A renewed effort to grant state recognition to Indian tribes in Tennessee has won approval of a House subcommittee.
The measure proposed by Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, grants recognition to three tribes – the Remnant Yuchi Nation, the Tanasi Council and the United Eastern Lenape Nation of Winfeld – and allows other groups to apply with the Tennessee Native American Council for recognized status.
The council is to evaluate other groups, using criteria set forth in the bill (HB2284) and make recommendations to future General Assemblies..
Similar legislation has failed in the past and in 2010 the now-defunct Tennessee Indian Affairs Commission tried to grant recognition to six tribe. The commission’s action was declared void, however, in a lawsuit brought by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. (Note: Post from back then is HERE.)
In debate before the House State and Local Government Subcommittee, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville referred to that “pretty bad incident” by the commission and said he understood there were still conflicting opinions about whether the any Tennessee groups should be recognized as Indian tribes.
But Turner wound up being the only “no” vote as the bill was approved 5-1 by the subcommittee. The bill is scheduled for a vote before the full State and Local Government Committee next week.
Approval came after and appeal from Shipley and an announcement by Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, that Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and the state Department of Tourism now endorsed the bill. At one point, the Haslam administration had issued a “flag letter” opposing the measure.
Now, Todd said, the administration believes the legislation could be am “economic development bill” and boost tourism.
“These people want to feel like they belong,” said Shipley. “They want to be recognized for who they are and the heritage they share.”
Shipley also told colleagues that opposition came from “people outside the state of Tennessee” who want Tennesseans to remain unrecognized so they cannot share in the “federal pie” of benefits available to recognized tribes.
Because of various federal programs, state-recognized tribes can be eligible for funds to cover highways, hospitals and education scholarships, he said. Further, recognition will enable Tennessee craftsmen to market their products as “Native American” goods and perhaps increase the products value.”
He said 17 other states have granted recognition to a total of 85 different tribes and Tennessee should do the same to help fellow Tennesseans.
In the past, questions have been raised about the legitimacy of some groups’ claims to Indian ancestry. The Yuchi once lived in what is now South Carolina and Georgia, but were pushed out of the area in the early 18th century and some wound up in Tennessee, according to the book Tennessee’s Indian Peoples. Shipley said other groups seeking recognition are descendants of small groups of Cherokee Indians who escaped removal of Cherokees from the state in the 1830s