|Date:||Mon, 17 Apr 2000 00:48:46 -0500|
|To:||TN Indian Affairs - tn-ind(at)highertech.net|
|From:||Chattanooga InterTribal Association - cita(at)chattanooga.net|
|Subject:||CITA position paper on TCIA changes to Individual Indian Recognition in TN|
Hearing before the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs
to consider the promulgation of amendments of rules
pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated 4-34-103 (10).
Nashville TN, April 15, 2000
Recognition Criteria For Native American Indian Individuals In Tennessee:
Paragraph 2 of rule 0785-1-.05 Recognition Criteria for Native American Indian Individuals
is amended by adding subparagraphs (c) through (f)
so that, as amended, the paragraph shall read:
(2) Individuals may be enrolled with the state by satisfying any of the
following means of documentation:
(a) The applicant has a roll number or certificate of Indian blood from a(3) All Native American Indians previously recognized by the State of
federally-recognized tribe; or
(b) The applicant is a direct descendant of an individual previously
recognized as a Native American Indian by the State of Tennessee. The
applicant will be required to provide proof of relationship to the enrolled
(c) The applicant has a roll number or membership in a state recognized
(d) The applicant's birth certificate shows the applicant's parent(s) to be
Native American Indian; or
(e) The applicant has a family tree which shows a direct ancestor of the
applicant to appear on a roll of a federally recognized Native American
Indian tribe. All family trees will be subject to verification by
professional genealogists at the applicant's expense; or
(f) The applicant signs an affidavit stating he/she is a Native American
Indian. If the applicant has a living relative at least ten years older
that the applicant, the relative must also sign the affidavit. In addition
to the affidavit, the applicant shall provide at least one of the following:
1. A family Bible or hymnal showing that the applicant's direct ancestors
were Native American Indian.
2. Death records of the applicant's direct ancestor(s) showing the
ancestor(s) to be Native American Indian.
3. Records of direct ancestor(s) from the Indian Court of Claims
4. School, church or health records, or other compelling documentation
which shows the applicant to be Native American Indian.
Tennessee will continue to be recognized and will not have to reapply for
Authority: T.C.A. §4-34-103 (10).
Firstly, our thanks for introducing the subject of recognizing individual Native American Indians in the State of Tennessee for discussion. In our seven years of existence CITA, the Chattanooga InterTribal Association, has spent considerable time wrestling with the question of individual Indian recognition. We hope our remarks today will make apparent to you the difficulty of achieving any decision in the matter.|
Secondly, a complaint. You, the Commission, have provided no historical background, reasoning or justification for these new rules offered to us for comment. The TCIA stopped recognizing individuals several years ago - what is the rationale for adding new rules to rules that have not even been implemented in the last five? years? For you, the Commission, to propose these new rules presumes displeasure or some problem with the old rules. We, the Native American people living in the State of Tennessee, should be provided your arguments for these proposals rather than just handed the changes and asked for our opinion. We want to know -your- opinion and why you think these new rules are good and will benefit Native Americans in Tennessee.
So, we are disheartened that the proposal of new rules (c) through (f) are presented to us without the reasoning of the TCIA. CITA, the Chattanooga InterTribal Association, requests that before any further discussion of the proposed rules changes that the TCIA, the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs, explain the purpose behind each of these four new rules, individually and jointly.
We also disagree vehemently with the Commission's charter in which it assumes the right and ability to recognize "Native American Indians". While "Native American" or "Indian" may be popular generic terms like "European" or "Asian", there is no such thing as an individual Native American Indian - or European or Asian. Every person who claims to be a Native American is or should be a member of a tribal nation, and as has been long traditional among nations, the individual nations themselves alone have the right to define and recognize who is a member of their nation. You, the Commission, may attempt to assume the rights of the tribal nations out of ignorance and disregard for the removed and other Nations, but you yourselves have no right to decree who is and who is not Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Shawnee, Lakota, Dine, Pequot or Tlingit.
Treating the proposed amendments individually,
Paragraph 2(d) is based on the assumption that being Native American, like any other racial stereotype, is a fact established by blood or parentage, and the closer the generations, the more "racially pure" a person is. This type of racial identification is old and abused, based on a European concept of quantifying family relationship for distribution of material wealth to surviving kin, and of racial segregation. Instead of following the old methods of racial typing, Tennessee should either begin a dialogue with the existing Nations, or else develop a wholistic definition of "Native American Indian" that along with bloodline also includes other current qualifications such as language, culture, and family relationships within existing tribal nations.
