"Given the limited number of Native Americans, it would be natural to expect that today’s tribes would welcome the recognition of any new group with a proper claim to Indian heritage. But things don’t always happen the way you expect.
The federal government grants official recognition to the biggest and best-known tribes, making them eligible to receive assistance through a variety of programs. But there are hundreds of tribes still trying to navigate the arduous federal recognition process. As a result, about 20 states grant separate recognition under the terms of state law.
That can help the aspiring tribes in several ways—giving tribal leaders standing in child welfare cases, for example, or taking the Indian viewpoint into official accounts when history lessons are drawn up for schoolchildren. But for the most part, state recognition plays no role in determining eligibility for federal programs.
Even so, some of the established tribes don’t like to see the states doing this. That’s the case in Tennessee, where the legislature recently took up a bill, sponsored by top leaders in both chambers, that would have granted recognition to a half-dozen remnant bands living within state borders. The influential Cherokee tribes, headquartered in Oklahoma and North Carolina, objected strongly, in part because they felt that some of the bands were actually Cherokee and thus should be folded within the larger group under federal rules. “The recognition of Native American tribes has always been a matter of federal law,” says Bob Tuke, a Nashville lobbyist retained by the Cherokee. “The Cherokee naturally have a good bit of pride and legal interest in making sure that their nation remains properly identified.”"
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Alan Greenblatt: Tribal Trouble in Tennessee
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