TN leaders considering new Native American tribes - WSMV Channel 4

TN leaders considering new Native American tribes

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

State leaders are considering recognizing several so-called "new" Native American tribes in Tennessee.

For traditional Native American groups, it's an idea that is causing true outrage.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has not recognized a new tribe in more than 150 years, but now the state of Tennessee considers going where no one else has gone before by naming three new Indian nations.

The bill received so many negative calls and emails from Native Americans that it was held over at the state Capitol to accommodate all the speakers.

Those opponents include Nashville's Hray Emmanuel, former commissioner of Indian Affairs, who says he can't believe that this bill even made it to paper.

"How can the state government create laws to make someone an Indian?" Emmanuel said. "If it's so easy, why don't they create a law to make someone white or make someone African American? It's just outrageous, the whole situation. It never should have ever even been an issue."

Channel 4 was unable to reach the author of the bill, State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, for comment.

But, Joe "Sitting Owl" White from the Lawrenceburg Cherokees wants his group to get tribal status.

"The Cherokee of Oklahoma and other tribes want a monopoly on being Cherokee," White said.

Bill Wells, former Tennessee commissioner of Indian Affairs, says that is not so.

"They're not new tribes. They're made-up tribes," he said.

Wells says this has nothing to do with Native American history, it has to do with money. And if you don't believe him, go answer the phones at Indian Affairs.

"(The phone calls are like), 'My great-grandfather was Indian, how can I get money?' (Or), 'My great-great-grandfather was Indian, how can I go to school?' We get these calls all the time and that's what it's all about," Wells said.

Next week, the speakers line up. You might remember three years ago this issue came up and the bill was removed before it could even get through committees.

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