Paragraph 2(e) assumes that being Indian today is equal to somebody being Indian in the past - that having one never-met great-great-great-great-grandparent is sufficient proof that a person is an Indian today. While some traditional elders have reputedly validated the "one drop" rule of blood, and granted that even the existing Cherokee and Creek Nations in Oklahoma abide by this method of determination, we believe with them also that being Indian is inherently bound to -national- identity and sovereignty. Without a relationship to a Native American traditional people, with a Nation of elders, with a language and living history, to a family of blood, there is no Indian. This the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs cannot provide nor can it legislate, and therefore it must not approve recognition of individual Indians who are expatriates of their own tribe.
Paragraph 2(f) asks for more paper to demonstrate that a person is a member of an already existing nation. The one good thing about this item is that it is the first time the proposed recognition rules request a personal affirmation - a first-person "I" statement - of Indianess. The bad in this item is that it bases the rest of its claim exclusively on more papers from the past and shows no regard or respect to current active involvement in Native tribal culture, language or national/tribal relationship.
Although Paragraph 3 was included in the list of Amendments, no change to it is mentioned or proposed. Still, we believe it worth requesting a list of "All Native American Indians previously recognized by the State of Tennessee [who] will continue to be recognized and will not have to reapply for recognition", their tribal affiliations and the documentation or other proofs used in establishing these individual recognitions. We have heard several times at Tennessee Commission of Indian Affair's meetings that few or no records were found in the office relating to recognition. If this is the case, then we understand that there are currently no recognized individual Indians in Tennessee. If not, we assume that all state recognition records are a matter of public record and will be readily provided for examination.
Missing from the proposed list of amendments and the original rules themselves is a description of the active agent in confirming individual Native American Indian status - is it the Commission itself? the Executive Director? Are all individual recognition requests to be examined by the whole Commission? There is also no means to contest the decisions. Will the Commission's decisions be open to challenge? Will challenges be entertained by the Commission itself or by a State court?
Even after responding to the individual proposed paragraphs themselves, there are larger questions that need to be answered by the Commission and addressed to the Tennessee Native American community at large.
What is the goal and purpose of individual Indian recognition? Nowhere can we find a description of the benefits that will accrue to Tennessee citizens from the new state recognition of Native American individuals. People who have spoke at TCIA meetings in the past several have denied that there will be any financial benefit to be received, so if not a financial gain through some disbursal of newfound state monies, why new rules for extended Indian recognition in Tennessee?
As for benefits accruing to the State of Tennessee itself, what are they? How will the State as a whole and its citizens individually gain from the State recognizing individual Native Americans?
If no real material benefit from the US federal government or Tennessee state government is to be gained, and we point out here today that no such material benefits have been submitted to the public as justification for the want or need for these recognition changes, then we can only assume that the gains to be had by individual Indian recognition in the State of Tennessee are exclusively psychological and egotistical. And since no traditional Native American would, we believe, endorse such selfish motivations for Indian recognition, the Chattanooga InterTribal Association can only condemn such apparent goals as wrong and inherently evil, bringing more competition to the state in the hopes of individuals becoming Indian by state fiat.
It is also apparent that once individual recognition of non-tribally recognized Indians begins in Tennessee, organizations of newly-made Indian individuals will apply for new tribal status - in direct competition with the existing nations that have been "removed" from Tennessee and have still not been recognized. Again, until the State of Tennessee realizes the wrong of the racial cleansing of 1838 and recognizes -first- the actual tribes that were removed, the Chattanooga InterTribal Association believes that no further recognition of -any- Indians in Tennessee be considered. We present before you today this alternative request: that the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs, in its pursuit of authentic Native American Indian recognition, support the State of Tennessee's and specifically its Division of Archaeology's recognition of the original and long-existing nations of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Yuchi.
Lacking also from these proposed amendments, and from the charge of the Commission itself, is a definition of terms, specifically the term "Native American Indian". These proposed rule changes attempt to describe how an individual can become "recognized" as a Native American Indian, but nowhere does it or the Commission's rules -define- what an Indian actually is, the same as describing the process of how a foreigner becomes a U.S. citizen, but not defining the term "U.S. citizen" itself.
