Lawsuit Filed Against State Indian Tribe Recognition

A lawsuit filed Wednesday contends the Tennessee Commission on Indian Affairs violated the state’s “open meetings law” in two ways in granting recognition to six Indian tribes earlier this month.
The lawsuit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court by Nashville attorney Bob Tuke, asks that the state recognition granted on June 19 be declared “void and without effect.”
It lists Mark Greene as plaintiff in his capacity as a Tennessee citizen and lobbyist for the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation, a federally-recognized tribe that has adamantly opposed state recognition.
The lawsuit was filed on the last day that the Commission on Indian Affairs will legally exist and it was to officially “sunset” at midnight. State law requires that all state boards and commissions be periodically renewed by the Legislature.

A bill to grant the commission a new lease on life failed during the 2010 legislative session. Lawmakers also rejected a bill that would have granted official recognition to the six tribes through the General Assembly.
Commission Chairman Tammera Hicks and others say that the statute creating the commission more than 20 years ago specifically granted the panel power to recognize tribes within the state.
But the lawsuit contends the commission broke the state “open meetings law” by failing to give adequate notice of what was planned at the June 19 commission meeting and by deliberating in secret prior to the vote rather than publicly as the law required.
Tuke, who has been retained by the Cherokee Nation, said other grounds for challenging the commission action were considered, but the action was narrowed because “we had such an open shot under open records.
“They just violated it blatantly,” said Tuke, a former state chairman of the Democratic party and the party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2008 against Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.
The lawsuit says notice of the June 19 meeting was “mislead the public” by giving no indication that recognition of tribes was to be considered. Also, Tuke says in an affidavit that he was told, by an attorney for the commission, that recognition would not be considered at the meeting.
Even though the agenda for the meeting did not recognition, the lawsuit says, the commission had in advance “secretly discussed and agreed” to approve recognitiobn.
State attorneys have 30 days to file a response to the lawsuit, after which a hearing may be scheduled.
The commission action granted recognition to the “Remnant Yuchi Nation,” the “United Eastern Lenape Nation of Winfield, Tenn.;” the “Chikamaka Band,” the “Central Band of Cherokee,” the “Cherokee Wolf Clan,” and the “Tanasi Council.”
Besides voiding the commission, the lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction forbidding the panel “and any other agency or instrumentality of the state of Tennessee to take any action toenforce, publicize or promote the commission’s purported action.”
A grant of state recognition, which has occurred in several other states, allows members of the recognized tribe to apply for various federal government grants and benefits and to market goods they produce as made by Native Americans.

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