Cherokee Nation keeping track of ‘Northern Cherokees’
TAHLEQUAH – During the previous several decades, it seems an ethnic fashion has taken root with millions across the U.S.
It isn’t a type of traditional music or hairstyle, but a claim of lineage. It has become cool to be descended from American Indians, and there seem to be a disproportionate number of claims to be Cherokee.
Such assertions span a spectrum. There are many non-Natives who claim a slim slice of tribal heritage due to stories passed down through their families, and perhaps see it only as an interesting page in their ancestral histories. But others are using numerous claims – often dubious – to seek state and federal recognition.
They may even give names to their “tribes,” or stereotypical names to themselves, and the motivation can have more to do with money than honoring a long-deceased ancestor. Federal recognition would have extensive consequences, perhaps even allowing claims of party to treaty.
“There might be some artists with no affiliation to the tribe displaying their art,” Troy Wayne Poteete, Cherokee Nation citizen and National Trail of Tears Association executive director, said. “If the artist refers to his Native lineage and there isn’t any, it is a disservice to all of us. If groups start referring to themselves as a tribe, band or clan, they are misrepresenting Cherokee culture and it needs to stop.”
Poteete has dealt with unrecognized groups before, including as part of an unnamed task force that challenged the contentions of organizations such as the “Lost Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri” during the 2000s.
The “Lost Nation” has since splintered. Poteete said it began as a nonprofit seeking state recognition.
“It’s almost like a loophole to get some states to recognize them,” he said. “If they are recognized, then they become eligible for certain federal funds for state-recognized tribes. The original intent of those was for colonial tribes back on the East Coast that had treaty relationships with the colonies, but had never dealt directly with the federal government and didn’t develop the relationship, but there are very few of those tribes.”
Poteete said the “Lost Tribe” received money in the mid-2000s from Arkansas schools for helping bring Office of Indian Education funds to schools. Under the Indian Education Act, schools were provided a certain amount of money for each Indian student enrolled. This resulted in “Lost Cherokees” enrolling their children in schools as Natives, letting the schools collect the federal dollars – but charging the school an “administrative fee” of 5 percent. Roughly $1.1 million was awarded to 24 schools. In 2005, the Arkansas attorney general said the state could not recognize Indian tribes.
The schism created three nonprofits that are registered in Missouri today: the Northern Cherokee Nation of the Old Louisiana Territory, the Northern Cherokee Nation and the Sac River/White River Bands of the Chickamauga Cherokee Nation Inc. All claim to be “Green Band” tribes descended from Benjamin Green, son of the Gardner Green who appears on the 1835 census of the CN.
In 2018, CN citizens made further challenges concerning the claims of the Missouri groups.
Firstly, CN citizen Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark, of the Missouri House of Representatives, introduced House Bill 1384. It included language requiring that a citizen of a federally recognized tribe must produce any American Indian art described as authentic.
Secondly, CN citizen, professional genealogist and blogger Twila Barnes announced the findings of research into the family of Gardner Green.
“They don’t meet the criteria, and in recent months I have been blogging it,” Barnes said. “The original claim was that they were descended from Gardner Green in 1835. Their ancestors, who are now dead, used that claim to try to get citizenship in the tribe back in 1896. There were about 40 at that time and they were all denied. When the Eastern (Cherokee) forms were being filled out, there were between 200 and 500 people. They thought it would sound more believable with more people. They were advertising in the newspaper that their ancestor Green was entitled to $5 million, and they claimed it was for the family, not the nation. Of course, people came out of the woodwork to make claims. They were rejected again.”
On her blog (www.pollysgranddaughter.com), Barnes claims the man listed as Gardner Green in 1835 was Young Wolf, son of Mouse, and could not have been a matriarch of the Green family of Boone County, Missouri. She writes that the commissioner assigned to oversee the roll and payments, Guion Miller, also noticed discrepancies between the Green on the census and the descriptions given by the claimants.
Barnes further states that all heirs of the 1835 Gardner Green are known, and none of the claimants are actually descended from him.
“They said he was very old, but he actually died at about age 28 before the Removal (Trail of Tears),” Barnes said. “His money was paid to his heirs, who were his wife, and a son who was about 6 years old. A lot of researchers worked on it for years. We knew it was fake. We just had to get the information on Gardner Green.”