennessee after 1806 when the historical tribe ceded its lands by treaty, or from Indians who returned to “their traditional lands” in the area of Lawrence County after evading or escaping from the Cherokee removal in the late 1830s.
“There is no primary or reliable secondary evidence to validate these claims. Instead, the evidence shows that the group’s ancestors were consistently identified as non-Indians, primarily white settlers coming to Tennessee in the early and mid-1800s from disparate locations. At no time were they identified as Indians or living in an Indian community,” Echo Hawk wrote.
Allen said the stories of the more than 200 bands, clans, tribes and nations calling themselves Cherokees are similar. He said each has a story about their ancestors having escaped the Trail of Tears and having hidden out among friendly white people.
“Because the Cherokee Nation chooses to protect its identity, heritage, culture and history, we are maligned by these groups and by state officials who have no knowledge of American Indians. In our experience such groups always suggest that there is money to be had,” Allen said. “One group in Tennessee suggests, that if recognized, they have a supporter willing to provide $300 million for tourism development. One wonders how it is that no federally recognized tribe has ever been able to raise or been offered $300 million for tourism in Indian Country while a group of questionable heritage can do so.”
Echo Hawk’s determination will become effective as provided in the regulations 90 days from publication in the Federal Register, unless the Interior Department’s Board of Indian Appeals receives a request for reconsideration.
The final determination and Federal Register notice will be posted to the Office of Federal Acknowledgment section of the Indian Affairs web site at: www.indianaffairs.gov/WhoWeAre/AS-IA/OFA/RecentCases/index.htm