It is the position of the Chattanooga InterTribal Association that the incumbent responsibility of the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs regarding recognition of Native Americans should be first and foremost the recognition of the "removed" nations of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Yuchi, and secondly the consideration of the Melungeons. (We remind the Commission and the members of the Tennessee public that membership in the Cherokee and Creek Nations that were cut away from Tennessee and moved to Oklahoma have always been open and still are open to descendants regardless of blood quantum.) Until and unless these historical Nations of original Tennessee are recognized as the State's traditional elders, all other claims to Indian recognition are the self-agrandizing desires of people who so desparately want to be Indian that the only way they can get it is by debasing the true Nations and assuming the pretense of state-granted cosmetic authenticity.
Given the unexplained desire of this -State- Commission to recognize Tennessee citizens as Indian when the right to be recognized as Indian has only traditionally been held by Indian Nations themselves in the past, we request that the Governor and State Legislature create, within this next year, a Commission on Euro-American Affairs, a Commission on African-American Affairs, a Commission on Hispanic Affairs, and a Commission on Asian-American Affairs. Since the apparent goal of the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs is to register those of us who are Red, we believe it is equally right and just for the State to determine who is White, who is Black, who is Brown, and who is Yellow. We believed that such racial delineations and registrations were a thing of the past - of the slave-owning South and the Master Race of the Nazis. If Indians are to be recognized as individuals and not as members or relatives of an existing Nation, then why not other people? Why are Indians alone to be recognized by the State of Tennessee and not Euro- and Afro- and Latin and Asian-Americans? Why should Indians want or need to prove their racial ancestry to the State when it is not required of Whites or Blacks or anybody else? What will the State give me for registering with it as an Indian? Isn't that -exactly- how the First Removal began - the registration of Indians with the State so the State could -recognize- them as the ones to eliminate from within their fictional borders? There are no proposed or implicit benefits to recognition apart from ego-validation, which to us signifies that these proposed rule additions have not been thought through at all. The Commission must need also consider the use of racial registries in the recent past, that they have always been used -against- minorities, and with no benefits to offer, we can only warn and argue against the dangers of state recognition of minority individuals. With no obvious carrot being offered, what else is left but the stick?
And what of those Indians who will not register as Indian with the State of Tennessee? If there are no benefits to state recognition, then we assume that there will be no loss or lack of gain by non-registered Tennessee Indians. But if there -are- benefits to state recognition that we have not heard of yet and can only hypothetically entertain, will non-registered Tennessee Indians be denied these gains? Also, why should Indians be registered in the State of Tennessee and not White people? Why are African-Americans not seeking their own recognition as Tennessee African-Americans? Or Jews? Or Mexicans?
We are concerned that the reason why some people in Tennessee feel the need for state recognition of Native American Indians in the state is their own individual inability to be recognized as Indian simply based upon their physical appearance, and that carrying a paper Tennessee license to be Indian will somehow help them in their quest for recognition by others: "See? Here's my card -proving- I'm Indian". It is a rotten day when being Indian is corrupted by the desire to be Indian and the need to resort to paper proofs.
We are also concerned that discussions on Tennessee state recognition of Indians is occurring without the advice or consultations of existing Nations of Indians and other US States that have Indian recognition policies. In both cases, these Nations and other States are our elders and more experienced with the benefits and drawbacks of state Indian recognition. If not the stereotypical "Indian way" of respect for elders, it is plain stupidity to venture into new policy decisions without first consulting tribal elders and others with similar experiences. Any such information garnered from such consultations should also be distributed among the Tennessee Indian community so that we can make a more informed decision on the direction that we wish the Commission to go. We believe it is the Commission's responsibility to educate and inform the Tennessee Native American community of all the pros and cons of such state recognition prior to making a determination. We ask that before you go any further on this path, you write first to the tribal nations that are culturally affiliated with the area now known as the State of Tennessee, secondly to all other US States that have considered recognition of Native American Indian individuals, both those who have approved such legislation and those which have not.
Most people who consider themselves Indian in Tennessee align themselves with the traditional elements of their nations. By definition, "tradition" means conservative, and the nations' traditionals have been the true conservators of culture, language, dance and religion. In this largely conservative Republican state, we would like to keep in mind the words of an elder Euro-American statesman, Barry Goldwater, we believe, who coined traditional and conservative sentiment in his statement, "If there is not a -need- for change, there is a need -not- to change." Since the Commission has not presented a case for needing these changes, we believe that traditional and conservative values need that you -not- change the existing rules.